Lately I've been feeling guilty. Then I've been feeling guilty about feeling guilty because I should know that I don't need to feel guilty.
I've been feeling this way because I happen to be a woman who wants to get married someday. This in itself isn't a new development, but now I actively WANT it. Now “quirky engagement rings” keeps finding itself in my Pinterest search history and Offbeat Bride is gradually making its way up my most visited sites. It's literally proposal guilt.
The thing is, I feel like I'm doing everything right. I have open conversations with my partner about it: the fun aspects, the practical aspects, the timeline, everything. We both agree on what would be an appropriate amount of time to wait and which elements of our engagement would be a joint decision or a surprise. We understand that we're not ready for that step, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss it.
Despite all of this, something in the back of my head tells me I'm not allowed to be looking at rings, venues, or crafty décor ideas.
Imagined conversations about “desperation”
The worry often starts in the form of imagined conversations. Versions of conversations I have witnessed in real life and online.
I imagine a scenario where we're talking to some normal-seeming person. The topic of marriage comes up. Maybe I absent mindedly mention some wedding idea I've recently seen online. Then comes the dreaded, “Oh! Better watch out! She's got it all planned!” maybe with a joke about me “dropping hints” for good measure. I've seen it happen to other women, and I dread it happening to me.
Because what they're saying is, I am desperate to get married and he is not. I care about weddings because I am only my gender and he is only his. They know what I am like because they know what “Women” are like. They will come to our wedding and congratulate us, but they will imply over pints that I have trapped him. They will think it's a funny joke. I will feel shame. Even when I am alone, looking at wedding blogs, their rhetoric is in my head. I spent 10 minutes looking at a wedding venue? But I'm not even engaged! I must be obsessed! Women, amirite?
I imagine all of the unwanted advice about marriage that gets tossed around, finally directed at us. “Don't rush into it” is said to so many women who would never rush into anything, because their entire personality is disregarded at the mention of a wedding. They are in danger of rushing into it because they will inevitably get swept up in their desperation to get married. “Always let her win,” said in a half-joking voice so that any attempt to address how problematic it is can be easily rebuffed with “I'm only joking!”
Those independent heroines
I think back to some of the heroines I grew up reading about or watching, who let romance take a backseat because they had more important dreams. They were smart, brave, and independent. If getting married becomes the thing I look forward to, I will no longer feel worthy of them.
When we discuss the traditions we would not include in our wedding: no white dress, no being given away, no dropping my last name for his, I still feel guilty that I want to be proposed to, and he wants to propose. The heteronormativity of it feels shameful, even though it was a choice and not a given. I know that I will be asked how he proposed rather than who proposed, and my answer will only support their assumption.
I have absorbed and internalized so many problematic assumptions about marriage growing up, and I barely noticed. It wasn't relevant yet. When I watched Friends, I understood the humiliation Monica felt when Chandler discovered she had booked a wedding venue that she didn't want to miss out on (and I understood why she chose to hide it from him), and the panic on Rachel's face when her boyfriend discovered her trying on a wedding dress for fun.
Some part of me still thinks that if I show my partner a picture of the type of ring I like, he'll be shocked or even embarrassed, but he never is. Gradually, I'm starting to be able to think about our possible future wedding, safe in the knowledge that there is no secrecy around it, and that he welcomes me sharing my thoughts with him. But I live in fear of those moments when I read or hear something that reminds me of all the people out there ready to reduce me to “desperate,” “obsessed,” or “a ball and chain.” I worry that if they knew that I really do spend time thinking about rings and flowers and dresses, they would think it proves them right.
All these conversations matter
Sometimes I want to tell myself that what they say and think doesn't matter, but I know it does. I know it creeps into our media and young kids' heads and fills them with shame and confusion. I hope that every time we challenge these thoughts, and allow people to express what they want from a relationship, instead of telling women and girls to wait patiently and quietly for their proposal, we steer the conversation in a better direction.