I Almost Got Engaged

Just an innocent little box under the Christmas tree

by Georgina Lodge

A few days before Christmas I realized, with an unexpected twinge of dread, that my boyfriend was going to propose. John came home from a solo shopping trip looking sheepishly excited. “You’re going to love your gift,” he ventured. I grunted and didn’t look up from my book, so perhaps to entice me, he added, “It was really expensive. This much…” He held out his hands a distance apart.

“Wow,” I said.
“It might make you cry.”

I finally glanced up at the gift-wrapped package now settled innocently under our tree, and narrowed my eyes. It was about the size of a jewelry box. We had been in a vintage jewelry store a few days ago, shopping for someone else, and he’d asked me casually, “Which stones do you like?”

Looking at the package, I made the connection. And I’m ashamed to admit, my first panicked thought was, “But I’ll be in my pajamas when he proposes!”

When I was five or six, I took a dried pea from my mother’s pantry and shoved it under my mattress. Surely if I had enough bruises in the morning my Prince Charming would appear. At the very least, could I please fall asleep for a hundred years and be awakened by true love’s kiss? By the time I was ten I had designed my wedding invitations and named my five future children, all daughters. My honeymoon was going to be in Giverny, France, among Monet’s famed lily pads (I was a sophisticated ten-year-old).

I blame my parents. My mother read fairy tale after fairy tale aloud to me. When I was older we watched Jane Austen novels on Masterpiece Theater and of course cooed over Meg Ryan falling in love with Tom Hanks. My father joked that the only reason for a woman to go to college was to find a husband, mocking the era he had been born into. The humor went over my head. I fully intended to meet someone, preferably someone dark and mysterious, like the heroes of my stories.

I did meet him. I met him during freshman orientation week. And he turned out to be as passionately delusional as I was. He told me even before we had officially begun dating that he wanted to marry me someday, and he named our first son-to-be barely a week later. Except for a requisite rough patch, we were inseparable for the remainder of our undergraduate experience. My idea of romantic love was intense and consuming. Being near him became my sole purpose in life. I was convinced that without him, I would die of a broken heart (come on, I was twenty and read all of Pablo Neruda’s sonnets).

I held onto the hazy notion that after graduation our lives would somehow suddenly be in order, and we would get married, and everything would be perfect. I didn’t visualize much further than the wedding itself. But after graduation we moved to another city together for graduate school. More school. More loans. No wedding. At some point, we grew up a little, whatever that means. My idea of love became more practical. This had something to do with sharing a bathroom and discussing who would walk the dog at lunchtime. John stopped whispering sweetly about forever. I consoled myself by sneaking peeks at wedding blogs under the covers at night.

Once wedding blog-reading got depressing, I began to question my concept of a relationship between a boy and a girl. The possibilities were limitless. What if I wanted to start my career in a different city? I could visit on weekends and we could just stay in bed and have crazy getting-back-together sex, and then not argue about whose turn it was to wash the dishes because we’d have our separate dishes. Or maybe I could also date other people! But when I asked John for an open relationship he looked at me like a lost, abused puppy, so I dropped it. (I suggest you not try this unless you feel very confident in your commitment to each other.) That afternoon, looking at that package under the tree, I suddenly realized that all those lavish weddings that I had so meticulously envisioned over the years had one thing in common: there was no groom standing at the altar, or if there was one, he was faceless. Secret wedding planning was a hobby that had little to do with my relationship, and everything to do with an attempt to grasp at the fading remnants of my little-girl fantasy life.

Marriage is another story entirely. Marriage does not need a white dress. It does not need floral arrangements or a string quartet. It does not even need the right person. Because, what does that even mean? How do you know who the “right” person is? What marriage needs is what we already have—compassion, a few shared interests, and stubbornness. The will to stick it out on the bad days, knowing there is a good day for every bad day. It is unrealistic to expect more from a relationship than you do from a close friendship. You may not always like them, but they will always be your friend.

On Christmas morning I made a point of dragging myself out of bed with plenty of time to take a shower. I even resisted the urge to step right back into my old sweatpants. I wasn’t about to let John get down on his knees in front of a slob. My throat tightened as I unwrapped the tiny black velvet box. What was I going to say? I couldn’t say no. After all, I love him. But how could I tell him that the moment had passed? That the time for getting engaged was gone, along with the fluttering stomach butterflies and the sleepless nights holding hands? I flipped the lid open. Never has a Christmas gift given me so much relief. It was a pair of earrings. I had been over-thinking a pair of earrings for days.

So, is a wedding in the cards for us? Maybe or maybe not. I suppose it is old fashioned to leave the responsibility in your boyfriend’s hands, to wait for him to get around to buying a ring. But the truth is it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I could be happy either way. There is nothing to wait for because we have already arrived.

Photo by Gabriel Harber

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  • Is anyone else really confused by this piece?

    • Yup.

    • Lisha

      I get the where the writer is coming from. Marriage is not all about the bells and whistles that a wedding entails; the fantasy piece that the wedding industry sells to us. A wedding does not make a relationship. For a multitude of reasons, you have to do what feels right for you and for some, that may or may not include getting married.

      • Lisha, I agree with everything you said, I just don’t agree that was this authors message. Or if it was, it was definitely not clear at all.

        • Maddie Eisenhart

          While I’m not sure that the author has a message, exactly, I think the point of this piece (at least for me) is that it captures a very specific moment in time. As someone who got engaged very young, I went through many of the same emotions of this piece. To me, it’s less about getting engaged and more about maturing your understanding of what relationships are about. (I find it very interesting that so many people have commented on the open relationship aspect of the piece. While I think it’s absolutely possible that maybe she really does want an open relationship, I also think there’s a moment you go through, especially when you’re young and you haven’t been with many people, when you think, “Shit, am I really supposed to sow my wild oats? Should I be listening to the people who say I should experience more people?”)

          • Rowany

            That’s interesting because I really want the author to read your piece on how your husband should be MORE than a close friend. http://apracticalwedding.com/2012/08/husband-not-best-friend/

          • BreckW

            I don’t want to speak for Maddie, but, although she uses the word “should,” I don’t think what she was saying was necessarily meant to be prescriptive to everybody. Every relationship is different (and so is every friendship), so one-size-fits-all advice doesn’t hold much water for me.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            Ha, actually, I’m glad you brought that post up. Because you know what? It took me six years to get to that realization. I think that’s why I always have such a hard time speaking for young marriage. Because I think it’s harder to tell when you’re younger if you’re ready to commit to someone or if you’re in love with the idea of weddings and romanticizing what it means to be married (especially a year or two out of college, when I think a lot of us are looking for another step to take, since that’s what we’ve been doing our whole lives, is making transitions every 2-4 years.) But if you’re really willing to commit to someone, I think it’s all right if it takes you a little longer to get to the important realizations. My relationship with Michael is much more adult than it was when we got married. Should we have waited? I have no fucking clue. But the only reason we’ve been able to get here is a willingness to grow up with each other. I’m not sure I have a point here, except that, I’m just always less sure what to tell someone in my position (like the author) because who knows? Relationships are a learning curve.

          • Alison O

            I would add, often people think of a learning curve as one trajectory ever nearing the limit of maximum knowledge. How reassuring. But, it can be a lot more curvy than that because what you’ve learned (and was true) at one point may not be at another. People fall out of love. It can happen as mysteriously as the love began. We do our best and have faith, and adjust as necessary.

          • Maddie, thank you for this response. I need to go back and read your posts. I’m glad to hear you had a lot of these thoughts/feelings yourself! I like to believe that these thoughts and feelings are normal and don’t mean something is wrong or that “doubt means dont” (totally disagree with that one!) Coming from a young engaged gal (23) thank you… :)

          • AND you’re right. That’s how I feel about learning what a relationship is about. When the buttery cloud starts to dilute and you learn what real mature love is.

    • Lauren from NH

      Yes and no. On the one hand the writer seems to have realized her girlhood dreams were a fantasy life that doesn’t account for the real human struggles that come in a relationship or a marriage. Which during the third to last paragraph I thought meant she was coming to understand her relationship in a more matured, contented type of way. That she didn’t need or want the fantasy proposal and wedding anymore, that without any of those things they had a marriage. But then when opening the box, she says, “the moment had passed [,] the time for getting engaged was gone,” as though she is completely disenchanted with not just weddings, but marriage and love as well, all of it. That is when I am baffled.

      But! I do understand the progression of having some humble and some wild dreams about your relationship, engagement, wedding, marriage, and realizing they are fantasy and upon realizing that, you no longer feel the same. Kind of what I was getting at with a maturing concept of love. It’s actually very relevant to my relationship right now. The damn ducks are dubbing around, so we have pushed back our timeline, and I was slightly shocked at how little I needed to mourn that, and actually how comfortable I am with it. With or without the official engagement we have “compassion, a few shared interests, and stubbornness. The will to stick it out on the bad days”. We are growing together, not apart. And we have cuddles, lots and lots and lots of cuddles. And we’re happy.

      • Agreed about the beginning. I was totally with her until the whole thing about wanting an open relationship, then realizing she’d never pictured the groom in all her wedding fantasies. To me, this said she wasn’t interested in marrying this man and maybe not being in a relationship with him. Which is why the whole engagement ring possibly being under the tree and she didn’t discuss it with him, didn’t make sense to me. It sure didn’t sound like the author was happy at all in her relationship so I was surprised at the question she has at the beginning of the last paragraph. To me, this piece clearly showed marriage was not in the cards for these two so having it posed like it was still a question to the author, was definitely confusing.

        • Alyssa M

          I’m so right there with you HeartvsBrains.
          I can get right on board with fantasy weddings not being what weddings are about (marriage) and having to mature past that. I was just explaining to my partner last night that there’s a little girl inside me that desperately wants a giant ballgown covered in crystals and giant costume jewelry and a tiara, but that the grown up in my head knows I will get something more fitting to our budget and our casual campground wedding.

          But growing past that wasn’t the same as getting over wanting to be married to him… if a friend described her feelings about her relationship this way… I’d suggest she end the relationship, and try living on her own. It definitely sounds like that’s what she wants but she’s staying with him by default?

          • Right? Thank you , yes. I honestly came away from this worried about the writer more than anything. Because it was clear to me from her own words she was in the wrong relationship, but it wasn’t clear to her and that’s what bothered me. Either I COMPLETELY misunderstood her feelings for her BF (still, based on her own words) or she completely misunderstands what healthy and good for us relationships look like. Either way I definitely thought that if this was my friend, I would for sure be asking why they were in this relationship at all. I sincerely hope I’ve misunderstood this piece.

          • Meg Keene

            As always, I think it’s probably best if we hold off making judgements about people we don’t know based on their writing. Better to couch things about how the post made you feel. Bottom line: you have no idea if she’s in the right relationship or not, so making pronouncements isn’t the best idea. Whatever this brought up for you though, fair game.

          • Rowan

            I don’t see anyone making judgments here, just expressing concern. Concern that her essay brought up some feelings she is having trouble addressing. And I’m not sure what the point of a community is if we can’t question each other (thoughtfully).

    • zoe

      Yeah. I know we’re not supposed to give advice… But if the writer is wants an open relationship and the boyfriend doesn’t, she’s fantasizing about leaving and the thought of getting engaged makes her panic, maybe she just doesn’t want to get married. At least, not right now and/or not to this partner. And that’s OK! But it does sound like she has some feelings about the matter, so it’s odd to close with “I suppose it is old fashioned to leave the responsibility in your
      boyfriend’s hands, to wait for him to get around to buying a ring. But
      the truth is it doesn’t matter to me anymore.” It’s like she came around to the fact that she’s not ready to get married, but rather than have that conversation, she’s just putting it all on her boyfriend.

      • Class of 1980

        I didn’t take it that she simply isn’t ready to get married yet.

        She mentions her boyfriend talking less and less about “forever” and then consoles herself with wedding blogs. After she got weary of blogs, she began to question her options. This smacks of disappointment to me and a gradual distancing in her feelings towards her boyfriend. This is only heightened by her words:

        “My throat tightened as I unwrapped the tiny black velvet box. What was I
        going to say? I couldn’t say no. After all, I love him. But how could I
        tell him that the moment had passed? That the time for getting engaged
        was gone, along with the fluttering stomach butterflies and the
        sleepless nights holding hands? I flipped the lid open. Never has a
        Christmas gift given me so much relief. It was a pair of earrings. I had
        been over-thinking a pair of earrings for days.”

        That’s just my take after a lifetime of observation. Especially troubling to me are the words “What was I going to say? I couldn’t say no. After all, I love him.”

        If I were her mother or aunt, I would ask … HOW do you love him? I made the biggest mistake of my life marrying someone I loved not as a romantic partner, but as a friend. I thought if you loved someone, you married them … not stopping to think that you also love your family and friends, but you don’t marry them. Just because you start off as lovers doesn’t mean you stay in that category.

        This couple sounds like they evolved into friendship to me, and are only marginally lovers. Hence the time for engagement is “past”. Hence the relief at not getting a ring.

        Just my 2 cents.

        • Margaret Thatcher

          As someone who came thisclose to marrying a friend I realized at the 11th hour I wasn’t actually in love with….. +1,000.

          I absolutely understand not believing in marriage–no one who disagrees with the institution should be pressured or forced into it.

          But if you don’t believe in marriage WITH THIS MAN, why stay with him? If a man was doing this, he would be accused of stringing her along and given a heaping helping of side-eye.

          It’s fine to not want to marry him, but I do think you owe it to him to make sure you are on the same page.

    • Eenie

      The message isn’t clear, but I’m not sure it takes away from the piece. Sometimes you need to write something and get it out there into the world. A nice clean happy take away message isn’t always needed. Sometimes life is confusing. I really liked the piece.

      • Meg Keene


        Sometimes we need a reminder that life isn’t full of clean happy takeaway messages. And we talk about engagement like life does work in clean happy shiny obvious ways. I don’t think it does.

        • Alison O

          Often reflections on engagement and other ‘moments’ in life are retrospective, written at a point where the the reflector has enough clarity to articulate (or prospective, when they can only speculate on how something will be). This post does a good job getting at the difficult reality of muddling through the mucky middle.

          It is like a diary entry. The way you see your life in the present moment in many cases is very different from how you interpret your past down the road. And then further down it, still. When you’re in a fog it can be helpful to look back to other times you felt that way, and see how that piece fit in the bigger puzzle. Somehow this piece will fit, too.

        • Em

          I agree that life is not clear and nicely packaged, but I also think that there is an important difference between writing clearly about an unclear subject, which would give readers insight into profoundly conflicting feelings and the messy, confusing nature of life — and writing unclearly about it, which leaves readers confused themselves. The writer had some really heartfelt, important things to say, but as the curators of the work presented, I think APW could have worked with her better to tease them out.

        • H

          I’m going to jump in on this spontaneous author intervention and say…I enjoyed this piece. I can relate to parts of it, and what I can’t, I sympathize with. I don’t really get the “confusion” here (or the need to offer therapy to someone who isn’t writing an “ask team practical” but that’s a whole other can o’ worms). The only problem I had with it was that she didn’t share the names of her five fictitious daughters…I’m super curious :D

          • Meg Keene

            Thanks H. I’m going to frame your comment.

    • js

      Yes, so much so that I was relieved it wasn’t a ring, also. Maybe the point of this is like the last piece, where you don’t know if the couple in the diner is getting divorced or not and you can draw your own conclusions?

      • I have to be honest, I fear that APW’s stance on keeping the message of their pieces as “universal” leads to pieces like this and the one about the diner – both lovely pieces but not very useful in trying to get a point across, because there seems to be no point. I love ambiguity as much as the next girl. I’m just not sure this is the appropriate venue for it. It’s hard to connect with something when you don’t know what the author is trying to say.

        • zoe

          I don’t think all pieces necessarily need a point or a message — I like reading simple reflections of where people are at. That said, I think my confusion stems from the very conflicting messages (I’m panicked at the thought of getting engaged vs. oh well, maybe I’ll get engaged but I/m leaving it up to my boyfriend.)

        • Meg Keene

          Well. No. That’s not how our editorial process works. I don’t give a shit about keeping pieces universal: I think that’s terrible art and terrible editing. I care about keeping things specific. Specificity is always what leads to some sense of universality anyway.

          The piece about the diner didn’t speak to you, but it did speak to a LOT of people. (Me included.) I for sure knew what the author was trying to say. Not everything we publish is for everyone.

          As for ambiguity, holy hell is this the place for it. As someone who’s been in a relationship for close to a decade, I can pretty clearly state that relationships and marriages have an insane amount of ambiguity along the way, and it’s good to get comfortable now. Any marriage that lasts a long time is going to probably have YEARS of ambiguity in in, not weeks or days.

          • BreckW

            I absolutely loved the diner piece. I will be measuring every other post published this year against that one.

          • Emma Klues

            I wanted to echo that this piece (and other pieces) are not universal. They are just examples. Just like a Wordless Wedding or How I Did It or any other feature is one example to do with what you will. I so appreciate that APW is not about “should” and therefore stays away from universality, but rather they provide as many varied examples as they receive/can and it’s up to us as readers to use it or lose it or think about it or contribute to the conversation or share it or whatever we want.

            Do you usually like every joke a stand-up comic tries out? Or every article a paper publishes? You don’t have to, for sure, yay! But good content curators draw from all perspectives, rather than publish generic pieces that try to be something to everyone. And I think the discomfort shown in the comments of pieces like these prove that their strategy is not that of universality.

    • Molly

      I am quite confused, but seems like the author is too.

    • feelingfickle

      I want to believe it’s intentionally confusing, like a written reflection of all the things churning inside her? But it is hard to follow. I guess, ultimately, the point of pieces like this and the potential divorce one is to say to people who might be having similar, confusing, conflicting feelings: it’s okay, other people feel it all, too.

    • C

      Yes, I’m confused too. In the last 2 paragraphs, the writer expresses panic that her boyfriend is about to get propose, indicates she will say “yes” if he is, suggests that the moment to get engaged has already passed (why, because she’s no longer a child subscribing to a fairy tale fantasy so she can no longer get engaged, ever?), feels relieved that he wasn’t proposing, and says she’s now going to wait for him to buy a ring – except that if he doesn’t, that’s okay too.

      It’s totally okay to:
      – not want to get married, ever;
      – not want to get married to the person you’re currently dating;
      – be afraid to leave a relationship that isn’t fully what you want;
      – take some time to figure out if your current relationship is what you want;
      – talk to your partner about your fears;
      – talk to your partner about your desires; and
      – not be 100% sure if you want marriage and to take the time to process those feelings.

      I’m just not fully sure which of these things the writer is trying to talk about here.

  • Anne Schwartz

    This is a lovely story of growing up and into love.

    • Meg Keene


  • Mo

    “Secret wedding planning was a hobby that had little to do with my relationship, and everything to do with an attempt to grasp at the fading remnants of my little-girl fantasy life.”

    ^^^ THIS. This is the truest thing I’ve ever heard about Pinterest-browsing before I was even close to being engaged, when I was engaged, and even after we already had everything picked out for our wedding. I sincerely wish more girls who are obsessed with “having a wedding” instead of “being married” could hear this advice. Fantasy can be toxic.

  • KC to KE

    She seems to be very conflicted. After reading through it twice, I’m still not sure I fully understand.

  • Karen

    I thought I was the only one to have the “faceless groom” fantasies! Well, I never fantasized about a wedding, it was about kids, but I could always see the faces of the kids but never the face of the father/husband!

  • I am also somewhat confused . . . and perhaps that’s the point? Because the author sure sounds conflicted.

  • anon

    I’m really worried about this line: “It is unrealistic to expect more from a relationship than you do from a close friendship.”

    Oh gosh, no, it’s not! It’s not unrealistic to expect that at ALL! Of COURSE I expect more from my fiance than I do my best friends. He’s signing on to build a LIFE with me, to live with me, to be FAMILY with me, to share money / responsibility / pets / kids / hopes / dreams / fears / love / joy. I don’t expect that kind of commitment from my best friends, and it would be unhealthy if I did.

    • Shiri

      I think it’s unhealthy to expect *everything* from a relationship – to expect your partner to be your best friend (and all your other friends), your lover, your confidante, your security, etc, to share everything you believe and feel, but I do think you can expect more than what you would of a good friend. I’ve realized, in my own life, that some people don’t want to, though. They want their partner to be at the same level of intimacy as a friend – or perhaps less intimate – and that’s their choice. It’s a perfectly valid choice.

    • Alison O

      This line stood out to me, too. Like Shiri suggested, people can choose and shape their relationships however they want. It is not at all unrealistic to expect more from a relationship than a friendship (assuming the author is referring to a romantic/committed relationship…since friendship is a kind of relationship, too). Most people I know do. Not necessarily all the same things plus more, but usually more overall, or more as far as the hard or otherwise not fun parts go. It is also not unrealistic to expect the same or less. You have to figure out what you need and want from the relationship, and how that matches up with your partner.

      That said, the rest of the paragraph was referring to marriage. So if by “relationship” the author meant marriage, I would say overall I think it is appropriate to expect more. Again, not necessarily “all the same stuff as a friend plus marriage stuff”, but overall, more. A legal contract is a whole lotta more to me. Sure, there could be situations where a marriage is mostly practical or expedient, and the majority of the person’s needs are met by other people in their life, but in my experience that’s not typical.

  • Rachel

    I will say that on my first reading, I read this as: the author is unhappy in her relationship, doesn’t see a future with her boyfriend, and feels as though she fell head over heels without much thought, all because she was obsessed with the concept of a wedding and Prince Charming. I got the impression that the story was going to end with them going their separate ways and realizing they’re not a good fit and that while they love each other, they don’t see a future. Which yes, means I was pretty surprised by the ending, which came across (in that context) as saying essentially: I don’t think my relationship is right, but I don’t care enough to leave.

    BUT, then I read it again, and got a different message the second time around. That new message was that the author DID in fact dive in head first without much thought, and the relationship was originally all-consuming, perhaps a bit wrapped up in fantasy and out of touch with the real world, and single-handedly focused on the goal of achieving a fantasy wedding. But then, over time, their relationship evolved and their concepts of romance shifted from fantasy to the everyday mundane that somehow became romantic in and of itself. I get the impression the author had a period of panic when that transition happened (hence the section in the middle that conveys a sense of desperation to explore and try other things) – but she learned that she was in fact happy with the way things had gone, and no longer interested in the fantasy wedding she’d always dreamed of, but rather interested in continuing to take things one day at a time and live in the moment in their evolving relationship. She realized, in that moment of clarity when she thought a proposal was imminent, that the proposal and wedding wasn’t what she wanted anymore, but she did want him, exactly as he was, and exactly as they were.

    But I could be wrong, that’s just my interpretation on read # 2!

    • zoe

      I like your interpretation — and hope for the author’s sake that it’s true. But one of the things would make me worry if she were my Real Life Friend is the fact that first she says that seeing only earrings was a “relief,” suggesting that she is NOT in fact ready/wanting to get engaged. But then she goes on to say that if her boyfriend proposes, she WILL get engaged, and it’s up to him. Instinctual reactions are important!

      • Rachel

        Absolutely, and I’d say that’s a very valid point. It does seem clear based on her reaction to the possibility of a proposal that it’s something she doesn’t want. That’s fine, 100% valid, and totally okay. Maybe she doesn’t want to get married right now, maybe she doesn’t want to get married ever, maybe she doesn’t want to get married to this particular guy, all totally valid feelings. But you’re right, it is concerning that she expresses throughout the post that she doesn’t want to get engaged, but then says she would get engaged if her boyfriend decided it was the right time. I think surprise proposals are fine if they work in the context of your relationship – but when I say ‘surprise proposal’, I mean the actual moment of the proposal is planned as a surprise – the decision that marriage is in the cards is something that should be mutually decided and very clearly discussed and communicated beforehand. A decision this huge is a shared decision.

        I think, like most readers are saying, this post is highly ambiguous. I got a totally different vibe on two different readings. I suspect if I read it again, I’d get a totally different feeling again. Ambiguity is fine, and nothing in life is ever as clear cut as we’d like it to be, but I don’t think indifference should be the foundation of building a life together. The only people who can know the inner workings of the author’s relationship are her and her partner, so hopefully the feelings of indifference towards her partner and her relationship are just our interpretation based on this particular reading of this particular piece, and not the actual feelings that exist in her relationship.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah, but I don’t think it’s our job to make a decision about what’s “right” for this person based on 1,500 words. The second we start doing that is the second it seems clear people are uncomfortable enough with the sentiments that they don’t want to sit with them.

        None of us have any idea what’s right for the author. We only know what this essay brings up for ourselves.

        • Alyssa M

          I fully understand and agree with the idea that we don’t know what’s right for the author, especially based on a single essay. I don’t know what’s right for my best friend and we speak constantly…

          However, you’re sure as heck right that I’m uncomfortable enough with the sentiment that you can’t reject a proposal from someone you love but don’t want to marry “What was I going to say? I couldn’t say no. After all, I love him.” enough that I don’t want to sit with it.

          It’s a feeling people feel, and it’s good to say it and talk about it, but I’m not sure it’s alright to let it stand without acknowledging “It’s ok to love someone and still turn down their proposal if you don’t want to marry them.”

  • Sarah E

    I had zero confusion about this piece until I read everyone’s comments. I appreciate the author’s recognition of wedding fantasy as another fairy tale ingrained in girls from a young age. My take-away was something along the lines of removing the expectation and desire for a Big Romantic Moment, a la movies, as she and her partner grew together and found contentment in their relationship as it is.

    Maybe that was my take-away because it’s what I relate to most. Before having a boyfriend, I could imagine a handful of ways I would like to be proposed to, and could easily make decisions on my wedding dress style, and every other aesthetic element of a wedding. Once I was actually in a committed relationship, all the other “stuff” fell away. We opted not to do a proposal because it doesn’t fit our playful, laid back, practical relationship in the least. And my aesthetic opinions are moot when it comes to our wedding because we aren’t spending money on any aesthetic details.

    So in the end, I feel the author speaking to the unraveling of wedding and fairy tale myths for the reality of committed love, with or without marriage.

    • BreckW

      Agree, 100%.

    • Meg Keene

      Yup. But mostly, the point is that’s what it brought up for you. And that’s really all we can get from essays like this.

    • ardenelise

      I agree as well. What this post really brought up for ME (and I imagine it’s different for everyone) was acknowledging a past dependence on rom-com wedding/engagement fairy tales (something I feel we’re often ashamed to admit these days) and recognizing how we can grow up and leave those fantasies behind. I have recently realized that since I got engaged, I now have a very hard time fantasizing about my wedding. In the early years of our relationship, I would envision our (big white) wedding as I laid in bed trying to sleep. Now that it’s real, I can’t picture it in quite the same way. Maybe it’s because I now have to think about how much each detail would cost (in money and time), or maybe it’s my subconscious way of accepting that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” but I think the process of actually crafting a wedding has helped me realize that that’s not the goal at the end of the rainbow. Building and maintaining a marriage is.

      Even if that’s not the exact point the author is trying to make, reading this post helped me recognize those feelings in myself. And I really like the ambiguity of both this post and the diner essay. Life almost never has happy, perfectly scripted take-aways, and it’s nice to see that uncertainty reflected here.

  • KC

    I don’t think it’s a far leap at all from “wait, what I always thought I wanted isn’t actually what I want or what’s happening. WHAT?” to poking around to see what the alternatives are that you hadn’t ever considered as possibilities (i.e. open relationship, visiting only on weekends [I can totally see both of those as a “finally, one problem is resolved” followed probably fairly rapidly with “… and 50 different additional problems are created”]). I guess, I don’t actually see flailing around a little when the ground under your feet gets removed as necessarily a barrier to permanent commitment.

    (and I sort of assumed the we’ll-see-whether-we-get-engaged-or-not-it’s-on-him is mostly a “don’t have to deal with figuring that out until he brings it up, so gonna mostly ignore it for now” sort of thing. But the Little Girl Fantasy Faceless Groom Wedding Engagement window *is* over [which is good, I think!].)

    • BreckW

      “I don’t think it’s a far leap at all from “wait, what I always thought I wanted isn’t actually what I want or what’s happening. WHAT?” to poking around to see what the alternatives are that you hadn’t ever considered as possibilities (i.e. open relationship…)”

      Yes, exactly. I think the author’s thought process (and the post) evolve pretty naturally. She met John at the very beginning of college when she still had fairy-tale ideas of how relationships function, then, after time, she realized that maybe that wasn’t how things worked/how she wanted them to work. Confused about all the confusion.

    • Sarah E

      Totally agree. Once you have This Is How Things Go unravel (ex: you mean engagements and weddings DON’T look like fairytales?!), it seems natural to me to question every other aspect (ex: well, what ELSE were they lying to me about?!).

      If you end up making similar decisions with your newly-discerned information, great! But that exploration phase (well, if Prince Charming isn’t real, maybe dating this asshole, multiple people, other genders, no one at all, will work for me) is necessary as part of the discernment.

  • anon

    This was me, same conflict. I got engaged after I felt my “moment to get engaged” had already passed. I love my man and our life so much, but at first I felt embarassed that everyone was making a big deal about my engagement. FH and I have talked about how much getting married does matter to us and will change our lives. We’re planning an elopement in March and starting to get pretty excited about our plans.

  • Winny the Elephant

    “Or maybe I could also date other people! But when I asked John for an open relationship he looked at me like a lost, abused puppy, so I dropped it. (I suggest you not try this unless you feel very confident in your commitment to each other.) ”

    This is where she lost me. If you want an open relationship, you need to be confident that the other person wants one as well not simply that you are very committed to each other. Both people could be very committed but if one views this commitment as spending your life together and the other views it as spending your life together + monogamy then that’s a problem. I think she needs to be sure that if her relationship never becomes open, she will be content with monogamy. It really isn’t fair to keep going through a relationship if you don’t see yourself being fulfilled with monogamy.

    • Jess

      I thought about this for a while. I wonder if the request was more of a “I wonder what else I could be/would be missing out on if we made this forever right now” Kind of a gut-reaction, panic OH NO! There may be a greener pasture! Which really isn’t that uncommon of a feeling at the thought of giving up singlehood, especially since it sounds like he was her first major relationship and she didn’t get the chance to “sow some wild oats” (I just realized how incredibly odd and male-focused that phrase is).

      At the time, an open relationship to her might have seemed like the option to fix the “I think I want to be with you, but I feel like I might be missing out on single life right now!” feelings.

      Realistically, open relationships are about a bit more than letting go of a single-self, and I agree with you, both people really do have to be ok with it OR both people have to be fulfilled without it.

  • AmyN17

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love this post!

  • Grace

    I have to ask, because I’m genuinely intrigued, when is this Moment To Get Engaged, how do we recognise it and what’s problem with getting engaged at another moment? I’m actually curious about this because I’m approaching my 5th anniversary with my boyfriend and wonder if people would consider us to have missed our moment. Thoughts?

    • Sarah E

      Other people have no say on what “your moment” is. It’s entirely up to you and your boyfriend to determine if you want a moment and when that moment might be. When my partner and I decided to get married, we didn’t really have a moment. We had a series of increasingly concrete conversations, and that worked best for us.

    • Alyssa M

      I actually find the “moment to get engaged” idea kind of unstable and unhealthy… I certainly get when it’s not the time YET. But marriage is meant to be forever, if you can “miss” your moment then good thing you actually missed it because you weren’t ready to be engaged… I’m not articulating what I mean very well… mostly because this idea really upsets me.

      And no Grace, you haven’t “missed” your moment at 5 years. Stay on your own time table and when (if!) you’re both ready to get married, then it’ll be your moment to get married.

      • Grace

        Yeah, that’s kind of what I was getting at. If you both know you’re not ready yet, for whatever reason, how is it possible to have missed your moment? I am just a bit baffled by this concept. We know when we’ll be ready to get engaged, surely when it happens that will be our moment?!

        • Anon

          Yes! This is what is so confusing about this post! I have no idea what the author meant when she said the moment has passed for getting engaged, if she doesn’t mean the relationship is over. I agree with Alyssa M that there is no “moment” until you both are ready. And then, once you are ready, it isn’t a moment at all. It is just a time for deepening committment in preparation for marriage. A marriage that is not about a moment, but a lifetime.

          I definitely don’t understand the concept of a “moment” for getting engaged. Maybe I’m missing something.

          • Alyssa M

            That’s exactly what I was trying to say… you win coherency.

          • Grace

            Yes! That is exactly what I meant. You explained it better than I did. I don’t understand how two people who ultimately want to end up married can possibly miss their moment, but it seems that this concept exists so I want to try to understand.

          • lady brett

            i think it could mean a lot of things! for one thing, marriage is not the only path to long-term commitment. or it could be that the time for grand gestures is what was gone, not the time to move towards marriage

            those are just what i can see it meaning had i said it (because i was once certain i would never marry – and for me, getting engaged was absolutely a “moment” (a vastly important and overwhelmingly emotional pinprick of time), but i think that was circumstantial and had it happened differently it could easily have felt like less of a “moment” and more of a joint rational decision.) i’m sure there are many other options, and i’m sure i don’t know what she meant.

    • Alison O

      Like Sarah E said, I think it’s totally personal. I would caution that a moment brought about by wondering whether other people think it’s your moment or post-moment is probably NOT your best moment.

      But, if you’re wondering about how other people think about it…my (our) moment has not happened yet, but I primarily see marriage as a legal contract and a practical matter to formalize an already committed loving relationship, so I suspect the moment will be precipitated by issues related to housing, finishing graduate school, finances, health insurance, having kids, etc. Basically, when there’s a tangible benefit to being married versus cohabiting in love as we already do. We will also take stock emotionally (go to premarital counseling, etc.) before saying “I Do”, but we do that on the regular anyhow. If we’re at a point where there isn’t an immediate tangible benefit to getting married, but there isn’t a disincentive either, and it looks like it’ll stay that way for a while, we’d probably go ahead and get married for the (hopefully) longer term issues (hospital visiting rights, health care proxy, etc.). We have a lot of practical life changes on the near horizon, though, so I think the decision will largely be related to those.

    • KC

      I think since the Fairy Tale Romance concepts had dissolved, the Fairy Tale Romance Engagement is no longer possible, so that “moment” (which honestly it sounds like wouldn’t have been a good idea at that point anyway) is gone.

      The “getting engaged and we now know what that actually means instead of mostly fantasizing about pretty dresses” window probably doesn’t have a closing date as long as the relationship is still stable. At some point, different people in your life will respond with more of a “oh, okay, you weren’t already married?” instead of an “oh, what a surprise!”, but… that’s not exactly necessarily a problem. And even if you have a “people really thought you would have done this earlier” wedding at age 75 after dating for 50 years, you can still have basically whatever kind of wedding you want (maybe not, like, mountain-climbing at 75 for most people? But generally.)

      So, no. I don’t think missing the “moment” is a thing, although peoples’ reactions to an engagement will gradually shift over the course of a relationship based on what they expect time scales to look like (huge bonus: fewer will be freaked out/opposed to you getting married because it’s “too soon” or they’re just not used to the idea yet!). But you wouldn’t be getting married for peoples’ reactions to your engagement anyway, so… hopefully no big deal?

  • kaymo

    Ah, this post made me feel so very sad.

    I was once that woman unwrapping a small box at Christmastime. I felt overwhelming dread, so sure it was an engagement ring. It turned out to be a necklace. I cannot begin to express the relief I felt in that moment. I broke up with him about a week later. It wasn’t fair to stay, knowing for sure that I would never marry him.

    • Helen

      I was this girl too. Surprise proposal shortly after my 22 birthday, which was about six months after I had stopped fantasising about it. I felt a wave of dread, put the ring on my finger, and buried all critical analyses in the excitement of the wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him, he’s a lovely guy, but if I’d been equipped with the language and skills I have today, I probably would have said ‘no, for now’ or even ‘let me think about it, please’. I always wonder if our marriage had been more considered rather than the headlong rush, we might still be together.

  • SJ

    Not so confused here. We got engaged Christmas of 2012 after five years together. And as soon as he cracked that ring box I uttered, quite fervently, “Ohhh….SHIIIITTTTTTT.” It’s not that I don’t love him. I do. I would do anything for that man. Fight a cracked-out grizzly bear or do the dishes. But maybe, for me, that’s an OH SHIT moment. My life changed. So I totally get the “I want it. NOW” and the “Oh SHIT” when it happens. Getting engaged is a big step. I jumped it with both feet. :)

  • Kendra D

    I really like this piece. First, it’s had me thinking all day which is always a good thing in my opinion. Second, I can’t quite get comfortable with all aspects of it and that’s even better.

    It is not always comfortable to think about the fact that the “rainbows and butterflies” give way to the practicality of every day life. It’s not comfortable to talk about the fact that sometimes love is the other person doing the dishes when it isn’t their turn. It certainly isn’t comfortable to acknowledge that it’s okay to have doubts in your relationship, that there will be moments when you wonder if you’re making the right choice or if you’ve made a mistake and that those moments can last for decent periods of time.

    There are times that I think that the romantic comedy and the fairytale are as damaging to our young people as porn for setting unrealistic expectations. Both the rom-com and the fairy tale end at “happily ever after” without getting in to what that looks like. So we thrive on the expressions of love as shown to us in the movie. We think we’re supposed to be like the couples in the movies and have big passionate moments, always.

    Yet that isn’t real life. It’s just fantasy.

    Real life is a struggle. Real life has highs and lows. Real life turns those butterflies into solid feelings. Maybe they aren’t as exciting, but that doesn’t mean they are any less valid. Letting go of the fantasies is what gets us through real life.

  • Jamie

    Thank you for writing this piece. I’m not sure anything I’ve ever read on APW has come so close to my own sentiments. I’m 30 years old and marrying my college boyfriend after close to 10 years together. I arrived at the place of indifference that the author describes after quite a few years of anxiously awaiting the fairytale proposal (that I openly dismissed as silly and materialistic). For me, I realized that not getting married until now is what strengthened our bond. It takes strength to stay together with no contract – legal or social. We chose each other every step of the way (over 20-something promiscuity! and open relationships! and everyone else was dating new people!). It wasn’t easy and wasn’t linear. The wedding is just a little thing we are doing along the way. Thank you for writing a piece that affirms that our marriage is not the same as our relationship. It’s just a new label for what’s already there.

    • Wow, inspiring, thank you :)

    • Georgina

      Dear Readers,
      Wow! So, I have ridden the roller coaster of your comments, and would now like to add my little two cents. First of all, huge thanks to commenter Jamie above for expressing my sentiments in one paragraph far, far better than I did in 1200 words. Thanks to everyone for your feedback, which has made me think a lot, and hopefully I will be a better writer for it.
      It may not surprise you to hear that this piece originally began as a personal diary entry to help me process my own shock that my feelings about the possible Christmas engagement were not joyful. I was/am indeed, as most of you have guessed, very conflicted, and I decided I wanted to convey this. Judging from your reactions, I guess I was successful in this :)
      I did not intend to have a tidy little message or a happy ending. While I am certain that I love my boyfriend and he is the right life partner for me, I have never witnessed a completely blissful tension-free marriage that was not always a work in progress. That is not a bad thing.
      Since we met young, I have had a lot of “is the grass greener on the single life side??” kinds of thoughts, and I think that’s natural and does not speak ill of our entire relationship. As far as your confusion about what I meant by the “moment” having passed, I meant that the “surprise” engagement that I dreamed of in college now seems more terrifying than romantic. Communication is a challenge for us as it is, and I would want this important life decision to be preceded by some serious discussions and pre-marital counseling.

  • Michelle

    I think this post shows something simple about humanity, that we can hold contradictory ideas in our heads all at the same time, and sometimes it takes a long while to sort it all out.

  • Winny the Elephant

    I really liked the diner piece and could see that the overall message was that marriage can be a messy clump of feelings. This piece was really confusing for me. Not just in a “I can’t relate to her feelings” kind of way but also in a “I had to read this 3 times to even try to understand what it was about and it made my head hurt” kind of way.

    I’ve reflected on this piece and the comments on it throughout the day and one of the things I enjoyed about it was her discussion of mourning a single life she never had. I too found my person very young, with little dating experience and I’ve had moments of fear of missing out. I think that this could make for an interesting piece and perhaps the author would consider writing an essay which centred more on her feelings about it.

    Ultimately APW is made up of guest submissions and that means that not every piece of writing is perfect. I think the guest posts make it all the more richer. APW is also made up of an incredibly diverse community of individuals which means that not every piece will resonate with everyone and that’s ok.

    • Violet

      Huh, you know Winny, my reaction was similar. (Except I didn’t read it three times: I read it once, stressed about the impending blizzard for the rest of the day, then came back to read the comments later.) I learned something about myself based on my differing reactions to this and the diner piece. Like you, I really liked the diner piece, I think because it was ambiguity I could handle. Like, I didn’t know the “answer,” but at least I knew what the question was. There is a LOT of uncertainty here, and I don’t think I’m that comfortable with it. I applaud the author for getting her thoughts onto paper- feels like it was a huge undertaking. I don’t mean to sound like I’m criticizing the author, I’m not. It just made me aware how I react when there’s more ambiguity than I can handle. Very thought-provoking!

  • lady brett

    i love this!

  • Vincenza

    I freaked out about a Christmas gift that I thought was a ring and turned out to be diamond earrings. A year later, we are happily engaged but at the time we lived in two different cities and I was a nervous wreck. I knew I wanted to marry him, I just panicked at the timing being completely his decision. I confessed to my anxieties a week after receiving the earrings and we had a lot of great conversation. I hope that the writer has shared these things with her guy as well.

  • DavidJennifer

    I am confused about what the writer wants to convey. She says she loves her BF but she also says that she is not ready for engagement. Now where will this lead to. A yes is a yes and a no is a no. She needs to be sure about her feelings and future with the guy.