Friday, November 5, 2010

William Loves Mary... and they have the engagement pictures to prove it!

As my friend and I walked through the beautiful campus of the college of William & Mary a few weekends ago, the falling leaves crunching under our flats and the sun streaming through the rounded archways where we paused to take in the faint glimpse of the pure white church steeple over the tops of the trees, I stumbled into an engagement photo session.

The couple was wearing green (or maybe blue) wool sweaters and dark jeans. The girl had on boots that were tasteful but gave her an extra two inches, and the guy wore an expensive, but still tasteful, watch on his right wrist. They smiled at the camera. They smiled at each other. They looked deeply into each other's eyes, and then they both looked up at the perfectly blue sky, as if to say, "Thank you universe for radiating back our own perfection."

My little 20 year-old heart filled with envy. How could I, the awkward, single, often vocal and rebellious-against-being-in-a-relationship independent woman be filled with envy at the apparent summit of relationship bliss in front of me? I don't know this couple. The Guy and The Girl are just the everyday trendy but sweet, JCrew with REI stylin', blonde and brunette with natural highlights, Mac and PC compatible, drink water from a tin water bottle engraved with his initials, solitaire diamond ring that catches the light and most of his paycheck from about three to five years of saving, couple. I stumble across them all the time in their photo sessions in the spring at school: sitting on benches by the pond, at Tuck's Point, under the Bell, laughing at Patton Park or the field by Brooksby Farm. I run into their trendiness often. She has a tasteful but easily hidden wrist, foot or back of the shoulder blade tattoo, which blends an image with a passage of Scripture or even just a word filled with spiritual meaning. He either has a tattoo on his bicep which shows us his troubled but redeemed past or maybe he just wears funky framed glasses and a fuzzy knit hat pushed pretty far back on his head, and is educating his fiancée about the latest CD from Mumford & Sons or The Civil Wars.

All of that is just to say, why was I envious of this couple at William and Mary? Why did I want to be that girl with that guy on that bench in the middle of that photo shoot?

Other than the slightly boring answer - "I want to be loved, and cherished, and understood" - the funnier and probably truer answer is that envy is present whenever there is comparison, and even if I don't want The Girl's relationship, ring or boyfriend, I can recognize that she is not me and that immediately translates into wanting what she has (and what I do not have).

This couple is well known to those of you who troll Christian college campuses. They sit together in Chapel or in the dining hall, exclusive but welcoming to people who stop by their table. They keep their PDA to a reasonable level but for some strange reason have a tendency to stroke each other's wrists or hands while the other person is talking. And the envy in us (green-eyed and trendspotting) wishes that the next cute guy who pulls open the door would just grab us and sit us down at a table and stroke our wrist while we drink coffee, laugh at our jokes and generally grant us what we see as our "rightful" relationship.

But as I continued to stroll through William & Mary, and as I thought about the engagement pictures that would undoubtedly be carefully examined by the girl's single friends on Facebook that weekend, and the fact that whether or not the engagement ring is large, small, antique, expensive... whether the couple have known each other approximately 5 minutes or 5 years, whether they buy Macs and wear biodegradable sneakers or buy PCs and plan to go to law school at UPenn... whether they know of my existence or not, envying them accomplishes nothing, other than the sour mood and tendency to scroll through too many pages of Style Me Pretty.

It does no one any good to be envious of the choices being made by other individuals to be in relationships. After all - I have plenty of choices to keep me busy. I need to choose whether or not I come back to DC in the near future. I need to choose whether I eat Pop-tarts or waffles for breakfast. I need to choose whether I forego the cute pair of loafers I'm eyeing at or if I splurge on them. And infinitely more importantly, I need to choose to love my neighbors. I need to choose to do my homework. I need to choose to listen to the critique of my supervisors. I need to choose obedience. I need to choose love.

William chose Mary, Mary chose William - and the fact that their choices move them from "single" to "engaged with cute photojournalism photos to prove it" doesn't mean I have permission to envy their choices. As a single person I am often tempted to barter choices - "I'll give you mine if you give me yours", or "I'll see your troubling fights with your boyfriend and give you a lonely Saturday night reading Creation and Fall by Dietrich Bonhoeffer! I'll trade you my insecurity about my dateability for your insecurity about his intellectual maturity.

We don't get to barter our choices; we just get to make them. We don't get to live someone else's engagement photos, and we certainly don't get to have our cake and eat it too. The choices in front of us, single or engaged, second child or tenth child, sister, brother, friend, employee, student and teacher - are just that: in front of us.

So while I love William & Mary, and their Anthropologie meets 21st century Christian college style, I need to be not envious of their choices, but grateful for my own.


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