When I was a child, I became convinced that my shoelaces could hold my mother's love. Every morning she would tie my shoes and take me to school, and all day I imagined some of her love had gotten wrapped around the laces and was held in place by the flimsy double knot bow. I say flimsy because inevitably my shoes would start to untie, and I would get anxious. It's dumb, but the rules of this little imaginary game prohibited me from doing anything to tighten the bow — my laces would slacken and I just knew that her love was leaking away with it.
I guess I assumed my engagement ring would feel the same, and in some ways it does. But I'm older now, more practical, and so I take it off to do the dishes and take a shower, to climb the silks, and train on the trapeze. While it doesn't feel like the betrayal of my shoelaces becoming undone, I still hold on to that bit of superstition. If my future husband isn't around I'll slide the ring on myself. But if he is around, I give it to him to slide on my finger himself and, on some level, I feel like I'm capturing some of his feelings close to the skin of my hand.
I took my ring off yesterday. Just for a shower, but before the shower I had been crying on the phone to my mom and before that I had been dealing (poorly) with the joyless obligation our wedding had become. The juggernaut that was my in-laws had rolled us over with cultural presumptions and growing financial expectations. An invite list of 96 because “no one can be left out,” though nowhere on that list were my family or friends to be found. A bottle of Remy Martin at every table. A cab for everyone that came. All our attempts to compromise were brushed aside.
It had become toxic, and through it all I could see a miserable future for us. He, with his inability to set personal boundaries with his family. I, on the other hand, am the steel to his humanity (as he likes to tease me). I don't submit if I don't choose to, and though I've been unfailingly polite (bless their hearts) I had reached my breaking point.
“I'm done,” I told my fiancé, and it was the first time in all this ridiculous drama I saw that he really looked worried. “I'm not going to spend $10,000 for a reception that doesn't include my family or my faith. I have tried to compromise, I have tried to offer suggestions, but no one has cared. You all can have your giant feast, but I won't be a part of it.”
He, earnest man that he is, promised to get this all under control. He tried by writing a clear and honest email to his sister that clearly stated our position. He read articles on setting boundaries with loved ones, and together we found clarity in what we were looking for.
But instead of a reply from his sister, he just got more demands from his mother.
“This is how it's going to be for the rest of your marriage,” my mom told me on the phone, when I said I was getting frustrated with all the wedding advice to just make my in-laws happy. “If you let them have everything they want, it's just going to kick the can further down the road. When you have a kid, it's only going to get worse. Will he really be able to stand up to his parents then? I know he doesn't think he's going to let them move in with you, but if he can't tell them no now, over a banquet you can't afford, they are going to do it anyway. They are going to suck you dry, if you let them”
“I don't know if I can deal with that.”
“Well, then, it's good that you're learning that now,” she said, and I recognized the tone. It was absolutely neutral, the voice she used to her sponsees when they called her at all hours needing that cool, clear-headed opinion she has become rather famous for in the AA circuit.
There was a lot more discussion, and tears (mine) and wisdom (hers) and when it was all said and done I needed a shower, as much for the literal cleansing as the metaphoric one. When I came out I looked at my engagement ring and, for the first time, I hesitated.
And when I got dressed I left the ring on my dresser.
I needed one day, just one, where I really considered whether this marriage was something I wanted. Throughout the in-law drama I would ask my my fiancé if he was absolutely sure he wanted to marry me.
I realized I'd never really considered the question myself.
On the subway to work, I thought about it. When that wasn't enough, I prayed on it.
Now, I was raised Presbyterian, but I have a healthy appreciation for all forms of spirituality and sometime in the past ten years or so I picked up the habit of praying the rosary. There's something about the structure of it, the recitation of the same two prayers over and over that I've found takes me to a place where my conscious mind is kept just on the edge of distraction that my subconscious is able to get a word in. Since I didn't have a rosary with me, I counted the decades on my knuckles and (lighter, more aerodynamic) fingers, ignoring the jostling hostility of New Yorkers getting to work.
I needed one day, just one, where I really considered whether this marriage was something I wanted… I realized I'd never really considered the question myself.
I hailed Mary on one side of my brain while the other thought of how my engagement ring had looked, glinting bright and hopeful on my dresser. A slow realization came over me that, along with my ring and my Mason jars and bistro lighting, I had become enamored of the idea of a wedding and hadn't paid more than lip service to the idea of marriage. I was upset by the money my in-laws wantonly thought was their right to spend, and I don't think I'm being dishonest in my worry that the wedding my in-laws want will take away money for our future. But was I willing to give up “my” wedding too?
What if we eloped? Would that put us on equal footing? I realized I was sad that I wouldn't get to throw the reception I wanted, but was that because I wanted to honor my community or feed my ego? Raised in a family that can create beautiful dinner parties at the drop of a hat, was I anxious that I wouldn't get the chance to show off my taste and capabilities?
Was that what was going on?
If I'm being perfectly honest, then yes. That was part of it.
It wasn't the whole story, though, because I also knew that my fiancé and I were good together. I knew that as difficult as I can be, his easy-going nature could tease me out of my fire and brimstone, death-to-all-dissenters inclinations. I knew that those same qualities of mine could be used to bolster his confidence and empower him to set and keep boundaries, which he had begun to do, though my impatience to be done with this drama had blinded me to the progress he had made.
Maybe we needed to extend the engagement another year. It's not quite giving up, but it tastes the same. When I got to the last “Our Father,” I turned on my iPhone and consulted my other spiritual adviser: Dolly Parton.
When I'm feeling lost, or overwhelmed — when I'm at a cross roads — I like to listen to Light Of A Clear Blue Morning. She wrote it when she left Porter Wagnor, and headed out to begin her new career on her own. I usually can find empowerment when she belts out that she can “see the light of a clear blue morning,” but this time it was her saying “everything's going to be alright, it's going to be okay” — the simple hope and faith in those words that hit something inside me.
I started to cry. And I started to believe. If Saint Dolly said it was going to be alright, who was I to argue?
When my fiancé got home we made dinner and, as has become our custom, took a shower together. I like to hold him close to me under the water. I've never felt comfortable taking a shower with other significant others, since I always worried they would hate what I looked like without make up. But I've never worried about him seeing me.
We talked about postponing the wedding. We talked about my concern about my wedding obsession — I told him I was worried I had bullied him into marrying me because that's something that I wanted. We talked about eloping.
I asked him again if he was sure that this was what he wanted.
“I choose you,” he said, like he had told me countless times before and this time I believed him.
When we got out of the shower, I took my ring off the dresser and handed it to him.
“Are you sure you want this?” he asked, my words in his mouth.
And it's true, nothing has really been solved. His parents still have their demands. We are still as close to broke as ever. We still can see the future: filled with familial demands, and hurt feelings, and unwieldy egos.
But I feel more resolved.
“I really really do.”