To the recently engaged bride-to-be whose engagement has been hardly a Jane Austen-esque dream: you are not alone.
If you’re anything like me, you assumed your engagement would be the most joyous period of your life thus far. So what does it mean when your period of betrothal falls short of your expectations? My proposal and early engagement was indeed beautiful, special and meaningful, but it was hardly the idealized vision I had built up for so long.
My fiance and I had been seriously discussing marriage and discerning our future together for several months. Things began to move forward and we started ‘window shopping’ for rings last December. I finally allowed myself to begin my own Pinterest wedding board, complete with dresses, tablescapes, colors and centerpieces. By the time March rolled around, I was impatient, to say the least.
When he finally did drop to one knee, the moment was beautiful, yet it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be.
The day of my proposal, which incidentally happened to be my birthday, was only a week after the death of my dear grandfather.
I was still reeling from the week before, spent at home helping make funeral arrangements and caring for my family, while still trying to cope with my own grief. I was in the middle of my last semester of graduate coursework, and I had days of reading and assignments to catch up on, as well as a fast-approaching publishing deadline. We had even planned to stay home the night of my birthday so I could spend the evening catching up on work.
So when my fiance's knee hit the ground, I didn’t get the exact feelings and heart flutters I assumed are experienced by every other woman who has ever been proposed to. As the girl who breaks into tears over a sappy grocery store commercial (Publix, I’m looking at you) or an overly cheesy episode of Full House, I didn’t shed a single tear during the proposal.
And I couldn’t understand why.
Why wasn’t I overcome by emotion? Why wasn’t everything magical, sparkling and covered in tulle? Or, at least, why didn’t it feel that way?
The proposal was the last thing I expected that night, but it was also exactly what I needed. I said yes immediately and without trepidation. I remember telling my new fiance that it didn’t feel real; that I couldn’t believe the beautiful ring on my finger was actually mine; that we were finally engaged. I kept repeating that the proposal hadn’t sunk in... yet. He joked that when it did, he hoped my answer would be the same.
His lighthearted quip actually revealed a deeper truth to me. Our engagement happened amidst tragedy and pain; sorrow and grief. In many ways, my heart couldn’t fully experience all the floating feelings that I was sure should accompany such a proposal.
But that’s just the thing: I was still able to say yes, confidently and wholeheartedly, even when my feelings and the circumstances weren’t exactly what I anticipated.
I was completely confident this was the man God had given to me to journey through life and grow in holiness with. As a result of prayer and God’s grace, I knew this was the man I was meant to love. Forever. Even when my heart didn’t feel the way I thought it should and my much-anticipated tears of joy were nowhere to be found.
The weeks following our engagement were filled with further challenges. One of my fiance’s best friends and would-be groomsman died suddenly at the age of 26. For the second time in as many months, we found ourselves in the midst of tragedy and deep loss. Meanwhile, my husband-to-be was beginning a new job while I was preparing for final exams and trying to hammer out papers. Not to mention, together, we were struggling to make initial wedding plans and secure dates and venues.
Why was everything so hard?
Despite these difficulties, through our and love and commitment to one another, we were able to face each challenge together, offering love and support to one another when we each needed it most. We grew in patience, charity and sacrificial love, but it was far from easy.
During this time, it just so happened that my Facebook feed exploded with the engagements of several other friends and acquaintances. Apparently, it was the season. These other women all seemed to be visions of everything blushing brides ought to be. I was inundated with Pinterest-perfect images of bridal brunches awash with smiles and pretty pink hues. Meanwhile, I was struggling to get a halfway decent photo for our save-the-dates (and having more than one emotional meltdown along the way).
I kept wondering why my engagement experience was so different from the one I was “supposed” to have. Everyone else seemed to have it. What was wrong with me? Or worse, what was wrong with our relationship?
Just as comparison threatens to steal joy from so many parts of our life, so it is in our experiences as engaged women. When we begin to compare the gifts and graces God has given us--or the pains and sufferings He allows for that matter--we doubt ourselves, our betrothed, our discernment and our Lord.
Our engagement thus far has hardly been smooth, easy or ideal. But I have oh so slowly come to realize that this road, with all its bumps and the bruises it has caused, is truly a gift from God.
Our life together and our marriage will be far from flawless. It will be mired by selfishness and sin, yet redeemed by God’s abundant grace. Both suffering and joy will be constant companions. As my fiance and I prepare to enter into the sacrament of marriage, we continue learning to love, forgive, and surrender to the Lord with each new day.
In the Christian life, we are asked to endure the pain of a fallen world, constantly supported by the grace of God, who gifts us with joy to shore us up for the times of sorrow.
My engagement has taught me to look for the joy amidst the sorrows of this life--because one is seldom found without the other.
The marriage vows make this apparent. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. If this is what we consent and surrender to, it is so very appropriate that engagement affords us the opportunity to start preparing to live the vows we will make to one another.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Feelings and emotions are fleeting, but the marriage covenant offers us a way to sustain what is most important, even when our hearts falter and our emotions succumb to our own selfishness and weaknesses.
When your engagement isn’t going as planned and you feel swallowed by the unavoidable wedding-planning woes, rejoice! The Lord has great plans for you, for your engagement and for your marriage. I’ll keep striving do the same when I go through yet another failed wedding dress appointment, sub-par catering tasting or weather-ruined engagement photo session.
About the Author: Chelsy Tracz is currently finishing her M.A. in Catechetics at The Catholic University of America and working for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Pro-Life Secretariat. She will marry her beloved on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in March of 2017. Chelsy is a Florida girl with a southern heart who loves long days on the beach, warm summer nights, a good cup of tea and snuggles with her nieces and nephew.