Anything We Want
by Erika Schmidt
I've never wanted an engagement ring. I share the classic objections: ethical questions, cost, implications about gender and ownership. But mostly I'm just not into it. It isn't me.
So Casey didn't get me one. He also didn’t kneel down, or ask me in public. Knowing me as he did, he proposed in a way that truly felt like a proposal: I would like to do this. Would you? The moment felt well-earned and, for us, perfect.
When we shared the news, we got some sarcastic remarks about the absence of the ring (So...you don't have a ring and you haven't set a date. How is this different from before?), but they didn’t sting. The understanding we shared was talisman enough.
As we've begun to plan our wedding, I've found myself resisting many traditional elements. I don’t want to be given away. I don’t want to throw a bouquet or wear a garter. I don’t want crystal. Coming face to face with these conventions, I felt defiant at first, reluctant to plan at all if I'd have to — as I, probably unfairly, expected I would — defend every offbeat choice. And then I remembered the way our relationship has transpired over the past nine years. And I relaxed. Because our most important moments — the most exhilarating, terrifying, messy ones, the ones I'm most proud of — are the moments in which we chose to press on, whether joyfully or painfully, without regard for convention. Thanks to that strange road stretching out behind us, the idea of marrying Casey brings me a steadfast peace and a childlike glee. But it wasn't until I got excited about breaking convention that I started enjoying the idea of having a wedding.
For me, Casey was never conventional. I fell hard, I mean hard, for him. I remember knowing it was unlike me: I was reckless, I didn't care who knew how I felt, I didn't care about anything. I took the ride. I was willfully vulnerable. The experience of those first months and years — a baptism of rapture and acute pain — changed my life. I highly recommend it.
After about six years, we separated. We'd been teetering for awhile, but, like many couples, we ended up needing a stupid, stereotypical event to force the issue.
Casey moved out. We each started therapy. We didn't see each other. As far as I was concerned, we were probably done, but there were some things that had been bothering me for a long time, and this felt like the time to address them.
We decided, against the advice of friends and other professionals, to share a therapist. We each saw her individually, and we also saw her as a couple. It was a gut decision, based on our equally strong, positive responses to her. Hers was the guidance we wanted, so we forged ahead.
In the Paris Review, E.L. Doctorow was asked, "Do you have any idea how a project is going to end?"
He replied, "Not at that point, no. It’s not a terribly rational way to work [...] it’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
That's what our separation was like. I didn't know why, or if, I was still interested. Only the faintest something kept me engaged. The work we were doing was confusing and painful, with no promised outcome — in fact, we were training not to work toward any outcome at all. Each week, I went to therapy once with Casey and once on my own. I learned not to hold so tightly to content, but to experience each session and move on. Outside, I seized my time alone hungrily, awkwardly. That experience changed my life, too. I highly recommend it.
We decided, for practical reasons, that Casey should move back in. We were not together. He brought in a twin bed and slept in the spare room. That decision was met with almost universal skepticism. "That's unhealthy!" was the candid response I got from two comically dissimilar coworkers.
I can't explain how we started again. It was slow. There weren't any dramatic reunions or revelations. It was careful. The result has been like the difference between a stagecoach rattling over rough, hard country and a train running on straight tracks. There is an abiding peace between us now that is more rare and exciting than anything in those first heady years. Somehow, we've become two people choosing to live our lives together: a team, but independent. The goal is to keep it that way.
For now, at least, we're still enjoying the results of our strange separation and the work we did during it. We've made big decisions in the three years since. A cat, a cross-country move, a second cat, an engagement. None of them felt fraught. They felt like leaps.
There is still doubt, confusion, and fear in my life; it may be my nature. I'm working on it. I'm working on being a better writer, a braver, kinder, more thankful human being, a stronger woman. I'm working on acting on my passions instead of on whatever conventional expectations cling to my subconscious.
Recognizing those conventions isn't easy. My having known the satisfaction of facing them and respectfully declining what felt like an arbitrary rule rather than a meaningful ritual doesn't render my decisions immune to the trap.
A wedding: what an excellent opportunity to practice! Of each bit that feels wrong, I can ask myself: why don’t you like it? Why is it in your brain to begin with? What do you want to do instead? And then I can do that thing joyfully. And if I can apply this process to the rest of my life, I'll live happily ever after, with my partner and with myself. It's not a completely ridiculous approach.
Casey and I decided we'll both wear engagement bands. They're on our right hands now; when we take our vows, we'll switch them to our left.
They arrived in a box with two cubbies, selected specially by the craftswomen who made them. The box is, incidentally, hideous — hilariously, endearingly hideous. But what a lovely thought.
And the rings aren't hideous. They're perfect, and we know exactly what they mean.