You’ve got to give it to their advertising agency. Using real-life stories to sell engagement rings makes the rest of us feel like it’s a simple process once he buys the ring and pops the question…
In reality, though, an engagement can be the first time both people actually think about what it means to devote a lifetime to each other. I’ve heard about myriads of broken engagements and 2 year long marriages; in one woman’s blog about her engagement, she and her fiancé slowly realize that they hadn’t really thought about what marriage event meant, and the blog trails off into nothingness. Without religious or cultural context, what is this marriage (we’re all obsessed with having) even about?
My parents divorced when I was 8 years old, so an innate knowledge of a happy marriage eluded me. Yet I knew it was the thing I wanted more than anything else. By 18 I learned to take my queues from the media, developing a skewed sense of love relationships. I thought love meant you devoted 100% of yourself to another, that you lived for the something that is the “two of you together.” With that much devoted to someone else I’d lose my whole identity in relationships, and end them calling myself a “failure.”
Then I read a quote from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” that scared me:
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
It wasn’t until several years (and love relationships) later that I could appreciate this quote. I believe Gibran is saying that though we find someone who we can devote our life, love, and devotion to, we don’t lose ourselves in that process. You give your heart to your beloved, and yet you don’t let them keep it — not because it is available to be given away to someone else, but because you alone are the only one responsible for your heart. No other human being can take full responsibility for another human being (except for maybe our children, for a bit) and expecting someone else to can only lead to disappointment on both parts.
I’ve now learned that you cannot mesh your life, identity, and dreams with your lover’s. For just as two trees cannot both thrive if one is shadowing the other, no two people can grow into their unique, beautiful, heroic selves if they make compromises and sacrifices of their own well-being for the good of a relationship.
To completely exhaust the metaphor…we must be the tree we are meant to be, so that when we are in a relationship, we can continue to grow and support our partners’ growth without giving up our own. We cannot be the sun, the rain, and the soil for our partner, nor can they for us. But we can be the moon, the stars, and the companion tree to our partners, standing strong nearby to catch them just in case they fall.