I recently saw a friend for the first time since the wedding and she asked me how it is, being married. That is a hard question to answer, or a hard question to answer in an interesting way, because nobody wants to listen to a newly married person go on and on about how happy she is. Nor does the asker, especially if she is single, want to listen to you complain about the more difficult aspects of marriage. Besides which, it would be inaccurate to cast it as all good or as all difficult – the feelings that accompany getting married are much more nuanced. This post is about being engaged, though, so I’m not even going to get into them.
I ended up telling my friend being married is a lot better than being engaged. Primarily because, once you’re married, nobody really cares about the status of your relationship anymore. Friends and family give their congratulations and move on. Nobody bats an eye when you introduce your spouse as your husband or wife. When you’re engaged, on the other hand, you are suddenly put on display. I hated referring to Husband as my fiancé, because questions inevitably followed: When are you getting married? What is your dress like? How long have you been dating? Let me see your ring. Worse than the questions are the expectations. Brides are deliriously happy and frazzled from planning, a special breed of crazy. I felt like a constant disappointment, always walking around so nonchalant about the wedding. Not that I wasn’t happy, it’s just unnatural to turn on enthusiasm about a relationship you’ve been a part of for four years and a wedding that’s still a year away to a person who’s never taken an interest in your relationship before.
Besides the questions and the expectations, there were the congratulations. I’ve got no problem with congratulations. They’re nice. There were times, though, when they emphasized the bizarre effect that an impending wedding has on people. Two days before the wedding, my dad, a family law attorney, invited me to come watch one of his trials. It was an alimony and child support case, and he represented the young mother. She was there, of course, and so were her parents, and I sat near them. And my proud father told them I was getting married in a few days and, for a moment, they all dropped what they were doing to congratulate me. And after the trial (acrimonious, unpleasant) they congratulated me some more. Never mind that they were going through hell and paying a fortune over a failed relationship. Never mind that two people who used to be in love were reduced to bad mouthing each other from the witness stand. Never mind that if I were in their position, I’d be cynical at the mention of marriage. It seemed wrong to talk about all the happiness coming my way. I regretted showing up in court and making their difficult day about me.
I suppose the larger problem is how to acknowledge your own good fortune in the face of another’s unhappiness. Engagement forces you to do that and to figure out how to do it gracefully. I’m not sure I ever accomplished that last part, but I’m married now and people don’t ask questions about my relationship anymore. I’m happy to let them assume that I’m just as happy or unhappy as they imagine.