Wedding Planning (and Mental Health) Tips

Last week, a friend who recently got engaged asked me how I remained so calmly attentive while planning our wedding. “Teach me your ways,” she said.

This week, two high-profile celebrities, a designer/business entrepreneur and a chef/TV host who made the world better in their own ways, died by suicide.

So here are some major things I do to help manage my anxiety in a constantly humming, high-stress, at times overwhelming season of life. And if today is hard for you, I hope this list might give you some ideas of things that might help you to feel better.

1. Don’t idolize calm. Not only calm, anyway. I oscillate between feeling calmly capable, impatiently excited, and frantically stressed. If I don’t get enough sleep or food, I’m grumpily pessimistic. Just because you see me in a serene moment, or I’m intentionally projecting calm, doesn’t mean I didn’t spend most of the day in one of the less fun emotions. And such moods are just as real, just as natural, as the cheery ones. You don’t have to be happy all the time just because you’re engaged or your life is going well by the world’s standards. You’re still a person. You’ll allowed to feel all the same emotions you felt before, including frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness, and more. Calm is not the ideal. Healthy is.

2. Build a soothing nightly routine. For me, this is a 3-step ritual. Step 1: Take a shower or bath (more on that below). Step 2: Write down the events of the day in a 5-year journal (1 line a day). In doing so, I’m acknowledging what happened that day but also closing the book on it and setting it aside. Step 3: Read a chapter in the Bible. I was already reading the Psalms when I got engaged, and followed that book with Proverbs and now Isaiah. When I read a chapter, I’m nourishing my soul. I’m engaging my mind with something outside myself, and on Someone who can give perspective on my life and struggles and experiences.

3. Hot baths. It sounds frivolous or stereotypical but for me it’s 1000% true. Hot baths can calm you and help your body unclinch from all the stress you’re carrying around. Showering and taking baths are kind of like intentional sensory deprivation: you’re warm and comfortable, the room isn’t busy or loud, you choose the smells and sensations (bubbles, bath bombs, bath pillows, etc) that you experience. Leave your phone OUTSIDE, preferably where you can’t hear it buzz or ding. Read or listen to music, or listen to nothing. I like to give myself 30 min to an hour to enjoy my bath, so I’m not constantly checking the clock or wondering how much time has gone by.

4. Mystery novels. Usually, I read cheesy romances when I’m stressed. It’s my go-to genre in TV watching, too. But lately, they just aren’t as much fun, and I find my mind wandering to my to-do lists. Mysteries, however, are engaging enough to distract my brain from all the people I need to call, all the emails I need to send, and all the kitchen mixers I need to research. They’re easy to put down and pick back up when I have the time. They also tend to be short, so finishing an audiobook a week and a paperback every two weeks makes me feel accomplished. We may still be struggling to get the guest list under 250 people, but I finished two books last week, and I feel good about that.

5. Post-it notes. I keep 2 colors by my bed. One is for daily goals (pink). The other is for weekly goals (green). I cross things off when I get them done. If I don’t get everything done in a day or a week, I just throw the post it away and write a new one. If something distracts me while I’m journaling or reading before bed, I write it down and move on. It’s a quick aside and I’m not letting myself stay distracted by it. Again, acknowledge, then put aside until a better time to deal with it.

6. Take care of yourself. I get way grumpier if I don’t eat well and on time. I get way more stressed if I’m tired. Take naps. Eat green stuff. Go home early and read. Take a bath and go to bed. Drink a glass of water. Go for a long walk or a run. Play with the dog. Watch a funny movie or a mystery and put your phone out of reach. Sit in the sunshine. Make a hair or massage or pedicure appointment and let yourself enjoy it. When you’re taking care of yourself, you’re better able to deal with the stress and anxiety and pressure. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll handle sudden problems better. Your well-being is more important than any of the details of your wedding day.

7. Take breaks. Take breaks from planning. Take breaks even from talking about planning. At the beginning of our engagement, I intentionally tried to only do and talk wedding stuff with Tyler during the week. Weekends were for fun things like visiting friends, having lunch with family, and watching baseball games. If someone else brought up the wedding, we could talk about it. If Tyler wanted to run an idea past me, he would. But I saved all my plans and phone calls, and as many meetings and requests as possible, for weekdays. Eventually, that model broke down and we had to use the weekends. Now its even more important that we take breaks to focus on other aspects of our lives and relationships. Even just a meal without wedding talk can be incredibly helpful.

8. Let go. Let go of stuff. You’re going to be blending your living space and things and time with someone else. It’s a good idea to simplify, even to cull, so you’ll have more time and space and freedom. I’m currently knee-deep in a great book cull. Yarn will follow. I’ve cleaned out my winter closet and am going to clean out my summer closet as the season wanes. Also, let go of obligations that don’t align with what you want and need right now. That will mean saying no to good and cool things, even though you don’t want to. Letting go also gives you permission to cut out things that were never good for you.

As much as you can, let go of others’ expectations for you. Someone is going to get upset with you for something that you didn’t even see coming. It’s going to be stressful. Handle it in the way that’s best for you as a couple. That might mean placating or acquiescing because family is forever and you don’t want to alienate your friends over something that isn’t a make-or-break deal to you but is to them. It may also mean trusting the people who really love you to keep loving you, even when they disagree with or feel hurt by your decision.

9. This is fun. You get to pick out new clothes! You get to figure our your favorite flowers! You get to plan a big trip with your favorite person! So many old friends reach out to you! And a registry is the biggest, most expensive Christmas list you’ll make your whole life! Put another, less bridal way, you experience good things because of this season of life. Remind yourself of those good things. Make a list if you need to. Remember them especially when things don’t feel good.

10. Marriage plan as well as wedding plan. Try to make good habits now that you can keep up later. In the end, your wedding day is just one day. And so is today. Work on your communication. Make a budget. Cook together. Learn way more about your future in-laws. Learn way more about your parents. Don’t give up your hobbies and other interests. Don’t give up your friends. Make buddies with other engaged and newly married couples. Attend pre-marital counseling. Tyler and I consider counseling to be preventative care for our mental health (especially mine) and pre-marital counseling to be preventative for the health of our marriage.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Miscarriage

Trigger warning: discussion of miscarriage (non-specific, non-graphic)

Over the next few months, I plan to write about lots of wonderful parts of wedding and marriage planning. (I’m ridiculously excited to register for our Christmas stockings, for instance.) However, I feel like there’s a lot of that in the world. And it isn’t the whole truth of my experience. There’s plenty of fear as well.

I’m an anxious person. I’ve had social anxiety all my life, but I haven’t fully understood the degree to which a more general anxiety has influenced my life until recently. I don’t have generalized anxiety disorder; however, anxiety is a low-level but persistent factor in my life. My mother—I’ve always known and she’s always admitted—is a worrier. But worrying, I believed while growing up, was learned. Learned things could be unlearned, even if my shyness could not. I prayed and unlearned as best I could, but anxiety remained.

And over the course of my life, I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms and emergency protocols to help me through situations that trigger my anxiety. A big one is managing my expectations. But lately, I’ve noticed myself trying to manage Tyler’s too.

A couple of weekends ago, Tyler and I traveled up to Atlanta to visit my best friend/maid of honor and to go to a Braves game. At some point on the drive, as we were talking about the day, I recalled how excited my bestie’s mom had been that we were thinking of going on a cruise for our honeymoon (she goes on at least 2-3 cruises every year). I hadn’t expected her exuberant reaction. Tyler agreed, saying that’s how his mom will react “when she finds out you’re pregnant.”

Immediately, anxiety gripped my heart with both hands.

Tyler was imagining a scene in the future—real to him, though not yet realized—when I will be pregnant, we will tell his family, and his mom will scream with excitement.

To Tyler, that scene is not a possibility but an expectation.

At least, that’s what I took from his words. We’ve since talked about it and he assures me both that he’s aware of the risks and possibilities and isn’t pretending they can’t apply to us. But at the time, I didn’t know that.

I didn’t want to squash his hope or make him think I don’t hope for the same, but it’s just a hope in me, not a foregone conclusion. Relationships, marriage, good health, and pregnancy are generally accepted as will-happen situations with no complications or problems. We all I know there is a possibility that these dreams might not pan out the way we have been led to expect, but we generally don’t think other people’s tragedies and pains will happen to us. In the filing cabinet of coping strategies, in the emergency protocols drawer, is a folder labeled, “Miscarriage.”

I’ve written before about how, growing up, I kept putting off my disappointing about not being in a relationship, saying it’ll happen by this age, then this later age, until I realized I was building myself up for a disappointment so profound, so capable of embittering me, that it wasn’t healthy to defer hope any longer. I wouldn’t let myself set another relationship due date. I faced the reality of perpetual singleness. I made lists of the great things about it. I read stories of women—single, widowed, or divorced—who built adventurous, generous lives that I could admire. I grieved what I desperately wanted but may never have. I prayed and tried to choose, each day, to accept my current state and whatever future might be mine, especially the ones I found most painful and disappointing to imagine.

In Tyler’s truck that afternoon, he imagined telling his parents, experiencing his mom’s joy. I imagined Tyler having to deliver the bad news, his mom’s disappointment, how she’d look at me the next time she saw me. I imagined her, some weeks or months later, asking when we were going to try again. And if not her, than another well meaning, loving person in our lives.

Tyler’s family is large and close and many of them live nearby. Good news spreads through them like a wave and bad like fire. I imagine carrying everyone’s disappointments as well as my grief and Tyler’s. A miscarriage happens inside you; it brings guilt, a sense of betrayal. I would take the weight of everyone else’s disappointments and my body’s failures on myself. It’s a weight I’m terrified of, and everyone’s knowing would add elephants to it.

I feel horrible for being afraid of something that I have no actual evidence will occur and that we won’t be ready to pursue for years, anyway. So many struggle with infertility, miscarriage, and child loss now. Perpetually.

In Laura Turner’s essay “Missing Hope: A Trio of Miscarriages, and What Happened After,” she writes, they don’t tell you that fear, to reverse a phrase from C.S. Lewis, will feel so like grief, and so you begin to mourn what you have not yet lost, because mourning prematurely is the only way to protect yourself from hope.

“I know there isn’t a family history or anything,” I told Tyler as the stadium grew large before us. “But miscarriages are so common. I’m not going to want to tell anyone for…” we hit a bump and I stayed in the air an extra moment, wondering how many weeks would be safe enough, conservative enough, “a good long while.”

I didn’t want to bring the day’s mood down any further, so I didn’t explain. Tyler didn’t ask questions. He just said okay. My anxiety eased, and we had a really good day.

The Dress

Wedding dress shopping is not like it is on Say Yes to the Dress. Yes, you do try on a few dresses at a time and you have a dedicated attendant. But you can find a gorgeous dress under $5000 and the alterations department doesn’t need at least 5 months to tailor it to you. The store and trying on spaces are nice, but everything isn’t opulent. You don’t have a private viewing room or plush couches for your family and friends to rest on.

Trying on wedding dresses, at least at the David’s Bridal I visited one Saturday in April, is crowded and not really private at all. The dressing rooms are small, white boxes without furniture or a mirror and the remaining space is half taken up by the skirts of the dresses hanging above your head. You can hear the other future brides bumping into the walls on either side of you, the clip of metal on metal as they hang up or take down their heavy dresses. In my case, I needed my attendant Kim inside the room as well to help me in and out of each dress. I fought the skirts into the corners just so she would have a place to stand after she closed the door.

When you come out in your first dress, the platforms are so crowded that the only space where you can reliably see yourself is in the mirrored door of the dressing room you just came out of. Attendants angle the doors of the dressing rooms behind you to help you see the back of the dress. You’re looking in between other future brides, flower girls, bridesmaids, various motherly persons, and fleet-footed attendants.

The benefit to the crowds is that it makes for a very encouraging environment, with strangers complimenting you and offering to help flare you train or take photos. But it’s far from private and can feel visually and audibly overwhelming.

Before my maid of honor Kayla and I went dress shopping, I very intentionally avoided Say Yes to the Dress, bridal magazines, and the wedding dress section of Pinterest. I didn’t want my head so full of the images I’d seen that I couldn’t concentrate on what was right in front of me and didn’t want to fall in love with something I couldn’t afford. That is similar to an old shopping rule of mine: never try on something you can’t afford.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how I found my dress.

My amazing attendant Kim looked like River Song, with curly dirty blonde hair that hung loose down her back. She wore all black, like all the attendants, and was about 7 months pregnant. I mention this because she only worked for 4 hours at a time once a week (she couldn’t stand up longer than that) but still had incredible knowledge of the store and inventory.

Kayla and I had looked around before my 12:30 appointment (yes, you really need to make an appointment) to get an idea of what I liked, and showed Kim my favorites. She pulled 4 of them and I tried them on in order of least skirt pouf to greatest.

I’ve never been one of those women who wants to feel like a princess, but I have a thorough imagination and these were the nicest, royal-est dresses I’d ever tried on. One was a fit and flare corset dress that felt like it would be owned by a Russian countess. Lace overlay the entire dress, only splitting on one hip to reveal the tulle underneath. I liked how I looked it in but I’d been hesitant to get a corset because it takes so long to get in and out of. I’d like my wedding day to go smoothly, and that requires functionality. I’ve also always been of the opinion that lace is rather dowdy. This dress looked beautiful, but it better suited another era, and another color. I imagined the countess who’d wear it would have had it made in exquisite red and gold, a matching kokoshnik, the shape of which would indicate where in Russia she’d been born.

The other dress I really liked in that first batch was a ballgown with a sweetheart neckline and a drop waist covered in exquisite beadwork. It gave my waist great shape and made me feel like I could confidently descend a staircase, Cinderella style. It also kind of felt like I had been squeezed into a very large bangle: the bodice didn’t give at all. And if this was Cinderella’s dress, I can see why she’d lose a shoe by midnight. The skirt was unwieldy and that stiff bodice would make breathing harder and harder as the hours, and dances and songs, ticked by.

Because Kim had listened carefully to what I noticed and liked about the previous dresses, for the next batch of dresses she focused on heavy detailing that would give me good shape. Among these was an a-line dress so lacy and beautiful that it felt like a trick. This one I could imagine looking great on camera in a Hallmark movie (one of the higher budget ones, probably), with the gorgeous lace loops at the bottom. But it was much too long, so those loops would have to be detached and moved up to hem it. We’d discovered that both ivory or soft white dresses looked great with my skin tone (which Kayla said was “kind of unfair, frankly”) but here we discovered my nemesis: blush. The pale, dusty pink made my skin look really red. The lace at the sweetheart neckline tickled the tender undersides of my arms, not in a good way.

The last dress I tried on was a “trust me” dress. It was mermaid cut, which I’d told Kim I didn’t want, but it had a lot of great beadwork and would show my shape, and Kim had a good feeling about it. The other dresses felt like dressing up to play a role, but this one felt like putting on something that was already mine. I came out to “Ohs” from Kayla and the various attendants, brides, and their mothers nearby, which was a good start. Kayla started tearing up, which was even better. Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt excited. I instantly knew how I wanted my hair and started holding sections up to try to get a similar effect. I remembered the lime green mermaid dress I’d worn to junior prom, the Princess Jasmine bell I’d yearned for at a shop in Disney World when I was eight. Maybe those two good memories were partly why this dress felt so familiar. Kim pulled a sash from a nearby rack and, drawing it over my waist, the dress felt complete. It felt like me. I wasn’t imagining who would wear this dress; I knew that I would.

Having a bride try on a veil is a secret trick employed by Say Yes to the Dress attendants to making waffling brides say yes, already, but I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be convinced by a square of tulle. But I wanted to see what I’d look like on my wedding day. I was still working up to asking for a veil when Kayla suggested it. And because she had, I felt relieved, like what I wanted was valid. Which is why she’s my maid of honor and best friend: she helps me trust myself.

While Kim searched for a veil and hair comb, I trotted around on the raised platform, swooshing the skirt and kicking the train out of the way, testing my range of movement, and picturing Tyler’s face when he saw me in it. When Kim tucked the veil into my hair, Kayla really did start crying, though she would call it “a little misting.” The veil was the perfect length, embroidered with beads in a similar style to my dress. It cupped my shoulders, which I hadn’t realized I’d wanted until that moment. And, looking at the full effect in the mirror, I understood exactly where all those wedding dress and veil clichés come from.

During Say Yes to the Dress’s heyday, I watched marathons while walking or jogging on my mom’s treadmill. The visuals were fun and engaging, and I didn’t need to hear the episode to follow along (that treadmill is ridiculously loud). I observed many beautiful shapes and variations of dresses, many troubled familial dynamics, many women who knew what they wanted but were afraid or unable to claim it. One evening, while watching an episode in the living room with my mom, I told her I felt overwhelmed by all the options. How would I be ever able to pick a dress? I tend to make quick decisions about what I like and don’t like, even if I had no opinion the moment before a choice was put to me, but I’m also terrified of making the wrong decision. I worried that that the uncertain, afraid part of me would render me incapable of choosing. I didn’t voice that I was afraid I’d never have the opportunity to choose a wedding dress because I feared, with exactly one short-lived relationship under my belt, that I would never marry.

Mom, however, had no such concerns.

“You will,” she assured me. “You’ll know when it’s the right dress just like you’ll know when it’s the right guy.” I felt skeptical, asked how I’d know, and didn’t much appreciate Mom’s, “You just will.” But my blessed, compassionate, funny mother knows me. And she was right. She knew it when I called that April Saturday, gushing about the dress we’d found and asking her if she could come up to see it with me when she and my dad came to visit in a couple of weekends. And, because she knows me, knows how I make decisions, knows about my under-budget-to-try-on rule, and knows I like to have a choice made and over with quickly, she and my dad encouraged me to go ahead and buy it.

TV brides exclaim their yes to their wedding dress, their eyes often shifting self-consciously at that last moment, though they can rarely hold in their smiles, and everyone claps and cheers. I suspected this was done up for the cameras, but I did feel like there should be some tradition, some spell or phrasing, to indicate that I’d made my final decision. If my attendant had asked me if I was saying yes to the dress, I would have willingly fallen into the script. However, David’s Bridal has a different tradition. When you’ve decided, your attendant brings you a big gold bell with a black handle and you make 2 wishes, one for your wedding day and one for your future. Then you ring the bell and everyone in that loud, crowded, glittering little heart stops what their doing to clap and cheer for you. It’s a moment just about you. The loved ones you brought and the strangers around you celebrate the choices you’ve made to get you to this moment and the future you’re planning.

I think that’s a much better tradition.

Read about The Ring here.

The Beach

I grew up 45 minutes from the beach on the marsh of the Broad River. Every Saturday from March-October for most of my childhood, Mom would pack sandwiches and Cokes and Little Debbies into a cooler and Dad would take my brother and I out in his 12’ aluminum johnboat for the day. We’d come back in time for dinner, giving my stay-at-home mom some much needed hours of quiet and the three of us some much needed time together. Once or twice a summer, we’d stand in the dining room while Mom slathered us with sun screen, fish out our sandals and plastic pales, load up another packed cooler, and head to the beach.

I was my mom’s sun baby. I could tan sitting by a sunny window and my hair was always bleached blonde by the sun. I loved being outdoors, loved the boat, and loved the beach and ocean. Although not a very strong swimmer, I knew my limits and important coastal skills like how to escape rip currents (swim parallel to the shore until you swim outside the current’s grasp, then swim back in; otherwise, you’ll tire yourself out trying to swim toward shore against the rip current and you’ll drown), and what to do about jellyfish stings (sprinkle meat tenderizer directly on the wound; DO NOT RINSE WITH WATER).

We usually parked on the north end of Hunting Island, a SC state park, and visited the light house before finding a good spot on the beach away from most of the crowds. As a state park, Hunting Island has no restaurants and only two stores on the island, one selling t-shirts and ice cream bars by the light house, the other selling a wider variety of those things, plus basic gas station fare, by the campground on the island’s far northern end. We took school trips to the island, looked for the alligator in the pond covered with algae by the welcome center, took photography exhibitions, and sometimes found really interesting birds or sand dollars or horseshoe crabs on the sand.

The last time I went to Hunting Island’s beach for the day—which is to say for the sake of the beach, not to show it to a friend or my brother’s girlfriend—I was in high school. Three friends and I packed up our towels and water bottles and books and sunglasses. We found a fairly barren stretch of sand on the southern end of the island near the old fishing pier. We took long walks and read and hung out and baked in the sun because, as we learned the painful way, the surf was full of jellyfish.

My best friend screamed, standing where the waves break, then screamed again, more insistent and shrilled, falling forward. We couldn’t see any danger—the water was too shallow for her to be struggling to swim or to have been attacked by a shark. Was it a horseshoe crab? Had she stepped on a conk shell? Got snipped by a crab or sting ray? We ran to her, finding big blisters on the back of her calf and right hand, which she’d used to pull the jellyfish off when, after jumping away and screaming, the waves had pushed it back into her.

“Pee on it!” She ordered as we helped her back to our towels. A friend grabbed her water bottle, twisted off the cap, and had begun to pour it on the stings before I could stop her. After another short scream and my pulling the bottle away from our friend, she pleaded, “I’m serious. It hurts so bad! I need one of you to pee on it! Please! Please!”

We hadn’t had trouble with jellyfish in so long that I’d taken my mom’s meat tenderizer out of my beach bag.

A man at the nearest catch of towels had seen the whole thing and dug out his family’s bottle, saving us all from the inevitable urination. I’d already ordered it in my mind. I was the only one who would be willing to do the deed, so the other two would have to hold towels up into a blind in the woods and my best friend would have to kneel or lay down in the brush. It would have been terrible, but stings are agonizing and this one was bad.

The rest of the afternoon, we stayed out of the water, and the man with the tenderizer went up and down our stretch of beach tending to the blistering pain of those who had been stung. Finally, no one was in the water. We roasted instead, knowing the relief of the water would bring more stings.

I told Tyler this story several weekends ago when I brought him to Hunting Island for the first time. We’d had lunch with my parents that morning, had done a little shopping downtown, then my parents had some errands to run and I’d really wanted to take Tyler out to the beach. It was March and windy and growing cloudy, so we packed bottles of water and sunglasses and windbreakers. We stopped by the welcome center to see the gator in her algae-covered pond. I gave Tyler the wrong directions, taking us to the southern end of the island instead of the northern end by the light house. But the island isn’t all that big, so we got to the sand and started walking north.

The ocean is trying to split the island. That’s one of the reasons why the rip currents can be so bad. It’s also why, north of the lighthouse, trees are lying in the waves and on the beach, dying, the bark stripped away by the salt, leaving white trunks and black branches. It looks like an art exhibit. On high tide, beachgoers in that area have to lay their blankets in the tree line and wade amongst the branches, being careful not to trip or let the waves push them into wood that will break skin. The rest of the island has been expanded with thousands of tons of sand over the years, and hurricanes several years in a row have washed much of it away.

So as we walked north and I told my story of the last time I’d been to the southern end of the island, Tyler asked if any of it looked familiar. “No,” I told him. “Not really. The shore was at least a hundred yards that way the last time I spent any time here,” I said, pointing into the ocean. But we kept walking, passed the lighthouse that had been erected in the mid-1800s after the ocean took the original brick lighthouse, the remains of which are more than a mile off shore.

When we reached the creek, I explained to Tyler how, on warm, sunny days, hundreds of fiddler crabs flee your feet as you walk. Because it was cool and overcast, I pointed to their holes in the pluff mud. Tyler asked if I wanted to walk up the creek, but I explained that it’s brackish and swampy and mostly just a mosquito hole. We walked on until we reached the campground store. The nearest bathrooms had been badly damaged in Matthew, last October’s hurricane, and hadn’t yet been restored or torn down, so we trekked inland until we found one. Then we headed south again, walking into the wind, making my ears cold and my nose run.

The lighthouse was closed by this point, so we walked around its base, looking at the brick foundation of the destroyed innkeepers’ house with some fellow tourists. We continued, talking and tell stories. I found a plant unique to the sea islands that we had a lot of at my house growing up, but that I hadn’t seen in years. It looks like a green lilypad on a stem and gross in slightly sandy soil near the water. I picked one, intending to weave it into my braid as we walked, but was distracted by the big, unbroken shells and the dogs walking with their owners, and Tyler’s hand in mine.

At one point, Tyler suggested that we head up to the treeline to look in the woods. It seemed kind of weird, but I thought he just wanted to be adventurous. When we got to the top of the rise, we found dead trees laying side by side for hundreds of feet before us and to either side. Some had been blown down from the roots in Hurricane Matthew. The ones that remained had been snapped off 20-30 feet up and the tops lay beside the fallen. They were utterly dead, many stripped of bark and white. It looked like a dead tree cemetery.

“Well, this is kind of depressing,” Tyler said.

“Yeah,” I answered, “But it’s kind of cool, too,” and tromped off into the trees, reminding Tyler to be careful of snakes, especially poisonous copperheads. “They should still be hibernating,” I told him, “but just in case.”

After a few minutes, after Tyler wiped the snot from beneath my nose and kissed me (evidence of love if there ever was any), we headed back to the beach and continued walking.

The next time Tyler wanted to look at an area with downed trees, I didn’t think anything about it. I jumped onto the smooth white trunk of an artful tree and walked along its base. I felt Tyler come up beside me and I turned to him, thinking he wanted a kiss (he didn’t) or a hug. While my arms were around his shoulders, he held onto my sides and pulled me off the tree. I am fleet of foot (ish) and didn’t lose my balance, but I was confused, and was still orienting myself when I realized that Tyler was moving away. He lowered to one knee, and he was holding the ring we’d designed.

The first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “Really?!”

I feel rather badly about that. But, as Tyler points out when I tell this bit in person, “It was a happy, excited, ‘Really.’”

I really thought it’d be a couple more weeks. I knew Tyler had, as planned, talked to my parents the night before about his intention to ask me to marry him. They had, as I knew they would, given their blessings. But for some reason it didn’t occur to me that he’d propose the same weekend. And to him, it was obvious that he would. After all, he he wanted me to be able to see my family right away. And, as my roommate pointed out, he was tired of waiting.

He told me that he loved me and wanted to marry me and hadn’t planned out a lot of things to say because he’d known he would forget them all.

Meanwhile my brain was in overdrive. I was still holding the lilypad thing in my left hand, and I wanted to drop it because I needed my left hand, but by that point it was part of the moment and I wanted to keep it, so I switched it to my right hand and forgot about it. And apparently I took the ring out of Tyler’s hand, though I don’t remember this. I do remember feeling relieved that it was so gorgeous. Part of my brain was chanting, “THIS IS IT. PAY ATTENTION. THIS IS IMPORTANT. PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION.” Another part was going, “These are the clothes I’m getting engaged in….I wouldn’t have picked these. BUT OH WELL.”

And somewhere in here Tyler asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I kind of remember the question. I don’t remember saying yes, but he assures me that I did.

He stood up and we hugged and I was holding that ring so tightly on my left thumb. The part of my brain that had been going “PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION” was now going “DO NOT DROP IT. DO NOT DROP IT.”

Tyler pulled back and I didn’t know how to get him to put the ring onto my finger in a smooth way, so I did it. He asked if it fit, and it did. “It isn’t too loose is it?” he asked. I turned my hand and shook it so he’d see that it wouldn’t, even though my hands were cold and it was a little loose and my brain was still going, “DO NOT DROP IT.”

“Oh crap,” I thought. “Now we have to plan this thing.” But I didn’t say that out loud because we were literally still in the moment and I didn’t want to put a damper on things.

I asked that we take some selfies. We took 3 or 4, most with the trees behind us, one with the ocean. The one we like the most is the one where I remembered to put my hand on his shoulder so the ring was visible. We have the best expressions in that one, and it was right before the picture where he wasn’t smiling and I was kissing him on the cheek, squishing my nose against his cheek in a decidedly unattractive fashion.

I realized then that I had a text from Rachel, Tyler’s sister, and laughed at the timing of it. Then I remembered that, that morning, I’d scheduled a text to her about Tyler’s mom’s birthday for 5pm, and she was merely texting me back. And not letting on that she knew Tyler was going to be proposing that afternoon, and was waiting by the phone for the news. We called her first, then Tyler’s parents, then my brother, and I texted the women who would become my bridesmaids.

But while we were still on the beach, after texting Rachel back, Tyler suggested we wait until we got back to the truck to start calling people. We held hands the remainder of the walk, passing the remains of the old fishing pier. When we started to get into the truck, we heaps of sand shrugged off our shoes, so we got back out to stamp our feet and shake sand off of the floor mats, which was a very mundane thing to be doing in my brand new ring, four or five minutes after we got engaged.

We drove back to my parents’ house and I got to hug my mom immediately. They’d known the plan, of course, and hadn’t let on at all. As is the nature of mothers, I didn’t start crying until I saw her. We cried happy tears for a minute or two in the front yard, then went inside so I could hug my dad, and Tyler could hug them both.

That night, we went to a local seafood restaurant with an hour-long wait, telling my parents stories about dating and knowing each other in college, tons of funny and sweet stories they hadn’t heard before. I refused to get my normal fried shrimp because I didn’t want grease on my ring and left it with Tyler on the table when I went to the bathroom, not trusting myself with it in a public restroom just yet.

I can not imagine a better day.

The Ring

This whole “how did you get engaged” thing feels like a lot, in part because I’ve told the story multiple times and it seems to take longer every time, despite my attempts to shorten. It also feels like a lot because I am keenly aware that I don’t want to be That Person. That Person talks about her wedding nonstop and forgets to ask about other people’s lives, which is annoying and hurtful. So I’m going to tell our proposal story in stages and hope you won’t get bored.

A couple of days after Christmas (2017), Tyler and I watched a movie (I can’t remember which one) at his apartment in the glow of Christmas lights. When the movie ended, he got up to play with the Lego’s he’d given me for Christmas and I stayed where I was. He covered me in several blankets and a small mountain of pillows, just to be cute, and I happily dozed off.

Tyler woke me to show me the tiny car he built for the tiny street with tiny road cones redirecting traffic around the tiny garbage truck that had toppled over. I oooh’d over it and fell asleep again. Later, he woke me to show me the tiny garage he built for the tiny car that had finally navigated the accident and made it home. By this time, it was around 1am, and he sat on the floor beside me to tell me that it was late and I should probably go home. I agreed and began unburying myself.

“Before you go, though,” he said, his back to me as I tossed pillows into the far corner of the sectional, “I want your opinion on something.”

Interesting, I thought. “Okay. What is it?” I balled up one blanket and pulled the remaining one more closely around me as I sat up. Tyler stood and slid open the end table—which he almost never keeps things in—and pulled out a Reed’s jewelry catalog, cover tinged with the blue and red of the pulsing Christmas lights.

“I want to know what kind of engagement ring you’d like.”

I wasn’t very sleepy anymore.

I looked through the catalog, which didn’t much impress me, to be honest, while he opened his laptop and pulled up a few sites. For the next hour and a half, I declared judgement on the rings we saw, and we found a site that let us build a custom ring. We knew we wanted to see an investment like this in person before we bought it, but it was fun to customize and wonder. The only thing I knew going in was I wanted a diamond and I wanted white gold, as I mostly wore silver jewelry.

Tyler asked me, “Do you like princess cut or round better?” as he clicked on the various toggles.

“Round,” I’d answer, not knowing the answer until I saw them both, like choosing “one or two” at the optometrist’s office.

“Do you want a colored diamond?”

“No.”

“Not even a chocolate one?”

“Not even a little bit. Those things are hideous.”

“I’m so shocked.”

(He wasn’t shocked.)

“What about this one?” he asked of an x-shaped monstrosity that I thought looked like an alien space ship and he thought looked like a shrunken chandelier.

At some point, when we had a design I basically liked, he said something like, “You like color. What about sapphires?” And clicked on a button that sent alternating cascades of sapphires and diamonds down the band of the virtual ring.

“It’s too much,” I told him.

“The sapphires?”

“No. The band like that.” He clicked around for other options.

I had heard of sapphires on a wedding ring, because of Princess Diana. I used to watch made-for-TV documentaries and biographies about her. After one show pointed out the details of her large sapphire ring, the central gem surrounded by diamonds, which is now Princess Katherine’s engagement ring, I asked my Mom why Prince Charles had picked a sapphire. “Engagement rings are supposed to have diamonds, aren’t they?”

My mom, whose gorgeous yellow gold set with round solitaire was my baseline for that statement, answered that sapphires are a traditional stone to use, but diamonds are more common.

I might have been eight at this time, so I’ve had a couple of decades to get use to the idea of sapphires in an engagement ring. But I had never thought about them being on mine.

Tyler adjusted the virtual ring so a diamond sat in the center, flanked by two decently sized sapphires. I liked it, but I wasn’t convinced. The idea was new to me and I definitely wanted to try something like this on. I went home, went to bed, and met him for lunch at Zoe’s Kitchen. I remember nothing about that meal, but I remember walking out of the restaurant toward the center of the outdoor mall where three large, name-brand jewelry stores dominated three of the four corners, including Reed’s, provider of the catalog in Tyler’s apartment.

As we walked, though, we passed Forever Diamonds, a smaller jewelry store we’d both forgotten about. Tyler hadn’t visited them during his research trip earlier that week, but we were there, so we went inside.

Debra and Ryan were amazing. Debra helped us primarily, listening very carefully to what I wanted, pulling ring after ring for me to try on. We talked stone cut, size, setting style. I was horrified by anything 1.25 carets or higher. Tyler, of course, was devastated that I wanted something smaller.

The night before, I’d asked him about budget. “Just pick a band you like and I’ll get a stone I can afford. Okay?”

He’s so very reasonable.

I found a gorgeous ring that was the sort of thing I would have imagined as a child, if I’d ever let myself do so. It was a white gold band with a round solitaire setting and three tiny diamonds, in descending size, set on in the midst of mill grain tear drop. I loved it. It’s the ring I would have chosen ten or five or even two years ago, before Tyler and I started dating. Which is why I ultimately didn’t pick it.

We still hadn’t seen a ring with a setting like the one we’d built online, and when we explained this, Ryan suggested that they could order a band to our specifications and build us a custom ring. This idea made me, at least, nervous, so he took a round .9 caret diamond from the safe along with two triangular sapphires, carefully arranging them between my fingers so I could get an idea of what it would look like. And it was gorgeous. But I couldn’t think straight any more and I wanted to be sure it wouldn’t sit up too high (the other ring did, though I was willing to ignore it because it was that gorgeous), so we thanked them profusely, took up our coats, and walked to the next jewelry store, where we were half ignored. In the next store, the sales associate didn’t know her stock well and complained to us about her coworker, who could hear her doing so. In the third store, the associate was experiencing severe back pain and had to lean heavily on the display cases to stay upright. I nearly ran out of the store just so she could sit back down and take a little relief.

We went back to Forever Diamonds. As Tyler talked with Ryan about what ordering a custom ring would entail, I asked Debra to let me see that other ring again. I wore it, and stared at it, and then gave it back.

It took me less than 24 hours to decide that I wanted a ring that reflected Tyler and I, not just me. We love Lego’s and cooking together. We like to make things together. The night after we went shopping, New Year’s Eve, I sat Tyler down during the party at my house and told him I’d decided. I think he was really surprised that I had already decided and didn’t need more time. He’d taken 2 months to buy a new truck and 8 months and counting to pick a new mattress. He suggested, wisely but unnecessarily, that we wait until the end of the week before going back to Forever Diamonds so that I would have plenty of time to change my mind, with assurances that it would be fine if I did.

The following Monday, we made an appointment with Debra and Ryan and went in to order my ring. Once again, they were incredibly patient and kind as we asked questions and pondered all the options. Tyler had been told that day that he would be put on leave without pay at his new job for an indefinite period of time. I suggested we wait until things grew more steady at work, but he wanted to go ahead and order it. He’d been saving and had good credit for financing options. Brenda sized my ring finger and, afterwards, I ran a couple more errands while Tyler went to Publix and cooked for us. I arrived at his apartment just in time to eat.

I didn’t see the ring completed until Tyler pulled it from his pocket on the beach in my hometown eleven days ago. I don’t remember this, but I took it out of his hand. I held it on the tip of my thumb while I said “Yes” and through our hug afterwards.

In the intervening weeks, I had noticed that I’d been wearing a lot more yellow gold and had begun to question whether I’d chosen well to want white gold. When I saw it, though, I knew I’d chosen right to have asked for white gold. And I am endlessly thrilled with it, even if I do sometimes forget and slide it onto my right hand instead of my left.