Monday, 20 September 2021

Thoughts On Engagement & Marriage The Second Time Around

If you follow me on Instagram then you may be aware that on my recent 40th birthday, I got engaged.

It's a funny thing, getting engaged at 40...after 10 years with your partner. Most people I know seemed to have assumed we were already married - people do tend to make that assumption when a couple has been together for a long time. We've lived together for most of those 10 years, we have 3 children together - it seems the natural conclusion to jump to - that we must be married.

But marriage isn't something that's sat highly on my list of priorities in recent years - infact it hasn't been on that list at all.

Once upon a time, when I was a wide-eyed little girl full of romantic daydreams - I loved the idea of marriage.

I drank in all of the fairy tales peddled my way with a smile on my face - many an afternoon was spent re-watching Scott & Charlene's wedding, making toilet paper wedding dresses for my Barbie dolls, crafting wedding rings out of play-doh and using the curtains in my bedroom as a makeshift veil while I imagined the life-size Chesney Hawkes poster on my bedroom door was my groom.

It wasn't something I grew out of quickly, either - my best friend at the time was just as wedding-obsessed as me, and even as teenagers we'd pool our money to buy the latest copies of Bride magazine and make ourselves Wedding Scrapbooks full of ideas for our big days. Spending endless time looking at engagement rings and promise rings.

But the reality of my experience with wedding planning was very different.

I first got engaged at 25, to a man I'd been in a relationship with for around 5 years.

That man had been physically abusive to me from around 3 months into that relationship. Our engagement weekend in London was no different - rather than filling my head with romantic memories, what I remember most is one of the 5 star hotels maids knocking on our door and asking if I was ok because she'd heard terrified screaming.

Most of my memories from that time are a blur. Which my therapist assures me is normal with trauma. I don't have a clear timeline of events from that period of my life, but I do remember the absolute terror I felt as the wedding date approached. I remember wanting that day to never arrive, but feeling powerless to stop it.

Thankfully, it was stopped and it's now a distant memory. 

But the mere mention of the word "wedding" brings it closer again. When I think about invitations, engagement parties, menu planning - it all comes flooding back. It seems that most wedding-related things have a traumatic memory attached for me. 

So in all honesty, it's hard to get excited about something in these circumstances. 

Who I am as a person has changed a lot since back then. I'm not the same person who wanted that big white wedding with all eyes on me. In fact I can think of little worse. 

If I'm totally honest, I'm not even entirely sure that I agree with the concept of marriage anymore. The idea of being contracted to remain with anybody  doesn't sit comfortably with me. Swearing vows, signing agreements, even the traditional act of being "given away" as though I'm anybody's property - none of it sounds romantic and whimsical to me anymore. It feels outdated and unnecessary. 

So how then, do you navigate an engagement in circumstances like these? When instead of being full of happiness and bliss, it's about navigating triggering memories and associations? 

For me, it's got to be about making this work for the people we are today. I refuse to side-step my feelings to make other people more comfortable with the whole thing - I can't go full steam ahead with a traditional wedding or even a traditional engagement, because it wouldn't be an enjoyable experience for me. Nor would it for my partner, who has also been married before in difficult circumstances.

For me, the romance in this situation is less about perfect white wedding gowns and a beautiful centre piece - it's about compromise, open dialogue, and treading carefully. Taking our time, and finding a way that works for us.

This started out well, with a ring chosen that breaks from the norm of engagement rings and instead focuses on my personal likes and interests - it's a Moonstone ring, which is ideal given my love of crystals, and it signifies new beginnings. Which I think is perfect, given the situation.

There won't be any rushed wedding plans, we're not even decided if there'll be a wedding at all as of yet - but if there is then it certainly won't look very traditional. 

This experience is about us as a couple and a family - doing what works for us. I believe that's what every wedding should be.

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