The advantages to getting engaged at 37
It happened on Friday the 13th, a day associated with bad luck and an exhausted horror-movie franchise.
That’s the day my boyfriend proposed. Twice. The first overture took place in front of a meter, but I just couldn’t handle a proposal that occurred next to a sign that read “10-hour parking.” The second took place in the bedroom of a Sherman Oaks apartment we were considering as our first home.
I said yes, we hugged and I cried. This was a monumental event — I’d managed to find someone who wanted to commit. In Los Angeles!
What I wasn’t prepared for was the ho-hum response it generated from my girlfriends back in the South. I imagine it’s the sort of celebration that surrounded Stephen King when his 43rd novel was published. A happy occasion, yes. An earth-shattering event, no.
I am the last in my circle of friends to get engaged. Given that I managed to accomplish this at 37 without the aid of “Millionaire Matchmaker” Patti Stanger or the combination of a terminal illness and lucrative life insurance policy, I figured it would be an occasion worth commemorating. That I accomplished this in a town obsessed with finding the bigger, better thing — and by bigger and better, I mean thinner and younger — I expected the girls back home to be shocked and impressed at the same time.
But because my friends have been married (and some remarried) for years, it’s been a bit like telling them about the wonders of the Internet. The wow factor is long gone.
Perhaps it’s that they don’t fully appreciate the miracle that a “real” marriage is in a place like Los Angeles, where celebrities and reality TV have given us a reputation for turning weddings into business transactions and frivolous spectacles. (Kardashians, this means you.) Back home, getting engaged rarely involves a rose ceremony and a camera crew.
Then again, maybe this has nothing to do with where I live and much more to do with where my friends are in their lives.
One, who is going through a divorce, met my news with the same kind of enthusiasm as if I’d announced that I was going to relocate to North Korea. I could tell she was thinking, “Yeah, good luck with that.” Others are in the midst of raising their children and barely have time for an actual shower, much less planning a bridal shower.
Even sharing the news was a bit of a challenge. We’re spread out now, living our lives, pursuing our careers all over the country. If I wanted the desirable hug fest accompanied by the high-pitched squeals only dogs can hear, I’d have to wait until we were reunited at a funeral. Where it’s slightly inappropriate to jump for joy.
I used to think waiting to marry would mean better gifts — after all, my friends are older and established in their careers. But now they also have babies, mortgages, spouses to answer to and a recession to contend with. I feel so guilty registering for anything, I have to wonder — does the 99-Cent Store offer a registry? Surely my husband and I would appreciate a roll of tin foil and some cake mix.
Getting engaged at this age also means I’ve lost some of the drive for a traditional — read “expensive” — wedding ceremony. When you’re young, the ceremony, the dress, the drama over the bridesmaids — all that feels so important. I am now old enough to appreciate just how hard it is to earn money and how much better of an investment it is to put it somewhere other than crystal-encrusted invitations.
After all, I have friends who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their wedding only to get divorced less than five years later. Hmmm. That adds up to $20,000 per year of married life, several of which were probably miserable. It’s like paying to go on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
There are rewards to waiting to marry. For one thing, I benefit from my friends’ mistakes. Get facial day of the wedding — no. Have outdoor wedding in 100-degree heat — no. Sedatives for the mother of the bride — yes.
I’ve also learned from their successes. Everything they know about making a marriage work, I now know too. My years of listening to their marital problems have created a very useful map warning me of various land mines: Don’t marry someone who loves his mother more than he loves you, don’t let parenthood supplant your relationship as husband and wife — and try to share in your husband’s hobby, even if it means playing video games until you feel like a character in “Tron.”
My taste is much more refined than when I was in my 20s and the only requirement of a husband was “must look like Johnny Depp.” While I still have a soft spot for Capt. Jack Sparrow, I am grateful I waited. I might not get the wedding, the presents or the hoopla I would have enjoyed when I was younger, but I still get the marriage. And thanks to the wisdom and experiences of my friends who’ve wed before, I will know how to make it last.
Patricia Beauchamp is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.
L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at email@example.com.