Reflections on a Year of Being Engaged
Marriage, I figured, would be fine in the end. I had my fears of the unknown, but I love the person I’m marrying a lot. The worst part of getting married, I assumed, would be being engaged, a transitional phase that I imagined as a fiery tunnel of bride-to-be hype culture that is just…not my vibe. Unsolicited marriage advice from family members. Overpriced bridal accouterments that I simultaneously did not need and also had to have. Retargeting ads upon retargeting ads upon retargeting ads reminding me of the many t-shirts, koozies, and penis straws I could be purchasing to commemorate this special moment in my life.
But about three months after Aaron and I got engaged, a global pandemic hit. And, somewhat fortunately for me, no one gives a shit about my wedding right now.
It has been a strange blessing to have the pandemic disrupt our wedding plans and take all of the focus off of our impending nuptials. You know that meme about not wanting anyone to perceive you that started floating around this summer? That’s kind of the perfect metaphor. I didn’t want to be a bride-to-be. I just wanted to be a person who loves another person in a big enough way to have a party about it. (I know, don’t say it — I’m intolerable.)
Getting married feels so tender and intimate, and so much about the wedding industrial complex feels like 700 people hitting you over the head with a polyester throw pillow that says MR. & MRS at once. I still feel a little self-conscious talking about our wedding sometimes because marriage feels so…naive? The odds are against us, and yet here we are, as the newly engaged say in their Instagram captions, doin’ the damn thing. Sometimes I feel like acknowledging that I’m getting married feels pollyannaish in a world with a hard to pin down but probably pretty high divorce rate. (And let’s not even get into how terribly heteronormative the whole thing is.)
But despite all of this hemming and hawing, there is a lot that I have really enjoyed about being engaged. Let me count the ways.
1. Getting to hear new stories about love and relationships from my family.
This little learning was totally unexpected and perhaps the one I have most enjoyed. I feel like this new status of “engaged person” has caused my family to tap into old stories about marriage or family that I had never heard before. I learned that my mom and dad dated for six years before they got married (how did I not know that before??). I learned about my aunt’s brief and intense courtship with my uncle that quickly led to babies and later bloomed into a decades-long very happy marriage.
My own impending marriage has been a nice entry point for conversation about some lovely memories from my family members that I don’t think we would’ve gotten around to talking about otherwise. In a way, it also feels like being welcomed into a certain kind of club. I don’t think it’s intentional, but I do recognize that marriage can mature or change you in the eyes of others. There’s something about this transition and perceived maturity that’s had a deepening effect on some of my family relationships, and that’s been really wonderful.
2. Feeling even more calm and stable in my relationship.
My relationship has most often been remarkably calm and stable. Our biggest inflection points, really, were worrying about reasons why we might break up.
Now, I don’t know if you know this, but when you get engaged, breaking up is sort of taken off the table. (Of course, I know, it could still happen, but the chances seem to have gotten much smaller with this ring on my finger.) With that potential crisis averted, the last year of our relationship (mostly spent cooped up together with two animals in our smallish apartment during a pandemic) has been more solid and peaceful than ever.
I saw it most clearly when we moved over the summer. Moving sucks for many reasons, and our moves have often been punctuated with tensions about whose stuff gets to take up more space and what stuff is really important. Do we need a record player there? Or a plant? Can the chairs be stored in the basement? Or do they need to live upstairs?
This time around was our easiest move ever. All of the bickering about whose stuff was most important seemed to fade because it all felt like our stuff now. It wasn’t a competition for whose life got to take up more space, since our lives are now very permanently intertwined. It was easier to make decisions about our space as a unit because we felt more like a unit that was built to last.
This is both deeply romantic and incredibly efficient, which, now that I think about it, could probably be a good tagline for healthy marriages everywhere.
3. Planning a big expensive thing with my partner.
The average wedding in Illinois costs $39,700 (what an oddly specific number — do you think the $700 is the photo booth?). No one needs to spend this amount of money on their wedding, and yet, somehow, people do all the time. And now we are some of those people, with our wedding coming in somewhere between $30 — $40K. Once you actually talk to vendors and start looking at contracts, it’s kind of uncanny how reasonable that $40,000 seems. Feeding and entertaining 150 people for the better part of a day is no small task, and all of the people who help you make it happen deserve to be paid a decent wage for services rendered.
What is even more surprising is that, over the past year, that $40K budget has somehow become remarkably attainable. A lot of this is due to the fact that we have both been lucky to keep our jobs this year. Without the normal big-time expenses like trips or dinners out, we’ve been saving a lot. We are in a place of incredible privilege to be able to do this. (And while we are acknowledging privilege, I also want to say that we are splitting this thing 60/40 with our very helpful parents who we love and appreciate a lot!! Thank you for partially bankrolling this shindig!)
Having to create a plan to save for and pay for what is absolutely our biggest joint expense ever has been challenging at times, but it’s also helped us expand the horizons of what’s possible for us financially. Buying a house felt like something that would be nice to do some time in our mid to late thirties if we ever figured out how to afford it. Now it feels like something we could maybe do in a couple of years. This has less to do with how much we’ve saved and more to do with a mindset shift around being able to do big things together. The mountains feel tinier once you tackle the molehill. Even when the molehill is $40,000 you swore you would never spend on a wedding.
4. Having an excuse to connect with all of our friends and family.
I mostly felt this pre-pandemic while we were sending Christmas cards last year. It was so nice to be able to excitedly say to all of the people we love, “I can’t wait to see you next year!” While we don’t actually get to see all those folks this year, it was nice to have had an opportunity to reach out to all of them again when we sent our updates about deciding to postpone things. In a world that has felt particularly isolating, our wedding has been a nice reminder of the people we’re connected to. And it will be really great to see them all in one room at some point in the distant, vaccinated future.
Also did you know that once you plan a wedding and have to write down everyone’s address and email in a spreadsheet, you basically have a database of all the people you care about the most?? I’m sure I won’t keep our spreadsheet of invitee contact info updated for very long once this knot is actually tied, but it feels very soothing to have all that information in one place right now.
5. Having an easier time thinking about the future.
Thinking about the future used to fill me with a lot of anxiety. I would imagine my future with or without Aaron, examining what I would gain or lose in either scenario. Weighing partnership against independence, worrying about the compromises that would undoubtedly come either way.
Now being firmly in the “future with Aaron” lane, those compromises don’t feel so threatening. It’s so much easier to imagine and talk about things like jobs, living arrangements, and family. Maybe this is temporary, but I hope it’s not. I think it might be my brain’s way of making room for things. Letting one set of worries subside and feeling more confident in my own choices and in the love and support of my partner (ahem, fiancé, I guess). And thank goodness, because WOW have I had a lot of new things to worry about this year. 😃 😭 🤷♀️
So perhaps if there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s the kind of lesson that you can never actually absorb no matter how many times you hear someone else say it — you just have to live through it yourself.
If I could do anything differently leading up to this chapter of my relationship, I definitely would have spent less time worrying. A lot of the things that I was worried about being awful about being engaged have not come to fruition, in part due to a massive pandemic that is sucking all the air out of the room and also in part to the fact that a lot of those things just weren’t worth being worried about.
This is not an endorsement of getting married, per sé. I guess it’s just an admittance that I was wrong. That things are like marriage are scary because they’re big and they are permanent, but there are a lot of nice little moments along the way that are less visible when you are too busy being caught up in your anxieties.