Steve and I have been dating for six years. Yes, I did just say six years. We met in marching band when I was fourteen and he was fifteen. We dated throughout high school, constantly getting closer through college thus far, and started thinking of something more when we were separated by an ocean and a time difference. He’s been with me through the hardest times of my life, and I couldn’t ask for anyone to love me more.
But if you’re like everyone else I’ve spoken to, you would have stopped after the second sentence. Your mouth would have dropped open, and your eyebrows would have raised. And you would have just heard what everyone else hears, those two little words that I love to hate: six years. They seem to be breath-taking words, almost magical chants that stop thought processes and speech patterns. They repeat that simple phrase in varying forms and with emphasis on different words and syllables. And as soon as that’s over and done with, I begin to wince. I can feel the muscles tighten under my skin. I know what’s coming next. It’s always what comes next:
And WHY aren’t you engaged?
I’ll be honest: I know that people mean well when they say these things. They are simply wondering how there can still be indecision after six years. I know that they think that six years is a long enough time to get to know someone. But do they think that in those six years—over half a decade—that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind? Do they believe that, as I’m nearing my junior year in college with a possible move to Paris, this line of conversation hasn’t come up at least once?
I smile with my face and continue to tell them that, yes, we’ve discussed it, yes, we think that we’d eventually like to get married, and, yes, I hope it happens soon as well. I look at them and wonder why they believe digging into my private life—and private pain—is necessary. I wonder if they’ve ever felt invaded, hurt, and violated by a question. And when I wonder that, I wonder why they have to bring up mine.
Maybe people don’t realize that there is a fever. Oh, women know it—they just don’t talk about it. But there are times when they can’t get away from it—especially when it comes time for them to sit down and contemplate their biological clock:
What if I can’t get a career?
Am I waitressing for the rest of my life?
How old is "old"?
What if I don’t find someone now? Who will I find later?
When does beauty end? Will anyone ever find me beautiful after now?
Girls are brought up playing house. We dress up as brides for Halloween. As we grow older, we find it necessary to have a boyfriend, have a first kiss—and that means you’re popular. It means you’re beautiful. And for some of us, it doesn’t happen…at least not as quick as we like. And then we begin to think, why not us? Why not me? Maybe we—society, parents—start the clock sooner then necessary with these activities. By giving little girls play-kits that include a marriage license, we’re giving them the idea that they can’t be anything without it. Either way, the clock is ticking and the race is on. Nature has kicked in, and, as I see it, you have one of two options: you begin the hunt (sometimes any one that comes along) or you give yourself to extinction and resign yourself to a loveless fate (always the bridesmaid, never the bride).
And I will admit it—I’ve caught the fever before. I’ve attended a wedding this fall while celebrating the one-year wedding anniversary of an elementary school friend of mine. My roommate is engaged; my high school friends are engaged. Everywhere I turn there are wedding magazines, wedding billboards, websites. I look at pictures from high school: married, married, engaged, pregnant then married…me. Everyone is married—except Steve and I, who, ironically, have been dating the longest.
It makes me jealous. There, I’ve said it. I am jealous. And that’s really the fever, isn’t it? Jealousy. I’m jealous of those girls who get married after two years; I’m jealous of those girls who (while having absolutely EVERY right to be excited) must tell me about their weddings, their plans…and then…then the vicious cycle begins again…
So, are you seeing anyone?
Yes, I am.
Aww…that’s great! How long have you been together?
(Pause) Six years?
And, then, it only gets worse …
Her hand is on my leg, and she’s looking at me as if I’ve just broken my arm.
Don’t worry, honey, I know your time will come.
And, as she speaks, I smile and wonder what she would say if I somehow burned the pictures of the "perfect dress I’m going to look at on Saturday…"
I’ve tried everything. Anything to get him to want to move on. I’ve cried. I’ve screamed. I’ve threatened. I’ve tried guilt. And then, I did something that, at times, amazes me—I began to think about it.
People jump in and out of relationships constantly. They live together, they marry, divorce, and move on, thinking—always thinking—that maybe, just maybe, this one will have what that last one was missing until they’ve given their heart away so many times that they don’t have one left. They wait for the perfect man to come, and they look past the ones who "aren’t their type" when getting to know someone is what it takes. They think that Mr. Perfect will eventually come, but "Hey! I can have fun while I’m waiting." They turn their backs and let Mr. Charming slip silently by.
They catch the fever, they rush things, they think that nothing better will come along. They feel like it’s elementary school again—they stand in line, nervous. They know that they aren’t the best kicker on the field. There are people with much cooler clothes, who look so much nicer. People who can kick the ball better. What do you have to offer? So you stand there, watching your friends get picked first for the game, and you begin to get nervous and soon the only thing you can think is "Pick me. Oh please, just this once, pick me."
And there are a few lucky ones. There are always a few lucky ones — those who have found the one they love and can stick to through the bickering and the pain.
But it seems to be becoming less and less. Isn’t it something like 45% of all marriages end in divorce?
I want to tell them—love is not wanting to be picked towards the front of the line. If it happens, it happens. And that’s a great feeling. But it doesn’t always happen. And love, love is not a last ditch effort. I want to tell them that love is not a movie. We all can’t marry Orlando Bloom, and we all can’t have that passionate kiss that melts hearts and brings tears to every girl’s eyes. Love does not have a Hollywood-produced soundtrack that we can play at our most heart-stopping moments.
Love is about caring so much that your heart could burst. Love is about willingly giving up the last piece of bread at the table. Love is about seeing the sun set in their eyes. Love is about knowing what buttons to push and when. Love is about waking up in your sweats, no make-up, with the possibility of something crawling in your hair and still hearing, "you’re beautiful." Love is communication. And I want to tell them all that love has absolutely no limit. Love just is.
And we can’t take someone else’s love songs made for actors who knew each other for a few months and who were paid to pretend. In the end, we have to write our own love songs—in our own time.
Yes, it has been six years, and, no, I am not engaged. Yes, I am in love. Yes, I am happy. And Steve, if you’re reading this, as long as you love me forever and propose before never — I can wait.
Epilogue: As love would have it, less than 24 hours after submitting this piece, Steve proposed.
Danae Leali is a junior from Canal Fulton, Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing.