The night I got engaged, I lay awake and cried.
My partner, Jared, had to keep asking if I was crying from happiness or something else. I had no idea how to answer, "SOMETHING ELSE."
A great deal of my life has played out to the soundtrack of fear. I was a fearful child, and even though I'd like to think I'm a bit bolder, I am still an anxious adult. The evening of our engagement was no different. I was afraid. Marriage is a big commitment; even children pretending to get married on the playground know this. That shit is serious.
What seemed to upset me more than anything that evening was how I felt I wasn't supposed to talk about those fears. An engagement is a happy moment, one of deep certainty, bliss, and spinning in the middle of a field with butterflies emerging from the hem of my dress. No one wants to hear about the hairy shadow beast of uncertainty lurking in the corner of the bedroom.
Nobody wants to hear that one of the first things you thought about after he popped the question was death — as in, what if one of us gets sick and dies? And not only do you think about both your deaths, but also the death of both your parents. And the possible death of your love for each other. And all the cancer in the world. And the cancer of the heart, the tumors that invade our ability to be kind and curious and committed.
Much like Emily Dickinson, I too dwell in possibility. Except I often find myself dwelling in the possibility of the worst happening. This past year, I quit my stable job at a start-up tech company to pursue a career in freelance writing, got engaged, and found myself in the doctor's office on multiple occasions with complications due to anxiety.
I've spent the majority of my adult life trying really hard to understand my anxiety as best I can; to understand how it not only affects me, but the people around me. And I'm not always the best at understanding. Few things have put my anxiety more sharply in focus than being in the first long-term relationship of my life.
My dating history is pretty commonplace, with heartbreak and late blooming falling right where you might expect. Just like every other young person who falls hard for crushes and thinks themselves to be in love a time or two, my previous attempts at romance left me in some serious chapters of heartache. Before meeting Jared, I'd spent almost two years mourning the loss of a short-lived, one-sided love affair with a fellow writer. The cliff-hanger ending of that story rattled me deep.
And I could feel — no matter how much Jared showed me compassion, loyalty, and love — a strong resistance to fully loving him. What if he too revealed he never should have told me he loved me?
It was like I was keeping the blinds closed even though there was a gorgeous-as-hell sunset on the other side of the window. I knew it was there, I knew it'd be warm, but I kept trying to stay away. That shit can burn.
When you get engaged, you often tell the people around you. And the people around you will often be excited. They might even squeal. They might ask to see your ring. The last thing you should do in this moment is lean over and whisper, "What if one of us dies? What if one of us falls out of love?" But for some reason, this was all I wanted to do.
I felt like a terrible partner for not feeling more excited. I worried that this might mean I didn't truly love him. And this scared me more than anything. At times, it felt like there was no one I could talk to about this. The one person I was supposed to be able to talk about anything to (aka my future husband) was the last person I wanted to ever know any of this.
Because you see, I'd felt "excitement" in former relationships. Former relationships, like the one with a recovering addict and the one with a man who told me he loved me but didn't, left me feeling dizzy with static electricity. They'd been tumultuous, confusing, short-lived and full of odd fire-fueling neglect. I'd never wanted a man more than the two times my heart was broken.
This reaction to pain, this hand held out a train window desperately trying to grab at something that had already passed me by, revealed a lot to me about my relationship patterns. I usually wanted what I couldn't have. I usually wanted to push closer to that which tried to shove me away.
And I've never had anyone more than I have Jared. This solidness, this steadfast and rooted stability, at times, made me question our relationship because, well, it felt so simple. I still stare, mouth hanging wide open, at how ass-backwards this is of us humans. Yet here we are, oftentimes loving the very palm that slaps our cheeks and fighting for the heart covered in "no trespassing" tape.
In the hours, days, and weeks after we got engaged, I was able to ignore the ticker-tape parade of anxiety on the exterior of my skull and return to the one fact I knew: the saving grace, like a fat baby cherub hovering somewhere near my sternum, was the knowledge that I loved Jared's company. He was someone I never grew tired of being around (and I get socially fatigued easily). I knew, with more certainty than a kid shouting its order up to an ice cream truck, that I wanted to spend tomorrow — and the next day and the next — with Jared. I knew I wanted to be with him.
Being engaged and planning a wedding made me, for the first time in our three year relationship, realize just how much I actually loved Jared.
It was unsettling and unexpected to feel like I was falling in love all over again — or for the first real time? — as we started to plan the wedding. Through all the conflicts, financial discussions, and urgency of an upcoming wedding, we found ourselves drawing closer and closer to one another versus letting the stress drag us apart. He showed so much grace and support in times of uncertainty, just as he had before we got engaged.
I cried all night when I got engaged. But as I look back on that night, I can see the large Sasquatch of fear crouched in the corner of the room, egging me on with a grin on his face. I know it was my anxiety, all the uncertainty and fears, triggering those emotions.
I'm glad I waited for that Sasquatch to wander harmlessly back into the woods. I'm glad I listened to the still, silent voice perched in my soul reminding me that I wanted to spend my days around Jared. I'm glad I fell in love with him, in a new-sunset-kind-of-way, after we got engaged.
I am thankful I trusted the warmth.