On Marriage, and Proposals

Hi internet.

So this morning I read this post by the fantastic publishers of A Practical Wedding, one of the wedding websites I used when planning our shindig. I still peruse them from time to time, as they post things beyond the nitty-grittys of planning, about relationships, family, and feminism.

Today the post that caught my eye was a discussion of attitudes around proposals, and how to intelligently navigate becoming engaged with a partner. This is a topic that I have Feelings about, so buckle up.

My fabulous partner in crime was the first one to bring up marriage. I was still in college, and honestly hadn’t really considered that engagement, let alone marriage, was on my horizon. I panicked a bit, hit the pause button, and said we needed to discuss further.

Flash forward three months, I had graduated, and we were in this awkward transition period between my exodus from the dorms and us finding our own place. We were sitting on the floor of his miserable, humid apartment, frustrated and upset over some trivial piece of housework. In that moment, I realized three fundamental things at the exact same time:

  1.  We were frustrated and angry at the situation and each other.
  2. We were going to work it out.
  3. I wanted to keep working it out with him for a long time.

So I leaned over and told him as much–basically “Hey you. I want to marry you.” And that moment, arguably is when we became engaged–a solid three months before our official proposal event.

Why am I recounting this? Well, the APW post is all about communicating with your partner to figure out if the ‘marriage track’ is something you are both heading for. It’s about not leaving the engagement event in the hands of the man, in a heterosexual situation. It’s about taking charge of your life and your relationship, recognizing that you have the right and responsibility to decide what you want and how you want it–as well as working with your partner to balance their wants.

To me, there’s nothing romantic about being blindsided by a proposal. One should only ask someone to marry them if they are 99% sure that someone is going to say yes–and the only way to be that sure is to discuss it in advance. You can still have a magical time out, celebrating your relationship and officially ‘becoming engaged’, even if it isn’t a complete surprise to one or both people in the relationship. The discussions around the proposal event–ring, no ring, private vs public–are the first in a series of many conversations about expectations and desires that will come up during the wedding-planning process and beyond. I see no reason in starting a new phase of the relationship off with a shock.

(Also in general I’m not fond of surprises–but the point still stands!)

So here’s my dilemma: when people ask “how did he propose?” what do I say? Do I describe the afternoon picnic and dance in the park by the lake, painting a beautiful picture but feeding into the traditional engagement narrative? Or do I tell the long-winded, circuitous tale of feelings and self-reflection–so much less conversationally convenient, but true. Like most things, true human stories resist simplicity.


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