My ‘failed engagement’ and what it taught me

I was scrolling through my Facebook a couple weeks ago when I noticed a familiar face staring back at me: a picture of me taken by my now ex-fiancé. We had decided to take a trip to Vegas to see one of our favorite bands in their anticipated reunion tour, and had stopped by a ’50s diner where the picture was taken. I’m making a silly pose in the picture. I looked very happy staring back at the man taking the picture of me: a man whom I loved and whom I live with. Facebook’s Timehop was telling me this was taken exactly two years ago; at first I was slightly hurt and enraged that Facebook would remind me of what used to be, and what could’ve been, but then I told myself: “You were wrong about him. About many things, and that’s okay.”

Sharing moments like this on social media can be tricky. On one hand, you want everyone to know how happy you are; on the other hand, you don’t know if that moment will happen again. Those #loveyou #forever tags might seem silly later down the line.

I was 22 years old when I accepted his marriage proposal. I was very much in love with my boyfriend at that time, and like any major life event, publicly made it known to all my friends and family via social media, uploading pictures of a happy me wedding dress shopping with my bridesmaids, never shy to reference my “fiancé” in posts. Marriage meant forever, and I knew I wanted to be with him forever; I actually had known since the very start. I remember the first thing I told my best friend after our first date: “I found the person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with. I didn’t think I would, but I found him.” I was 20 years old at that time.

The following two years moved so fast — we’d known each other most of our lives prior to dating, but finally “finding” each other in a romantic-sense was just something I couldn’t help sharing. We were inseparable and serious-being involved in each other’s lives in any and every way just seemed natural.

Later down the line, things changed; I gave the engagement ring back just six months after he got down on one knee. You might be rolling your eyes right now, thinking, “Of course things changed, you were 20!”, but I mean it when I say that I never saw it coming. From fights that got out of hand, to down-right disrespecting each other, the troubles kept coming and coming, and I couldn’t help but feel like I should stay, regardless of the hurt I was feeling daily. I was sure of him before — I was so sure — so therefore I should know that this was only a phase. Deep down though, I knew it wasn’t a phase — I knew that our relationship was breaking, and that maybe it was finally time to admit to myself that he ultimately wasn’t the one.

I felt naïve at first, and felt stupid packing my things from our studio and moving back home. My family was so sure of our union as well; we’d have in-depth conversations about how maybe I should give things a second chance, give him a second chance. These conversations would end with me crying and trembling; shaking my head exclaiming that I couldn’t go back-I couldn’t keep lying to myself.

The first year was the hardest. I just started a new job two days prior to our breakup. I had mentioned I was engaged to my new coworkers, and that following Monday I came back to work with no engagement ring and just a cloud of embarrassment. Now all I had left was a couch I slept on, boxes of memories and an almost cleared Facebook page that now only had a few pictures of just me; all the pictures and posts about him deleted, shoved away like a skeleton in the closet.

Slowly I started healing, and I realized the best way to really recover from what to me was the biggest slap to the face was by talking about it, and not being embarrassed that it happened. Yeah, I was engaged. Yeah, I thought I knew someone and it turned out I didn’t. It happens, it really does, and not just with partners but also with friends or even career choices: You think you want something, you think something will be forever, you tell the world because you’re so happy and it doesn’t turn out the way you thought. Does pretending really makes things better?

Dating after my “failed engagement” as I refer to it now, was very scary at first — I was someone who’d taken a very large step back. I tried not to talk about what happened because of being feared of being naive or being “that girl who only dreams about getting married,” but I shouldn’t seek acceptance because the way I think of it now is that everyone makes major life decisions, and everyone has the right to take them back if they wish to. Whether you decide you want to be a doctor when you’re 12, or whether you decide you want to have children in your 20’s, there will always be choices being made, and taking them back shouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s just evidence of growth- You growing into someone you’d never imagine you’d even want to be like, which is refreshing because evenyou’re surprising yourself.

I’m 24 years old now and though I’ve moved on, I’m okay to talk about that time when I was head-over-heels in love and thought I’d found the one. It was a time that shaped me as a person, and though I was temporarily terrified knowing that not everything is what it seems, its almost given me a sense of hope. Whenever a friend of mine goes through a breakup of any kind- friend breakups are hard too — I always tell them this: “If you thought this person was amazing, imagine how amazing the next person in your life will be.” It’s now time for me to take my own advice.

I will always be grateful for the happiness and certainty I felt at that time, and I’m sure I’ll feel it again. I’m even sure I might have that certainty disintegrate again, but that’s just the process of growing and having people in your life. Don’t be shy about being wrong, don’t hide your past. You felt something, and it was beautiful. You take those memories with you and you move on. Trust your judgement. You know what’s best for you.

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