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.”
“Okay.”

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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