Although, deep down, I always dreamed of finding my person and marrying young, just like my mom did (she got engaged to my dad at 20, married at 22, and they’ve been happily married for almost 30 years), I wasn't always so sure it would happen. By the time I entered college, I had never had a boyfriend, and so even though I tend to fall hard and fast in relationships, I would've laughed in your face if you told me I’d get engaged at 21 — and so would my friends and family. But everything changed when I met my fiancé Zach on a dating app called JSwipe (for young Jewish singles) almost two summers ago, when I was 20 and he was 24.
We instantly connected. In fact, we caught feelings for each other so quickly, we became official after just one week, despite the fact that he lived in Manhattan and I was heading back to school in Syracuse. After nine months of dating long-distance and about a year and a half of living together in our tiny Upper West Side studio, Zach popped the question. I was over-the-moon, shout-it-from-the-rooftops ecstatic. But of course, the story has more to it than that. Here's how we made the decision to get engaged, how we knew the timing was right, and how the proposal actually unfolded.
On July 20, the day a massive heat wave swept New York City, I came back to our apartment after a girls' brunch with my friends and a much-needed manicure. (I always get a fresh mani every Saturday.) As soon as I walked in the door, Zach sat me down to "talk." Little did I know, the whole “talk” was recorded for your viewing pleasure. Zach explained that he had "told some lies" and urged me to watch a video on his computer. I soon realized the video mimicked the intro to 500 Days of Summer, one of our favorite movies. It was charming and adorable. Toward the end, it showed a video clip of a diamond, which had belonged to Zach's grandmother. Then, Zach got down next to me on one knee with the ring. I said yes, and we were officially engaged!
After a night of taking ring selfies, FaceTiming friends, and celebrating with family, Zach and I felt like we were on cloud nine. As the congratulatory texts and the Instagram likes all flooded in, a small part of me worried about what others would think. I imagined people making snide comments about my age, asking if I was really ready to “settle down,” or giving me weird looks. Spoiler alert: None of that happened.
Although 21 is certainly young, I felt ready to take the next step in my relationship. I realized I’d marry Zach after we got into our first real fight four months into dating. He was in Florida for his brother’s graduation and was ignoring my texts, calls, and FaceTimes while simultaneously posting on Facebook (ugh!). This went on for about 20 hours, and I was p*ssed off. Once he finally called back, I was livid, but Zach handled himself wonderfully. He took responsibility for his actions and asked what I needed from him. He didn’t get defensive or call me crazy or tell me I was being too needy. After that, I felt ready to get serious with Zach because of how strongly he valued my needs and the importance of open and honest communication.
Unlike in my previous relationships, I noticed that when Zach and I fought, we worked hard to ensure we respected each other’s feelings and worked together — not against each other — to find a solution. Ultimately, we are a team, and our mutual respect for one another (especially when we argue) makes me feel secure.
Zach and I started to get really serious about the future of our finances together after I graduated college and landed my first full-time job in December. Zach helped guide me through the process of budgeting and learning how much to save and how much to spend. Soon after, we ended up merging our savings accounts, which we’re currently using to save up for our honeymoon. Now, we both contribute money to that account every month, and we're both trying to get better at budgeting, because let's be real — New York is expensive.
Although it was exciting to take that next step in our relationship, talking about finances and coming up with a savings plan were definitely not all sunshine and rainbows. Finances tend to really stress me out, like they do for many people, but it was really helpful and reassuring for me to map out a tentative plan of what our financial future would look like, as well as a rough timeline for when we wanted to get married and have kids.
As someone who suffers from anxiety, I like to plan ahead because it makes me feel more in control and ready to handle any challenges that may come in the way. Of course, things happen unexpectedly, but having a solid foundation is really important for me, and it tends to calm my anxiety down. By taking the time to sit down with Zach and answer as many questions as possible together (i.e. how much were we comfortable spending on rent? did we want to have a joint savings account?), I felt safe and secure in my relationship, and was ready to move forward in our partnership.
A few months after we decided we were ready to settle down, Zach’s grandmother offered him the stone from her engagement ring that his grandfather gave her more than 60 years ago. I never got to meet Zach’s grandfather (he passed away a few months before we met), and it was such an honor for Zach to pass along his grandmother’s stone to me. Once Zach told me about the stone, we spoke a bit about our timeline for getting engaged; we decided we wanted it to happen by mid-2020. I kept teasing him and jokingly asking him about the proposal, but he always laughed it off or would play coy. I did tell him that I did not want to get engaged in Times Square (LOL), but other than that, he planned the entire proposal on his own.
Zach, his mom, and my mom all worked together behind my back to ensure I’d have no idea (really!) that the proposal was coming sooner rather than later. In April, he told me he needed to go back to Boca Raton (his hometown) to go to his family dentist for a root canal. Of course, there was no root canal — he went home to pick out a setting for the stone. My mom was on FaceTime with Zach and my future mother-in-law as they worked to select the most beautiful, delicate setting that I can’t help but stare at now every time I type.
While I knew we’d be getting engaged within the next year or so, I had no idea it would be coming so soon on what seemed like an ordinary weekend. A week after Zach's proposal, we had a venue and a date picked out (we move fast, don’t we!). We then began planning our engagement party, and, a week after that, we shot our engagement photos. But, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Planning a wedding and blending two families together is super stressful. And since none of my friends are in the same situation, it’s hard to vent to them about — but at least I’ll be there for them when it’s their turn to tie the knot. However, with the help of my therapist and the support of Zach and my mom, I’m learning to slow down and enjoy the process.
While getting engaged at 21 and marrying young was the right choice for me, it obviously is not a one-size-fits-all decision. I was lucky to find the love of my life at a young age, and I worked really hard to make my relationship a priority, which was especially hard when we were living hours apart from each other. And although Zach and I have shared countless good times, we’ve also faced hardship together, like when his cousin (who was like a sister to him) died of cancer at age 29, and when my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo major surgery. We've held each other as we cried, we've fought and we've made up, we've laughed as we cracked stupid (really stupid) jokes, we've danced (hard!), and we've rocked out to Queen early in the mornings. And, somewhere along the way, we formed an unbreakable bond.
Over the past two years, Zach has taught me to love myself and be confident in my decisions, without worrying about what anyone else thinks. That's proven to come in handy time and time again — including in the wake of our engagement as we plan to spend the rest of our lives together.