Charles Fox, Jr.
Love, Happiness, Anxiety, & Insanity: A Black Man's Journey to Engagement
"I never thought myself the kind of guy, the kind of man that would ever want to settle down. Statistics say it's crazy, passion won't survive, but something says naw, deep down, deep down inside."
Maxwell crooned that on his 1996 track: "Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)." Nineteen years later, I have decided to take that step myself. It was a long journey that began nearly six years ago. While I am in no position to offer up much sage advice about engagement, commitment, and marriage, I can speak to my own personal journey towards this moment in my life. When does a man determine that he's "ready" to get engaged? That's a million dollar question with the possibility of as many answers as there are men on Earth. What one comes to realize is that there really is no definitive moment when you look at your significant other and say, "yep, I'm ready now." You don't catch her doing her hair in the mirror while Prince's classic "Adore" plays on an infinite loop in your head, eyes meet, birds chirp, Angels sing." Nope. That only happens in fairy tales and B-grade romantic comedies.
In reality, you're more likely to come to the conclusion that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone while the two of you are doing something hopelessly mundane and routine. You may be simply walking through the store holding hands and a feeling comes over you. "I can't imagine my life without this person." How ever a man (or woman) comes to the conclusion to pop the question, no amount of inquiries from friends and acquaintances is going to make a man decide that he's ready to fully commit to another human being. Marriage and life partnership is far too serious a pledge to take lightly or to let be influenced by the opining of others. When a man is ready, he's ready. Period.
Now I know that some women aren't really trying to hear that. You feel that your significant other is dragging his feet and holding up your progression in life. I hear you, I do. All I can say is that you have to make a decision based on what is best for you and your life with respect to how long you are willing to wait for a man to fully commit to you. It should be less about receiving a fancy, shiny ring and more about receiving truthful commitment from your partner that the two of you are indeed in it together, forever. The ring is merely a symbol. Whether a gentleman spends five hundred or five hundred thousand dollars on it, what is most important is the promise that the ring symbolizes. "I love, cherish, and honor you. I would like to be your partner for the rest of my life as we build a family together."
So many things go through your head as you ponder the decision to entangle your life with that of another. Can I be a good fiancé? Can I be a good father? A provider? A lover? A confidante? A friend? The anxiety that accompanies these questions is frequently mind numbing. Even the most confident and self-assured man might grapple with feeling the proper efficacy required to be someone's life partner. For me, looking at the woman that I love and realizing that so many (but not all) of this person's goals, hopes, and dreams, will hinge upon my ability to be an adequate life partner was a daunting realization. Basically, it's a bit overwhelming and scary. Aside from shared goals and aspirations, you must be willing to adapt to her changing personal goals and dreams as well.
Life isn't and should never be stagnant. People change in an abundance of ways, constantly. Can you be a partner who can adapt to the fact that you commit to a person not solely based on who they are but also for the multitude of possibilities of who they might be in the future? A man has to ask himself, can I be a complement to this woman and can she be a complement to me? A man mustn't seek to make a woman whole. Nor should a woman seek to complete a man. Two complete human beings who are comfortable with who they are should seek to add value to the life of their chosen partner. This Jerry Maguire "You complete me" fantasy is dangerous and misguided. If someone ever actually says that to you and means it...red flag. Another person cannot function as the missing part of an already incomplete human being. At least not in any healthy way.
The inconvenient and at times, uncomfortable truth when a man decides to get engaged and ultimately married is that he truly does owe some debt of gratitude to every woman who came before. Whether you want to throw some positive vibes up or pour out some liquor for the women who were left on the dating battlefield, you have to admit that every piece of time you spent interacting with another woman helped to mold you into a better human being (hopefully) for the woman you ultimately decide to spend your life with. Those from the past who dealt with your angst, your nonsense, your passive aggressiveness...they played a role that helped shape you as a man. Ideally, for the better. I'm not saying that you have to send an Andre 3000 style text to every woman you ever dealt with and "cc every girl that you'd see-see around town" but make no mistake, your past does have an effect on your future. For better or for worse. You either took experiences and learned from them and thus grew as a man or you failed to realize that before you were ready to be someone's King, you played the role of another woman's Jester. Hopefully, both of you reached a better place.
Of course, an engagement is merely the first step in a journey that truly doesn't end until either you or your partner leave this world or you separate/Divorce. That being said, it's a necessary step. In any manner you choose to do it, it is necessary. It's a promise that is far deeper than "liking it" and subsequently putting a ring on it (Sorry, Bey-hive). You've got to love "it" (her) and know in the depths of your soul that no other woman on the face of this planet could ever make you as happy as she does. Own that. Breathe that. Live that. If you don't feel that way, do not, I repeat do not venture down this path. Weight everything, consider all possibilities. Do whatever it is you think a man should do before he decides to settle down. Do not play with a woman's emotions and lead her down a path that you do not intend to walk side by side with her. It's cruel and inhumane to toy with the emotions of another human being. So...be sure before you take the plunge.
Discuss everything. Finances, child-rearing, everything. You won't find all the solutions but you will know that you have a partner willing to ponder the questions with you. Forget about how physically beautiful she is. Superficial crap can and will fade. Dig deeper and deduce whether or not you are dealing with a beautiful soul who will help you navigate this often harsh and unforgiving experience we call life. Someone who will be with you when times are good and with you when times are not so good. As Chris Rock said in the underrated film "I Think I Love My Wife:" "I want a woman who will not only fight with me but who will fight for me. A woman I can go to war with, who will drag me and my kids out alive. A woman who sees the good in me, even when I can't even see it in myself."
That is no fairy tale. Nor is it fantasy. It's the hard truth about the difference between the kind of woman you marry and the kind of woman you kill time with. Know the difference. What is most everlasting is the bond that you are supposed to share. When I see couples who have been married for decades upon decades sitting in wheelchairs, holding hands, surrounded by the fruit of their union (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren), it inspires me. What you don't see are all things that, while meaningful, do not define what is most important to a lasting love story. You see no twerking, you see no washboard abs, or a bank statement. You merely see two beautiful elderly folks who did something quite ludicrous like deciding to be with one another for their rest of their lives, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.
It's a scary proposition but it's also one of the most beautiful gestures of love that two people can ever show one another. When it is pure, genuine, and lasting. It's truly one of the greatest triumphs I can imagine in life. I am ready for the journey to commence and I look ahead with optimism and humility. Be blessed good people.
© Copyright 2015, Charles Fox, Jr.
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