Saturday, January 30, 2010

So You're Engaged: First Reactions

It was like being inside a pinball machine. Text messages, e-mails, and phone calls flashed and rang noisily all around me. Dozens of hands reached out to pinch my arm; dry, anonymous lips kissed my cheeks frantically, and there was a lot of joyful, incoherent yelling. It was mere hours since I had arrived home for Christmas, engaged, and the whole city of Vancouver seemed to be on high alert. I was jet-lagged and confused, but happy.

Why were all these people so excited for me to get married? Had they lost hope? How did they all know I was engaged? Did my parents tell the media? Who told my new fiancĂ© he was getting a canoe as a dowry? What was I thinking, flying straight out of vacation and into one of my father’s giant holiday parties?

It began in Jamaica with a rush, post-proposal, of my future life as a future wife flashing before me. When I had calmed down, having examined the ethical diamond ring and my boyfriend’s super-hero posture carefully, I suddenly saw our future first home filled with our future freckled kids, our future careers, conflicts, Christmases, retirement, and travels around the world like a super quick slide show. This was our life. Then just as suddenly my vision narrowed and I saw a frantic work-out scheme, a desperate bid to quit smoking, a stunning couture wedding gown (ok, my imagination was running), a huge celebration, and an exotic but affordable honeymoon. This will be our wedding.

What I did not see, what I could not imagine, was anyone outside of my beau and I. But there they were, waiting. And that, it seems, is our engagement.

When you announce your intention to get married, it does funny things to people. Some are overjoyed, inappropriately thrilled by your decision to be locked in, while others are blasĂ©. Everyone has advice, and the wedding is prime topic for dissection. “When is the wedding?” I was asked repeatedly the day after I became engaged; as if the event had been all planned out except for the leading man. Someone told me to order wedding cake “by the pound,” which I’m sure isn’t the way you do it. One person suggested, since we’re getting married in Toronto but hail from different parts of the country, that we have multiple weddings. Yes! A wedding tour! Let’s take this show on the road! Anything seems possible when you agree to get married.

Then there are the friends and family members you love, and who love you beyond reason. They have championed you as a couple, and supported your individual efforts. They are a warm cocoon between the couple and the world outside. And you need those people, because outside that cocoon is the real world, just waiting to freak you out with divorce statistics, mortgage rates, and speech requests. And orbiting around all of you are a flurry of trade shows, magazines, planners, cake-makers, banquet halls, DJs, and other honest retailers who simply want to share in your joy by selling you stuff – expensive stuff that must be colour coordinated.

Becoming engaged had a strange effect on us as well. Emotionally, I was on a roller-coaster ride for a solid month. A missing ingredient in my favourite salad was enough to bring tears. I quit smoking, joined a gym, and began scrapbooking favourite pictures from the wedding magazines I now buy at the grocery store every week. Scrapbooking! For my partner, babies have become an obsession. He watches National Geographic documentaries about baby muscox and baby panthers, and wonders what will happen to Brad and Angelina’s kids if they split. None of this is normal.

My soon-to-be mister proposed on a balmy night in Jamaica. In the darkness we could see thousands of stars above us, and the white fringe of waves as they lapped at our feet. A very brief, tiny moment before he uttered the words, I knew what was coming. My breath caught in my throat, and after saying “Yes!” my mind rushed into a stunned, wordless state of surreal euphoria. Nothing existed in that moment except for us, and this massive – perhaps insane – commitment we had just made.

It felt like skydiving: when you can’t remember the parachute, or the months of preparation, or the other people who have done this so many times before you, because the sheer fact that you jumped has stolen all other senses.

So, you’re engaged. Things will happen quickly, and it will feel like getting married is the most important, sensitive, and expensive duty you’ll ever have.

My advice to you, dear engaged one, is to remember that breathless moment when you first proposed or accepted; hold on to it, feel it, and put it somewhere very safe. There will be times when you need silence, calm, joy, or reminding of why you ever entered this world of hurt willingly. That’s when you can go back to that moment. Let your mind circle around how you felt, what you said (if anything), and remember what it was like to have nothing in your head except the sound of your heart. That moment is the first thing you’ve created for your future wedded selves. Marriage is a hopeful step, but engagement is the big leap.


Published in The National Post, January 30 2010

Up next: Eeeek! Wedding dress week! Do they fit and flatter? Will it look tacky in photos ten years from now? Is it really worth the price of a down-payment or a trip to Europe? Was inviting three people to watch me self-consciously try on expensive clothes a bad idea? Does the new Holt Renfrew store in Calgary have a magnetic force around it?

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