With all the moving parts in my life lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about other periods in my life when I’ve had pretty big changes and how I responded then. The most recent before our move to Austin, was the beautiful fall day that John and I got engaged, and before that, there was moving from Dallas to Nashville, when I hoped, quietly and for completely misguided reasons, that John would propose to me then.
And I’m not even that girl. There’s nothing wrong with that girl, the one who has been dreaming of getting engaged and married for much of her life. Usually, that girl had a solid role model-relationship in her parents’ marriage, and it’s exciting to think of going through that process herself. I was that way for the first decade-or-so of my life, and then in my teens, after my parents’ divorce, I almost immediately fell into pure cynicism about lasting love and committed marriages.
Teenaged angst, man. It’s fun. But (y’all know how the story goes), years later when I was in my early 20s, John and I fell in love and over time I realized that there does exist a man who would actually cherish, respect, and support me. I felt like it was possible that a relationship could last longer than my past stints of, I don’t know, five minutes? (Okay, okay, three weeks.) The small corner of my heart that held onto hope that I would find someone who fit with me was fulfilled, and it was bewildering for my cynicism to be proved so wrong.
It didn’t mean, though, that we wouldn’t hurt or disappoint each other or mess up, sometimes big and often, but I did feel like I could trust my heart and future alongside this person. If you’d asked teenager me, I never believed that would happen. So, when John got into Vanderbilt and we planned to move to Nashville just shy of our two-year anniversary, I had a lot of that hope and amazement about our relationship in mind when I thought about our future and our plans. (And I hope that you, also, keep that in mind as you keep reading because, boy, does this story go downhill.)
I also had a lot of insecurity I was holding onto, since this girl who was so vocally and fiercely independent throughout her adolescence was suddenly uprooting everything to move for her booyyyyfriend. (Inflection implied.) I’d been unhappy at my job in Dallas, which certainly made the move easier, but even as I was preparing to give my two-weeks notice, I kept coming back to how much better it would’ve sounded while quitting if I said, “My fiancé is getting his MBA, so we’re off to Nashville!” rather than, “I’m moving with my booyyyyfriend to get his MBA. Oh, a job? I don’t have one of those, yet. I’ll figure it out.”
Also, in my head, I figured John had solid income at the time and was about to be making approximately no money, and proposals cost at least some money, you know? I wasn’t so sure how he planned to get down on one knee while in school and stay on track with the rough timeline we’d talked about for our future (get married in the next few years and start thinking about kids in his early 30s).
Please don’t judge me. I am cringing as I write all of this out. Yep, I wanted to get engaged to the man I love to quell my insecurity about moving for him and because it seemed logical and timely and budget-friendly. Cool! Let me go call my therapist now.
The funniest part that kills me now (although, not so much in the moment) is that John was sort of picking up on these “so are we gonna do this engagement thing, or what?” vibes… I won’t say that I didn’t send him a few Pinterest photos of rings I liked. Oof. God bless him for not taking or giving into any of my slightly spiraling folly.
On one of our last weekends in Dallas, he surprised me with dinner plans at Lucia, one of the most incredible restaurants I’ve ever been to. If you live in Dallas, you KNOW Lucia and you know how tough it is to get reservations. We had gone one other time for our one-year anniversary. It’s this quaint Italian restaurant with probably 20-something seats, and I imagine it’s not much different than rustic cafes in small towns in Italy. There are colorful little pillows on the benches, you’re about eight inches from the table next to you, the charming couple who owns it walks around and chats with everyone, and the food is impeccably fresh and creative.
When he told me we were going there, I 100-percent knew that this was it! Suuure, he said he got the reservations to celebrate our move, but I knew that was the perfect cover for him to finally propose. (Maybe I had become that girl, after all.)
When the night came, we grabbed a drink at a bar down the street from Lucia before dinner, and the whole time I was giddy and nervous. I had painted my nails and made sure my outfit was Instagram-worthy for the post-proposal picture. You know, all the important things when you’re about to commit your whole dang life to someone.
We had our drinks, paid, and on the way out, John said, “You didn’t look at my back pocket, did you?” with a small smile.
“What? No,” I laughed nervously. THIS IS IT, I thought.
We walked to dinner, and my stomach was flip-flopping the whole time. If he adjusted in his seat or left for the restroom, I was sure it was about to happen. Appetizers came and went. The restaurant owners came, chatted, and went. Then our meals came and went. Dessert came and went. The bill came and went. And then he was asking me if I was ready to go.
I thought about asking the obvious question: Aren’t you forgetting something?
But, instead, I sat quietly as he drove us home, wondering if I was crazy (I was) and if the pocket comment meant something else (it did–a joke). After we got to my apartment, right there on my blue futon couch, a few glasses of wine deep (let’s blame this whole mess partially on that, okay?), I couldn’t stop my tears. I mean, it was a flood not unlike the one from Noah’s ark.
My excitement for marrying him was real; it still is. But my priorities were askew. It was all about me, my desire to control situations that are out of my hands, my lack of confidence, my aspiration to look like I have everything together. Poor John was trying to make a joke that he clearly didn’t realize I didn’t get, and my meltdown is the main thing I remember from the night that we should have spent celebrating his accomplishment of getting into Vanderbilt and making the best possible move for both of our futures.
If we’d gotten engaged that night, the memory would have had a sour undertone of me trying to pressure and push the timing. When we did get engaged last Thanksgiving, almost a year-and-a-half after the Lucia fiasco, it was a surprise. I had no makeup on and was bundled up in hiking clothes in the Smoky Mountains, with fresh air and immensely peaceful scenery surrounding us. We were alone, except for Piper, and it could not have felt more natural. The timing was perfect.
Following my Lucia meltdown, I had a serious talking to myself about freaking cooling it. That whole spiral wasn’t me. I had never cared about marriage and timelines and 5-star restaurant proposals before dating John, and while I was excited for our future together, I let those feelings mix with my desire to appear perfect to everyone else. I was super-humbled that night, and I decided to let go of my grip on our relationship, or more specifically, on John.
Thinking of that whole situation reminds me that so much of the timing of our lives isn’t up to us. Sure, we plan and promise and schedule and make goals with 5-, 10-, and 15-year deadlines, and then we work on them. And then stuff happens. People change or wrenches are thrown or bumps show up in the road.
Or, quite simply, certain things aren’t up to us. My proposal wasn’t up to me. The control freak in me didn’t like that at the time, but that was the one big, special thing that John got to plan all on his own. We chose to be together, and we are continuing to choose each other every day, but that special occasion was all his.
I don’t know if you’re holding onto anything that you should release into someone else’s hands, whether they’re your partner’s, friend’s, or God’s. Let this highly humiliating, and humbling, story of mine be a piece of encouragement that your moment of release doesn’t have to come with wine-soaked tears on a blue futon (although, no shame in that). I had so much more space for joy when I did finally let go, and it’s a reminder that I could stand to let certain things loose now, too.
Others’ actions, for starters, are not up to me. Others’ opinions aren’t for me to decide or debate. Others’ timing, clearly, is not my decision to make. Pretty much anything “other” is out of my control. I can choose my response and attitude and approach to others, and that’s about it. And that’s enough.