I'm engaged. [Cue: AAAAAAAH!!! OH MY GOODNESS!!!! WAAAAHH! SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!!!!!! BLAAHHHUUUERHHHHH!!!!]
But my engagement hasn't exactly been what you would call, well... orthodox.
Let me explain.
I knew that I would marry my now fiancé the moment I met him. In a stroke of sheer Hollywood theology, he showed up at the ramshackle community centre that I call church roughly two years ago, and I felt an overwhelming sense from God that he would one day be my husband. Granted, he was the only single and vaguely eligible / age-appropriate man to ever walk through the doors of our humble fellowship, and I'm not even sure that I did / do believe in this sort of 'lightening bolts from heaven' moment, and yet... that really is exactly what happened.
He moved to the area, and we started dating (courting? Seeing each other?). It was glorious. Very quickly we came to the realisation that we would like to get married, and after a bit more time started talking seriously about the future, and our future together.
I knew that a proposal was close when a friend bumped into him in my home town of Norwich, and foiled his attempt to visit my dad and ask for my hand in secret. So when the proposal eventually came, I fully expected to be over the moon.
He got down on one knee and popped the question, and I felt... panicked.
As in, completely terrified.
Sheer unadulterated, get-me-out-of-here, frenzied anxiety.
I, of course, said yes, and then spent the next three days crying.
I was so confused. What on earth was going on? I was so sure about him, and so sure that I loved him, and so sure that it was the right thing. And yet I couldn't help but feel anything but overwhelmed and deeply, deeply troubled by the whole affair. The prospect of planning a wedding nearly gave me a heart attack every time I considered it, and the weight of the commitment felt like a ten-tonne elephant on my shoulders.
After three tearful days I sat down to have a very teary conversation with my boyfriend, in which I asked for more time. He was wonderful, and so understanding, although completely confused (which made two of us). He agreed that it would be best for me to have more time to try and figure out what was going on. I love that man.
What followed was two months of pendulum swinging between deep peace and happiness and excitement about the prospect of getting married, followed by subsequent anxiety, terror and grief. Back and forth and back and forth it went in a seemingly never-ending and exhausting cycle. But finally [PRAISE THE LORD] I came to a place of being 95 per cent sure that I wanted to proceed. The final five per cent, I have to say, was simply a decision. I bought a watch that he really wanted, and when we were in Paris for a weekend break, all dressed up in fancy clothes, I gave it to him and asked him to ask me again. He got back down on one knee (bless him), asked if I would marry him, and I said yes – this time, with complete sincerity and joy.
So what have I learnt in this slightly bizarre season of life?
- Engagement is weird. No manner of Rom Coms or engagement stories can prepare you for being in that moment, when the person you love is lowering into a lunge and hitting you with an existential bomb. With the momentous question came (for me at least) a tidal wave of emotions and questions and thoughts and feelings. I imagine most proposees sit there in shock and silence for a while, trying to come to terms with what has happened. So don't worry if it's not the perfect joy-filled occasion you expect!
- It's ok not to feel blissfully happy. The more time I spent trying to come to terms with why I was feeling what I was feeling, the more I spoke to other people who were engaged and married, and the more I realised how common it is to feel a bit all over the place after getting engaged. I think the reality is that every emotion is heightened in that time – joy, sadness, love, fear, happiness – and you should expect to feel all of it. Feeling sadness or fear doesn't necessarily mean that you've made the wrong decision or shouldn't go ahead with the engagement; for me it was a case of needing to let go of singleness and come to terms with the change that this new phase of life brings. It is a massive, massive decision. Pretty much the biggest you will ever make. So it's good to make sure that you are sure. Remember too: in many cases your partner has had months to come to terms with it – so you may need a bit of time to do the same!
- The engagement / wedding frenzy is overwhelming. People love weddings. And they get very, VERY excited about engagements. (Sometimes I wonder if other people are more excited about our engagement than I am...) Of course it's exciting. But I never anticipated the level of joy people would have on our behalf – which is beautiful, but also very overwhelming. This can be hard when you are trying to come to terms with your own conflicting emotions at the same time. I was so grateful to have those two months before telling anyone – as it meant that I could process it all without the pressure of other's expectations and questions.Maybe consider pausing before you break the news to the world, and giving yourself the space that you need.
- Wedding planning may not be your cup of tea. Maybe you are the kind of person who has known from a very young age that you'd like to get married, and has planned every little detail of your big day. I've literally never thought about it. Ever. In fact, I was pretty sure that I would be single for life (hence, perhaps, the reason for all of the above). The thought of planning a large event for everyone I know does not fill me with glee. I'm delighted to be getting married but not ecstatic about having a wedding. The planning will be glorious and nightmare-ish in equal measure. And yet people around me insist on saying that, 'You will love it!' I feel like screaming, 'NO I WON'T!!' Maybe I will love it, and maybe I won't. But the fact is that I am having a wedding because I want to be married and to share that moment with the people I love, not because I want a fancy event with pretty colour schemes involving copious amounts of voile (seriously, what on earth is voile). I'm very grateful that you only have to do this shebang once in your life. Not everyone loves planning big events and navigating the sensitivities of the many people in their lives, so don't feel pressure to be enamoured by the whole thing.
- It's ok to do it your way. Ultimately, it's about you and the person you are marrying. The most important thing is that you both feel emotionally, spiritually and physically ready to enter into this new time together. If there are stops and starts along the way – who cares? Marriage is a massive thing, and it's better to get it right at this stage than figure out that it's not later on.
All in all, I really wish I'd known the above before I got engaged. It would have saved me a lot of panic – mainly panicking about the fact that I was panicking as I shouldn't have been panicking. Actually, a little bit of panicking is ok. I hope it might help you to navigate the early engagement time a bit more successfully than I did.
As for me – it's time to get wedding planning. Lord, help me...
Phoebe Thompson is head of research at Youthscape, consulting editor of Youthwork magazine, and currently doing an MA in Systematic Theology at Kings College London.