The proposal was expected (after six years of dating) but also caught me off guard (so much so that I pretty much collapsed in the snow when it happened). Since then, nothing has changed, and everything has changed.
I say nothing has changed, because it really hasn't. At some point I realized I loved him and always would, that I wanted to be with him to the exclusion of anyone else. Though I should say "points," because if love is anything, it is cyclical.
I knew a few months in, when the relationship was still new, that I wanted to marry him one day--and even said as much on a drunken New Year's Eve phone call. (As if there is any other kind.)
But then he finished college, moved away, and I had to stay behind. We had to rewrite our relationship, which we did quite literally, sending each other cards and letters by mail--completely anachronistic in the digital world in which we lived. When he sent me five cards on one Valentine's Day to make up for a long silence--I knew then.
I knew again when he asked me to move in, and said that of course Max, my Puking Wonder Cat, could come too.
Then, after an extremely difficult period, enduring the deaths of loved ones and facing uncertainty, both financial and otherwise, together--a dark period that culminated with another geographic separation--I knew again, as he helped me unpack the last moving box, that we couldn't be apart.
And so the proposal, the engagement, the eventual marriage--they are all part of this continuity. Simply an official nod to the fact that, no matter what happens, we'll be together.
And yet everything has changed. Some of the shifts are tiny, insignificant. For example, this was not what I was planning on blogging about this week (inconsequential). And I had a five-minute fit of anxiety about what to do with my ring before I went to the gym. (I decided to leave it home, for safekeeping, and literally rushed home, washed my hands, and put it back on again, as if not wanting to be caught without it.) I got a manicure for the first time in years, because my fingers looked too ragged in comparison to the shining new object on my left finger. And I broke my resolution not to go back to Michigan until February (part of my effort to connect more with Pittsburgh). It seemed different that I'd be visiting my fiancé, not my boyfriend. Plus, my mom still needed to see the ring in person.
But then there's the big part, the wonderful and also terrifying part, that this little circle of platinum signifies. And that's this: it's not just me anymore. Once I graduate and am ready to move on once again, it won't be a question of where I want to go, what I need to do--but where we want to go, and what we need to do. I think, if you do it right, this isn't as restrictive as it seems. Perhaps my fiancé, my husband, will lead me somewhere I never thought I'd be. Perhaps my career will give us an opportunity we never considered. For the first time, my needs will be equal to someone else's. On the bad days, this may be frustrating. But the rest of the time, it will be comforting to know I will never have to be alone.
One of the consequences of getting engaged is that I can now watch those horrible wedding-themed television shows (Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, et al) and chalk it up to research. But if I actually let those shows inform my reality, I’d believe that a wedding was the most selfish spectacle ever invented. (The favorite invective of the brides on these shows: “It’s MY day!”)
But I think the opposite must be true. If you enter into it the right way, marrying someone has to be one of the least selfish things you can do. Something has changed; you’ve made a pact—one you’ll work for, sacrifice for, in myriad ways, big and small, for the rest of your life.