I’m Happy That We’re Engaged.. So Why Am I Freaking Out?

Seriously, someone put this on a Hallmark card.

Freaking out about your engagement? We get that. | APW (1)

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

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  • One More Sara

    Love this post! Posting the link on FB for the slew of engaged people I saw on my feed this holiday season

  • Rachael

    Perfect engagement card sentiment. I know once I was engaged I turned to many married friends and guiltily admitted to them that I was a little (sometimes more than a little) freaked out. Their unanimous reply? That’s normal!

  • C

    Ha, I also demanded premarital counseling before I agreed to get engaged. My partner thought I was kind of nuts and he really did not want to go, but after the first session he was really glad we went. We learned a ton and it gave me a LOT of peace of mind about my decision to marry him.

    But now our wedding is less than 3 months away and I find myself becoming increasingly nervous about making that commitment. It’s not that I don’t adore my fiance or that we don’t have a wonderful relationship…it’s just that getting married is a big, scary deal. It’s so good to hear I’m not the only one who feels that way!

    • totally normal :) it’s freaking huge. i just tried on my wedding dress/picked “the one” and almost passed out!

  • Emma Klues

    This is a great post! And I think the moral of the story is that APW should make greeting cards. But also that it’s a great post. But seriously, greeting cards.

    • Emily

      APW should make those cards. Until then I look for one with the most glitter on the outside and blank inside, just to cover all of the bases.

      • Elizabeth

        Lots of glitter + blank inside sounds perfect for all the feelings! One of my favorite cards was from someone who was very aware of my freaked-out state. On the front of the card were two engagement rings and the words “Sh*t just got real.” It was so appropriate on so many levels.

      • Did you know that some people hate glitter on cards? Apparently “it gets everywhere” and they get glitter on their hands and “it’s just awful.” I take this into consideration and, when giving cards, these people get EXTRA glitter on their cards. Glitter power!

  • macrain

    I was wracked with anxiety after my now fiance and I talked seriously about getting engaged for the first time. I felt like there was something wrong with me, or that perhaps even this was an indication that this man I loved wasn’t right for me after all and I would have to end it with him. (How silly that seems now, but in the moment the terror was 100% real.) I think this is something that a lot of women experience and no one talks about, and because no one talks about it, women feel ashamed when they have these feelings.

    This was before I had discovered APW, and I ended up finding a lot of solace here: http://conscious-transitions.com/tag/sheryl-paul/. Sheryl Paul has written a lot about relationship anxiety, and her thoughts are right on the money.

    One last thing- the part about grieving your single self- yes times a thousand to that!

    • lady brett

      that terror and lack of space to feel it seems like it is so related to the idea that across the board women want commitment and men don’t. which is a) crazy and b) doesn’t account for the fact that wanting to make the commitment doesn’t make it not scary.

      also, i’m coming up on 3 years married and i still find myself grieving my single self. but it’s really in much the same way that i grieve other things that could have been (actually using my degree to do optics research, dropping out of college and going to trade school, travelling with my dog and pick-up truck and working odd jobs along the way). because all my lives could have been great (as is the one i’ve got now, which helps).

      • Julia

        Yes, you can want to commit while also being really scared. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I can also related to grieving what could have been, because I love thinking about all the different roads my life could go down at any given moment and it’s hard to shut doors on opportunities. When that happens, I think of this quote: “There was another life I might have had, but I am having this one.” — Kazou Ishiguro

      • Laura

        “Because all my lives could have been great (as is the one i’ve got now, which helps).” Yes, a thousand times yes.

      • afdp

        Yes, 3.5 years married and I too still grieve my single self. It’s with a lessening frequency sure, but definitely still rears up at times.

    • NicoleT

      What a fantastic website! Thanks for the link. I just started reading through it and I can already tell that I’m going to find some great stuff in there.

  • A note to the lovely and talented Liz of Betsy Ann Paper – I would buy the SHIT out of that card if you made it!

  • Lindsey d.

    Oh goodness, yes…. I absolutely ran the gamut of emotions during our pre-engagement and continuing through our engagement. From giddy, to pissed in a “Why aren’t we engaged yet?” manner, to thrilled, to massive cold feet. Six months after we were engaged and just over two months from the wedding, I’ve happily settled into excitement and contentment.

    I asked for and received the oddest sign right after I moved in with him (just last month). I lived in the city and he lives just outside of it in a smaller town (but bigger house) that did not have recycling services. Recycling is a BIG DEAL to me and was definitely something I worried about. Within two weeks of moving in with him, we got word that we were getting recycling AND our trash bill was going down! Definitely something I took as a positive sign that I was making the right choice. Am I reading too much into trash? Probably, but it works for me.

    • Meg

      Nope. Recycling is CLUTCH

    • macrain

      Hey, whatever makes you feel good! I found that after I faced my anxiety head on, it opened up space for me to feel excited about getting married. It was the BEST feeling. This is not to say I don’t still have bouts of anxiety, because sometimes I do. But when I do, I just remind myself that it’ll be okay and I’m making the right choice.

    • Cheri Armour

      Lindsay, I am so friggin glad I’m not the only one. We are engaged and I usually toggle between nervousness, and absolute giddyness that I get to spend my life with a man like him. What the hell is wrong with me, especially as much as I couldn’t get that ring on my finger fast enough? Just glad to see that others experience this as well! :)

      • Lindsey d.

        Definitely not the only one!

  • ashleigh

    This could have been me through my engagement! As has already been said sheryl paul and of course apw helped new massively as did a wedding prep course. It’s something that isn’t acknowledged enough and i make a point of talking about how much i was freaked out to all my engaged and pre engaged friends.

    For those of you wondering i find the wedding didn’t cure the freak outs completely but has helped me put them in perspective and not get as upset by them. Im a worrier, that’s part of who i am.

    • Sheryl Paul?? I love her! She is my therapist too, and I’m on conscious-transitions.com as well! Her work (which is a godsend) is the first thing that popped into my head while reading this post, her work and me of course!

  • lady brett

    the pears! i adore that.

  • Gina

    I was the exact same way. I didn’t understand why my partner WASN’T freaking out! But you know what, I’m starting to realize it’s a personality thing. And I’m so grateful that the plan-it-all-out, wait-til-the-perfect-time side of me is balanced by his laid back, we’ll-figure-it-out side. Because if it was up to me, we would have waited for writing in the sky to get married.

    One thing my control side hasn’t let go of is the feeling that I have to really plan out when to have a kid and check all the boxes before that happens. Once again, my husband is being super-patient and giving me time to sort through that. I think the key is finding someone who understands that you freaking out isn’t a reflection of your commitment to them, but just how you’re wired. Thanks for this!

    • Julia

      “I think the key is finding someone who understands that you freaking out isn’t a reflection of your commitment to them, but just how you’re wired.”

      Yes. Absolutely. My fiance and I started using the phrase “Challenge accepted” (in the Barney Stinson HIMYM voice) when it’s clear I am freaking out about something. It makes us both laugh, and it reminds me that this moment feels challenging, but it’s okay, it’s just a part of the process, and he and I will figure it out together.

    • Nikki E.

      I completely agree with your last sentence! I think the way that I KNEW that it was right, was that I didn’t scare him away with my crazy anxiety and indecisiveness! It took me a while to see that though.

      I wish I had read this post a few years ago! My now husband and I dated for 5 years before getting engaged. We were young (in college for half of that time) so once life started changing (i.e. we were graduating) and we started to discuss getting married, I seriously freaked out. Full on panic attacks. It took me a good two years to really work through all of that, but I was totally honest with him about it and he stuck by my side. I never really got to a point where I was 100% ready, but I realized I could have waited my whole life for that to happen. Luckily, he popped the question and I said yes! Although that certainly did not end the anxiety, but I think I had better learned to manage it at that point. I still felt like a total freak for not being in a constant state of bliss that all of my friends described. We’ve now been married for 2 years, and I can honestly say that after the wedding, I never looked back, and in regards to being married, I feel an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. I think all of the anticipation of this “huge” change was really what got the best of me.

    • Laura

      A slight bit off topic but… My partner and I have similar personalities to what you described: I am “plan-it-all-out” and he is “figure-it-out.” I love this about us. As you said, the balance is refreshing. Any thoughts on how this factored into conversations about the wedding (assuming you had one). Wondering how you navigated the wedding planning process?

      • Gina

        We did have a wedding, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be to your particular situation because we were planning it from 3 states away! I ended up letting my mom handle most of the details and we took care of the big things. That was a good exercise in letting go of my control freak tendencies, because I couldn’t fly out every time a decision about centerpieces needed to be made.

        Between him and I, I made sure I knew what was important to him–the food and the music– because I really didn’t want him to lose his voice in the process or feel like it wasn’t as much his wedding as it was mine. He ended up finding an amazing Americana band that everyone loved and he totally took ownership of that. One day I was like “we have no way of telling people where to sit!” and he did a google search and got all the materials to make seed packet/seating assignment envelopes that were really cool.

        I had to keep reminding myself not to micromanage his efforts, even if it wasn’t the way I’d do things, because it was more important for him to feel like an equal partner. So I guess for us, it worked to discuss stuff together but I gave him some discrete tasks, and then didn’t try to “fix” whatever he did. It also helped us to use the weddingwire.com checklist of deadlines so when I was like “we need to find a photographer at least 6 months before the wedding”, I could point to the checklist and not sound like a crazy person.

        • Laura

          This helps a lot, thank you! Reminding myself to give him ownership and to show him in real life… “Six months IS last minute, honey.” :)

  • BD

    The “grieving my single self” was a big thing after I got engaged; I’d been happily single for 28 years before finding the “One” without even looking for him, and switching over to a new kind of contentment wasn’t that easy for me. My now-husband didn’t understand it at the time. When I first mentioned these feelings he really thought I was reconsidering our engagement! It scared him. I think he also bought into the idea that women are supposed to be giddy all the time after we get a ring put on it, and simply couldn’t fathom me mourning my single days, something men stereotypically do. But then, I’ve made a habit of smashing his expectations when it comes to women! He insists its one of the reasons he married me.

  • Julia

    I would have LOVED to receive a card like this. “Contentment doesn’t always translate to constant bliss” — SO true. Actually, on the night we got engaged, I jumped up and down with joy and then started bawling my eyes out about 20 minutes later once I realized the magnitude of what had happened. Basically, I felt utter happiness while also freaking the fuck out at the same time … which of course made me panic that something was wrong with me. But I was just, you know, feeling all my feelings.

    Being on a “permanent high” is unrealistic and unfair for any engaged person — but it’s an expectation in my neck of the woods as well. I can’t tell you how many family and friends responded to our news with “Aren’t you just so HAPPY?!” (And they asked only me that. Not him. He got a handshake.)

    So thank you for writing this post. People would totally buy such greeting cards.

    • NicoleT

      Yes! Specifically, “Basically, I felt utter happiness while also freaking the fuck out at the same time”. That was me as well, 110%. It was “yay!” and then immediately “holy shit, we’re broke, we’re going to be eating cat food for the next 20 years, why are we getting married”. Gets a little better everyday :)

      • Julia

        Hahahaha. I totally understand. I also noticed that now that we’re engaged, any time I hear about a couple getting divorced I’m like “OMG IT NEVER LASTS, HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS…” Whereas before I was pretty indifferent. Glad to know the push and pull between happiness and panic gets better :)

  • Therese

    I just cracked up reading the first few paragraphs because they were so unexpectedly familiar. I’m currently in the figuring-things-out phase, suddenly questioning things that have seemed so solid in the past few (very enjoyable) years of our relationship. Meanwhile, he already has the ring and is just waiting on me to calm down a bit and give him the green light… It all seems a little silly, considering how much faith I have in our relationship, but right now, I’m just letting myself feel it all and hoping some of the fears will pass sooner or later.

    Congratulations to you! Congratulations for being so brave. Maybe you should consider starting a line of really honest greeting cards ;)

  • oh my freaking Jeezus are you me?? Hell yes to this post, times a million!
    THIS: “When a friend gets engaged, I try to respond in a way that lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is valid.” and and “Contentment is not an exclusive emotion- I can be grieving my single self too”

    Be my best friend please!! I have made a point to share every emotion with my friends so that when they get engaged all the “underbelly” of feelings will be normalized. I really really hate the cultural message about how you should be feeling and what feelings are valid. So happy to read this post, thank you so much for putting this out there, because it needs to be out there as much as miley cyrus’ tongue.

    • macrain

      Not all of my friends have been in a mindset to share the freaked out feelings as they are going through it. I was thinking, awesome! We can talk about this! But of course everyone is different and it may take some time. It’s actually much better to talk to already married friends who have lived and survived the freak out. I’m a person who loves talking about my feelings as they happen but some people do need some space and time to process everything.

  • just need to say i am loving this conversation this morning. and all the mentions of sheryl paul. THIS is why I love this community. because you get it. because i never have to sugarcoat my feelings and there is no judgement. thank you, thank you!

  • Alice

    Whew, this post came at the perfect time. I just got engaged to my man on a trip home from Scotland (where I live and he doesn’t yet) and had to leave the holidays and my wonderful guy and come home to my lonely flat and the wonderful January drizzle. Needless to say, it knocked some of the wind out of my sails, and has given me plenty of time to think and worry, and then worry about why I’m worrying. Good to know I’m still somewhat normal!

  • Maria

    I said just that to one of my best friends who got engaged in November. I confessed that it was how I felt and she was so relieved. There really should be a card for it!

  • Katie Interlichia

    My goodness I was so freaked out when we first got engaged, but not because we were engaged, I was, and am, totally ready to marry him…but the sudden intrusion of all of our friends and family, out of love of course! But people commenting on the success of our relationship or even simple things like “you’ll be a beautiful bride” left me kind of upset…like, “what if I don’t WANT to be a beautiful bride! You don’t even know our relationship how can you say these things?!” But then a couple weeks passed, and I re-figured out that people can be happy for you, and that’s okay, and their thoughts don’t have any bearing on your relationship, and you two can make any reality for yourselves that you want, and that it doesn’t have to fit the mold that anyone else sets for you. And then it was better.

    • EF

      this this this. the intrusion point is so true. thanks for wording it katie!

    • Laura

      This was (is) me! Elated to be marrying this man. But when all the (loving, caring, well-meaning) people started asking all the questions, I had a strong irge to call off the whole thing.

  • Laura

    Oh wait, so I’m normal. Sweet Jesus and Happy New Year. Thanks for this post!

  • StillSmiling

    I. Love. This. Thank you!