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This Is How It Feels When Your Friends Are All Engaged and You’re Not

When the waiting gets tough

set of wedding rings

Since Christmas, I’ve gotten five Facebook engagement notifications, at least three “When are you getting married?” nudges from relatives, two pregnancy announcements from people I knew when I was a kid, and one wedding invitation for the summer already. If I wanted to, I could rewrite the Twelve Days of Christmas with numbers reminding me of just how not engaged I am. What my true love did not give to me, if you will. I may be just a teensy bit frustrated.

I’ve been in the throes of pre-engagement for quite a while now. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I would guess it’s been about a year and a half. Last fall, when it was the worst, I had just moved in with my boyfriend and discovered Pinterest, all within a month’s time—a combination I do not recommend. Hours were spent pinning, combing wedding blogs, fantasizing. In my head, I had a dress, venue, flower scheme. (All of which I’ve now mentally chucked, fortunately.) And Boyfriend knew about it. Maybe not all of it, but at least he knew, and luckily, he thought it was cute.

It’s definitely less all-consuming now, but it still comes in waves. I still wonder vaguely, on certain occasions, whether this will be It, but not with the burning, kid-on-Christmas-morning hope that I once did. And I do not miss it. I’m content knowing that I’m with the guy I’ll marry eventually, and our lives are so in flux at the moment—we’re both graduating from advanced degrees and trying to decide where to live and what to do with our careers for the foreseeable future—that a wedding would complicate things probably more than it would simplify. There are only a few frustrations left, the worst of which is having to call him my boyfriend, while people whose relationships have been much shorter or (seemingly) less serious get to call each other “fiancé.” “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” fall so short of what we actually mean to each other. Middle schoolers can have boyfriends and girlfriends, but we’re planning our futures around each other, and that’s got to deserve something more. Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship.

But to be honest, this interest in weddings has at least served to make me think about what marriage actually is. Yeah, we’d be living together forever and having babies and—as one of my favorite shows once put it—debating whether there’s enough in the dishwasher to justify running it. We’d collaborate, professionally and personally, because we’re good partners, both our careers would be enhanced by it, and we’d be in love and making music forever. In the abstract, that’s easy. Wonderful. But in practice, it takes some finessing. It means getting irritated that he took his shoes off and left them on your side of the bed where you tripped on them again and learning how to deal with it without chucking them at his head. It means plumbing the deepest, most unsavory parts of each other’s souls and learning to love each other anyway, or more because of it. It means looking at the opportunities—often good ones—for both partners and deciding which basket you’ll put your eggs into. We’re musicians, and I know too many couples like us who got married very young and now, because jobs are so scarce, are forced to live miles or states away from their spouses. I would never leave Boyfriend just because of a little distance, but that seems to me like a tragic kind of a marriage, especially when there’s no end in sight. And anyway, it’s good to practice in a low-stakes way, by living together and seeing where we get along easily and where we don’t.

Even more than that, it’s made me think about why I want a wedding. I want to participate in that rite of passage. Ritual is important, and I want to mark the importance of our partnership in our lives with one. I want to be bound to the person I love most in the world, in society’s eyes, not just my own. I want to go up in front of the hundred or so other people that I love most and tell them why I’ve chosen to love him for the rest of my life, and not anyone else. I want to feel all that love swirling around me, so much that it’s too overwhelming and the only answer to all that love is a nice glass of champagne and some really good food.

So. I know him and he knows me, and we know we’re going to be together, so why not tell the world now rather than later?

Judging by a conversation we had over New Year’s, it turns out his concerns are much like most men’s. (At least if you believe all those “Top 10 Reasons He Hasn’t Proposed Yet” articles floating around—yeah, I’ve read those.) He wants us to be out of school before we get engaged. That will be early May, and will coincide neatly with his thirtieth birthday. A small, wistful part of me squeaks, “Maybe?” when I think of that, but I’m not deluded. I know it probably won’t even be then. He also wants to have more money—read: any money—and some geographical stability before we make a permanent, legally bound life together.

My logical mind can understand it. Waiting is, without a doubt, the responsible thing to do. And what’s more, he’s not really ready, and the last thing I want to do is push it. He knows he wants to marry me—he’s known that since before we actually got together—but actually taking the step is another thing altogether. And that I can understand. It’s an aching, impatient understanding, but an understanding nonetheless.

We love each other fiercely and have for years. I have no reason to think that will change, so I’ll just have to content myself with looking forward to the other commitments and big steps I know we’re going to make soon. We’re graduating. He’s turning thirty, and I’m throwing him a kick-ass party. We’re moving somewhere fun—location still TBD. Hell, we’re deciding where to move, together, in my first move that won’t be dictated by school. We’re embarking on an incredibly risky and incredibly exciting career path together, because we love music and we want to approach it as a team. If he asked me to marry me tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d say yes, but it won’t happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I might even end up asking him—probably not, but who knows? But I think I can be content knowing we’ll get to that particular milestone someday soon, in our own time, no matter how many sparkly rings and white dresses pop up on Facebook.

Here’s hoping that contentment lasts at least until Thanksgiving.

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