Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Photo: Mike Cimorelli (photographer) / Sarah Frigon (editor)
Nine months ago, I got engaged to my fiance, Max. I want to share the story of our relationship on here as well, but for today I’ll give you the brief version, as I want to focus on engagement specifically. Max and I met 2 and a half years ago on a dating app called Bumble. He moved to Nashville to get his Master’s degree in 2016. I moved here in 2015 with my sisters to continue doing music but get out L.A., which was not a good fit for our family. (And that is also another story for my blog!)
Throughout our dating relationship, I wrestled with a lot. Max and I grew up just about as different as can be- I’m the third of eleven kids and Max is an only child. Max is an incredible athlete and I was mediocre at best at sports. I was always drawn to poetry, writing and music, whereas Max loves sports and science. Our greatest difference was that I was raised in a devout Catholic family and Max was raised in a nonreligious household.
I thought, overthought, prayed, talked with mentors, spiritual counselors, my therapist, friends and family, and weighed the pros and cons of being with someone who seemed so different. Max and I spent hours discussing deep topics and sometimes having debates about things, which was hard for both of us, as we both tend to avoid conflict. However, over time, I was struck by how underneath all of these supposed “differences”, we actually were very similar. Our core values aligned on just about everything, even if we arrived at these conclusions in different ways. Max showed me time and time again that I could trust him, that he was reliable and steady, and that he loved and pursued me in a deep and pure way. Even when I was scared and shared my doubts with him, he remained steadfast in his faith in our relationship.
At the beginning of 2019, 5 months before we got engaged, all the fearful thoughts in my head began to quiet as my soul spoke louder. “This is the one I am called to marry.” Many times in prayer, I believe I heard God’s voice affirming this decision as well. And so, I continued to step forward in the relationship, knowing where it was headed. Max and I had started talking about marriage around 9 months into the relationship, and around a year and several months we spoke about it even more seriously. He had said he was ready to take that step, and I told him I would let him know when I was ready, too. One day, as winter was melting into spring, I told him, “When you propose to me, I will say yes.” The words almost surprised me as they came out of my mouth, but I felt a profound sense of peace about them.
In early April, Max and I had planned a trip to Savannah, Georgia and Tybee Island in May 2019. Engagement did not cross my mind at first. I thought it would come in the fall, closer to the 2 year mark (at this point we were just over the year and a half point). But I also felt peaceful about it and not in a rush. I have always had more of a hesitancy towards marriage, watching a lot of people I know experience darkness, pain and heartbreak in their marriages. So while I have always desired to get married, I struggled with a lot of fear about it.
When Max proposed to me, it surprised me the amount of peace that I felt. As he knelt in the sand on Tybee Island, my life flashed before my eyes, and tears fell down my cheeks as I realized what was happening. In that moment, I remember thinking, “This is the moment I always dreamed about! It’s only going to happen once. Wow, I can’t believe this is actually happening.” Then when I looked at Max’s face, I saw the kindness and goodness I always see in his eyes when he smiles. I saw a man of character, a man I could trust. I could barely get the words out, “Yes, of course.”
The first week after we got engaged was filled with so much excitement and bliss and also it felt surreal. So many people were already asking me about wedding things and giving me advice. I have always been a collector of information (my #2 strength on Strengths Finder is Input, if that means anything to you!) so I welcomed it. But it also didn’t feel real. I couldn’t comprehend the life change I was about to step into. It took me time to process it.
A few weeks later, the excitement started to fade. Fear and anxiety started to well up inside of me. Have I really made the right decision? What if I’m being blinded by love? Max seems great now, but people change. Who will he be in 20 years? How is anyone supposed to forecast that? So many marriages end in divorce or continue on in silent heartbreak. How are we going to be different than that? Being single just seems so much safer than sharing your most intimate self with someone. Ahh, this is scary.
And on and on and on. If you are a chronic overthinker like I tend to be, you probably relate to this. I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid, and one of my coping mechanisms is overthinking through every possible scenario. The problem with this is, most horrifying “what-ifs” never come to fruition. Thinking them through over and over again is a special kind of mental torture we really don’t need to be putting ourselves through.
From the outside, engagement just looks like pure bliss. You’ve found the love of your life, and you’re entering into marriage! You. Have. Arrived. You’ll never be lonely again! Your problems are going to vanish! Haha, okay I promise I never actually thought those things. I tend to be more of a skeptic when it comes to relationships (thanks to my love of psychology) and marriage. But, I feel like what I see on social media depicts this “before and after” of engagement and marriage. It all looks like a “happily ever after.”
But what if it’s not?
I have never been married, but from what I hear, it’s definitely NOT this super smooth, always fun and blissful ride. Everyone who I’ve talked to who is married says how hard it is and how much they’ve struggled. It’s given me a strong feeling of unease about it.
People also say, marriage is beautiful. It pushes you and stretches you beyond your comfort zone. It is a purifying, refining place, if you allow it to be. If God is at the center, there is hope.
I wanted to write this blog post to say, engagement is not all sunshine and rainbows. Max and I have been engaged for 9 months and for the first several months, I experienced some of the most crippling anxiety of my life. But, this doesn’t mean I made a mistake, or I’m doomed forever. The thing about fear is that it is a LIAR. God is Truth, and He will be Max’s and my shelter during the stormier parts of marriage.
Here are some things that have been helpful for me..
Turning to God with all of my anxiety has been so helpful. Throughout the whole process of the last 2 and a half years of discerning marriage with Max, my prayer life has immensely deepened as I opened up and shared all my concerns about marriage with God. Every single day of my relationship, I have talked to God about Max and asked Him to guide me. It’s been more helpful than anything else. The peace I have continuously experienced, even amidst times of anxiety, has felt miraculous.
I really think everyone can benefit from counseling. I have been in counseling on and off since I was 20 for anxiety and I’ve grown so much from it. I started going a lot more regularly the last 8 months and I’ve already seen so much fruit from it in my life. I am working through my own fears and anxieties, holding them up to the light and questioning them. It’s given me strength, perspective, and helped me grow through a lot.
Talking to married friends.
Sharing my anxieties about marriage with my married friends has been a huge help for me. Over and over, I have received comfort and consolation from them. One of the most helpful messages to me has been, “Yes, what you’re feeling is normal. You are making one of the biggest decisions of your life- of course you will feel nervous! It actually is a good thing cause it means you are taking things seriously and preparing your heart. You aren’t idealizing marriage and that actually gives you an advantage going in.”
Catholic marriage prep.
I love my Catholic faith, and I’m very grateful for it, but even more than ever as I prepare for marriage. Last summer, Max and I went on 2 marriage retreats and we’re also preparing by reading books and doing premarital counseling. The second retreat we went on, the Three To Get Married retreat, in particular was incredible. I was on the verge of tears almost the whole time because of how much hope and peace I felt about the vocation of marriage. It was a weekend of married couples, priests, doctors, psychologists, and other wise people sharing their experiences and advice on the theology, intimacy, and meaning of the sacrament of marriage. WOW.
Through my marriage retreat, I heard a resounding, powerful message: marriage is about sacrificial love, a mirror image of the love God has for us. He sent His only son Jesus to die on a cross, emptying Himself out for our sake, because of His unfathomable love for us. That is our example for marriage- it was created to be a reflection of Christ’s love: two people sacrificing for the other, pouring themselves out, day after day, and mirroring Christ-like love.
That is something that gives me great hope for my marriage. When I really examine the fears I have about marriage, many of them root from perfectionism, which in itself roots from fear. I am afraid of a painful, lonely, and unsafe marriage. In my mind, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to perform and be the “perfect” wife. I tell myself, “If I can be perfect, I can avoid pain and keep myself safe.” That is the root of my fears and control issues, not just in my views towards marriage, but in life.
When I think of the sacrificial love of God, of my future husband Max and I giving of ourselves for each other, I feel peace and hope. I don’t have to be perfect, and neither does Max, for us to have a sacramental marriage. I know we will experience hardship and pain in our marriage, because every relationship does. I believe the deeper you go in knowing someone, the more likely you are to experience pain, because we all carry heart-wounds at our core. But there is beauty in that, like walking through the thorns to reach a beautiful, sacred garden at the center.
“The wound is where the light shines through.”
A wise Fransiscan Friar I am friends with told me that God has brought Max and I together in our shared vocation of marriage and He has allowed us the imperfections we carry, because He has a perfect plan for our healing and redemption if we follow Him in that. That is a beautiful, life-giving thought, that the very wounds and imperfections that could bring so much pain and heartache, could also be the things that bring Max and I healing, beauty and restoration. Even just in the two and half years we’ve been together, we have both changed and grown so much. Our differences resolved so that we are now on the same page spiritually and our core values are very much aligned.
And so, what do I wish people would’ve told me about getting engaged? That you may experience immense fear and anxiety. That it’s not an Instagram-worthy, picture-perfect experience. Preparing for marriage can bring up deep core wounds in you. But there is beauty in that.
As I prepare for my marriage, I feel a vast openness in my soul. I am open to what God has for me. I am still afraid, but I also have courage in my heart. It burns like a fire, and I feel confident that whatever Max and I face in marriage, God will carry us through.
May it be so for you, too, whatever your vocation, and wherever God is calling you.