During the stretch from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, it seems like everyone is getting engaged. Two years ago this very time of year, post-holiday stress, I ended a years-long relationship that I knew was not going to end in a proposal or a marriage. It hurt a lot at the time, but I got through it, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
There are tons of tough questions people considering marriage need to ask themselves, and each other: What are our expectations for our shared future? What do we both want and not want? What’s the basic plan we hope to follow, together? All of these may be hive-inducing and scary, but the most important one you’ll loathe asking yourself is why you want to be married.
I was asked this a lot during that emotional time, by people who 100 percent meant well, and it was infuriating.
“Because I love him and I want to be with him forever,” I would seethe, impatiently.
This is what we’re supposed to say, right? How could this not be the right answer? But this is only an answer. This is not always us being honest with ourselves.
When I said these words I believed them, but it was not the whole story.
I very much wanted to be married, that much was true. I wanted that person to offer me my own ring, handed down from my grandmother to my mom, and I wanted to Instagram it on my hand immediately. I wanted to change my status, on social media and in life. I wanted to level up on that adult ladder we have ingrained in our minds, and I wanted to shine doing it all. I have never believed these to be a unique wishes, nor am I ashamed of having wanted them.
And so, well after the fact, this is the real answer to the question of why I wanted them: Two years ago, I wanted to get married because I was seeking a deeper level of commitment from a person who was ill-equipped to give it. I believed that a ring would magically make me trust my partner and rid me of all of the insecurities and fears I felt when we were together. I desperately wanted us to get married for the wrong reasons – and not even for the fun kind of wrong reasons, like the excuse to throw a giant party for which I get to pick out dresses for my best friends to wear.
I spent a long time being more in love with a person than that person was in love with me. That person wanted to love me the same way I loved him, but those are the kinds of things you can’t force or fake. And the person getting the rough end of the deal can and always will feel that imbalance, no matter how much he or she wants to ignore it.
Do not marry someone who makes you feel this way. Do not marry someone you do not fully trust. Do not let yourself believe the fairy tale that tells us that a ring will solve our problems. If there’s a doubt nagging your gut, listen to it and address it.
Maybe you can’t answer that question right now, and that’s okay. But I can tell you, I am so glad I did not get engaged to and marry that person who didn’t want to marry me. It wouldn’t have worked out, and instead of being where I am now, I would have had to wait a much longer time to recover. I’ve done a lot of growing and soul searching since that break-up, and when the right person does come along, I will be in a healthier starting place for that relationship.
It stings to not be proposed to when you want and expect to be, and it feels worse the longer this problem goes unresolved. I remember it vividly, and it was frustrating, confusing, and it made me feel terrible about myself. Watching others all around me reach a milestone I wanted so badly felt like insult to injury. But even if it looked effortless on their parts, I know it never, ever is. They had to ask some tough questions to get there, too.
Obviously, my experience is not universal – If you want to be engaged and know you’re ready, talk to your partner about it. Make your expectations known so you can get on the same page. Otherwise you’re going to set yourself up for a major disappointment every time your partner reaches into a coat pocket or takes you out to dinner.
If you’ve sat through a holiday season, or God forbid two or three of them, waiting on an engagement ring, know that you have my complete, most sincere sympathy. I’ve been there, and I am writing to tell you you’re not alone. On top of that, you need to know that the way you may be feeling about your status today, now that it’s late January, is valid.
As a final note, you might find comfort in the words of Dana Norris, who wrote a recent Dear Dana advice column on this topic:
The whole thing is worth a read – Let Dana’s wisdom and caring words wash over you, but don’t forget to grab the tissues.No matter what, I hope you get whatever is best for you this year.
(Image via Focus Features)