When I got engaged back in 2014, something didn’t feel right.
It wasn’t that I didn’t wholeheartedly love the man who asked me to marry him. I was sure about Tim from the first night he kissed me on a dock in Maine.
The trouble was, when we started talking about getting engaged, it felt like there was a one-size-fits-all formula society expected us to follow: the guy asks the girl’s father for permission to marry her, the guy buys a ring, the guy proposes. At first, I couldn’t pin-point why these traditions didn’t sit well with me. Slowly, I began to ask questions: Where did these traditions come from? Why do we do things this way? Do we have to do things this way? Slower yet, I began to find answers.
It took me a while to open my heart to the beauty of Tim and I having stumbled through, doing things our own way. We picked out a ring together, Tim didn’t ask my father for permission, and we got engaged not in a moment but at our own pace, over the course of three hundred and sixty-three days.
Culture had provided us with a cookie-cutter model for how to become engaged, but we are not cookie-cutter people.
What may be missing from your engagement is you.
Now, I am convinced that no matter what tradition the world presents you with, it is your job to write your story so it is your truth.
Here is what I now believe about engagements.
1. It’s ok to talk about it.
For a while, I felt like I wasn’t supposed to talk about getting engaged until we were actually engaged. The only example I had for an engagement included the girl getting knocked off her feet by the surprise of the guy asking her. There was supposed to be a gasp, tears of joy, etc.
There were a couple problems with this though. First, Tim is my favorite person to talk to. Second, I need to talk things out to calm my anxieties. Third, I was over the moon that I had found my person. So I couldn’t hold it in. We had many whispered conversations about getting married long before there was a ring on my finger. For months, I felt guilty about this because I feared it meant our engagement wasn’t “normal.”
But then I found this article about a couple that got engaged entirely through an afternoon of honest, intimate conversation. Neither the girl nor the guy proposed. They started talking about their hopes for a life together, and at the end of it all they called themselves engaged. No one got down on one knee; both were equally surprised. And they were just as much engaged as the next couple.
If you don’t want to be in the dark, you shouldn’t have to be in the dark. You don’t need to drop hints via Pinterest boards and torn out magazine pages. You are building a life together with the person you love even before you have a ring on your finger or the vows are said. If you want a surprise, communicate that. If that is not how you’re wired, communicate that too. Be open to your partner’s perspective and don’t worry about the opinion of anyone else. This story belongs to the both of you.
2. Your relationship exists in a community.
The guy seeking permission from the girl’s father never sat well with me. A girl can marry who she wants, when she wants. And nobody says the girl should ask the guy’s father for his permission. It all seemed sexist to me. But then my friend James told me this story.
When James decided he wanted to marry his now-wife Sara, he asked everyone important in her life if they’d give their blessing. Everyone. Her siblings, her friends, her roommates, her family members, in addition to both of her parents. He wanted the feedback and involvement of their entire community. (They all said yes.)
James’ story showed me that asking for a blessing can beautiful and gracious because it’s acknowledging that your relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You two will form your own family but you are part of an ecosystem of families. Try looking at a blessing not as a permission slip, but a way of showing gratitude and respect for the community you are in.
You will need people to lean on in this new chapter, to share in the good and the bad. Whomever you see as your family, you can ask for their blessing as you move forward.
3. Your ring is a beautiful, fragile symbol of the future.
If your heart is lingering on your ring more than your upcoming life as somebody’s wife, take a step back. Having an engagement ring doesn’t make you engaged. It’s your commitment and devotion that matter.
So your ring is a symbol of those promises and what is to come. To do its job as a symbol it doesn’t need to be anything in particular; not a particular stone, cut, carat, or price point. Really, you don’t have to have one if you want to; you would be no less engaged than if you did. There’s nobody to impress because your engagement ring is for you and your fiancé.
The old adage (some marketing magic Don Draper would be proud of) is all mixed up: A diamond isn’t forever. Marriage is.
Every day you have with your love is a day spent growing. Start practicing the intimacy, vulnerability, and groundedness you want to see in your marriage today. Wherever you are on your road to being a wife, be all there.