by Elizabeth Henry
I couldn’t take it back. We were in the produce aisle and I was chattering about something else when it slipped out, too true and primal to be caught by my over-analytical filter: “I’d like to do this together someday.”
I tried to hide my confession by picking up a pear from the next display, “I’d like to pick out perfectly ripe pears with you someday, I mean.” But it was too late, my recovery too transparent.
My partner knew what I meant. I wanted to pick out produce together, yes, but I also wanted to share a household, to share a life and a future. For months, I’d been playing hard to get, crafting six-, twelve-, and eighteen-month timelines, doing anything to distract me from my fear of actually committing.
After my slip up with the pears, I started negotiating. Initially, my demands seemed pretty reasonable. We started our relationship long-distance, so my first requirement was to date in the same town for a while. My next stalling tactic wasn’t ridiculous, either. “I want my friends from college to meet you,” I said. “Let’s wait until after that wedding/reunion in June.” As the reality of getting engaged came closer, my bargains got more desperate. “We have to answer all the questions in the APW book,” I said. “And go to premarital counseling. And have a massive fight. And discuss our end-of-life wishes.”
There. I’d done it. Skipped right over our entire life together and gone straight to the “till death do us part” bit.
“Hey, take a deep breath,” my partner said. “We don’t have to have all the answers before we get engaged. Or even before we get married.” I wouldn’t be swayed by a little reason and moderation, though. So my patient partner plowed through, helping me make little tick marks on my constantly evolving “now I can get married” checklist.
Luckily, one of those action steps was a meeting with a therapist, who helped me realize it’s perfectly normal to feel…well, pretty much anything…while getting used to the idea of making a lifelong commitment to another person.
And now that we’re engaged, I haven’t magically changed into a laid-back crafty wedding planning maven. I’m not suddenly the bubbly bride-to-be. Sure, I talk about the wedding, but it’s often hand-wringing about the more sobering parts like what people might think about my feminist chops if I walk down the aisle with my dad (spoiler: feminism isn’t defined by one decision) and how to make sure we do the right paperwork so we can file our taxes together. And cake. I love to talk about cake.
I’m deeply content that I’ve found my companion, the one I’m spending the rest of my life with. The one who will smother me with kisses in the kitchen until I start laughing after a hard day. Who tolerates my endless need to know all the things before making a decision, and encourages me to lighten up on my worst-case scenario preparations.
But contentment doesn’t always translate to constant bliss, and that’s okay. Contentment is also not an exclusive emotion—I can be grieving my single self, too.
When a friend gets engaged, I try to respond in a way that lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is valid. Especially a friend who is female, because for some reason she’s supposed to be giddy all the time. Culturally, we equate an engaged woman with someone who is on a permanent high of delight—she’s getting everything she ever dreamed of, right? Or maybe that’s just my corner of the country.
I haven’t found a greeting card that says “Happy Engagement! I’m so excited for you, but I also want you to know that it’s okay to freak out a little on the inside. That’s normal and I still love you and your partner still loves you, too. And that’s what matters.”
If you find a greeting card like that, let me know. I’d like to buy a stash.
Photo by Gabriel Harber (APW Sponsor)