The Year in Being an Engaged Person and Nothing Else

On the milestones that consume our identities.

Still from "The Five-Year Engagement"

What was important to us in 2014? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the big issues that reverberated quietly and the small moments that rang loudly over the last year.  

Our self-reflection is a misty abyss. This is true even when you are not, say, a teenaged boy who has just spent three hours in Yahoo! chatrooms pretending to be a lesbian even though the only thing you know about a clitoris is that it is, you insist, "all the way in there." This is our life—we do not see clearly our own being, but instead grasp at the definitions that swirl around us, layering them like bricks to form our foundation: "son," "lover," "Brandy from Kelowna," "fucking little pervert who has obviously never even seen a vagina before." These labels become us even as we try to make sense of them, even as we flip furiously through a hand-me-down stolen copy of The Joy of Sex and curse the anatomically obfuscating pubic hairstyles of the early 1970s.

Over time we're able to make some shape of it all, to recognize the labels that most often apply, that must, by elimination, be true. Sometimes while we are drinking or are around people who have been strategically lied to enough to love us, we will even start to think that we do know ourselves. In our darkest moments, though, we will admit that this is not true, that it is just convenience, a lie to make the time not spent agonizing over in-app purchases on freemium games seem like it actually means something.

And then you get engaged, and you immediately burn with singular purpose. You are engaged; that is all you know on earth, and all anyone else need know.

In fairness, any suitably large life milestone, as defined by the ancient gods who created boutique consumer magazines and mid-day docureality programs, will work as an all-consuming identity. Bought your first house? Excellent, let me tell you about all the opinions there are for rakes. Birthed a reasonably healthy child? Here is your pull-over fleece, already vomit-stained at no extra charge. Younger readers might recognize this from graduation time, when you were not a person but a gleaming ball of pure potential energy, every last ounce of it squandered on coming up with an answer to, "So, what's next?" that didn't involve screaming until you collapsed into the tender embrace of asphyxiation.

Being engaged is like that, but there are 40 different questions that all mean "What's next?" and it's generally considered déclassé to pray for death in front of the person to whom you have theoretically committed the rest of your life. The first question from anyone you do not see on a greater than tri-daily basis will be about how the wedding is coming along; there will be no second question. The vast unknowability of your existence, everything you have ever thought, everyone you have ever loved, becomes as relevant to your acquaintances as the distinguished lineage of whoever made their last Cinnabon. You are engaged.

Eventually, naturally, Stockholm syndrome sets in, and you become your convenient adjective. Forced into the corner of personal conversation, you let the bastards have it with both barrels: well, of course, we're looking for a venue that can fit both our families, ahahahaha. You'd never guess how hard it is to find an interesting vegetarian meal with these in-house caterers. Do people really still do photo booths these days? No, you didn't ask, but if I thought of you as anything more than an empty vessel into which I could unopposedly babble wedding minutiae, I would have jammed a ring on your greasy finger and had weekend-long disagreements about what an appropriate suit colour for fall nuptials is with you, youtit. Dark brown is definitely out, by the way.

By the time you realize you have not had a conversation that didn't touch on your impending nuptials in more than three months, it is too late. The person you were is waving at you from across a chasm, pretending he doesn't hear the things you are shouting about the price of photographers. Looking down, there is only that familiar nothing. So you turn away, nowhere to look but forward, and wouldn't you know it, there are Becky and Steve, coming back from Home Depot. I wonder how their renovations are going?