Monday, September 29, 2014

Status Change: Engaged


i wasn’t expecting this. ok, maybe that’s not entirely true, because i never thought this was out of the realm of possibility. i just didn’t expect it to happen for another year, maybe two. we hadn’t discussed marriage much before. so when he got down on one knee on the deck of our house under a full moon, on his birthday, i honestly thought he was doing a lunge. we had spent that day at Disneyland and came home complaining about our achy backs. “that looks like a good idea,” i said right before i was about to join his lunge. then a ring appeared and rendered me motionless.

i’m not really sure he asked the question and i think my first flustered response was “where did you get that ring?” which was followed by several more flustered responses including “are you sure?” and “are you serious?” while he remained kneeling and looking at me sideways. finally, there was a “yes,” or something like “well of course i’ll marry you. duh,” followed by hugs and happy tears and me trying not to hyperventilate. very romantic!


taken roughly 10 hours before the proposal at the happiest place on earth, where Tico (real name: Warren) and i spent his 36th birthday. 

but let’s back this train up a minute and start at the beginning with the story of how we got together, a story i’ve never shared here out of respect for his privacy. but now that he’ll be the husband of someone who’s kept a blog for over 10 years, i think it’s safe to say this will have to be his first sacrifice for our marriage.

so once upon a time (roughly 4.5 years ago), in a neighborhood very much like my own, two people met randomly at an art gallery one night. the lady was there upon the invitation of a friend named Juan, whose then-girlfriend’s art was hanging on the walls. the gentleman was there because he was one of the partners running the gallery. but there was an extra element at play that night: a magical plastic chicken (appropriately) named Pollo Magico.


Warren receiving the magic chicken in May 2010, taken the night we met

let me stop a moment to acknowledge how ridiculous this chicken story will sound. let me also stop a moment to stress that this story is 100% true, because the story of the love between Milla and Warren, like so many other love stories, is seeped in magic (and delusion). in our case, the magic came in the form of a plastic chicken our mutual friend Juan was mass producing and passing out to all his friends that year, telling them it would make their wishes come true. he even created a Facebook page for the chicken that disseminates inspirational messages daily and wrote a manifesto he emails to every new recipient.

the principle behind the magic chicken is no different than the principle behind The Secret, in that we can attract whatever we want into our lives by asking the universe. the chicken is just a prop to get us visualizing our desire and then stating it in clear terms, accepting that it will happen on its own time and “with ease and grace,” which is the ending one is supposed to close every request to the chicken with.

naturally, as i listened to Juan tell me this while handing me my very own magic chicken, i rolled my eyes.   


taken the same night at the gallery moments before i received my own magic chicken and met Warren. (of course, i was hoarding the cheese.)

as my friend urged me to remain open-minded and try it out, Warren walked by us. i’ll confess my eyes followed him across the room while the rest of my body registered an immediate attraction. he was pretty goddamn cute. as a joke, i looked at the magic chicken in my hand and told it i wished that this dark, handsome stranger would kiss me (confession: the R-rated version in my head was a bit more robust but let’s keep it PG for the kids).

at that time, i was in the throes of a Big Breakup and wasn’t looking for a new boyfriend as i still had a broken heart to nurse. but i did want to get my groove back after many months of celibacy and solitude and figured a kiss from a sexy, bearded man might help. plus, he had really beautiful lips.

later that night and without knowing my first request of the chicken, Juan introduced us. we exchanged a cordial handshake, said “nice to meet you” and left it there. there was no kiss and sparks did not fly. the whole exchange was rather unmemorable. soon after, i went home alone and didn’t give Warren nor the chicken much more thought.

but i did return to the gallery over the months that followed. a second saturday art walk seemed a good reason to get out of my empty house and i did appreciate much of the art, eventually buying some to hang at home. plus, i kept running into old friends, as Warren and i had more than our crazy friend Juan in common. i also took various friends along with me, saw Warren there most times, chatted with him sometimes, felt my crush on him intensifying and went about my business without trying too hard to make much happen.


first photo of us taken at one of the parties at my house.

then things started happening. we began chatting on facebook messenger, which led to the occasional phone chat and him coming to my parties. still, it took a while to get things off the ground as i kept playing the part of disinterested girl while stealing glances at his lips. of course, i did recall my early wish on the magic chicken but shook my head at the ludicrousness of it all and kept it to myself.

eventually, that kiss came (around October 2010) and kept coming for about a year. the first eight months of that year were spent in this gray zone of dating but not really Dating, where we agreed to keep things relaxed and casual. there would be no expectations nor declarations of exclusivity and undying love. and i was comfortable with this.

until i wasn’t, because the heart wants what it wants and mine could no longer deny the fact that i enjoyed spending time with Warren and that meant something significant, even as i tried to convince myself that it didn’t.


game-changer day we spent together in February 2011 frolicking in the snow with my dogs. i remember coming home afterward full of feelings. a few months later, we had “the talk.”

the talk happened the weekend of memorial day in 2011, fueled by drinks and an intimate dinner when we managed to confess our growing love for each other. i even told him about my wish on the magic chicken. several lengthy talks later and with our heads spinning, we agreed to be in an exclusive relationship. 

but there was trepidation. he didn’t seem fully invested and that kept me cautious, with my instincts warning me to stay detached as his behavior alternated between loving and aloof. i could tell he cared for me but felt conflicted about committing. by October 2011, he called it quits.


my 36th birthday, June 2012

the quits calling hurt but it didn’t hurt like hell. it was kind and respectful, with him saying he couldn’t offer me the things he thought i needed in a partner and me nodding silently in resignation. it was not a bad breakup and we resolved to stay friends. but staying friends got muddy when dinners turned into breakfasts and i attended his family’s christmas gathering. so after more kind and respectful conversations, i requested a no-contact policy.

that kept us in our own corners for a little over a year, but not easily. i missed him terribly but wouldn’t admit it. he missed me and would admit it, often asking if we could hang out, even just for coffee. with a few exceptions, i refused. so he began stalking my Facebook page and if ever i complained about having a cold, a tupperware container full of homemade soup would appear on my doorstep. i found it slightly creepy but mostly romantic because i still cared too, immensely so, but i didn’t see a future together so i became set on getting over him with online dating.

cue the laugh track because my three months of online dating was a laughable experience. but it seemed to stir him into action and me into softening my stance, because after more than six months of not seeing each other, i agreed to meet him for lunch — as friends. three months later (June 2013), we were in a relationship again. by the end of that year, we were mostly living together, and nine months after that, he would be on one knee proposing to me on his birthday.


if you ask Warren the story of how we got together, he’ll likely say, “she put a curse on me with a magic chicken” and that isn’t entirely untrue. certainly, i asked the chicken to bring him into my life, and given the initial success, i did also ask it for a lifelong partner. that time, i was sitting on the edge of my bed, single and despondent over my lackluster love life, as Warren and i had split up over a year earlier and online dating wasn’t going very well.

i pulled the chicken out of its secret compartment in my wallet, where it still lives, and said, “ok, chicken. i’m tired and getting older. bring me not just someone, but the one. surprise me if you must. deliver on your own schedule. but make it real, make it right, make it long-lasting and make me happy. with ease and grace.”

(it should come as no surprise that i’ve asked this dirty piece of magical plastic for much more since and will continue to in the coming years.)


Dre Day Los Angeles, February 2014

ok, so what now? there’s a wedding to plan, details to iron out, guest list to create and many questions to be answered. the true response to all of this is i have no idea how this will look. ok, maybe i have some idea but i don’t want to think about it much. i would rather have an invitation show up at my house a few months before and then arrive at the appointed day and place in a classy white dress with perfect makeup applied by elves, who also sucked 20 pounds out of me.

this fantasy is fueled in large part to the myriad married people who, after finding out i became engaged, advised me to save myself the expense and headache and just elope. i could get behind the eloping idea but my beloved wants something more substantial. so we’re thinking a very small ceremony populated by family and close friends followed by a big party for all friends, but probably not until 2016 due to extenuating circumstances to be mentioned later. then we can ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after, as getting married will surely solve all our relationship problems, right?


on a boat in Costa Rica, September 2013

when i consider what marriage means to me, something i’ve been doing a lot of recently, my answer is “i’m not really sure.” this is not meant as a copout nor a red flag, but i honestly don’t believe any newlywed can speak about marriage with authority. that is for people who’ve had long marriages and have plenty to reflect on.

that is for people like my parents, who’ve been married 45 years, most of them happy but many of them rough like the first 10 when they were two of nine people living in a three-room apartment in soviet russia. of that time, they said they fought every day and likely would have separated if they didn’t have children. i’m not sure i could have remained as strong.

my parents — who are thrilled by my engagement as they love Warren as much as i do — have been full of marriage advice and, for the first time, i’m listening. first among it is staying committed to the commitment, which is what carried (or maybe dragged?) them through those first 10 years. they also remind me that marriage is not 50-50 and that i shouldn’t expect to get my needs met all of the time. depending on life’s circumstances, it could be 70-30 or even 100-0, and that’s ok as long as the scales shift back eventually. they tell me to choose Warren, to really really choose him in heart and mind, and envision the rest of my life only with him by my side. 


top of the rock in New York City, January 2014

Warren and i have also been having lots of conversations about what marriage means to us, not all of them pleasant but all of them necessary. through our talks, i’ve realized how much i’ve been clinging to the idea of myself as the independent single girl who doesn’t believe in the permanence of love. it’s the mindset i’ve entered all my relationships with, probably to my detriment, and despite finding myself with a ring on my finger and a man who really loves me, this useless outlook still informs many of my thoughts and actions.

i’ve been working hard to overcome this and heeding my parents’ advice of really choosing Warren with the sense of finality that accompanies entering into a marriage as i am not looking to ever get divorced. not that anyone ever looks to get divorced before they marry, but in my case, the bar was raised so high by watching my parents’ marriage that i convinced myself i should never risk taking the plunge lest my marriage crash into disrepair like all of my prior relationships with men have. 


being crabby in San Francisco, August 2013

thankfully, it feels different this time. it feels healthier, primarily because of our communication. with rare exceptions, Warren and i have managed to work out our disputes with maturity, a stark contrast to my past relationships where even a minor disagreement could erupt into a world war. but now, there is kindness in the honesty, respect in the delivery and openness to the responses. we go out of our way not to hurt each other. 

plus, i really love hanging out with him. we have fun together, share plenty of common interests and make great travel partners. my heart still quickens when i hear him opening the front door and slows when it’s pressed against him in bed. with Warren by my side, i feel calm, safe and at home, regardless of where we are. he’s funny, sweet, passionate, motivated, sensitive and, just as i suspected when i first saw those lips while holding the magic chicken, the best damn kisser of my life.  


in front of a world heritage temple in Kyoto, Japan, May 2014

so now comes the happily ever after part. i’m excited about all that and (marginally) excited about planning a wedding, but if i’m totally honest with myself and the internet, i’m most excited about the other and perhaps more pressing major development in my life: the arrival of a son, due next March.