When we took our engagement pictures, I planned to be drunk. A decade of research has shown me that my photogenicness enjoys inverse correlation with my level of sobriety. However the good lord does not always respect the scheduling and day drinking needs of the high school-based social worker, so our engagement shoot found me standing in the alley beside our house, on a Friday afternoon, wrapped in Julie’s arms, while my beloved smile-hissed at me, “Just reeeelax! Why are you so nervous??” And our much-adored photographer encouraging us to be more lovey-dovey: “You can make out! It’s the best part!!” And leaning down to kiss Julie while my brain is screaming, “All the other engaged people like making out for the camera! Why don’t you?? You must be broken! Just ignore the camera! Enjoy kissing your partner!! Oh my god, if we can’t kiss on camera, our whole marriage is probably doomed!” (My calm, levelheaded nature is the key to my well-regarded practice as a mental health professional.)
We did not have high hopes for those pictures. And, of course, they turned out fantastically. I’ve printed out a dozen of our favorites and hung them on our walls. We look happy. Loving. Beautiful. Our children will know that, at one time, we were hot. We look like there’s nowhere we’d rather be than romantically and artfully meandering by the dumpsters hand in hand, which is true, in a larger life sense, but certainly is not indicative of our feelings at the moment those pictures were taken.
Which leads me to my point—sometimes I feel like engagement is an exercise in marketing. Our pictures are the first salvo in our attempt to save Julie and Kelsey’s market share as we transition our brand to The Hopson-Shillers. I feel pressure to protect our image as our relationship and our family bears increased interest and scrutiny from all of the important people in our lives. This scrutiny, of course, comes in the form of love—excitement for the wedding, a desire to get to know Julie better, or a sincere desire to make me feel like a part of my new extended family.
Sometimes I buy into the hype I can recognize so quickly in standard forms of marketing. I see other engaged friends and couples on social media, and while intellectually I understand that no one posts about their murderous impulses brought on by picking up someone’s pajamas off of the bathroom floor for the four hundredth time, there’s a tiny voice inside that tells me that we’re not as good as they are. We’re not even continually blissed out when we’re engaged; ours will be a marriage full of strife! Our disagreements take on some new intensity, as we consider that every annoyance about the other is something we’re signing up to take on for-ev-er. I want to distract everyone away from the rough parts, because I know those will smooth out with time, and discussion, and maybe bourbon. I also know that I’m being unrealistic. All couples fight.
When I’m not catastrophizing, I’m just as sure as I’ve been since the day we got together, that I am my overall best when I am part of this partnership. I want to make sure everyone sees the best of us, because we love each other fiercely, make each other stronger, and offer balance to our separate lives. I’m hesitant to even write that while we were supposed to be have a darling, romantic afternoon making out and enjoying our mutual hotness being recorded for posterity, we were bickering and anxious. But why not? That’s one part of us, and we’re not perfect. Although I think we’re pretty good. We are sometimes even as good as we look in the pictures.