Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Quite Engaging Engagement

One of the exciting things that happened this summer was that Bassie and I decided to be engaged.  We are interested in reclaiming this term and redefining what, exactly, it means.  So far, it’s been an extremely interesting process!  Basically, we have re-committed ourselves to each other in a very specific way, and plan to have some sort of commitment/marriage ceremony (or two, or three…) at some point in the future (I’m telling people about 3 years, but it might be longer).  I want to talk a little bit about what this engagement is, why we’re doing it, what we’ve learned so far, and what I hope to work on in the coming years.   Because it is different, and exciting, and frankly I think we’re pretty damn cool.  

Interestingly, I have only just gotten over my sadness/anxiety about being with someone who didn’t see himself getting married ever.  In the past few years, I decided that I also didn’t need to get married, or even particularly want to.  It’s hard to give up such ingrained cultural expectations for yourself (more so than I realized, as you will soon see).  But, partially because I no longer put so much stock in the idea of getting married, Bassie had a shift in his thoughts on the matter.  He realized that we could do engagement and marriage in a really cool, aware way - that it could be a really neat way of reminding us to be mindful of each other.  In short: that we could do it for us.  After realizing this he, well, proposed it.  As he put it:

“We have been together for a long time and are the best people ever together…We deserve to and would be helped to have something to remind us of the extent to which we've made each other's suffering and joy (and what not else)  each other's. Because we are a really big deal, and thoroughly interdependant in the best possible way.”

Such a keeper, right? Needless to say, I thought it was a great idea.  We told people we were engaged.  I was so jittery excited happy, and could not sleep the whole evening after, but sort of frustrated because (I forgot to mention) he happened to be in a different country at the time (yes, we got engaged over Skype, and it was awesome).  However, I was surrounded by good friends who all assured me that long engagements were great, being proposed to over Skype was the coolest thing ever, that if we didn’t want to be normal-engaged or even never got actually married OF COURSE it still “counted”, and hey - have an engagement shot! And then, slowly, over the next few weeks/months, the cultural expectations started to seep into my brain and drive me crazy.  Where’s the ring? When are you getting married?  How did he propose?  Everyone has been more than supportive and loving, but for some reason I got super insecure answering these questions.  

When I first saw Bassie two weeks later, there developed some pretty serious tension.  We were actually pretty unhappy, and “fought”/disagreed much more than normal.  Part of the tension was because we were in an unfamiliar environment, but part of it was because we were adjusting and trying to figure out what the hell it even means to be engaged.  I’ll be the first to admit that the actual uncertainty was mostly on my part.  It’s incredible how hard it is to abandon childish notions of “how things are done”.  This period of discomfort ended up being for the best, as it gave us the opportunity to really address some things about our relationship that we need to change, and brought to the forefront a lot of our individual habits that really hurt each other.  And really, that’s what being engaged, for me, is all about: recommitting myself to creating and mainting an adult, loving partnership with my best friend.  It means hard work.  It means me changing things about myself that I thought couldn’t be changed.  It means taking responsibility for both my faults and my needs.  It means making him, and our relationship, and my own well-being a very real priority in my life.  We do not see getting engaged as a one time static event, or even as a preparatory or transitional period, but rather as a new and important state-of-being in and of itself. 

There are many nuances to our engagement, and there will likely be many more posts about them, but right now I want to talk a little bit about the cultural (and consumeristic) shit surrounding such declarations of loving partnership.  Like I said - it’s brought up a lot of hidden expectations and desires I didn’t even know I had.  I am, frankly, thankful for the chance to examine and consequently eradicate them. It really bothered me for a while, for example, that we didn’t have rings yet.  Then, once we got a beautiful old ring for 7 euro at a gift shop as a temporary ring, when I looked at other women’s engagement rings it bothered me that I didn’t have a normal sparkly stone ring. I got weirdly self-conscious or embarassed about talking with other engaged or newlywed friends.  I felt like people would judge me, like if I didn’t get this sparkly (probably unethical) ring, it somehow didn’t count - or other people would think it didn’t.  Bassie was pretty much like “well, I love the ring you currently have, and I think stone rings are ugly and boring, but I guess you can get whatever you want as long as it’s not awful”.  So, once home, I spent a lot of time looking at various websites and designs, trying to decide what sparkly ring I would want.  As I searched, the things I was looking at got increasingly less actually-cool, and more and more conventionally-cool.  I was up really, really late one evening, looking at the various wedding websites, and suddenly got horribly disgusted and ashamed.  Why in the world would I want a ring that I chose, just because it was pretty and meant something to the rest of the world, to symbolize the most important, dynamic relationship in my life.  It really would only be about me and my ego.  It occurred to me that if I really wanted a ring with a stone in it, I could just buy one myself and wear it on my right hand.  I realized that I wanted a sparkly “real” ring because it symbolized being a grown-up to me, but had nothing to do with my relationship with Bassie (except, you know, we are grown-up).  Once I came to this conclusion, it was fascinating how my tastes in rings shifted! I was no longer at all attracted by expensive diamond rings, but more at interesting handmade rings with stones like garnet or aquamarine (I do still really like sparkly stones - minerals are so neat).  So, as it stands, I might buy myself an “I’m a grown-up” ring at some point.  I will wear my gorgeous Greek ring with pride and joy.  Sometime soon, Bassie and I will also get each other coordinating plain bands with a gatha inscribed on the outside, and possibly “Creating Sangha” on the inside.  A gatha is a short poem used by Buddhists to help them in meditation and mindfulness.  Sangha is the Buddhist word for a community of people that support each other in their practice.  It’s unusual. It’s us.  It will actually be an active player in helping to strengthen our relationship.  One of my biggest laments about losing religion was that I think ritual can be so incredibly powerful.  Now, I am just so excited to create new and meaningful rituals with a person I love. It’s also pretty neat to be face-to-face with the normal trajectory of things, and reject it. It’s been a very active process of figuring out what I want out of life.  I have already changed drastically over the past few months, our relationship is stronger than it has ever been, and everything promises to only improve. I could not be happier, and I gather Bassie feels the same way. 

Next Up: what our engagement will actually look like in the years to come, dealing with family assumptions, and other thoughts on trying to explore and create new ways of relating to other human beings. 

P.S.  I know and love many people with sparkly rings that their partners chose and then presented them with.  They are, of course, very meaningful to them, and I think that is beautiful.  I don’t mean to be putting down anyone else’s unique relationships, but rather am exploring how my own relationship is also unique, along with being unusual and absolutely fucking great. 

Also, to any couples out there looking to do weddingy things, but are kinda different and trying not to get sucked into just doing whatever,  Offbeat Brides is a pretty neat resource. I like looking at all the different people, weddings, and pretty colors.


  1. Awesome. I am pretty happy for both of you. But yes, I cannot wait to have my own experience with getting engaged, etc. I am already freaking out because of how serious my relationship is becoming. It is not even funny anymore.