Image Source: Pexels / Jasmine Carter
When you think of an engagement, do you immediately picture a happy couple embracing and crying tears of joy in the single most blissful moment of their lives? I know I do — or did, I should say. My perspective changed after I got engaged myself.
Before I go much further, I want to begin by saying I love my husband. He is truly my other half and my life partner in every sense of the word. As a matter of fact — and as overplayed as it may sound — I knew I was going to marry him the first time I met him. Call it love at first sight, call it intuition, call it whatever you want — I just knew. Prior to getting engaged, we dated for four years. Marriage was a topic we had talked of often and we had even discussed engagement ring designs (I'll take the round cut, please). I knew when the moment came, I would say "yes" and have no doubt in my mind that I was making the right choice. Well, as you can ascertain from my use of the word "husband," that moment did come and it was beautiful. My husband, the thoughtful person that he is, surprised me with a romantic dinner at our favourite restaurant and popped the question during a post-entrée stroll down by a neighbouring lake.
While there are many potential causes for these feelings, the bottom line is this: in a single moment, your entire life changes.
Overconfident as I am, I always thought I would know when the moment was on the horizon. That I would be able to pick up on cues leading up to the big ring reveal. But that was not the reality. My now-husband (then-boyfriend-quickly-turned-fiancé) took me completely by surprise. I was shell-shocked. I couldn't say anything. I couldn't find a single word (which, if you know me, is surprising). Of course the answer was "yes" in my head and heart but all I kept thinking was, "Wait a second, I wasn't prepared for this! I wasn't planning to actually be surprised!" After I was finally able to spit out the word "yes," we enjoyed our dessert (served on a platter hailing "congratulations" in chocolate sauce) and called our close family members during the car ride home to share the news. We were both happy and excited, but I couldn't quite shake a feeling of growing anxiety that had suddenly implanted itself somewhere between his question and my answer.
Looking back, I wish I had taken the next day off from work. I wanted to be home with my fiancé and with my thoughts. I had barely had time to adjust to this newfound identity before I found myself retelling the engagement story all day to my well-meaning coworkers. "I should be elated," I kept telling myself, but in truth, I felt a sense of panic and sadness. Not knowing the root of these feelings, I did what any good millennial would do and immediately took to the internet. "Sad after engagement," I typed into Google search. And much to my shock — and admitted relief — I was greeted with an overwhelming amount of testimonials, forum posts, and mental-health articles on the topic. The main takeaway? It's completely normal to feel anxious, sad, and perhaps just plain weird after getting engaged.
While there are many potential causes for these feelings, the bottom line is this: in a single moment, your entire life changes. Unlike the proposer, who spends time planning the setup and picking out the ring, and who has ultimate control of the timing, the proposée does not have a planning period to adjust to the impending lifestyle and identity change. Sure, couples can and often do talk about engagement before taking the big leap, but there is a big difference between talk and action. For some, perhaps there aren't a lot of changes in store. I already lived with my husband, so our life wasn't set to change necessarily, but our frame of mind did. For us, the engagement ring meant full-on, lifelong commitment. And for me, it also meant a future change of surname (I actually couldn't wait to ditch my supercommon maiden name of Smith) and learning to truly see myself as an adult with real responsibilities. More than any other life event, getting engaged forced me to change my self-perception from girl to woman.
Aside from lack of mental preparation, some people may even experience a bit of a letdown when the moment is over. I know I personally was a bit sad that it was now time to close the book on this big milestone. There was no more wondering when the proposal was going to happen, how my significant other was going to ask, or what the ring would look like. I had all the answers now and had experienced it firsthand. Just like the perfect Christmas morning as a child, it was all I had hoped for and more — but I couldn't help but be a little sad that it was over.
While this is a lot to deal with in and of itself, there is little personal dialogue around these feelings (when do people ever admit to not being anything other than overjoyed following their engagement?). I know for me I felt entirely too guilty to talk to my then-fiancé because I was terrified of having him think I was having second thoughts or feel like his engagement setup or ring choice was disappointing. Of course, realising that this was the same person I had been sharing my life with for the last four years and reminding myself that we were forming a new, stronger partnership, we did eventually end up talking through my feelings, and I couldn't imagine a greater feeling of relief. True to the thoughtful, kindhearted person that he is, he listened to me talk through my struggles with my own new identity and was incredibly supportive as — over the next few weeks — I adjusted and began to feel truly as excited about my engagement as I wanted to be.
Moral of the story? Emotions are complicated. Getting engaged is a big commitment. Life events are rarely as two-dimensional as you imagine them. It's OK to feel scared, anxious, or sad after getting engaged. It doesn't mean you don't love your partner. It simply means you're adjusting mentally and emotionally to this giant life change that just took place in your life. The good news? Engagements are beautiful, but they're just the beginning. The best is yet to come.