Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happiness For Others, Hard?

“I am happy to announce that my boyfriend and I are engaged!” I uttered these words to my family and friends about three weeks ago. Marriage is a huge event in one’s life and it is only natural for the couple to want others to share in their joy. People throughout time have stated similar words with the same enthusiasm hoping others would be overjoyed for them. Yet, I wonder how many of them receive genuine joy in response to their announcement. Here is my worthless two cents on the reality of the reactions we received and why it is so hard for human beings to be happy for others.

First, some background: My boyfriend, whom I shall call James for no reason other than the fact that I love the name ‘James,’ have been knowing each other for ten months total. We immediately hit it off and were soon finding ways to hang with each other like every day, which wasn’t difficult since we hung around the same people. We officially began dating three months ago and he proposed a month ago. I will admit to the fact that we are on the fast track, but that seems to be by design. We are naturally drawn to one another and know more about each other than our respective families. We have the same goals, values, and desires almost to the letter. Additionally, we have similar upbringings. There is no one else that I want to spend the rest of my life with, and he feels the same way. Because we were friends first, we not only love each other, but we like being around each other. This is not solely a physical attraction. In fact, I did not think he was cute until I had known him for about a month. And I am admittedly a fly girl, but he’d rather have a conversation with me than look at me all day like some china doll.

His Family
 James’ mother was the first to find out and she was elated with joy. She and I have a great relationship and she said she couldn’t have a better daughter-in-law than me and could not pick someone better for James. She has been really supportive of our relationship from the beginning, so I am not surprised at her reaction to our engagement.  

His estranged brother, however, was against our relationship. James has an interesting past and has not made the best decisions and his brother is rightly concerned about him, but James had to discontinue all contact with him when their relationship turned toxic because of his brother’s judgmental, holier-than-thou ways. He was pretty much against us from the beginning and true to form he was not happy to hear we were engaged.

His other assorted relatives were happy for us. They see that he has changed and that I am good for him, so there I have not heard a cross word from any of them.

My Family
My parents were told the good news a day after his mother. They seemed happy at the time, but the following day I got a phone call from my mother concerned because they didn’t have any money to contribute to the wedding or buy nice clothing for themselves. She must be completely ignoring the fact that I told her before August that James would be the man I would marry, thus giving her a heads up to start putting money to the side. Then she calls his mother and a close family friend probably to talk us into putting it off a little longer. The funny part is that I am pushing thirty and James is pushing forty. I found her actions hilarious, yet upsetting. Why did it have to be my side of the family tree that went haywire?

My father called a few days later to say he will not be in the wedding because he doesn’t have enough for a suit. Honestly, I don’t have any feelings towards that. My parents are the sort that mess everything up that they touch - they argued the whole day when I got baptized and my father got drunk during my graduation day which led to an argument with my mother that night. Between worrying whether my father can stay sober for the whole ceremony and reception and hoping my tactless mother doesn’t say anything any of us will regret, it is fine with me if they are not there. Then maybe my special day has a chance of being a happy event. Cold, but true!

On the other hand, my brother was happy for us and so was my assorted other relatives.

Our Friends
This is where it gets a little tricky. About 95% of our large number of friends were truly happy for us. It was shocking to see that most of our closest female friends were a little less than genuinely happy for us. Let’s go through them one by one. All names have been changed.

First there is Malina. She was one of my closest friends who I confided in when James and I first started hanging out. However, I am about ten years older than her but she is very mature. We also were not consistently close – we would go a month or two without talking and then we would get together and have these powerhouse conversations. We have a lot in common. She was even dating someone who was almost exactly like James.  However, once we were officially together, we found out that Malina and her boyfriend broke up sometime between April and August this year. We didn’t have a clue. While I was quick to give her the latest news about James and I in the beginning, I started to get this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me not to even mention him. I also noticed that she was obviously avoiding me.
 James told me that he was getting signals from Malina that she likes him. Yes, my boo is very handsome so I can understand it when other women have a crush on him. She saw him in a parking lot and said, “Hi, James. Is it James or is it Cain?” Um, maybe that would slide if they had just met, but they have been knowing each other before he and I met.

So how did she respond to the engagement news? I told her personally about it and she never once congratulated me. She just said, “Some really amazing things have been happening for me, too, since this summer. We have to get together and have a pow wow.” But James told me that she congratulated him. Funny, huh?

Then I saw just the other day how she was trying so hard not to be stuck talking to me. Ladies (especially young ladies), you know how you are talking with your girlfriends of the same age and the group is moving close to someone you don’t like or don’t want to talk to for some reason, so you do everything in your power to keep the conversation going with them to pretend that you were so wrapped up in the discussion that you didn’t even notice the person standing there? That’s exactly what happened. She was walking with her girlfriends (who also are not completely satisfied with our engagement) and the closer they got to me, the more animated she became in a discussion about nothing until they had passed me. I started talking to another friend who was nearby and now that my attention was on to someone else, Malina started talking to James, who was standing five feet away from me, and said that it is always good to see him. They had a brief ten second chat and then she finally acknowledged me with the most half-hearted conversation I have ever been a party to.

Then there is Jenny. She was a consistently close friend throughout the whole dating period and she knew from both of us that an engagement was coming up. However, the closer James and I got, the more Jenny distanced herself. She became immersed in her travel plans and withdrew help that she offered with the wedding. She reminds me of someone in a relationship who sees that the other person is about to hurt them or break up with them, so they decide to hurt or break up with that person first. But James and I have had many conversations about how we do not want to be the married couple that forgets their friends, but we want to regularly do things with them. Still, how do you reassure someone who cannot be found?

The next person is India. She has a single daughter who is about two years older than me, and she seemed to be standoffish since James and I first started hanging out. I think the reason why is that she was hoping that he and her daughter would end up together. However, she seems to be coming around. A few days ago she called and offered to help with the wedding.

Our friend of a friend, Ginger, seemed to disappear since finding out about James and me, but that is a good thing. She was obviously into James and would text him all the time and invite him to do things without me. She had my number. Shouldn’t she at least text both of us to see if we want to do something instead of only texting James? My faithful James would give one word answers trying to break off the conversation and would never initiate conversations with her. One time, she texted asking if James wanted to go to the movies. He looked up at me and said we are all going to the movies. I asked if she had invited me and he said with such determination, “I’m inviting you.”

That’s one thing about James, he takes precautions to make sure that no one is able to accuse him of anything inappropriate, and Ginger is a little emotionally unstable, so I can see her getting him alone and lying about what happened in a second. He goes out of his way to make sure that he is never alone with a woman. By the way, we didn’t go to the movies at all but ended up shopping. Anyway, I’m glad that she has finally gotten the message that he and I are together forever.

The Analysis
I think it is simple enough to throw out labels for the above friends. Malina is jealous, Jenny is protecting her feelings, India is jealous for her daughter, and Ginger was hoping that things wouldn’t work out so she could slip in. The thing I am trying to figure out is why it is so hard to put our own feelings aside and be happy for others. I think it depends on if the achievement is something desired by others. All of the women mentioned above want to be married, including India’s daughter, and most of them are older than me. I know how loudly the marriage clock ticks, so I can empathize with that.

I guess, as a woman, I was hoping that when it is my turn my closest friends would rally around me and carry me on their shoulders. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. I’m sure that they will all come around at some point or other. In the meantime, I am enjoying my time with James, my beloved fiancé, as we plan the rest of our lives together. We are not trying to rub our news into anyone’s faces, we just want to share the joy that we have brought to each other’s life with others.

In conclusion, to the Malinas, Jennies, Indias, and Gingers of the world: Get a grip! Your day will come, too. Instead of selfishly thinking about yourselves first, how about offering your support and love to your engaged friends at a time when they really need it? They still love you and are not trying to push you out. To the contrary, they want to share their joy with you for years to come, if you let them.

To my engaged and married readers, can you relate to my story? What responses have you received? And to the Malinas, Jennies, Indias, and Gingers out there, how did you respond to your friends’ engagement? Do you wish you had responded differently, or do you feel justified in your reaction? 

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