I didn’t know what I was missing.

I’m engaged! It’s a phrase that usually sparks excitement and overjoyed congratulations. But for me—the first time it happened—it could only be described as meh. I’m engaged. Is this how it’s supposed to feel?

Turns out, no, it wasn’t.

Luckily the second time a man offered a ring and asked for my hand, I knew it was right. It felt completely different. The first engagement was called off, while the other led to a marriage. How were the two different? Let me count the ways.

01. Certainty

When it comes to Mr. Right, people often say, “When you know, you know.” This phrase incites knowing smiles in wives in equal proportion to how often it incites cringes among single people. Because what the heck does it even mean? I felt a lot of uncertainty in engagement number one. In fact, if I used three words to best describe that engagement, they would be: I didn’t know.

Not only did I not know for sure if he was the man I wanted to marry, I was pretty much ready to breakup before he popped the question—and not because I was waiting for a proposal. I was gearing to breakup because our relationship was stagnant. We had deeper issues that we were ignoring by continuing our relationship. My heart knew this, but I felt guilty at the thought of ending the relationship when he cared so much and we had invested so much time. I ultimately had to learn that if it wasn’t right for me, it also wasn’t right for him. I was doing what was best for both of us.

02. Same Page

In my first engagement, we just never seemed able to get on the same page. We knew we had different values, which we naively thought we could work it out, but in reality we could just never quite make it happen. I found myself continually submitting to his way or preferences over mine. It ate at me over time, boiling over into some pretty horrible arguments. At that time, I clung to the relationship as if it was something we were fighting for, but I didn’t realize that the fight was completely senseless with nothing for anyone to gain.

In my second engagement, after having been burned, I was adamant about starting on the same page. My now husband and I not only had similar values, but we also communicated openly about them to make sure we understood each other every step of the way.

03. Fun

This may sound silly, but another major difference between my first and second engagement was, quite simply, fun. I’m not just talking about a nice date night here or there; I mean was it fun to be around him. The same could not really be said for my first fiancé. When a caring friend asked me if I had good times at least half of the time we spent with each other, I couldn’t even say yes. It turns out I had gotten so used to our arguing and discord that I didn’t realize it wasn't normal. “For a good relationship, I’d say the positive to negative ratio should be closer to 5:1,” my friend told me. Note taken.

During my second engagement, fun had a whole new meaning. Not only did we enjoy each other’s company immensely, I found myself always wanting to do more with him—to share more good times together, to introduce him to more places from my past, and to encounter new adventures together in our future.

04. Hope

The biggest difference between engagement one and engagement two was that my now husband made me hopeful about my future. In the first one, I was just getting by in the present. In fact, what led me to reevaluate and ultimately end my first engagement was realizing that I felt greater hope about the idea of living without him. It took me a while to realize this, though. Once I had said yes, I didn’t actually plan anything. I didn’t set a date. I didn’t talk about it much. I simply wasn’t moving forward toward marriage. At the time I thought I was just not in a rush, but now I realize I was stalling.

With my now husband, the idea of getting married to him changed the whole picture of my life. I wasn’t settling; I wasn’t feeling guilted into making good on years of investment. I was actually seeing a hopeful future. I was excited at what it held for us. I knew it would have challenges as well as adventures, but I was hopeful to go on the journey together. When it came time to plan the wedding, I was hoping to marry him in six months, and I was disappointed when it took longer. I set the date as soon as possible and published our wedding website with “L.O.V.E.” by Michael Bublé playing in the background. This wedding was happening.

05. Understanding

The man I was engaged to the first time around never really understood me. At the time, I felt like I was playing a role more than being myself. I think he liked an image he had of me more than the real me, and consequently didn’t care to get to know me more for who I really was.

When I met my future husband, though, I discovered a sense of feeling understood I had never experienced before. Not only did we “get” each other much more quickly in humor and conversation, we both looked forward to getting to know each other more. We had long conversations that we had trouble stopping; we grew a friendship in which I felt no one else understood me more. Whereas in the prior engagement, I could list off a couple different friends who knew me better than him.

The pain involved in breaking off that first engagement wasn't a total loss. I learned a lot from my two engagements. I learned that often when you don’t know, the answer is no. That if you don’t start on the same page, you won’t be on track to writing a happy story together. And, perhaps most of all, when I was with the real man I felt called to marry, I felt more myself than ever. That didn’t mean everything was easy, but it was far closer to 5:1.

Photo Credit: Elissa Voss