Wednesday, 15 March 2017
Here’s a conversation I’ve been putting off for over two years now.
In Sept 2014, my boyfriend proposed to me. It was unexpected, but lovely. Personal and intimate. The only way I'd want to be proposed to.
The strange thing was, no sooner had I gained this new ‘fiancée’ designation, I rapidly came to realise that something about it made me uncomfortable. And it was disorientating.
In hindsight, I can see that I reacted oddly from the get-go. I insisted I wanted some time to enjoy it myself, before we announced it to the World, when in fact, I needed the time to process it. Even in those first few weeks, when everyone around me wanted to ask about potential dates, possible venues and dress shapes, I felt like I was struggling to match their excitement.
I would dread it coming up in conversation, which it did, regularly. I thought it was just in films where couples would start planning a wedding five seconds after getting engaged, but nope, apparently, that happens in real life too and it was mildly shocking that people assumed we would follow suit. Questions such as "Have you set a date?" and "Have you been pinteresting?" came thick and fast.
I had been pinteresting. I was pinning images of James Franco in his role as Allen Ginsberg for outfit inspiration and scoping out interesting new dinner recipes, but I don’t think that’s what they meant.
After two years when my ‘No” responses got boring, the question changed to “So, have you been thinking about starting to think any more about a wedding?” I felt like my answer was a let-down: “not yet”.
It wasn’t because I didn’t want to get married. I’m just not in any rush. For both of us, engagement has never been the end-goal. Together we are settled, content, and comfortable both in our space and with our pace. To me, we, as we are, feels more than good enough.
It seemed that there was an unspoken synonymy between eagerness to plan a wedding and the level of validation in a relationship and that was at odds with me.
Then there’s the whole matter of the ring itself.
After a while I’d got used to wearing it until one eve I took it off to apply hand-cream and forgot to put it back on. James was working away at the time. It didn’t take long for people to notice the next day: “Where are your rings?” “Oo whilst the cat’s away…”
It was said without any hint of malice. A wind-up muttered between three women who I admire and confide in daily. However, it caused an immediate pang of guilt. I felt icky. Is that what it means? If I don’t wear this piece of jewellery, I’m causing suspicion to creep in to the minds of others? Am I throwing a question mark over the trust and loyalty which has hung around so naturally for the past seven years?
I found myself folding my arms self-consciously, hiding the fact that I wasn’t wearing it for the rest of the day.
I love the ring. I adore that James took so much time and attention, visiting antique jewelers on his travels through America to find the perfect piece that I would love. And yet, rather than feeling like a treasure, it started to feel like a prelude to a scarlet letter – a sparkly beacon that suggested that, as a female, I was on a relentless mission to prove myself, not to him, but to everyone else.
Knowing that James wouldn’t have questioned it, it felt utterly ridiculous to even entertain any analysis over what it all meant, but I couldn’t help but ponder how odd it was that he would never have to justify himself in the same way.
There’s a balance in our relationship that I adore. We’re both independent and together at once. Before-engagement, we were equals. Marriage, I hope will be a partnership. To me, engagements feel imbalanced. I simply don’t enjoy the feeling of ‘belonging to’.
At first I thought that the new addition on my finger made me feel a little less me.
I realised that I never heard anyone admit to feeling like that – not in films nor fiction.
And it was this disparity between how I thought I should feel and how I felt, that continually played on my mind.
It became an elephant in the room – a catalyst of guilt and endless self-reflection.
In the days after the “ring conundrum”, an existential crisis ensued. One friend listened patiently as the unhelpful comparison hit fever-pitch: "Maybe something IS wrong with me? Why can't I do these things like everyone else?” "Why didn’t I rush out to buy a wedding magazine? They had the plans ready to go before she said yes!” “What does this mean? Am I a shit person?” “DO I EVEN DESERVE TO BE ENGAGED RN!?”
The self-reproach was driving me a bit insane. Soon after we’d got engaged, my beautiful, lovely godmother had so so so kindly kicked off our wedding fund. Two years later, the money is still safely stashed in a planner. I told my Mum: “I’m going to have to get in touch and return this money. I can’t keep it for the future, when I haven’t even started a pinterest board!”
She told me to stop being a dick. Not quite in those words. Thankfully, my mum is much less foul-mouthed, but she re-assured me that there's no rush.
Really? It didn’t feel like it.
Yesterday, on a phone-call that stretched across the Atlantic I shared my thoughts with James "I feel like a fraud and like I don’t deserve you because I don't feel ecstatic about being engaged. That said, neither of us are fussed about rushing in to the wedding planning, so why am I freaking out about this?"
Why do I feel like I am constantly explaining myself to arched eyebrows?
Understanding and agreeing he reasoned, “Why are you even worrying what it might make other people think? That’s never what you've been about, that’s why I like you. It’s just as valid to feel more excited about a trip or a book you love. "
It’s true. We’ve never done anything the traditional way. An engagement shouldn’t be the only thing we hold up on a pedestal. What about the smaller, day-to-day achievements?
After explaining my I-think-I’m-doing-it-all-wrong meltdown, another friend questioned: "What is it that you think you've fucked up though? As far as I can tell you've kinda nailed it."
I didn't ask them to elaborate but I fathomed they were referring to the metaphorical notches I'd knocked off the Ole Great Big Check List Of Life - A job I enjoyed, a roof over my head, a fiancé. yada-yada-yada.
But are those things the holy grail? I mean, yeah, those things do all make me happy but it’s not all that makes me happy. Maybe part of my quandary lies in the fact that I don't know what my personal big life check list is. It’s an ongoing thing.
I am all too aware that this is such a terribly wonderful problem to have but it’s something I’ve needed to try and articulate. If only, to release the whirlwind of thoughts that continually make me question myself. It was James’ idea to write it down.
I’ve been so scared of hitting publish on this post. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
I worry that people will scan read and come up with their own conclusions about what this all means. I worry that it will deter people from asking me about anything ever again. I worry that people who have been so generous and so kind about it will think I'm ungrateful.
I worry that it will make people who don’t feel confused in the same way as me, feel like I’m judging them. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
There's no final conclusion to this. I know my internal monologue is convoluted. The funny thing is, I'm half-expecting to change my mind on this whole thing as soon as this goes live. My brain is partial to a sudden U-turn. Like I said, I'm still figuring it out, but if I’m okay and the person I love is okay with the way that we’re doing it, that should be enough.
If this time tomorrow I find myself excitedly browsing Rock N Roll Bride, I’ll embrace it warmly. In the meantime, I’m going to stop putting myself through hell for not making it a priority right this second.
If there's one thing I've learnt in this past year - from experience, from others and from reading a shit ton of articles and literature by women I admire, it's that the world sometimes struggles with what to think about complicated, indecisive women. So easily are we made to feel ashamed if we are seen to slow-down or take a side-step when the traditional rule-book dictates, that we should always be pushing full-steam ahead.
I think that pressure applies in all areas of our lives.
Humans are by their very nature, complicated and fluid and indecisive. And I’m working on letting myself believe that it's ok to be that.
I am engaged but today I've removed the ring from my hand and added it to my necklace.
A small change, that means nothing and everything all at once.
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