For most of my pre-teen to adult life, I fantasized about getting engaged. I couldn’t wait to have a great story to share at dinner parties and sporting events and pretty much anywhere people would let me do a tight five. I have vivid memories of being at the gym and staring at my ring finger, doing my best to keep my heart rate up while simultaneously visualizing the sparkly jewels that would soon adorn my hand. I viewed getting engaged as one of the most important and powerful milestones in someone’s life. And when it finally happened to me, it was exactly as I hoped. I was surprised, the ring was beautiful and everyone was ecstatic. I got to speak to all my loved ones in the same day and I got a plethora of excitement on social media. We even got food from my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, to celebrate! Getting engaged did not disappoint—until my fiancé walked out on me six months later.
In the time that’s followed that devastation, I have come to accept the end of that relationship and I have forged forward with my life. I have worked through a lot of the resulting abandonment issues and worry, and I have managed to form a happy and healthy partnership with someone else. But what I haven’t quite figured out is how to approach what will one day be my second engagement.
While I still very much want to get married, I feel a lot of unease about going through such a major milestone again. Am I allowed to celebrate it in the same way? Will social media have a different reaction to the same type of announcement with more complicated context? Am I allowed to openly acknowledge the strangeness of announcing it for a second time with a different person? Or is that unfair to my current partner? Will it feel triggering to wear a ring again? Will planning a wedding for the second time be even more anxiety provoking than when I tried to plan it that first time--and wound up hating it??
I know all these thoughts are my anxiety speaking/yelling. And I know in my gut that anyone who truly cares about me will be as happy for me the second time as they were the first. But I also suffered a very public breakup, and the internet is not always the kindest of places. I can already feel myself bracing for an onslaught of “this seems really fast” and “wasn’t she just engaged to someone else?” This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with judgmental comments from strangers. Far from it. But what’s different is that the idea of getting engaged never used to cause me anxiety. It was one of those rare things that seemed uncomplicatedly joyful. And it’s sad that that is no longer the case for me. I think it is okay and important for me to grieve that. But what I don’t want to do is let these fears and worries overshadow the fact that I’m proud of myself for getting to a place where I can even have these concerns because that means I didn’t give up on myself or my future.
So much of my work in the last few years is recognizing that discomfort is a large part of life. And while getting engaged didn’t used to be an area of discomfort, I can handle the fact that it now is. I can allow myself to have complicated emotions around it. I don’t need to pretend that my past didn’t happen. I can look forward to getting engaged again, while still fully acknowledging that this isn’t my first go at it. I can view my second engagement as something both completely unique and as part of my larger story. But what I don’t want to do is deprive myself or my future fiancé (whoever he may be, although I hope it will be John!) of allowing ourselves to fully celebrate the moment, simply because I’ve celebrated it before with someone else. And, even more importantly, I can realize that getting engaged is just the first step in a much larger journey. And that journey, the one filled with wedding vows and decades of growing old together, is one I have never shared with anyone before.
I often feel relief that the pandemic prevented me from ever trying on wedding dresses or having an engagement party. I’ve assured myself that there are still so many new experiences to have that haven’t been tarnished by the complications of my abandonment. But the truth is, repeating moments with different people doesn’t strip them of their importance. It might feel weird with a dose of déjà vu, but no two moments are ever exactly the same and not just because they ar e happening with a different person. I am different than the last time I got engaged. And maybe some of my mixed feelings about all this comes from the fact that at this stage in my life, I no longer view the act of getting engaged as as important as I once did. Maybe I’m not obsessing over the potential moment as much, because I am more focused on the day-to-day work of building a life with another person. Do I still look at engagement rings online? Absolutely. I’m still Allison. But I also know that the best story of my life won’t be telling people how I got engaged because my life is far too complex for that to be true anymore.