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past and pending

June 15, 2010

My last post was about the day we got engaged, but the engagement process is so much more than just one day. It had begun many months earlier, as we gradually moved from whimsical musings on “If I ever marry…;” to cautiously-worded statements about “If we ever get married…;” to serious interrogations along the lines of “Oh my god, should we get married? Like, do you want to actually DO that?”

Turns out that, yes, we actually did want to do that.

And here is how we went about it:

  1. We began talking earnestly about getting married in January of 2009. We decided we were ready.
  2. My stomach went all fluttery. I started to obsessively peruse wedding websites.
  3. We went online and looked at rings. I showed him the ones I liked. Oh my god. This was really going to happen!!!!!
  4. February passed. So did March.
  5. In April we took a trip to Austin, TX. I was sure this was the golden ticket. Engagement, here we come!!!
  6. Still nothing. I started dropping not-so-subtle hints into our conversations. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, the beau had just picked up the ring from the jeweler and hidden it in his dresser drawer.
  7. I angrily unsubscribed from my Weddingbee RSS feed.
  8. What’s wrong? There’s something wrong, right? What’s happening here? Is he ever going to ask?
  9. OMFG.
  10. The beau decided to put the proposal off some more. We had a lot of stuff going on in our lives, and he wanted to wait for the right time to pop the question.
  11. I didn’t want to nag. I didn’t want to be a sitcom stereotype. I am not that person. WE ARE NOT THAT COUPLE.
  12. June arrived. We finally had a weekend at home to ourselves. He suspiciously asked me to go on a suspicious wine-tasting trip. I was… suspicious.
  13. Oh, shit, it finally happened. We’re finally engaged.
  14. Um. Yay?

Now, OK. Here’s the deal. Having been through all of that? Having now been engaged for a year? Reading what I’ve read? Knowing what I know? If I could do it all over, I would totally do things differently.

Here’s how.

The Proposal

Now, let it be known that the proposal itself — that question asked and answered, in all its unplanned awkwardness — was perfectly imperfect. It was just right for us.


The part leading up to that day? Was just all wrong for us. Because following all that deliberation and deep discussion about our plans for the future, together, we then proceeded to part ways and go off into separate camps: Me into my “waiting and guessing” camp, and the beau into his “researching and plotting” camp. Um, huh?

After we decided we wanted to get married, I kind of threw my hands up and backed away. Far be it from me to appear aggressive or pushy, right? Or needy, for that matter. I dumped my time and energy into cultivating a relaxed and indifferent persona, like I imagined a “cool” girl might do. Except for those unfortunate instances when my defenses were down – yes, usually after I’d been drinking — and those anxieties rushed in and made me ask, tearfully, if he still really wanted to get married, because really I wasn’t trying to make him, honest, cross my heart and hope to die. Promise. And he had to assure me that all was well and that he still loved me very much and that something would indeed be happening at some unknown date. Promise.

And in the meantime I just had to sit on my hands. Really, that’s what it was. This method of marriage proposal enforces unreal expectations, because one person in the partnership is rendered passive. Turns out I don’t know how to be passive. Neither of us do; we’re accustomed to making decisions and taking action jointly. Why was it different leading up to our engagement? How did my partner and I get fooled into copping roles that we don’t typically play in real life? Easy, I guess: When faced with a new and scary situation in which we didn’t quite know how to behave, we defaulted to what we had typically seen others do.

Back then, pre-engagement, there were just too many difficult and rigid gender expectations wrapped up in a proposal for me to throw my weight against. I’m not saying this to kick sand in the face of what I perceive to be big, bad, evil tradition. I’m just saying that sometimes a paradigm shift is necessary. I couldn’t get my head around these issues then. But if I could do it over, I might take the bull by the horns and just propose to my partner, first.

The egalitarian proposal isn’t for everyone. But for who I am now? It totally is.

The Ring

Can I just come right out and say this? My engagement ring was, uh, not what I had in mind. I was anticipating an antique ring with a smallish stone. I visualized it having a sapphire or two instead of a diamond. I imagined that the band would be engraved with a pretty wheat pattern. What I got was a very new, very large diamond ring with a smooth, shiny platinum band. Worse? I have no idea where the diamonds’ place of origin is, which was one of those squicky ethical things that were originally important to me.*

That said, allow me to be crystal clear: I LOVE my ring. I love it because the beau had it custom made for me. Yes, he went out and researched and looked and researched some more and became dissatisfied with the strength and quality of the antique rings I had shown him online. So he went to a local, independent jeweler, spent a few weeks selecting stones, and had a ring built. It has one round center stone with two pear-shaped stones flanking it. The band tapers up to a delicate point where it meets the side stones. It’s very pretty, to me anyway, and it sparkles a lot. And every time I look at it I think about how he sweated over making it for me, and it’s his sweat and effort and love that in the end made me fall head-over-heels for this ring. And now that I have it, I don’t really want to change anything about it.**

And yet. The truth remains that if I’d been part of the shopping process, I’d be wearing a completely different ring.

All of this is neither bad nor good. It just is. Like everyone else, we’re just two people clumsily trying to wend our way through life’s Big Important Moments. And sometimes it seems like I finally learn what I needed to know long after I needed to know it.

But ain’t that just the way it goes?


* This was a hard thing for me to admit, because I dislike the thought of opening myself up to public attack. But this was just a post that warranted complete honesty. So, there it is. I have a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, non-eco-friendly, traditional ring. Do with this information what you will.

** Except to add engraving to the band – I’ve had plans to do that for months but haven’t yet mustered the strength to part with the ring for two weeks.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 12:50 am

    I love how honest this post is.

    There are things about our engagement etc that I haven’t really discussed, because I didn’t want to admit them.

    For instance, I have this lingering disappointment about the proposal.

    And you weren’t alone in the whole getting drunk and bursting into tears of frustration because you weren’t sure when it was going to happen thing.

  2. June 16, 2010 2:07 am

    I <3 this post. The 'proposal' you describe is the sort that I want to have – a discussion, both of us deciding together, acting on it together… And the ring! My partner has heard my opinions and should be able to figure out that ethically-acquired stones are definitely preferred… but /I'm/ the one who's going to wear it for ever and ever – I want to participate in choosing it!

  3. June 16, 2010 3:06 am

    its is so great to see someone write about this! You never get to see this! Ryan proposed the first summer we were dating and I thought he was joking. Now of course he brings up that he wasn’t but I digress. We had definetly talked about getting married ‘when we had money’ (ha! I realize now waiting is silly because we will never have THAT amount that makes us feel safe).

    I think you summed it up so perfectly with ‘Um yay?’. That is exactly how I felt too:)

  4. June 16, 2010 4:55 am

    As I sat here reading your post, I started wondering why it seemed so out of place for me. Not in a bad way, by any means, just sort of weird. And then I realized that it’s because in the sea of tulle and rustic details, no one in the wedding blog world ever talks about these things. I’ve never talked about how I told the Mr. exactly what kind of ring I wanted so he wouldn’t be confused or how, like Miss C, I also have lingering disappointment about the proposal. Honesty like yours is in short supply but it’s definitely a welcome change. Kudos.

  5. June 16, 2010 6:10 am

    Our pre-proposal story is very similar. This part especially:

    “Easy, I guess: When faced with a new and scary situation in which we didn’t quite know how to behave, we defaulted to what we had typically seen others do.”

    We talked about getting married months before our proposal. It just felt like the natural thing to do… but waiting for the proposal and falling into those weird roles just felt so unnatural. The proposal was perfect for us at the time, but up until that point, just like you, we didn’t know how to behave.

  6. June 16, 2010 7:50 am

    Man. I totally agree that if I could do it all over again, I would’ve proposed first as well. It was the same situation with me as it was with you and I’m sure it is for millions of others: himself and I both agreed that we wanted to get married, and then the waiting game began. I even psyched myself up to propose, but then I decided not to because . . . well, because he’s pretty traditional and I thought he might feel as if it was “his thing.”

    Which was silly on my part.

    Also — kudos for being able to be brutally honest about the ring. My ring wasn’t what I would’ve picked out for myself either, but he had it made and it’s become really dear to me. (I did, however, tell him what kind of metal I preferred and made it clear that under no circumstances was he going to buy a shadeball-originating gemstone for my “benefit.”)

    Hindsight is kind of weird thing, though. I would’ve done some things differently, but it’s done now. Onward, ever onward.

  7. June 16, 2010 7:53 am

    omg. thank you thank you thank you! I’ve been avoiding writing about our proposal because it makes me feel like a shit head. Because we did the same thing (not saying you’re a shit head!) and i think you said it perfectly: “When faced with a new and scary situation in which we didn’t quite know how to behave, we defaulted to what we had typically seen others do.”
    I wish we could do it over, but we can’t. So I’m trying to apply the same lesson to the wedding because sometimes I’ve seen the same thing happening and i want to scream and say NO!
    And same with the ring. I would totally change what it is – probably actually just skip the ring all together – but again, as you said so wonderfully – “sometimes it seems like I finally learn what I needed to know long after I needed to know it.
    so again, thank you thank you thank you for the honest post. I feel a little better hearing someone else has the same thoughts! so maybe we aren’t shit heads!

  8. Jess permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:46 am

    I also appreciate this post very much. My proposal story is actually quite different. I read the book “I do But I Don’t” by Kamy Wicoff years before my fiance and I were ready to get married. The books presents the idea of “proposal month.” The idea is that a couple can go through the process you describe of talking about marriage and deciding together when they are ready to move to that step. Once the couple has decided together that they are ready, the designate a month some time in the future during which time each partner proposes to the other. Each partner gets to go through the process of planning a gesture for the other that demonstrates their love in some way. Neither one has to sit around waiting with no agency or control. Yes, it takes away some of the “surprise” of the proposal, but most of us are not surprised anyway (suspicious wine tastings prove exactly that point). Wicoff likens it to a birthday surprise: you know when your birthday is, and that it is likely to be celebrated, but you don’t know the specifics, and they are still meaningful because they are thoughtful and people put effort into them, etc. Anyway, I shared this with my partner, and we liked the idea. We continued to talk about our relationship, and then in January we decided we were ready. We changed to idea slightly, and planned a “proposal weekend.” We went on vacation for a long weekend, with the plant hat each of us would propose at some point during the four days. And ladies, I can tell you how wonderful it felt to not be in the position of sitting around resenting my partner for not proposing when I was ready and not knowing what he was thinking. But, it didn’t solve everything. I was still disappointed in his proposal. It was sweet, but not as grand as I expected (or as mine was). I ended up crying and yelling in the car on our way home. But my love talked me through it. He reminded me that we are not the same people, and that his expression of his feelings isn’t through a lot of words and fanfare. And when I thought about it that way, I finally realized how much care he had really put into his plan and how much it did show me, rather than tell me, how much he loves me (and knows me). Anyway–this is my first comment here, but I was moved to share my story, to show that there are alternative ways of doing things, but even that was not perfect. Thanks for listening!

  9. Sarah permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:55 am

    Oh, this sound so similar. The Boy and I talked about marriage long before we actually got engaged. Then we made plans for me to move across the country. My parents freaked out (they wanted me to be sure before I made such a drastic move). We went to look at … and ended up buying … a ring. I told him he had to pick it up, because I didn’t want to know when it was ready.

    Then we played the waiting game.

    Turns out, in the weeks I was questioning everything, he was waiting for a day when we WEREN’T booked solid and could just enjoy each other and celebrate.

    The proposal, when it happened, was lovely … but not without hitches. He woke me up with it … and as a result (being the blind one I am) I could not see ANYTHING. I didn’t get a proper look at him, or him holding the ring, or anything else, for that matter.

    And you know what? I wouldn’t change one bit of the proposal itself. Even with the goofs, it was perfect. The before part? Oh yes, changes. I wouldn’t have shopped for the ring.

  10. June 16, 2010 9:18 am

    I relate to this post so, so much! We also had a weirdly long stretch of time between deciding to get married and “officially being engaged.” It went on so long that we gave up on pretending (with our families, at least, and my closest friends, and his coworker friends, and some randoms I got too drunk with) we were not engaged around two months before there finally was a ring and I could, you know, call my grandmother. During that time I definitely had a few crying fits of, “Every day that passes makes me think we will never actually be engaged or get married!” Despite my claims to feminism, I worried that by daring to speak of the subject of marriage instead of patiently waiting for a proposal (perhaps brazenly venturing to drop “hints” such as leaving engagement ring websites up on a shared computer?), I had somehow broken everything right in our relationship and pushed Collin to make a promise of imminent engagement when he wasn’t ready or even interested.

    It was lame, and getting the ring was a happy thing at least in part because it marked the end of that irrational time.

    And I also love my engagement ring not only because it is genuinely lovely and sparkly, but because I know how hard Collin worked on finding exactly the right setting and stone (which is part of the reason there were so many months of pre-engagement). And to the bit about having a diamond-of-unknown-origin, as we’ve discussed.

    Your ring sounds really beautiful! Especially the way you describe the tapering band. Maybe you should use your fancy photography skills and show it to us? [But I realize that can be a very uncomfortable thing. Collin said I should post a picture of my ring on my blog, because he’s so proud of it, and I told him I have to warm up to it.]

  11. Nina permalink
    June 16, 2010 10:09 am

    Ok so we’re all practically the same in this regard. Wish we could have slapped sense into each other like a year and half ago, back when I thought I was turning into one of those women (not sure who they are, but I knew I didn’t want to be one). Except I was on a whole new level of silly. I didn’t even talk to him about it! Nope, I just sat around passive as can be, which is as opposite of myself as can be. I wanted him to take charge of this. Yeah, cause that made sense.
    And yes, drinking+waitingforproposal = tears. After a while, the drinking wasn’t even necessary in that equation. The proposal was by no means what I expected but by then it actually was back to being a surprise (I thought he was stalling forever) and it finally brought my madness to an end.
    I also had very conflicting thoughts about the diamond issue – I didn’t want to perpetuate the horror of diamonds but dammit, they are so pretty and sparkly! (and again, here I am being that woman.) Eventually I gave in to the pretty – I have a solitaire with a thin white gold band that tapers into the sides of the diamond. It’s pretty close to what I would have picked out actually, with the only issue being that it sticks out a lot, which is actually not as annoying as I might have thought. I was a bit sensitive about having a brand new, awful, baby seal clubbing diamond for a while, but I’ve somehow managed to reconcile this in my head.

  12. June 16, 2010 12:06 pm

    I can relate. We had the talks and looked at rings and did the whole she-bang in Oct ’08. Then, nothing. Or rather, then the economy went to hell in a hand basket and completely over ran our lives leaving me to sit on my hands and wait (and wait). I am terrible at waiting. So we had a lot of those drunken conversations too. He proposed in Sept ’09. 11 months of agonizing waiting. I would so do it differently today. I’m not really sure why we went the traditional route when we’ve never done anything else traditionally in our relationship.

    Also, I wanted a vintage ring. I asked for a sapphire or a vintage Asscher cut diamond (I honestly didn’t give a rat’s ass about a ring but he insisted). I ended up with a new, locally made vintage-looking ring. I love it, but man if I don’t feel guilty when I look at it.

  13. June 16, 2010 12:25 pm

    I can so relate to this post. Here’s the funny bit about ours: we agreed on the marriage, we picked out the ring together, we agreed on the timeline for the engagement, we agreed on the type and size of the wedding. And then I waited for him to ask, knowing that the ring was sitting in the safe waiting for me to wear it. And then the asking was underwhelming, which didn’t seem quite fair since the only thing I had requested was to be ASKED asked (which seemed to warrant, I dunno, at least a chance to put on some makeup and go to a nice restaurant or something). But, when I look back on it, it was a perfectly imperfect proposal that really fits who we are. Tired, hungry, rumpled, and even then he loves me enough to want to marry me.

  14. June 16, 2010 12:35 pm

    I hate proposals. Hate hate HATE them and the effed up expectations that come along with them. We talked about getting married a year before I proposed. We were both on the definite YES page six months before, but he had a lease and it felt weird to get engaged before we could live together. We talked about rings and egalitarian proposals and what was both important to us and you know what, it was wildly different for each of us.

    I didn’t want a ring. I figured a “yes we want to get married” conversation meant we were engaged. He did not. He wanted the ring and ritual. He needed to ask. He needed something to mark the transition and commitment. The ring took longer to make than he’d expected and his original engagement plans fell apart. I’d already proposed and we weren’t talking about it publicly because we hadn’t BOTH proposed so it wasn’t egalitarian. There were lots of drunken tears and daytime attempts to be cool and collected.

    And it sucked. On the surface, we both got what we symbolically wanted: two beautiful, ethical, inexpensive rings and two heartfelt beautiful proposals. But I hated it. And now, after the fact, he agrees it could have gone differently too. I was willing to throw aside convention for a simple “let’s get married conversation.” I begged him for it. He couldn’t do it then because HE needed something from the process. He could do it now, knowing what we know now.

    We both love our rings. We both love our stories. But we both hate the stress of it and bullshit of it all. And our egalitarian, I proposed first process didn’t really help matters, for what it’s worth. It’s still complicated. And, it’s only since then that we’ve worked our way into the nitty gritty of marriage and hard stuff and been able to be ever more honest about symbols and emotion and reality.

  15. Jill permalink
    June 16, 2010 2:40 pm

    Oh man, all this time I’ve been feeling kinda pushy because I didn’t sit on my hands! We had the same conversations you did, and then the fiance was like “oh well I’d get you a ring right now but I have no money.” And I basically said yes he did (he’s not super financially savvy) and let’s go shopping. So we did. I picked out my ring; he proposed when it was ready to pick up. Done and done!

    It’s not the most romantic story ever, but I think I might have died trying to play the “cool” girlfriend for months (which I totally would have done). I think the cool girlfriend stereotype needs to die. I can’t think of anyone who actually IS the cool girlfriend. And those of us who might be just a wee bit bossy (certainly not I! *cough*) it’s a pretty irritating standard to type and live up to.

    • Jill permalink
      June 16, 2010 2:41 pm

      TRY and live up to, that is.

  16. technicolorbride permalink
    June 16, 2010 3:21 pm


    I waited so long for the ring. So, so, so long. While the proposal was perfect and the ring is incredible, I have all this resentment about how long I had to *WAIT* for it. A year of actively waiting. A YEAR. Enduring those horrible questions of, “So when are you getting engaged?” and having to always catch the bouquet at every damn wedding was just so heartbreaking.

    I had like a thousand breakdowns. I, too, was like, “what the fizz? I’m not this kind of girl. We’re not this kind of couple!”. So it goes. All is well now I suppose. I, too, hate how we reverted to those gender roles. I wish there was a better way to do it and it also be a quasi-surprise. The surprise of it all is so romantic. :)

  17. June 16, 2010 3:29 pm

    I love this post so much. It’s just so honest and true. I had those same moments of isthisevergoingtohappen omgjustdoitalready and then being all- no, no, I won’t say anything. Must act like a cool girl.

    The thing I love most about this post is: “Like everyone else, we’re just two people clumsily trying to wend our way through life’s Big Important Moments.” I can’t even say how true that is. I stole a phrase from a movie that I apply to our lives at big important times (planning the wedding, getting promoted, etc.)- we’re just Forrest Gumping our way through this.

  18. June 17, 2010 7:35 am

    Wow, what a great blog and a fantastic post. Thank you for being honest. Our proposal was just him asking me on a rainy morning, nothing over the top. Very simple, very us. But leading up to the proposal, there were times when I threw out my usual feminist attitude and turned into a 1950s stereotype. I caved to the pressure from my crazy Italian family. I didn’t understand what was taking him so long, and I started to lose patience. And looking back, the biggest problem I have with the whole thing is that I just went into the “waiting and guessing” camp without even thinking about it. I’m not like that at all. So yeah, out of everything, that’s really the only thing I’d do differently, and I really feel better reading this post.

  19. June 17, 2010 9:11 am

    Wow, very profound, and I am totally with you with the pre-engagement thing!

  20. lyn permalink*
    June 17, 2010 3:27 pm

    @ All of you guys. Thanks for your kind words, insight, stories, and advice. It makes me feel immeasurably good to know that not one of us goes through these issues alone.

  21. June 18, 2010 2:20 pm

    I love this post. I am somewhere around #6 in your list. We talked about a lot of wedding and marriage stuff in January, and I was clear that I was ready right then. It was a great talk and we were on the same page. He says well, wait for me, I’d like to propose. And now I’m thinking… does he even remember he said that? Is he actually planning a proposal (it would be a little out of character)? Am I really stuck in limbo based on some secret timeline? I am antsy because our agreed-upon child-having window is not so far off, and I would really like to make this official. But if he actually has proposal plans, I don’t want to stomp all over them. We leave for vacation in a week — if nothing happens then, I am going to step up and propose.

  22. June 19, 2010 12:05 am

    I LOVE this post. I felt so weird talking about the conversation before it happened. He first declared it one night while we were playing Super Mario on Super Nintendo {almost every night} on a mattress on the floor while both of our checking accounts had about $24 in them. We were at a low, and while most couples would find that a HORRIBLE time to propose…I found it wildly-realistically-romantic. We loved each other at our very worst by then…angry, frustrated, erratic, and now: broke. It’s really nice doing the whole “for poorer” first. But then, two years later, when we had both progressed and moved across the country and everything…in much better situations, I brought it up again…I didn’t have a ring, but I considered myself engaged for the reason of what it means: “I fully intend to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you.”

    It is definitely awkward being the one reminding them, but why? Because it’s not traditional is the only reason I can think of…But I have personally witnessed a surprise proposal when they were not on the same page and it was AWFUL.

    I think that couples should be able to talk about it and bring it up beforehand. It might take away some of the classic Romeo and Juliet-ness of it all..but I think that it’s okay to make sure that you’re on the same page before you leap.

    Sorry for the ultra-long, only semi-related comment. Back to the point: I fully loved reading your story, and I relate in a lot of ways. I was part of the shopping process, but I truly think that every couple should decide what’s right for them. I wouldn’t do it any other way, but I had to think a lot about that beforehand. Once you’re part of it, you can never go back and be surprised. There was still surprise in the proposal, but I think that it’s good you had to wait and got the element of surprise…every story is different.

    I need to stop commenting at 2:04 in the am.

  23. December 23, 2013 1:52 pm

    Not sure if you still get these comments. But. I am getting engaged today. And I know that, because my boyfriend and I decided, together, that we were going to propose to each other. At the same time. TOGETHER. We picked the date and decided we were each going to plan something for the other. And while I know that this is right for us, because I am not the kind of person who just sits back and WAITS, and because I didn’t think it was fair for all the power to be in his hands, and because we like to do things together, I have worried about how other people will take it when we tell the story.

    And reading this has made me so much more sure in our decision. It is true to me, and to us, and that is what is important. So, thanks for posting this (three odd years ago!). I have been reading through your whole wedding blog since finding Another Damn Life. :)

    • lyn permalink*
      December 23, 2013 2:09 pm

      Jessica, that is so cool! CONGRATS on your engagement and may everyone love your proposal story as much as I already do.

    • lyn permalink*
      May 25, 2015 1:47 pm

      I am so happy to hear this! I hope it was as beautiful and awesome as it sounds.

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