Q: Disclaimer: I’m not engaged. I’m not really even pre-engaged, but Christ, guys, with every post I read about people binding themselves to each other forever, a deep part of my heart yearns and yells, “That’s me! Right there!” And so while this isn’t a question about proposing to my girlfriend, I feel like it is.
We’re new together. We’re still just starting out in making an “us.” But I want to ask her to please come with me, to consciously decide that there will be an Us and that Us is important and worthy of work. I want to put the work in. I want her permission to go all-in and love the motherfucking shit out of her. I’ve been happier the last few months with her than I have been in years, and people keep telling me they can see it, even when she’s not with me. I love this girl. But we’re just getting to the part where our baggage is really becoming apparent and there are things we need to deal with, and they won’t be easy. And I think I need some kind of conscious, mutual decision at this point that we’ll both commit to doing the work and not run out screaming in the middle just because it’s hard.
Partly, I think I need this to keep myself accountable. I do run from this kind of hard emotional stuff whenever I can get away with it. I’m afraid that without a commitment from her as well, I’ll just duck my own responsibility to our relationship and sabotage it. I don’t want to do that, and her keeping me accountable (and me keeping her accountable for keeping me accountable, etc.) makes me a lot less scared of that.
And partly also, I need to hear her make that commitment before I’m okay with making this vast leap of faith into the unknown jungle of emotions in front of us. I want to know that she feels the same way. I want to take this leap starting from solid ground and know she’s right here with me even through the thick of it.
Am I crazy? Is this too needy? Should I really need my girlfriend’s permission to make my own commitment to her? I dated a guy who made his own commitment to me before I was ready to reciprocate, and while it was not the leading cause of that relationship’s death, it was weird and uncomfortable and I felt pressured to commit. I don’t want to do that to her, but am I just looking through baggage-colored glasses?
A Leaf on the Wind
A: Dear ALW,
First, I’m going to encourage you to unwrap yourself from your own brain for a minute. There are a lot of complicated thoughts getting mixed in with emotions up there, and it sounds like you’re trying to follow both your brain and your heart at the same time right now. Without a GPS. Scary.
That said, there is definitely a spectrum of commitment when it comes to relationships. Which is good—over-investing in someone who really wasn’t worth it has bitten me more times than I can count. There’s also wisdom to taking it slow in a relationship, not investing too much emotion into someone until you know them and that they’re investing back. (Damn. Turns out my mom was right about that.)
But it’s for exactly that reason that these kinds of “what are we doing?” chats are so awesome. No matter what stage of the relationship you’re in, it’s nice to check in and find out if you’re on the same page.
But, don’t be mistaken. Checking in is not a proposal. You can’t pretend that it is. While it’s fair to ask, “I’m ready to tackle this with you; are you up for sticking by me as we do it?” it’s not really fair to expect that just because you agree to face the tough stuff together, you’ll be together forever. Besides making sure that you’re committing to someone who’s committed to you, the other major reason mom said to take it slow is because going through these emotional-baggagey-times helps you to figure out if this person is a “forever” type. I’m getting a vibe from you that you don’t want to go through all of this work if it means you won’t be married in the end. But, in reality, sometimes going through all of the work is exactly what helps you figure out if you can get married in the end. It’s a terrific idea to make sure that you’re both in the same place and pointed in the same direction. But it’s not realistic to expect to predict the future.
Beside all that, there’s still a chance that all of the wonderful squishy feelings she gives you are only wonderful and squishy when times are happy. That’s the crummy part of being in any stage of relationship at all—you’re always, in part, putting yourself at risk of getting hurt. Caring for someone, by definition, makes you vulnerable. It’s a scary thing, and it’s true even in marriage. But, honestly, there aren’t too many awesome things in life that don’t come with a bit of risk. (Just napping, really. I think that’s the only good thing in life without risk attached. Napping and Downton Abbey.)
So yes. Have your talk! Sort out where you are and where you’re headed. Get on the same team to tackle all of this crappy emotional baggage together, and then be confident that even if things don’t work out the way you plan, this risk is worth it.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!