Prev Next

Our Non-Proposal Story


A love story four years in the making.

Our Non Proposal Story | A Practical Wedding

by Sarah Erdlen

And so it begins. P and I have finally decided on a target wedding date: May of 2015. The decision wasn’t made after a long night of wine-fueled discussion, no fancy dinner, no special weekend set aside for planning. The decision came softly, my aggressively decisive leadership learning patience and his easygoing placidity moving to action. Though perhaps I should begin at the real beginning. We may not have a proposal story (nor did we want one), but what we do have is a four-year love story that has built to this particular moment in our relationship.

“Love story” is an incredibly sentimental term for the playful, silly, honest, and grounded way our relationship has progressed. It all started with a “study” date. “Study” deserves quotes, because despite the fact that I dutifully shared my notes from the review session, we both knew the notes were not the real focus of that evening. Accordingly, I went over the notes in about five minutes, then we spent the next three hours and fifty-five minutes talking and drinking too many beers, closing the bar, walking back to my door, then making out with gusto.

A couple of weeks later, I spent the night at his place, woke before him, then worriedly considered where on earth his huge, graphic tapestry would hang in our future home together. When he awoke and asked what I was thinking about, I tried to deflect, but he wouldn’t let me. So I told him. Honesty is the best policy, right? Maybe. Either way, whatever internal processing he did, thank goodness he didn’t freak out and stop calling me. So we stepped forward, knowing we were looking ahead.

Fast forward to my graduation and I’m fretting over What Comes Next in my life. I was trying to plan my future while he still had a year of undergrad left to complete and thoughts of grad school ahead. I struggled to find a full-time job, and kept looking within reasonable driving distance of some respectable graduate schools. When I finally got up the nerve to ask him what his plans were, where I should be searching, he responded that he was planning to wait until I found a full-time job then look for grad schools wherever that happened to be. Oh. Duh. We were on the same page, planning a future together.

The following winter, I visited for his birthday and we shared a long night of drinking with his roommates, then came home and shared the toilet, taking turns puking. Somewhere between the heaves, my liberated sensibilities found the time to tell him “You know I’m planning to marry you someday, right?” He knew.

Aggressively opinionated as I am, I already had Opinions about everything I thought was part of the wedding package deal. Flowers? Tulips. My bridesmaids would wear red. I mentally added to the menu each time I encountered delicious food. Candle centerpieces. Favorite jewelry selected as accessories.

We eventually moved together halfway across the country for his grad school and through my frustrated search for pastimes, a community, a time-filler, anything, I found APW.

And then. APW made me think about shit. As smart, insightful women said wise things about what marriage was all about and the point of even having a wedding and what really was part of the “package deal” and what was just an upsell, I developed entirely new Opinions. Bridesmaids? I don’t want to rank my friends! Or make them buy a dress just to match in pictures! Flowers? So expensive! The wedding is not a showcase of Sarah’s Favorite Things! Staying true to myself, I talked about my Opinions with P. Staying true to himself, P alternately thought carefully about important things and thought not at all about trivial things, and took his time before responding with opinions of his own.

Slowly, over the past year and a half, we came to certain agreements. I made clear to him that I absolutely did not need a proposal, nor did I want an engagement ring. Good, he said. I never pegged you as a diamond girl. (Point of clarification: I am, on the whole, a bright colors girl. However, I am also a sparkly things girl, and would not sniff at any sparkly gem simply for its lack of color. In case you’re planning to buy me jewelry, dear readers.) I thought about eloping, to avoid dealing with potential family drama. We considered it together, talked about truly eloping, or inviting one or two friends. We came to the decision that a community celebration made more sense for our relationship, even if we just had a keg and pizza. With my capacity for patience nearly expended, I reminded him that if we wanted a big celebration, we would need to plan for it. That people would need notice a few months ahead of time to make travel arrangements. That venues and caterers and photographers must be booked well in advance, especially if we were going to work around his school breaks. At the end of summer, we talked about his big-picture grad school agenda, replete with comp-studying and dissertation-writing. Much later—patience capacity slowly growing—I asked as we sat on the couch one night, what date are we really shooting for? Cuz we need to jump on that shit. And May 2015 it was.

It’s not a proposal story. It’s not a Big Romantic Moment. It’s another of the many big and small decisions we’ve made together, each choice adding another cord of connection to the ties that bind our lives to one another. It’s a four-year love story. So far.

And it’s a damn good one.

More in Planning Essays Recent Posts Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • InTheBurbs

    Teary…thanks for sharing!

  • Laura C

    This speaks to me so much and I’m struggling over how to express that, because I want to say “this detail was different and this one and also that one,” but really what I want to say is how much the feeling is the same. And the kind of communication in this: “With my capacity for patience nearly expended, I reminded him that if we wanted a big celebration, we would need to plan for it. That people would need notice a few months ahead of time to make travel arrangements. That venues and caterers and photographers must be booked well in advance, especially if we were going to work around his school breaks.”

    In the end, our official engagement began, sitting at a friends’ wedding and talking about weddings and what we’d want in ours, the moment he said “I guess we better start planning for real” and I thought, if I didn’t quite say out loud, “you think?” (in sarcastic voice) — and then we started planning for real. That moment couldn’t be divorced from the process that got us there; like the post says “It’s another of the many big and small decisions we’ve made together, each choice adding another cord of connection to the ties that bind our lives to one another.”

  • Jo

    Mmmmmmm, yesssss. This reminds me of my own multi-year traipse towards matrimony with the hubs. :) Even the “you’re not the diamonds type,” which I unexpectedly turned out to be once we went shopping for rings. I just got the recycled antique diamonds, ’cause that’s my jam. To many more years of exploring, honoring, and enjoying life together. Thanks for sharing with us!!

    • Emmers

      Ditto, this is also very much the story of how we’ve decided to get married. Nice to know this is somewhat common!

  • laddibugg

    “The wedding is not a showcase of Sarah’s Favorite Things!”

    Good point. That puts things into perspective…..

    • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

      Just as an aside, knowing Sarah personally, it would be a pretty ballin’ showcase if it was!

      • Sarah E

        Ah, you’re too kind :-)

        And the “not a showcase of my favorite things” realization was a real lightbulb moment.

  • M.

    “And then. APW made me think about shit.” Yep. And so glad it did.

  • Grace

    Sarah I absolutely love your story, this sounds like the kind of engagement we’re heading towards. One question though, at which point in the gradual progression did you tell your family/friends you were engaged/planning a wedding? Despite being pretty set on a mutual proposal/agreed engagement I can’t shake this idea of needing a moment where I go “right! Time to call mum!” Calling mum is very important.

    • Alyssa M

      The process of getting engaged was very gradual for us, but I agreed with you. So even though we came to it through many discussions over the period of a year (and were aware that’s where we were headed for several years), we went out and bought each other rings and the day we exchanged them was the day we announced it to the world. It may have been silly and unnecessary. It certainly wasn’t “the proposal”(the closest we got to one of those was over a year before). But it gave us a clear embarkation line for the “official” engagement.

    • Sarah E

      After we had the “May 2015?” “Yeah, May 2015″ discussion, we called parents over the next week. I wondered if we needed some kind of event, but I asked P and he was like “um, tell them whenever?” So the next time I chatted with my parents, I said “Oh, by the way, P and I decided to look at May 2015 to get married.” His parents were traveling at the time (in the country, but harder to reach), so I think it was another week before he got a hold of them. We let our parents more or less spread the news to extended family, and told our friends gradually with no real announcement-feel to us. Just a “keep your weekends in May 2015 open, k?”

      It was weird to start telling people with no ring AND no date. And even though we’re lookingat venues and caterers now, it’s still a little distant-feeling without a date set. Hurray for making sure we can afford all moving parts of food-booze-location before setting anything in stone.

    • cecc

      I totally hear you on this – my person and I had decided we wanted to get married more than a year before the day we finally said, “Ok! Let’s do this for real! Rings? Don’t care. When? Where? Who knows! But let’s tell everyone we love!” and then we spent a weekend giggling with our friends and family on the phone sharing the news. … And then it felt real in a whole new, wonderful way. The point is, I think the ‘time to call mum’ can be anytime, whenever you feel ready and excited to make the leap from special-secret-with-your-person to let’s-tell-the-world-we’re-really-doing-it!

  • alpelican

    We also had a non-proposal engagement where we just started to plan a wedding and then picked a date! So glad I’m not the only one. Basically we knew we wanted to do it at some point soonish when it a) wasn’t hot out and b) wasn’t football season and c) was between Mardi Gras and JazzFest and that left like four weekends, so we called parents and told them it was on.

  • feelingfickle

    I love this. It made me breathe a sigh of relief (we’re on our own “keg and pizza party” discussion). Y’all’s relationship seems very wonderfully balanced (the full-time job and grand school bit made me chuckle) and I hope everything continues going well.

  • D

    Did I write this??? I could have!

  • LifeSheWrote

    This made me tear up. All the best to you two. Sounds like you’ve both got good heads on your shoulders and here’s to many more years to come!

  • Parsley

    This is SO much like the story that brought my wife and I to the decision to get married! Except being the lovers of ritual that we are, we added a ritual to the end. But other than that, SO similar! Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

  • kyllikki_dieter

    My fiance and I also had a non-proposal, mostly because of me. No, entirely because of me. We had been talking about getting married, agreed it was where we were headed, agreed we were headed there sooner than later and left it more or less at that. A few weeks later he started asking me some vague leading questions, making comments about some women’s engagement rings, etc.
    I don’t want (didn’t want) and engagement ring. I am bizarrely uncomfortable with the idea of a piece of glittery rock declaring my (transitioning) relationship status and equally as put out at the idea of a big ol’ glittery ring that I will wear for the rest of my life. I knew that engagement jewelry wasn’t for me – my mom actually reminded me that I had decided engagement jewelry wasn’t for me when I was about 12. I totally forgot about that! In light of my resolve, I debated with myself if I should just shut up and let my boo do as he wanted. He’s fairly traditional, I know he really wanted the privilege of picking a ring and a moment to propose.
    I finally decided that I couldn’t let him spend far too much money on a useless symbol that meant nothing to me, so I told him not to get me a ring, lets just start planning a wedding.
    He tells me that he is fine with how I changed the plan like that, but he keeps telling everyone we meet that he got proposed to or that I ordered him to marry me, so I think he is secretly kind of upset that he couldn’t have his big romantic man moment.