Getting Engaged Is Embarrassing

I’ve never been congratulated more for doing less

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

“Will you marry me?”

“What’s this?” I said, holding a too-small silver ring that looked nothing like one I would have chosen. It took a moment for it to sink in that this was it — this was one of those Life Moments people talk about, and I needed to sit up straight and pay attention and think of something memorable to say and why hadn’t I penciled in my eyebrows today?

“What do you mean?” he laughed. We were sitting outside a small café just off the scenic path we were biking. It was my perfect engagement scenario: no grand gestures, no ceremony, and no audience, strange or familiar. Just him, casually dropping a ring into my hand, and me, not knowing what to say, but managing to blurt out that I “usually wear gold jewelry.”

Despite this being his first time asking someone to marry him, my new fiancé knew exactly what to do next: He took a photo of us with rolling green hills in the background and texted it to everyone in his family with the message “She said yes!”

As if there was some genuine suspense as to whether or not I would.

I, on the other hand, had no idea how to proceed as a newly engaged person. I sat on this information, unsure how to let it out into the world. I wanted to strike the perfect balance, to be the exact right amount of excited. I wanted to say, simultaneously, that this was totally not a big deal and I was happy, but really nothing had changed.

Although we were visiting my hometown and could’ve easily delivered the news in person, I decided to send a group text to my immediate family once I’d left town. It seemed like the best way to keep my casual, cool-but-low-key-excited vibe; something along the lines of:

We have decided it is time to get formally engaged, although we may not have a wedding, and the ring is too small. I’m basically just informing you of a private conversation I had, of which there is not and may never be any tangible evidence.

But without a ring (it’s still sitting in a box in a drawer, waiting to be resized) and a concrete wedding plan, what did we even do? We’d had a few informal conversations about marriage in the past, and I hadn’t made an announcement of those. But now we’d had the formal conversation in a beautiful place, with the element of surprise, and a tiny ring. It is, I guess, what people do.

But what if you’re the kind of person who finds everything embarrassing? What if, due to a combination of your upbringing and personality, you consider displaying unmitigated enthusiasm to be a weakness? What if you treat every deviant emotion and errant excitement as something to be controlled, to be quelled until only a socially acceptable amount remains (or none at all)? What if a lifetime of scattered disappointments and rejections have taught you to be cautious and guarded, lest your publicly displayed emotions serve as a humiliating reminder that you’re human?

Am I allowed to get excited about a possible wedding when I’m still paying off decade-old student loans? And, more than being imprudent, does celebrating an absurd, unnecessary, and historically sexist institution make me a bad feminist? After a lifetime as a steadfast cynic, would I even be allowed in one of those fancy bridal salons where they serve you champagne and clip you into sample-sized dresses?

Am I allowed to get excited about a possible wedding when I’m still paying off decade-old student loans?

I debated whether to punctuate my engagement announcement to friends with an exclamation point or a stoic period (I split the difference with a smiley, but not too smiley, face). Would an exclamation point imply that I had been eagerly awaiting this engagement while long planning my imaginary dream wedding? To quote the meme, will this undo my aloof and uninterested yet woke and humorous aesthetic?

A man I’ve met once commented on my partner’s Facebook page that our engagement was “FANTASTIC” and he was “over the moon,” which is a charming phrase but one that I usually reserve for events that affect me directly. Flaky friends who generally take days to text back replied right away with heartfelt congratulations. Although I had talked to one of my co-workers many times about our plan to eventually get married, her reaction to the official engagement was one of total but ecstatic disbelief. When I ran into our next door neighbor in the courtyard late one night, she told me, looking slightly inebriated and a little verklempt, that I was giving her, a 48-year-old single woman, hope (and I assume she meant that, at 35, I was as likely to get eaten by a shark as I was to get engaged). Everyone wanted to know how it happened. Everyone wanted to know if I was surprised.

No one has ever been this excited about anything I’ve done. And I’ve never been congratulated more for doing less.

But I guess I didn’t do nothing. At the very least I had to show up, right? I showed up to my own engagement, unbeknownst to me at the time. But before that, I showed up for over two years. I showed up to a first date. I walked to a bar in unseasonably cold temperatures to meet a friendly stranger to whom I had texted photos of my dog. A few days later, I almost threw my phone into a lake when I bravely recommended a second date and he texted back “Maybe next week.”

Oh. Maybe?

But I kept showing up, even though this was no certain thing. I showed up to movies and concerts and trips to the beach with our dogs. About two years in, I showed up at his apartment with all my stuff in a moving van. The next month was a painful, frustrating adjustment period for everyone, but especially for my poor dog and me. We had given up our space, privacy, and routine. Our freedom to be as weird and gross as we wanted, at any time we wanted, was over. I wondered what the hell I had done. But I kept showing up, every day after work.

So maybe this is what the congratulations are for — for continuing to show up. Faced with uncertainty, vulnerability, and possible rejection, I kept showing up. I persisted past the first weeks when, evidenced by his Facebook check-ins, he appeared to continue dating other people. Or when the new commute from his apartment meant I had to wake up an hour earlier than I was used to. I proceeded with caution when he asked me to fold my underwear in Marie Kondo-style thirds, as he does. When I found out about his “no dogs in the bed” rule, I did the unthinkable and banished my beloved dog to her long-vacant dog bed.

Maybe that’s all a relationship is: showing up, then continuing to show up. It’s suppressing whatever’s weirdest about you until you can safely reveal yourself. It’s opening yourself up to the possibility that this could go pretty wrong, because there’s also the slight chance you could end up “over the moon.” It’s accepting that you, even you, are not so cool that you can’t get excited about showing up for someone great. And I am excited, but not because I’m engaged; I’m excited because I’m engaged to someone I actually like, and after years of dating people I had lukewarm feelings for I had stopped considering this a possibility.

An engagement is two people showing up, one with a plan, maybe some light subterfuge, and the other with the illusion of a major decision. Because really, how could I say no? I had continued to show up despite feeling exposed, vulnerable, and unlikely to get here. I repressed my aloof and uninterested aesthetic just enough to fall in love. And for that, at least, the congratulations were long overdue.

I write about death, relationships, family, and grief.

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