The Fashion Magpie Engagement Story

The Summer of Malcontent.

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.

“But–“

“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 panicked.

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.)

+Beautiful bridal earrings. Or these.

+Earrings for a rehearsal dinner / engagement party / reception / shower: these hoops (so into hoops these days!), these bows, these flowers (on sale!), or these hearts (look for less with these).

+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!!!).

+Rehearsal dinner options: I LOVE THIS, this Saloni, this bow-shouldered Cinq A Sept, or — for a more formal affair — this sequined stunner.

+Bachelorette: this RR dress with this hat for warm weather fun; these shades with this swimsuit for pool/beach; this scalloped jumpsuit for everything else; this white romper for drinks.

+Shower options: this ladylike dress (I’d dial up the drama with statement shoes) or this elegant Staud (on sale!), which feels like something a 40s movie star would wear on safari.

+Something blue: this satin evening clutch, blue Hanky Pankies, or a wedding dress label in blue stitching. (Or all three.)

+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.S. Unrelated to weddings, three under-$100 finds: this fun pleated dress, these cateyes in the melon pink, and these covered nesting bowls.

P.P.S. How cute is this striped swimsuit for a mini?

24 Comments

  1. I’m always struck not only by your writing, but also by your memory! I wish my recollection of past experience was half as clear as yours. Have you always had an excellent memory? Do you have any tips to help you remember important moments, conversations, experiences? Now that I have a toddler, the stakes of remembering seem elevated.

    1. Thanks, Leah! I have always been good at remembering what people say in particular. When someone says something that strikes me, the words just reverberate for days and days and I turn them over and over in my mind. The same thing goes for passages of books I’ve loved and dialogue from movies. I don’t know why, but language really sticks with me!

      I’ve sporadically kept journals throughout my life — this blog being one form of that! — and I think that can help with capturing important memories, too…that and just talking about them a lot. I’m not sure if this is something specific to my family or not, but I feel like we bring up and dwell upon powerful moments in our past A LOT. One other thought — I will often jot down little snippets from conversations/books/etc that are on my mind. I do this under the pretense of writing about it on the blog, but then revisiting the list will jog my memory of other things…

      Anyway — thanks for the sweet note! I don’t know how helpful I’m being :/

  2. Oh this was so beautifully written! I could almost feel every emotion. I felt like I was right there watching everything unfold…it reads like a romance novel! (Please write one??)

    I loved the certainty with which you felt he was the one… so many people say, “is anyone ever really sure?” That certainty is such a beautiful and special thing.

    1. Thank you, Mia!! I can tell you that writing this had me re-experiencing all the emotions, too, and that my stomach was in knots, my face was flushing, etc. AHH!

      xoxo

  3. I got chills reading this! Thank you so much for sharing your story so openly. The only thing I want to say is I do not think you were pathetic, even if you acted in less than ideal ways. You were doing the best that you could in the moments that you were in. How beautiful you can look back now with the wisdom of experience. xoxo.

    1. Thank you, Joyce. You are too kind. I did learn a lot about myself from the experience but you readers are making me look back and not be so tough on myself — ha! It’s interesting, too, the language you used. Just today at Ash Wednesday Mass, the priest said something like: “Say the prayers you can, not the ones you should.” I was so moved by that sentiment, and by your similar one here, too, i.e.: “you are doing the best you can!”

      (Still, if only…)

      xxx

  4. I relate to so much of this. Funny enough, my now husband and I had talked candidly about marriage so we both were very much on the same page – knowing that we will get married one day. We lived together, and shared finances (and dogs) so I never really felt too concerned about the timing UNTIL we were walking through the mall and passed a jewelry store. My husband suggested we pop in so I could show him some styles that I like. This suggestion to us was the equivalent of “let me look in this store really quick and see if they have those pants in my size” so imagine my surprise when, after we left, some switch flipped in my head and it was all I could think about. Seriously, all consuming. I went from hardly thinking about it to asking outright when he was going to do it, had he bought the ring yet, which style did he go with, etc.? I was never without a fresh manicure during that time and every single thing we did together made me question “Is this it?!”

    I have thought back and wondered if I pressured him into proposing and if we would have waited a bit had I not gone so proposal-crazy. After reading your thoughtful post, I think I am safe to say that while I did go just a bit off the rails, I don’t think I pressured him, which is a little weight lifted off of my subconscious. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi JC! That is so funny — I can imagine and completely relate. I’ve had similar reactions, i.e., not even thinking about babies and then all of the sudden OMG IT’S ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT. Glad that this post gave you the space to absolve your self of that unneeded guilt!!!

      Thanks for the sweet note and for reading along!

      xx

  5. Thank you for sharing! I too was stuck in what I call the “engagement zone”- where you are ready for the next step and just left waiting! I had never been a little girl dreaming of my wedding, I hadn’t really thought much about marriage until my husband and I started dating and still, 5 years into dating, I was emotionally, irrationally invested in getting that ring! I agree, so glad to be on this side of all that, even if it has other major life events 🙂

    1. It is SUCH a tricky time. Yes, there is an irrational drive for that ring, but I kept heaving sighs over the fact that it was all because I was so in love! How could he not see that?!!? Oh man. Sometimes I am relieved the further I get from my 20s…

      xxx

  6. Oh my goodness. This took me back! Like another commenter, I was already “older” (in my 30s) when I met my now husband. I had just spent a very single decade or so, which I both enjoyed but increasingly spent feeling super left out as one of the last single people in my friend groups (and the world, it seemed!).

    After a few years of dating, and several sometimes tearful marriage discussions, several things happened in a short amount of time that almost sent me over the edge. My sister-in-law announced her engagement at a mother’s day lunch (they had not been dating as long as we had). We took a trip to the west coast, which a tiny part of me thought miiiiiiight be the time for a ring. It wasn’t. We went to the wedding of my husband’s close friend, followed the next day by a family brunch spent discussing my SIL’s wedding plans. As we were getting in the car to drive home from brunch, I (calmly, this time) told him I’m tired of going to other people’s weddings. I’m tired of talking about other people’s weddings. I just want it to finally be OUR wedding. Little did I know, he had already picked out the ring and spoken with my parents. We were engaged less than a month later.

    Ugh, it is SO HARD when you find the person you waited SO LONG to find…and they are “not ready” when you are. More waiting! I’ve always thought that ends up being unfair to the person who feels ready first: they’re usually the one to compromise. Somehow it is more acceptable for both parties to wait until all feel ready, than to rush the person who isn’t ready yet. So glad I am past this stage of life!

    1. YIKES – that sequence of happenings would have pushed anyone over the edge! I feel you. So interesting to me that so many women have chimed in with similar experiences (and I received a number of emails and DMs, too!!!) — makes me feel that much better that I was not the only emotional loose cannon. I think part of it has to do with my innate desire to plan and visualize the next step — something I’ve noticed in a lot of my girlfriends. A lot of us just want to be clear-headed and organized and stick to a plan. But oof. What a tender-hearted, intense time…

      xoxo

  7. This post hit me right in the heart! I am going through something similar at the moment, having dated my boyfriend for about 6 years and having had a few tearful discussions about the future that feel more one-sided than they should, in my opinion. But that being said, I have no doubt of the longevity of our relationship and have a feeling that a proposal will be coming soon. We shall see … but I’m so impatient! Ha! I am also incredibly superstitious and am cringing at what putting this sentiment about impatience out in the world might do…but I digress.

    I love your picks for a bride-to-be. I am almost certain that we will be city hall-bound (or something v. similar, with just our families as witnesses) when the time comes, so I especially appreciate a few of these less-traditional picks.

    Anyway … wanting to give you a big hug for writing this post today! xo

    1. Ahhh, MK. Big hug right back at you! Just know that (reading the comments here and surveying all of the emails and DMs I received on this topic), you are not alone in this feeling of emotional angst. I’m thinking of you.

      xoxo

    2. I just re-read this post and I must say, I love it so much — I hate that you felt so lonely at one point, but it gives me so much comfort to know that I haven’t been alone in my impatience, if that makes sense! Ha!

      Really looking forward to discussing wedding attire and such with you when the time comes 🙂

      xx

  8. LOVED your candid, open heart story of knowing he was “the one”.

    I too had a very similar experience! Although I am not as forthright as you in sharing it. In fact it’s down right embarrassing to me! How could I have acted so badly? In front of the man I wanted to marry no less! Ah, youth!

    I knew he was “the one”, but somehow he wasn’t as sure as I was. We ran the New York marathon together that year and I was just sure he was going to propose to me at the end! Didn’t happen! I was so disappointed and miffed. Several days later, after we got home, I couldn’t hold back anymore! I finally had a big outpouring which was basically “when are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”.

    He was calm, cool and collected (of course our men are always that! We are the wild cards) but assured me someday.

    Now, 36 years later life is good. 😉

    The End!

    1. Oh man — “How could I have acted so badly? In front of the man I wanted to marry no less!” This is exactly how I feel! “Badly done, Emma.” It’s youth and it’s also the chaos of love.

      Sounds like we had VERY similar experiences and, like you, life is good now that we’ve put that in the rear view mirror 🙂

      xx

  9. Ahhh! Even though I was much older than you when we finally got engaged/married, I remember the same feelings. We were long long distance for the entirety of our relationship (Delaware – Guam! But, we had some amazing trips visiting each other), and when he finally moved back to the area I had this countdown clock start in my head (but not in his….). I remember six months after he moved back, I got drunk and decided to have the talk with him to find out where we were… and I ended up in tears as he thought the next step was “maybe we could move in together in a while or so?” (While I was like, I am Old and need to have a kid Now before my ovaries wither but need to be married before kids and it takes time to plan a wedding SOOOO….). I spent the next week barely talking to him over the phone, trying to figure out what to do, complaining to one of my best girl friends about the situation… when behind my back he had called same friend and they went looking for rings, and already-long story short, he proposed the next week.

    There are only a couple of things I’d do differently with our wedding, but you know, in the end, none of it matters. I’m probably the only person who even noticed those details at the end of the day, and I don’t plan on getting remarried to have a do-over! It’s fun to imagine though (and try to figure out where I may incorporate such ideas into current life..)

    1. Hi! Ahh, I can’t imagine the added pressure of wanting children and feeling like my clock was ticking. I would have blown a gasket. That wasn’t even in my calculus at the time so I’m dying living vicariously through you. Do you think women tend to “know” sooner? Or tend to want to get married earlier? I wonder why this is such a common story…

      xoxo

  10. What a beautiful reckoning with your own past missteps. Are any of us our best selves at 24? I’m thinking no. I’m single, but I’ve witnessed a few women in my life similarly grapple with the pace of their preferred life’s path vis a vis marriage. Part of me has this knee-jerk reaction of “when have you ever waited for a man’s decision to determine the trajectory of your life, and why are you starting now?!” But you’re right that getting married is not just one person’s decision- it’s that of two. There are some things we can do entirely ourselves, and some things that require a consensus. And this is certainly one of those things!

    1. Ha – you are kind: “are any of us our best selves at 24?” I hope I’ve improved…!

      I had a similar line of thinking retracing my steps. I want to tell my 24-year-old self: “Hey! Come on! Pursue your career, have fun with your girlfriends!” Sometimes I regret not having ever lived entirely on my own, or moved to a new city by myself. Those are character-forming experiences and I wish I’d taken the opportunity to explore them. But instead I was laser-focused on tying the knot. At the same time, how can I fault myself?! I was head over heels and wanted to be as close as I possibly could be to him. Still am / still do. I just wished I’d handled it with more delicacy and grace, I suppose….

      Anyway — onward! And thanks for the sweet note. xx

  11. Oh, this hit me in a soft spot I didn’t know I even had right now. A spot I thought I’d protected over with armor and bravado, but apparently is a little weaker than anticipated. I’m sitting at my work computer, surreptitiously brushing away a tear or two that just appeared (because, UGH, I am such a crier!). It’s so hard to feel like everyone is moving past you and to be in unsteady relationship ground. Enough to make you feel like you’re going crazy… Sometimes just knowing you’re not the only one feeling entirely irrational is comfort itself. And that maybe thirty six will have me looking back at this stage with wisdom too…

    1. Yes!!! I am so sure 36 will, but it doesn’t, I know, make it easier to navigate the emotional tumult right now. It’s such a tough time. Sometimes I felt like it was all I thought about — how draining! Sending you a big hug.

      xx

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