Engagement Engagement, or “Fuck, I’m Finally Happy”
Note: I decided to make my thanks for my online friends’ celebration of my recent engagement into my first Medium post. May it not be the last. May it not be the longest. Okay, may it be the longest.
Joy. Love. Gratitude.
I’m blown away.
I’m in awe.
I want to go through each and every one of your well-wishes and Like them and reply to them. Because I can’t believe how much engagement my engagement got (see above — it’s so important to track one’s own social media stats).
Except that I’m not speechless, so here’s my speech.
I’m a Facebook oversharer, to be sure. But I don’t share a lot of deeper personal biography stuff, the texture and events and statuses of real life. Who knew, though, that it turns out other people want to see us happy? Or if they don’t want to see us happy, they probably shouldn’t be in our lives. This love-onslaught shit is good. Real good. I may be launching a whole new personal pursuit of TMI, chasing this dragon high through the social media clouds.
I’m in love. Truly madly deeply and, I believe, forever. Until death do us part — and Brian has promised to let me go first so I don’t have to mourn him. Yes, it’s kind of a macabre way to launch a merger, but hey, I’m a gallows gal. I believe it helps me get through life.
But now there’s so much positive, too. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and it’s not just because of Brian. In fact, it’s the other way around: Brian is because of my happiness. There were so many things I hated about looking for love as a longtime adult singleton. “You’ll find it when you’re not looking.” Fuck you. “It’ll happen when you’re ready.” Get out of my face. “When you love yourself, someone else will be able to love you.” Ugh.
It turns out, however, that it’s all kind of true, goddammit. All the purple clichés I wanted to puke on. All the seemingly endless and unguaranteed growth and development I needed to inflict upon my neurotic, insecure, wounded self. I saw fucked-up people around me finding love; why couldn’t I? I saw men who loved women despite their fucked-up-ness; why not me? I read articles about men who loved women with curves (who are we kidding — rolls); who was caressing my adipose tissue? But I also know now that I wouldn’t have been able to attract or nurture the kind of relationship I truly wanted — a healthy, loving, whole-hearted, reciprocal one — before un-fucking myself to a large degree. And it took me 46.99 years. It took Brian the same amount of time. If we’d met even five years ago, he and I agree that we most likely wouldn’t have been able to create what we have now. Indeed, one of the things we have in common that I most treasure is that we share growth mindsets. You know, versus fixed mindsets. In other words, we’re both growers, not show-ers. (Well, actually, I’m kind of both, attention-seeking ham that I am.)
I wanted children so badly I thought I’d die if I didn’t have them. Dating from 25 to 42 was a series of “Are you my baby-daddy? Are you my baby-daddy?” It turns out that desperation is not a pheromone to apply behind one’s ears on a first date. It turns out after the age of 38, stating you want children in your online profile is an unintentional repellant.
When I was 40.99 years old, after seven single years of 90-hour workweeks and 80 pounds of weight gain and an infinite quantity of acid-veined entrepreneurial stress, I decided to try for a kid on my own. Two years later, I’d spent $75,000, been through 2 medicated inseminations, 4.5 IVF cycles, a miscarriage, and 2 chemical pregnancies. Once the doctor and I decided that my eggs were fried, I decided to pursue an egg donor after some time off, given that the clock was no longer ticking on my own ovaries. Then something happened: I was having fun again. I had both money and time at the same time. I actually knew how to manage my business — both personal and professional. When the egg donor I’d chosen turned out to have hidden some personal information that disqualified her, the first thing I felt was relief. Maybe I would be okay not having children, I thought. Maybe.
And then everything got better. For the first time in almost 20 years, I was dating without desperation, without looking for the man to fill my hole. (The metaphorical hole! The depression/loneliness hole! Get your mind out of the gutter!) I liked my life. I was happy. The personal-growth bullshit was working. It turns out it’s not bullshit after all if you really want it, put your shoulder into it, and aren’t afraid to face the hard truths. Therapy stats: 3 years in college, 2 years in NYC, 10 years in LA, a steady dose of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, a bunch of suicidal ideation, and finally a 2-year master’s program in spiritual psychology that I like to call “self-help with grades.” All of them were a fuck-load of work. There’s a reason why people don’t do this shit: it’s hard, it’s often expensive, and it hurts. And it’s not guaranteed.
Then I met Brian. I’d been assiduously online dating for about 8 months following the breakup of my previous relationship — which, like the others before, had a lot of fucked-up-ness to it, though at least this last time I was able to choose being alone rather than staying in the fucked-up-ness. At least this last time I knew I had a lot to look forward to. I finally had hope, optimism, and the ability to make myself happy. Leave that shit behind. Lay down the rocks. Stop carrying the heavy rocks. Stop being wedded to the stories. Acknowledge the stories and move the fuck on into life.
But back to the romance stuff. I’ve had almost exclusively good experiences with online dating both major times I did it, and the two serious relationships (including one that happened twice) I’ve had since I was 32 came from the digital swamp. To succeed at online dating for most of us requires that we just suck it up, make it a part-time job, and take none of it personally. I really, really worked at it. Brian, on the other hand, was online for — literally, I kid you not — 5 minutes when I contacted him. He met his future wife in 5 minutes on OK Cupid. If I didn’t love him so much, I would call him an asshole for that kind of insane luck.
It’s been a crazy year. I wiped out on my bike last September and found out in late October that I’d fully torn my rotator cuff and would need pretty serious shoulder surgery. Three days later I learned I had a malignancy in my breast and had about a month of scary tests and biopsies to determine that it likely wasn’t invasive and that I didn’t have the BRCA genes that might mean a prophylactic double mastectomy and oophorectomy, given that my mother died of breast cancer. On December 9, I had a lumpectomy. On December 24, I had my shoulder surgery. On January 1, I had my first date with Brian, arm in a sling, wearing glasses because I couldn’t put my own contacts in. In February my father got very, very sick, was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, then had an incident in which he almost died and landed in the ICU for two weeks. I became his primary care manager as well as taking on my grandmother’s care when he could no longer handle it. It’s been a year, I tell you.
But the miracle of it is I’ve been able to handle it all, even without disappearing into the bottomless pit of depression that’s plagued me ever since I can remember. Having this newly secure foundation, this healed self, this floor beneath my feet rather than the lifelong trapdoor through which I’d get sucked into a free-fall of nightmare — these things all turn out to be a really big deal. The secure self makes everything better. And so does having someone in your corner who wants nothing more than for you to be loved and treasured and supported. There’s also the ability to open up to others. To receive. As my father puts it, “In our family, we had to [and still have to] carry our own water.” I’ve been single and capable for a long, long time. It turns out that asking for and receiving help from those who love me makes things much, much easier.
Brian proposed to me on June 25, almost exactly 6 months after our first date. I know, it’s fast. But when you’re middle-aged and much-therapized and you moved into cohabitation after about 6 weeks, you know it when you feel it. I have no doubts, and I’ve never not had doubts before. But everything in life is a risk. Love is a risk. But it’s the risk most worth taking. (Feel free to print all that on a few bumper stickers. You don’t even need to credit me) The day after Brian proposed was the 25-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I never thought I’d go that long without seeing my mother. Right after she died it was a week, a month, a year, five years. It’s been 25 years since I’ve seen my mother, since my nuclear family blew up into atomized particles of hostility and grief. I now know, though, that joy and sorrow are meant to coexist.
It turns out that life — especially childhood and adulthood and old age — is hard. Life is 90 percent maintenance, something my mother observed and, like me, was surprised to conclude. And for bumper sticker number 38.99, I’ll tell you that unhappiness is indeed the gap between expectation and reality. My expectation was that I wouldn’t be depressed, that I’d find my husband and have my kids, that my mother wouldn’t die, that I wouldn’t be fat, that contentment and self-love would come easily. I thought I’d have a certain kind of life, and that life did not happen. Joseph Campbell famously said “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Goddammit — another true cliché! Another fucking bumper sticker!
I still miss my mother. I still have pangs about having missed biological motherhood in this life. I still have bad days, and I may have bad months or years in the future. But now I like the life that waited for me.
I didn’t get what I wanted, but I finally want what I have.
Thank you, all of you who showed up with your joy and love to celebrate my and Brian’s joy and love. Thank you, all of you who allow this brave new world of social media to be, at times, a place of a community embrace. Thank you, all of you who know that our most important mission is to find our own happiness and meaning, in no small part so that we can help hold each other up, to express compassion for one another’s disappointments, to applaud one another’s triumphs. A rising tide lifts all ships. We can all lift each other. There is no more important and special thing.
All of my personal joy has been unfolding at a time of great darkness in our larger society. I’ve never felt so pessimistic about the possibility for social change, for healing our need to tear each other down. It’s devastating what’s going on in our streets, in our politics. I trumpeted my newfound love as everybody else was reeling from the murders of black people by cops, followed by a very public murder of the cops themselves. The earth is dying. Online trolls shit on all attempts at goodness. Women and people of color get abused and shafted. People don’t use their turn signals. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so paralyzed and impotent before.
Brené Brown, one of the public figures I most esteem right now, posted this message:
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was such a desperate feeling to want to discharge the uncertainty and scarcity. Then it dawned on me that this is the exact drive that fueled what’s happening right now. Instead of feeling hurt we act out our hurt. Rather than acknowledging our pain, we inflict it on others. Neither hate nor blame will lead to the justice and peace that we all want — it will only move us further apart. But we can’t forget that hate and blame are seductive. Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability. When we choose instant relief in the form of rage, we’re in many ways choosing permanent grief for the world.”
That is a perfect distillation of why we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others, why we need to lift ourselves up before we can help lift others. The work that we do on ourselves isn’t selfish. It’s the opposite: it benefits everybody around us. We need to heal so that we can support others in their healing. But even if self-work only helped those who did it, there’s the little matter of the fact that the only control we have is over ourselves. Radical accountability. We choose how we react, we choose whom we take into our lives. With a lot of work and intentionality, we can choose who we want to be.
And for me, I needed to do that work before I could find the love that I wanted. Now I have. The amazing thing is that even though Brian has promised to allow me to die first, I know I’ll be okay if something happens to him, because before he and I came together, I was finally okay.
It’s great to be okay. It’s a huge relief. It only took 46.99 years.
Thank you, my friends, my chosen family, my community. Thank you for cheering me on. Thank you for reading this far. As most of you know, brevity is not the soul of Jen. In the Knock Knock manifesto, I explicitly say, “Why use fewer words when you could use more?” If you’ve read to this point, I salute you.
All my love,
P.S. My breasts and shoulder are now fine and I did find the engagement ring in the car-seat mechanism a couple hours after the proposal (ref. this video), following a parking-lot scene in which both of us crawled around with our asses in the air searching for the glint of diamonds with our cell phone flashlights, cracking up the whole while.
P.P.P.S. Update 1, Feb. 14, 2019: About to turn fifty. Married. Here’s how it went down.
P.P.P.P.S. Update 2, Feb. 14, 2019: Here are the stunt-double first-dance wedding dancers.