On Getting Engaged Young and Living Life Out of Order

woman running near the ocean

“I can resize your ring,” Rebecca shouted over the bouncing music of the bar, “but that doesn’t mean you have to marry him!” I smiled, nodded, and assured this woman who I had met two hours before that I would be careful and think hard about whether or not I would marry my new fiancé when we returned to the United States. “Because you know, two and a half years, it’s really not that long. It’s not long enough. And you’re so young!” Two and a half years before, I couldn’t have pictured myself in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on the front half of nine months of travel with my new fiancé. But here I was.

By the time I was midway through college, I had a clear vision of the rest of my life. I would graduate and move to Boston or Chicago, where I’d get a grown-up apartment, a cool roommate, and a great job in publishing, orchestral administration, or another equally interesting field. I’d be a successful career woman. I hoped to meet a nice man along the way and get married around age twenty-eight. After that, my life plans became more vague. My earlier dreams of living in France, writing a novel, and having adventures were too impractical to consider. Who really does any of that?

When I met Eric, I had just turned twenty-one and was learning to enjoy being young and single. Eric was twenty-eight and had recently passed the bar exam. He was back in Ann Arbor for a week from Cambodia, where he was spending a year working as a program manager with an NGO before starting with a law firm in the United States. At our mutual friends’ Halloween party, we chatted over jungle juice—swapping stories and joking about his lack of costume. After talking all night and kissing on the back porch, I assumed I would never hear from him again. He was a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer, for God’s sake. I was just some sweet young thing he’d been hitting on for the night.

We’d exchanged numbers, and the next day I received the first of many texts from him. Surprised and a little wary, I agreed to meet him for coffee. When he took me cheese shopping at Zingerman’s Deli, I realized that this was a step up from my usual experience with guys. I called my best friend, saying, “I think the lawyer is dating me. Does cheese shopping sound like a date to you?”

By the time he left to go back to Cambodia, we’d exchanged email addresses, screen names, and Skype information. For the rest of the semester, we talked nearly every night. The twelve-hour time difference meant that I was just getting ready for bed when he had time for a lunch break. I began to look forward to his first “hello” of the night.

After graduation, I moved in with Eric in Philadelphia, where he was still working at law firm. It was a hard summer. I was homesick and I had few local friends aside from Eric, who was working fifteen-hour days. I worried that I had made the wrong decisions. No modern female chooses love over her job, right? She gets to choose love when she actually has a career. I had an unpaid internship and a job as a line cook that got me up before dawn. It wasn’t what I’d dreamed of for my post-grad self. Eric listened to my bi-weekly crises and reassured me that it would be okay.

September came and my internship ended. I began temping at an insurance company and Eric began planning to leave the law firm. He had been wanted to pack up and explore the world for years. He had been saving money since graduating law school, and after we began dating he adjusted his budget to include me in his adventures. I wanted time to see if writing was a realistic option, more than just a dream I had packed away when I went to college. I wanted to see more of the world, parts that had previously felt too far away to reach. We bought plane tickets, reassured our parents it was a good idea, and left in March for Phnom Penh with the intention of traveling until December.

Two weeks into our trip, Eric proposed. We were in the guesthouse where he had lived while he worked in Siem Reap, where we had chatted on Skype, where he had sent me photos of the Christmas decorations he put up in his room. It was where he realized he was falling in love with me. “I don’t want to wait,” he said. I didn’t want to wait either.

The ring that he’d picked out two days before we left the US was too big, so I wore it on a chain around my neck. One night out, we met friends of a friend who worked as jewelers in Bangkok, our next destination. Rebecca and Jordan said they could resize the ring for me if we called them when we got into the city. As the night continued and we consumed more beer and Mekong whiskey, Rebecca began asking me about our relationship. She was concerned about me being engaged at twenty-three, not having dated enough men, not being sure enough about what I wanted. It didn’t help that Eric, who loves playing devil’s advocate, had spent a long time debating love’s existence with her one or two beers earlier in the evening. “You know, it’s good you have until December to think about this,” she assured me. “You can think, and you don’t have to marry him just because he gave you a ring. I want you to be happy!”

I am, though. No, I didn’t think I’d be engaged at twenty-three. At times I don’t feel like a real adult, especially because I haven’t yet had a career-track job. At the same time, this is right for me. Eric is it. He’s my one. And I’m going to marry him.

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