I could feel the malcontent brewing weeks in advance of Matt’s wedding. It had started with a late-night, bleary-eyed conversation with Mr. Magpie, where I’d clumsily lumbered around the topic of marriage, dropping hints about my aspirations to be his wife with the subtlety of a mack truck. We’d been dancing around the topic for months — well, years, to be fair, as I’d known he was The One from the dawn of our flirtation — but it was only under the cover of the late hour and the several glasses of wine I’d drunk and the five years of courtship we’d enjoyed that I’d worked up the courage to say something more direct. Earlier that day, we’d stopped in Williams-Sonoma to look for a blender to make smoothies and then had awkwardly negotiated around the topic of who should buy it.
“Well, maybe we should split it,” he said. “I assume we’ll be using it together for a long time.” I flustered.
“Yes. I agree.” Beaming inwardly, straining toward insouciance.
Maybe it was the newborn co-ownership of the blender, in fact, that had rallied my spirits. And so, late that night, well past the hour when anything important can or should be said, I went for it.
“Do you think we’ll — what do you think about — I want to marry you.”
I remember Mr. Magpie softening and recoiling at the same time, unsure of where to place his feet in the conversation. This wasn’t exactly the first time I’d made such a declaration, but I’d fixed my eyes on him with something like determination.
“I know,” he said. Something withered inside. I know was the emotional equivalent to receiving a “thank you” to an inaugural, exploratory “I love you.” I stiffened, chastened.
“Let’s not talk about this, Jennie.”
“But when?” I pressed.
“If we are going to get engaged, it’s not going to be until well after I graduate from business school.”
He had another full year of business school ahead of him, and the conditional language he’d used haunted me. If we are…
I froze. I boxed him out. I left in a tiff. With horrifying immaturity, for the next few days, I avoided all but a handful of his phone calls and returned his texts with cool, dismissive replies like: “OK” and “Busy – call later.” Sometimes I even dropped the title case, as if I couldn’t be bothered with proper grammar, a simultaneously pathetic and bizarrely philological attempt at communicating indifference.
But I was devastated. A vision of our lives together had evaporated in the span of a two-minute conversation. I had just graduated from my M.A. program in literature and was working part-time for an educational non-profit, unsure of next steps. With convoluted logic, I had accepted my liminal state of employment as if it were the temporary middleground between being a singleton and being a wife, and that as soon as I was married, everything would fall into place — employment, living arrangements, finances, and the like.
I managed to regain some of my composure with him after a strained week had passed, but began to talk, rashly, about plans to move out of D.C. to live with my sister.
“I’m thinking I’ll move to New York this fall,” I said shruggingly one afternoon.
“New York?” he looked over at me, puzzled.
“Yeah. I mean, something different.” To his credit and detriment, he appeared unphased.
“OK,” he said, with cloying bemusement. I could tell he saw right through my charade, and I gritted my teeth.
I started making plans without him. Dinners with the girls, trips to North Carolina to see my sister. I’d drop these into conversation as if they were afterthoughts.
“North Carolina? When?”
The payoff was always minuscule: maybe a second or two of vainglory followed by aching guilt and self loathing. I missed my man. I missed our comfortable, affectionate relationship. I missed our candor, the ease with which we floated through our days together. Now everything was orchestrated, taut, because I’d willed it to be so.
A few days later, unable to help myself, I mentioned plans of buying a dog. He looked at me askance and then went with it. I was appalled at his lack of concern over these sudden changes in personal trajectory, wholly absent of consultation with him. I knew he knew what I was doing and cringed at my own juvenility as I scorned his stubbornness. It was exhausting and alien, this emotional warfare, and I despised myself for it.
With time came resignation. The pique of angst and hurt gave way to a kind of sighing acceptance. Part of me cleaved to what I perceived to be a veiled promise to propose after business school was done, part of me respected his determination to complete his studies before tying the knot and accepting the responsibilities that came with marriage, and part of me knew that I was meant for him and that we’d be together forever, ring or not.
But part of me was deeply bitter, especially with Matt’s wedding looming over my efforts at maturity like a storm brewing in Big Sky country. Matt was one of Mr. Magpie’s very best friends, and he’d been dating his fiancee for less time than Mr. Magpie had been dating me. I scowled to myself, green with envy. Every time we’d discuss plans for the trip down to Richmond, my stomach would churn. I was petty and dismissive when he’d mention anything pertaining to the wedding — the rehearsal dinner, the hotel, the suit he was wearing. He’d occasionally feed me details about the actual ceremony or reception he’d learned from Matt, knowing I normally treasured such minutia, and I’d return them with an unimpressed shrug.
In the car on the ride down, I stifled outbursts of bilious envy as his buddies — carpooling with us — talked openly about the wedding. I was a study in storm clouds.
As I watched Matt’s brothers and groomsmen toast the happy couple at the rehearsal dinner, Mr. Magpie found me and slipped his arm around my waist. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t reconcile the whiplash of emotions: the desire to lean into Mr. Magpie’s familiar embrace, the romance of the moment, the thick covetousness shrouding my vision, the will to make my voice heard, the desire to give in and accept the current situation, and above all — the longing to formally belong to Mr. Magpie after nearly six years of dating when I was alarmed to find friends with shorter relationship lifespans tying the knot ahead of us.
Something inside snapped. I writhed out of Mr. Magpie’s reach and slipped out of the garden party into the thick haze of a Virginia summer night. I walked down foreign streets, aware that Mr. Magpie was chasing after me in confusion and concern. A drizzling rain set in, and I started to run. My breath was uneasy as I sprinted through patterns of streetlight and darkness, Mr. Magpie close on my heels.
“Jennie — Jen — Jennie — Jen! Wait! Wait!”
I finally turned on my heel.
“I don’t want to wait,” I said, tears streaming down my face, suddenly very aware of the cinematics of the moment.
I could tell he had one foot in tenderness and the other in frustration. He tilted his head to listen.
“This should be our wedding,” I spluttered. Yes, that was it. “I just don’t get it! I don’t get what we’re waiting for. I don’t want to wait.” I looked up at him. He sighed and shook his head. To this day, Mr. Magpie’s ability to silently stare me down when he’s not ready to talk about something is among the most gutting of stubbornnesses. I waited a second longer. “Nothing?” I prodded, wiping tears off my cheeks. “Nothing?”
He just looked at me.
I hurled my straw clutch on the ground, the clasp popping open and my camera smashing onto the ground alongside it. Mr. Magpie looked at me with quiet disapproval and then bent to scoop it up. I turned and ran all the way back to the hotel, lost and furious. I’d been so close to letting the entire topic go if he’d only been willing to talk honestly about what was going on. If he’d only said — “Jennie, I want to be secure in my career first” or “Jen, let me finish this thing for myself; let me finish business school” or “Jen, you’ve got to give me time to get myself organized, to save up for a ring.” Even – “Jennie, I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” Anything but that silence. Anything but the feeling of laying my heart out on the table and receiving nothing in return.
Mr. Magpie followed me to the hotel, tucked me into bed despite my protestations, his ministrations more tender and diligent than I deserved but brushed off wordlessly nonetheless.
“Good night,” he said, sighing, as I turned my cheek away from him. He sat for a minute at my bedside as if he was going to say something. And then I heard the latch of the door click and he was gone.
In all my life, I have never behaved worse. I think back and cringe at my wildly immature flailing, fueled — no doubt — by one too many romantic comedies and an ill-advised amount of champagne. I was emotionally exhausted by those weeks of angst and manipulation that snowballed into that absurd display of histrionics that rainy night in Richmond, and, on the quiet drive back to D.C., I gave up, or gave in, or otherwise gave way to Mr. Magpie and his plans for us.
I found it difficult to suppress a tone of bitterness when friends and loved ones would ask about our plans, but I made do. I pushed the feelings of resentment out of sight. I relaxed into the familiar contours of our relationship. I dropped the facade.
A few weeks after my fireworks display, Mr. Magpie took me to Charlottesville for a belated birthday trip. I briefly wondered whether he might propose to me while we were down there, but after a day of visiting scenic vineyards and a particularly romantic dinner in Keswick Resort’s formal dining room and no ring to show for it, I shuffled the thought off the table and resolved to enjoy the trip for what it was.
“You know what they say about kissing on the z?” he asked me, as we walked down the steps of the rotunda the following afternoon.
“Um, I think it’s bad luck,” I said, even as I felt my heart stop in my throat and even as I knew the words were a meek and bizarre protestation against something Big that was happening.
“I think it’s something else,” he laughed. “I think it’s something about getting married.”
And then he knelt down on the steps in front of the rotunda, and everything constricted and expanded. Time stopped. I could hear my heartbeat thundering in my ears. Mr. Magpie claims that my face registered fifty simultaneous emotions, but the predominant one, I assure him, was deep, shocked joy.
I feel sometimes that I have not adequately admitted to my many foibles and missteps in decision-making over the course of writing this blog. Let this post serve as a reminder that I, too, have been a tornado of irrational emotion and colossal drama. And there is a lot to say about the fortunate chasm between my twenty-four-year-old self and my thirty-four-year-old self in recollecting the bumpy path to our engagement. I see my will to control, my alien relationship with “letting go,” an unquestioned faith in my own agency in shaping my life. I have since learned to loosen the reins, or at least to ponder the extent to which I control my own fate. I see my desperate need to communicate, how highly I prize words and affirmations and openness. Not much has changed there; I am still unable to let sleeping dogs lie when I need to explain or understand the full picture of something. But I am more skilled, more empathetic. I understand and even anticipate when Mr. Magpie will return an inquiry with silence. I know when to press and when to wait. I also see the powerful influence of keeping up with the joneses — of letting the agendas and plans of others shame me into feeling badly about my own station in life. And I have since learned, blessedly, that wherever I am, I am enough. Finally, I see the yin and yang of Mr. Magpie and I — how different we are. How patient and sturdy and determined and stubborn Mr. Magpie is; how restless and fretful and devoted and faithful I am.
But can I say — and I hope I am not alienating my younger readers — that I am also deeply relieved to be here, comfortably on the other side of thirty, so far away from the emotional wilderness of my 20s. In some ways, my early 30s have been a bumpier ride than my early 20s when it comes to career and finances and lifestyle and the sheer density of enormous responsibilities and decisions I have taken on that will have lasting repercussions on the remainder of my life. (A home! A business! Multiple career changes! A dog! A CHILD! A SECOND CHILD!) But in other ways, I feel I have been cosseted from the buffeting of life because I have had Mr. Magpie on my side, in my corner, leaning on the balcony railing, holding my universe together.
Post Scripts: Bridal Finds.
The impetus for this post was a direct message from a recently-engaged reader asking for a round-up of all things wedding and engagement related. Some time ago, I shared some thoughts on what I’d do differently on my wedding day. More recently, I waxed poetic when reminiscing about our wedding song. And even more recently, I recalled a specific moment on the day of my marriage to Mr. Magpie that I have carried with me for many years. But below, I thought I’d share a couple of more fashion-centric elements when it comes to planning all of the festivities surrounding a bride-to-be, which was more of the intent when my reader wrote to me:
+First, let me say that I have always thought there to be something crazy romantic about a city hall marriage. Small and simple, with only the barest of essentials: you and your loved one. I like the idea of something non-traditional to wear to such an occasion. Something like this. (DIE.)
+I get a lot of questions from readers about wedding shoes. If I were buying a pair of bridal shoes for myself, I’d probably consider these and these as my top contenders, but I always love a statement shoe and tend to go fashion-forward/big in footwear in general, throwing caution and practicality to the wind. For an outdoor wedding or a circumstance in which I might be standing the majority of the day, I like these or these, or, if you’re committed to flats/sandals, these or these (the pearl embellishment!!!).
+For virtually any wedding-related festivity: this jumpsuit.
+Honeymoon trousseau must-haves: this easy dress, these shades in white, this Chanel tote (DROOL), this white lace skirt, this amazing one-piece (on sale!) or of course my favorite swimsuit in white, these espadrilles, this elegant dress for any occasion.
+Getting ready: these white jammies, an oversized shirt (I own one — had it monogrammed with my new initials and the wedding date on the cuff!), or a white robe over a white teddy. (Incidentally, I received a white cotton robe as a shower gift and I wear it CONSTANTLY. It’s my “getting ready” must-have.)
P.P.S. How cute is this striped swimsuit for a mini?