engagement I realized that my anxiety was not the result of a bad relationship. Mostly, it was there because I have been neurotic and change-averse my entire life, and — surprise! — nothing about my brain chemistry changed after my boyfriend proposed to me.

“Engagement season” has just ended. If you’re in your late twenties like me, your Facebook feed is likely now festooned with ring pics and red heart icons. Celebrities have joined the party, too, getting engaged (and in some cases married) this holiday season: Brandy! Kelly Clarkson! Hugh Hefner! Kat von D and Jesse James, only this time to other people!

Mazel tov, suckers. God, am I glad I’m not you.

I was recently engaged for 14 months. During that time, I learned a secret they never tell you on StyleMePretty: engagements fucking suck. They’re also joyful and fun, but there’s a lot more suck involved than you’d expect.

Frankly, now that I’m married, I’d rather zest my nipples with the citrus zester I got off my bridal registry than go through it all again. If you’re just embarking on the experience now, you have my sympathies.

If you’re with the right person, planning a wedding is a profound and wonderful thing to do. But then again, so is appearing on A&E’s “Hoarders,” if you’re a hoarder. You might feel a rush when you first commit — your life is about to CHANGE! For the BETTER! — and you might be thrilled with the end result. But in between, you’re in for a whoooole lotta screaming, clinging to your pile of desiccated rat corpses as Dr. Zasio half-heartedly pats you on the back.

Engagement is a time of monumental transition. You’re redefining your relationship not just with your fiancé, but also with your family, your friends, yourself, your personal space, your dreams and ambitions — everything. Whoever can face such profound change without at least a twinge of anxiety and grief, please tell me what drug you’re on, because I want some.

In my case, engagement involved a lot of happy moments, but also:

  • Trolling message boards such as the now-defunct ThereGoesTheBride.com, consuming broken-engagement stories like pornography.
  • Getting into a screaming, sobbing fight with my mother — about cake filling! — at a Father’s Day brunch, while my father looked on in horror.
  • Getting into another screaming, sobbing fight with my best friend from college as we drove through downtown Washington — a fight so engrossing that I drove straight into a parked car.
  • In general, a lot of screaming and sobbing, although remarkably not with my fiancé.
  • Miserable compromises.
  • Carbohydrates.

On the whole, I spent 20% of my engagement feeling elated, 20% feeling prostrate with anxiety and grief, and 60% feeling normal. This unnerved me, because it seemed like about the same ratio Pam from “The Office” felt when she was engaged to the guy who wasn’t Jim. When you’re marrying the right person, you’re happy all the time — right? Because the One makes you happy! Panic is your gut telling you to get out! Right?

Not necessarily. After months of misery, with the help of Allison Moir-Smith’s excellent book Emotionally Engaged, I realized that my anxiety was not the result of a bad relationship. Mostly, it was there because I have been neurotic and change-averse my entire life, and — surprise! — nothing about my brain chemistry changed after my boyfriend proposed to me.

However, my anxiety also materialized because I was blindsided by the real work of engagement. After I coped with the shock, I did that work — much of it in a therapist’s office, yay — and as a result of that and two kickass wedding planners, my wedding day was every happy cliche come true. My marriage has also been fabulous so far.

Nevertheless, my engagement can go fuck itself.

These days, when I talk to a newly engaged woman, I like to ask her if there’s something she’s already sick of hearing from well-wishers. Even the most easygoing bride usually has something — some question or comment that irritates her because she feels she can’t reply to it honestly, or else she’ll fail to live up to her culturally-cast role as the happy bride-to-be.

Mine was this: “Are you excited? Are you so excited??” I heard it at least once a day. Often, my true answer was “meh” or an emphatic “no,” but I’d lie and say “yes” to fulfill the expectations of the questioner. Then I’d feel like a gigantic fraud.

Kendra, a newly married woman who works on my floor, hated, “Can I see the ring?”, as the asker’s face would usually shift in surprise or disappointment when they saw her unusual stone.

She also mentioned how annoying it was to hear, “What are your colors?” all the time, as did two other women I talked to. When someone asks that question, what is the asker hoping to hear in reply? Do they really care? Who has “colors” anymore, anyway, is what I want to know — but will I offend someone by saying that?

The word “bridezilla” drives most newly engaged women up the wall, as does any expressed disdain for the amount of emotion they might or might not have invested in things such as the cake, the invitations, and the flowers. These things can represent much more than meets the eye. They are the talismans of engagement, which, as I’ve said, is not so much a fun party-planning time as a painful metamorphosis ritual. Respect them accordingly.

M., a book club friend, is getting married on April 20 in Colorado. (Her description of the “Rocky Mountain High” jokes she’s been receiving featured seven sarcastic exclamation points.)

In addition to the usual about colors and aesthetics, one of M.’s pet peeves is when people ask her, in reference to her fiance’s proposal, “Were you surprised?”

“That’s sort of a bitch to answer either way,” she wrote to me. “The truth is that I have a crazy brain that knows how to feel multiple things at the same time. And all of them are true. (Sort of like everyone’s brains, yeah? Yes? Are we all on the same page here?). So, yeah. I was shocked. I screamed. I cried. I yawped my YES! and then made out with him on some rocks while gasping for breath — again — out of shock. Also, no, I was not surprised.”

M. is referring to something that every married woman I know experienced during engagement: cognitive dissonance. The instant you get engaged, you start experiencing yourself as an individual and a wife, a present and a future self, a person who is happy and sad and surprised and angry and excited. You’re in a cuckoo purgatory — mentally, emotionally, physically, culturally. The experience is so disorienting, it literally gave me the spins a couple of times. But nothing I read or saw on TV told me this was normal, save Moir-Smith’s book. If I wasn’t happy, I thought, that must mean I was a bridezilla. Or a cautionary tale-to-be.

God. Yuck. I think I’m getting a rash just thinking back on it now. NEVER AGAIN.


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena on XOJane! 

  • Sasha

    Ohhh boy, this engagement season was particularly ferocious. My Newsfeed tells the exciting tale but more to that was also the announcement of babies which made me more happy! My boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over two years and when my aunt came by for Christmas she looked at me and went “oh…I was expecting to see a ring”. Yesterday was the first day most people shuffled back into the office after the holidays and within the span of 8 hours, 5 different people approached me asking to see “what I got for Christmas”. When I held up my wrist to show off my new Michael Kors watch, they all looked crestfallen and said something along the lines of “I thought you were going to show me your pretty ring instead”. What was surprising to me about it was that of the 5 people that asked me, 4 were older men. I didn’t think men cared about that sort’ve thing.

    Planning a wedding and getting engaged is something that I never thought would/ should be stressful but 3 of my friends are planning a wedding right now, 2 that I’m in, and the littlest thing makes them dissolve into tears. I know everyone operates on their own timeline and marraige is something my boyfriend and I want but I’m not anticipating an engagement ring anytime soon. If it happened tomorrow I would obviously say yes but it feels like everyone is seeing something on the radar that I’m missing. When it happens, it’ll happen.

  • http://gravatar.com/lovegiraffes onegirl

    So your engagement sucked because people asked you about it and you were afraid of change? I thought this was going to be a story about your actual engagement and was looking forward to reading it. The title should probably be, ‘My Opinion on Engagements.’ *shrug*

  • That Random Girl

    I can never understand women who let something like a wedding stress them out to the point of screaming at people. Like really this article seems so crazy to me.

  • Kim

    I’m newly married and never realized it before this article, but I didn’t enjoy my engagement either once it was public knowledge. We were engaged without a ring for awhile, so I didn’t tell many people to avoid the “WHERE’S THE RING?!” question. When we did announce it, all of those annoying questions came up to the point where my husband and I were like, “Can we just get this over with?” I’m glad that we didn’t have a long engagement because I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate my co-workers and the general public for much longer.

  • Cocochanel31

    The author of this article seems batsh*T crazy lol..like I still don’t know what I just read lol.

    That being said,reason number 1000 why I really don’t want to “plan” a wedding. WE can do it on an island or even in Vegas and celebrate after..seems like soo much headache and money for a few hours.

  • CanV

    I thought this was a great article! She is pulling the curtain back on something that we never hear about. I am very marriage minded and would hate to be expecting to be elated after my engagement, then all these different , negative, emtions then feel all alone because no else talks about it.
    But when I think about it, it makes sense: you are celebrating a new life, but mourning the death of the old one.
    Also she and her mothers’s “sobbing” fight at the father’s day brunch had to be classic. “As her father looked on in horror?” Hilarious!

  • October

    I can honestly relate to this article in the sense of being asked one -zillion times, “where is the ring?” or “Is this your year?” prior to the wedding. I had become tired of the questions, but planning the wedding was fun. It was time for us to get married or leave the relationship because we had been dating for a while. In my opinion, I think people who are not excited about their engagement and/or experiencing anxiety, there is something else off within that relationship. More than anything, the pressure to get married sort of can stress you out. Still in my mid 30’s, so if I have to do it again – I’ll just jump the broom, then let my family know “I’s married now”. :)

  • I’m just saying

    I took it as the author just expressing her feelings of the complex emotions that she went through as an engaged woman and that she would have much better liked to have just jumped to the end result (the wedding) as opposed to the long engagement. I suppose most people expect the engagement to be a blissful period of two lives merging into one…but in reality perhaps it can be a real pain. I personally can’t wait to experience all of the ups and downs!!

  • Sweetles

    I remember, about a month before my wedding, having a feeling of just wanting to get it over with. My husband and I were actually considering eloping to end all of the madness. I agree that being engaged and planning a wedding can be stressful, but I would advise anyone embarking on that journey to try and enjoy it as best you can. When I look back on my engagement and months leading up to my wedding, I have a lot of great memories, and my actual wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life (even though I still want to kill the people who made the wedding cake.)

  • Tallulah Belle

    Yikes!! Sounds like this young lady is in for a long (or short) and painful marriage. The takeaway here is not to turn these plethora of raging anxieties onto your husband as the sheen of being a newlywed starts to wear off. I am sure you have been told a billion times over that being married is an extremely long and complex road, indeed. And, most importantly, let’s hope your husband knows what kind of cake filling you actually do like, lest he is not your mother and has a choice whether to leave you sobbing all alone in your utter ridiculousness. Good luck.

  • mEE

    this article is HILARIOUS. welp now I know what to look forward to lol. I dropped out my best friend’s wedding this summer and now I’m actually starting to feel bad. maybe it was just the engagement making her crazy haha

  • http://gravatar.com/tainyc Tai Nycole

    As a woman who’s been engaged for nearly a year but recently jumped into the wedding planning arena, I COMPLETELY understand where you’re coming from. I go through so many emotions regarding different aspects of my wedding, I thought I was going nuts. And mine isn’t until next year.

    I’m thinking about picking up the book you mentioned because the quote you listed speaks strongly to my experience. Thank you so much for sharing this article and your feelings on engagement. It’s good to know I’m not the only person out there feeling this way!

  • Kay

    Yes! I completely understand the craziness the author felt, which is why I waited so long to actually walk down the aisle. The planning, the back and forth decisions, the reservations…..aarrrggghh!! I didn’t even feel like getting married was a necessity at that point. I found myself feeling like I was getting married because of everyone else and not because of me. However, my husband and I finally agreed to just scrap all the big hoopla and settled on a very small, intimate wedding at his brother’s estate. It was beautiful, with only about 50 guests and we had a ball. Though, people did drive me crazy with the “Can I see the ring?” And there were times I wouldn’t wear my ring, as I’d be gardening, or something and I’d get “Where’s your ring? Why aren’t you wearing it?”

  • MuffyCrosswire

    Then why have a wedding if you don’t want all the fuss and attention. Just elope. *Shrugs*

  • Kisha

    My husband and I avoided alot of this by only inviting a few close family and friends to our destination wedding. But I dont think it’s the engagement itself, it’s the wedding planning BS that people give you grief over. I decided I didn’t want an engagement ring though, so people asking to see the ring was really annoying to me.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    i never knew there was an engagement season…. maybe cause the people i know are popping out babies left and right and nobody gets married anymore soo.. yea

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    because it’s YOUR wedding and everybody else wants to control everything. why was her mom arguing about her in the first place about the cake filling? it’s not the mom’s wedding. have your own!

    this is the reason why i don’t even look forward to having a wedding because i know my mom is going to TRY to make everything her way.

    i can understand THAT part of the wedding planning being stressful. or when people are nowhere to be found when you’re left to plan everything alone, but they’ll damn sure be there for that free cake and food. – _ -

  • tish

    my husband proposed to me 6 months pregnant, while one vacation in NOLA during hurricane katrina. i really wanted to slap the shit out of him.

  • tish

    *while ON vacation*…mea culpa

  • C

    Call me simple, cheap, or whatever, but the stress factor is exactly why we got married at the city hall. I wore a wedding dress, he wore a tux, someone prayed over us, and we said our vows in a pre-decorated room with 10 family members. Afterwards, we went to the best restaurant in the city with our family and friends. Planning a wedding never seemed slightly desirable to me.

  • Sasha

    Haha the OOW pregnancy has only happened once within my group of friends however she’s engaged to be married this May. I’m actually in the wedding! Engagement season is winter/ fall which seems to coincide with wedding/ baby spring/ fall. Last night I was with girlfriends: 2 with their infants, 2 pregnant, 2 engaged getting married this Spring and then there was me: long term relationship haha

  • LuvLife289

    Great story! When my time comes I’ll do something similar. :-)

  • Tiff

    Exactly. The stress is apart of the process. Similar to stress during the college experience, wedding stress is unavoidable for the most part. It’s crazy most of the time yet fun sprinkled here and there.

    I’m 2 years married and had a similar experience during engagement, but I still enjoyed the planning aspect. The thing most couples forget is premarital counseling. That helps people remember why they are actually marrying and tips on a successful post-matrimony life. It’s a good reality check.

  • Miss A

    Well, me and my sweetie have been dating a year and a half and we are getting the “when are you getting married” question all the time! I’m notpressuring him, but we have talked about it and looked at rings. I know he will pop the question soon, but I’m not going to pressure him. I already told him….when he proposes (doesn’t need to be extravagant) we are going to the Justice of the Peace and having a huge reception later. I refuse to go through all this mess…the wedding is not that important to me – it’s the marriage I’m excited about!! : )

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