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“So what’s it like being engaged?” my friend asked as we waited at the bar for another beer.  It’s been three weeks since I proposed, and I still get asked this question at least once a day.  Usually I respond with an innocuous half-truth like “It’s great!” or “It’s pretty crazy, man.” But this time, because the questioner is a good friend and because it wasn’t my first beer, I tried out an analogy that had been floating through my subconscious for the last few days, the product of 13 years of Catholic school and my innate pessimism.

“To be honest, it’s a little like being in purgatory,” I said.  “I was ready to get married the second she said ‘yes,’ but unless we run off to Vegas we’re doomed to spend the next year in this weird in-between phase where the only thing anybody wants to talk to us about is the wedding.  Honestly, it’s starting to get a little oppressive.”

Luckily, my friend knows me well enough to realize that I was just being melodramatic, another one of my less endearing traits. “‘Purgatory,’ huh?” he said as he handed me a beer.  “Well, at least it’s not hell, right?”

We toasted to purgatory and let it go at that, which is just as well—if he had goaded me on I might have said something truly stupid.

For all of my grousing, the truth is that I’m thrilled to be engaged and genuinely excited about planning the perfect wedding. But melodrama aside, it’s also true that I’m still coming to terms with what it means to be engaged and what’s expected of me as a fiancé. (An aside: I’m no Francophobe, but can we please come up with a less silly word to describe someone who’s engaged?)  In the month before the proposal, I was so consumed with picking out the ring and figuring out how and where to pop the question that I didn’t put much thought into how my life would change after she said “Yes.”

There’s nothing like getting engaged to make you realize how little faith some people have in you. I can’t tell you how many times people have followed up their congratulations with “It’s about damn time!” or “You really did it!”

As far as the most important thing—our relationship—not much has changed. I knew that I wanted to marry my fiancé long before I proposed, so I can’t say that I feel a greater sense of commitment. Put simply, she occupies the same central place in my life that she did before we got engaged, which I find comforting—our love is constant, as it should be.

What is different is the way everyone else perceives our relationship. There’s nothing like getting engaged to make you realize how little faith some people have in you. I can’t tell you how many times people have followed up their congratulations with “It’s about damn time!” or “You really did it!”

Plus: “When Are You Gonna Put a Ring On It?” A Rant Against Engagement Nagging

Less insulting but more disconcerting has been the overwhelming happiness our engagement has inspired in others. A few of my friends had tears in their eyes when they heard the news, and the sheer joy in my mom’s voice after I told her left me speechless.

Put simply, I didn’t expect getting engaged to be such a big deal, and after a few days I started to find all of the fuss a little annoying—was this going to be my life for the next year?

At this point, it must be noted that I am a raging hypocrite who has no right to be annoyed at the attention we’re receiving. After all, I was the one who organized a surprise engagement party for us immediately following the proposal.

But it turns out I only wanted attention on my terms, and only for a few days. I’ve found myself longing for a breather, to go back to the days when every conversation I had didn’t include questions about where I got the ring and whether we were shooting for a spring or summer wedding.

What I’m realizing now, after talking to a few of my married buddies and taking some time to put everything in perspective, is that there will be no breather and I should embrace our engagement as an opportunity for reflection and preparation, not something to be endured.

I’m also trying to savor those moments of quiet wonder, like when I see my fiancé from across a crowded party or on the other side of the bed and realize that this is the person, who sees me more clearly than anyone else and loves me nonetheless, the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.  Yes, I knew that before we got engaged, but now it’s more than an unspoken agreement—it’s a promise, and soon enough it will be a vow.

And here’s the funny thing about your subconscious—it’s usually on to something.  I did a little internet research, and it turns out that purgatory isn’t just a place of temporary punishment—it can also be a place of purification, a place to get ready for Heaven.  When you put it like that, I can’t think of a better way to describe being engaged.