Our Engagement: Behind the Story

You know how little girls dream about wedding dresses and perfect grooms and being a bride? Yeah, well, I was never one of those girls.

I never really gave serious thought to getting married. Even when the thought would cross my mind, the idea of being linked to someone forever didn’t really seem like a realistic possibility. It didn’t pain me or worry me; it just didn’t sound realistic.

As someone who has been independent or seeking freedom in any small way since I was little, I could only imagine being with a partner who had certain qualities. And even “being with” didn’t include forever. My partner was a nebulous figure, never with a discernible shape or gender, just someone who had the following characteristics:

  • likes to dance or can at least have fun on the dance floor
  • someone who is independent-minded and self-sufficient
  • someone who is kind and respectful
  • someone who makes me laugh
  • someone who makes me feel safe
  • someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously
  • someone who allows me to be me

I dare to say that’s a pretty mature list for a kid to have. But it was no joke. That’s absolutely the kind of future partner I wanted.

Time moved along, and I went in and of out relationships, sometimes successfully and sometimes with great grief and heartache. As I grew older, the idea of marriage grew more distant and terrifying to me. I saw people getting married, very young, without much thought to how marriage would greatly change a person’s ability to define themselves on their own terms. I judged and judged and judged because I didn’t get it. How could you marry someone, how could you pledge to love someone else forever when you hadn’t really gotten the chance to love yourself, to be happy with yourself, to become yourself?

I graduated college then I graduated from my master’s program. I took a miserable fellowship at the CDC because the economy tanked and I had no other real options. I broke up with a boyfriend because we weren’t compatible. I relished my freedom from that dead-end relationship, lived it up at night with my girlfriends, and basically came back to equilibrium.

And then Timmy walked into my life.

After chatting on FB after nearly 7 years of no contact, we had a friend date at Eclipse di Luna. He picked me up in his traditional bear hug, told me I looked great, asked how my job was going and if I was making good money. Wait what? Making good money? How is that an appropriate question to ask someone after not seeing them for years?

Timmy: “I forgot my wallet so you’ll have to pay tonight.”

Me: “I’m never going to let you forget this.”

He says it was an accident, but a happy one at that because it led to our first real date in which he “paid me back”. We stayed at Joey D’s Oak Room for 3 hours, with servers doing sidework and playing cards, vacuuming around us, waiting for us to leave any.minute.now. We had our first kiss in that parking lot, and I knew that things were seriously about to change in my life.

Would I say I knew he was “the one” from the beginning? No. Not even a little bit. All I knew was that I had fun whenever I was with Timmy. He made me laugh, he made me feel safe, he made me feel comfortable. In a total “that’s not like her” move, I made a promise to myself that I would see where things went until I no longer had fun with him.

Well, I think we can all agree that year 4 of our relationship — moving to FL, living in Lakeland, Timmy and his medications — WAS NOT FUN. We both struggled a lot last year, and I went back and forth, deciding whether to continue in this relationship or strike out on my own again. I’m so glad I knew the real Timmy and that I knew in my heart he would come back to me again. I knew we could probably never go back to how we once were, but we could find a new, happy, more mature place in our relationship.

The past 4 years have been full of lots of ups and downs, but through all of it, I remained sure that I did not want to get married. My distaste for those early engagements, for those getting married for all the wrong reasons, pushed me to the other extreme, where I was more willing to live like Oprah and Steadman than give any real credence to marriage. I know that commitment is in the heart, not on paper. You’re either committed to each other or you’re not.

But after coming out of the darkness that was last year — the constant fights, being isolated, the death of Jake, our mutual grieving of not only our friend but the passing of a lighter time in our relationship — changed our course forever. With lots of discussions (and I mean LOTS), we intentionally came to the decision that we were now ready to be responsible for each other, legally and fiscally.

That isn’t super romantic, I know, and I’m sure a lot of y’all were disappointed when we said that I knew the engagement was coming in Italy and that I had designed my ring. But for us, this engagement isn’t a spontaneous, romantic, sweep-me-off-my-feet gesture. This is an intentional, joint decision about the logistics of our lives as adults.

We also are now ready to commit ourselves for life in front of our friends and family, so yes, we get that this is also about romance and love. But I have a partner that knows me so well, he didn’t dare try to make this decision without including me. In fact, when I tried to send him ideas for rings that I liked, he flat out said, “No way. I know you, and you are so particular, there’s no way I’m trying to design something that you have to wear for life. You need to 100% love what you get.”

Months before we left for our trip to Italy, I had a conversation with Timmy at lunch. I wanted to have a serious talk about our engagement and future marriage. But before I could get the words out, I burst into tears. I had never imagined taking this step before and I was wholly unprepared for the flood of fearful emotions that hit me. Getting engaged was so overwhelming for me, I couldn’t even discuss what I had feared my whole life without getting emotional.

My fears of having my identity subsumed by his last name, losing a huge part of my identity as an independent woman, not being able to fully control how people will perceive me once I’m married, the unjust inequality of the woman losing her name and the male just continuing, as is…it was just too much and my fears spilled out as fast as the tears streaming down my face. Whether those fears were grounded in reality or not didn’t matter. Those fears were as real to me as anything has ever been.

The shock of that moment, I think it really hit Timmy that this was going to be the most major step I had ever taken, way beyond moving to NY for college without knowing a soul, going to grad school, trying to get a job in a recession, becoming a self-sufficient, tax-paying adult, moving to FL without knowing the next steps.

So there we were in Italy, overlooking miles and miles of Tuscan wine country behind a centuries-old castle, me with my camera strapped around my neck and my iPhone out, ready for pictures. I turned around, and Timmy was on his knee, holding the ring in his hand.

And I immediately wanted to throw up.

Even knowing it was coming, the weight of the moment still hit me like a train. With this engagement, we plan on committing ourselves to each other in front of everyone we’ve ever loved. We will legally be responsible for each other in very real, adult ways that could have serious consequences. People will automatically assume I’ve taken his name and say, “Hello Mrs. Teck.” I will have to change tax documents, create a living will and power of attorney documents,  I mean, things are about to really change in ways I’ve never prepared myself for.

We haven’t started really planning anything for the wedding. We’ve had conversations about reception ideas, food, music, but we have no date, we haven’t officially asked friends to be a part of our wedding party, no venue chosen. The more I think about it, the less willing I am to just jump into this, even though we all know I LOVE PLANNING.

It took me 31 years to think I could get engaged. The feeling of being ready to get married doesn’t come overnight, especially when you’ve fought it off for this long.

So to those who are dying for us to move things along, give us time, and we’ll get there. Be happy for us now, in this moment, because we want to enjoy it for as long as possible.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from being with Timmy, it’s that planning only gets you so far, and then out of nowhere, the most special/amazing/unfortunate/crazy things will happen and you’ve got to be flexible enough to absorb them and move forward with love, honesty, and respect.

After I said yes, we hugged and cried. And then he whispered in my ear, “Nothing will change.” And I thought to myself, “This person is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

♥, VB

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