CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
Before I got engaged in July 2016, I had visions of non-stop romantic dates and bridal showers and holy hours with my fiancé...and not much else. Let’s just say that I was more than a little bit surprised when my adolescent Catholic rom-com visions of engagement didn’t turn out to be entirely accurate.
The biggest surprise was that, as overjoyed as I was at getting married to the man I love, the weeks following our engagement were emotionally difficult (to put it mildly). Not only were Kristian and I talking dates, reception venues, guest lists, and who would preside over our wedding Mass, we had to start looking for a place to live post-marriage, have really uncomfortable (for me) discussions about money, and we had to deal with all of the issues that arise when you try to plan a huge celebration for two large extended families.
What saved me from despair during the first few weeks post-engagement (aside from consolation from Kristian, therapy, and the adoration chapel) was the fact that several of my married girlfriends opened up to me about how difficult their engagements had been, especially in the first few weeks of stress-inducing wedding planning.
I was comforted by this, but also perplexed; why hadn’t anyone told me before that engagement isn’t all staring deeply into each other’s eyes and getting showered with love and attention from the entire world?
My theory is that many women assume that there must be something wrong with them if engagement isn’t always easy, so they don’t talk about it, which only perpetuates the engagement-is-all-fun myth. Combine that with the Instagram feeds and Facebook updates and wedding websites filled with pretty pictures taken at the exact right time with the right lighting (or at least the right filter), and you have a recipe for misconception.
The truth is, I was afraid to talk about my engagement stresses with anyone (other than my therapist) for fear that I would find out that there was something wrong with me, or that I was not meant to marry Kristian.
Eventually, thanks to pre-marital counseling and meaningful conversations with my now husband, I realized that engagement is a lot like the rest of life. If you're naturally prone to anxiety and (like me) a bit more high-strung than the average bear, that's not going to change because you're engaged. And even if you're naturally pretty chill, emotional rollercoaster rides are par for the course during engagement. To top it all off, your emotions will probably ebb and flow more than your fiancé's. And, if you’re using your engagement to actually prepare for marriage (as opposed to just planning the wedding) that is to be expected.
Kristian and I did not shy away from talking about everything with each other, from how we would handle our finances to what Christmas traditions we wanted to be a part of our family culture. In our pre-marital counseling sessions (and conversations afterward), we shared our ongoing emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggles with each other, which required a level of vulnerability that is anything but comfortable. Wedding-planning stress reared its ugly head on more than one occasion, leading to tear-filled (on my side) dinner dates. And of course, we both had our moments when the gravity of what it means to be married in the Church sank in: that we were promising to be an image of God’s love till death do us part. Wow.
In addition to normal human fear and anxiety during engagement, it’s also worth noting that spiritual attack often increases during this time. I’m thankful that my therapist recommended that I read Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher during engagement, because it helped me to recognize when the fear and anxiety I was experiencing was the result of the Evil One trying to discourage me from pursuing the Lord’s will wholeheartedly. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:14 that Christ and his will “is our peace”, and even in the most intensely anxious moments of my engagement, I experienced that peace.
That said, if you have persistent and intense fear or anxiety regarding marriage in general or your fiance in particular, please talk to someone about it. It could be a sign of a deeper issue within your heart or in your relationship that needs to be addressed before you get married, and it’s better to address those concerns now, rather than after you say “I do.”
As paradoxical as it may sound, I am thankful that our engagement was not a fairytale, because marriage isn’t a fairytale. It is a supremely real path to heaven, and thanks to the preparation we had during engagement, I am hopeful that my husband and I will be able to--with God’s grace--face whatever the future holds in our marriage: good, bad, and in between.