Did I Just Destroy My Chance to Have a Surprise Engagement?


I'm afraid I'm dragging him to the altar (even if my head tells me that's an ugly myth)

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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Q: My partner and I are moving in together, and we’ve been having some really serious and gratifying conversations about the future lately. We talked about saving up to buy a home in a neighborhood we love and before we do that, he said, we have to get married. Great! We’re on the same page! A week later, I stumbled across an absolutely gorgeous ring that was reasonably priced and exactly what I was looking for. I was obsessed with it, and my tribe of ladies (mom, sister, best friend) unanimously approved. It felt strange to keep something so happy and fun from my partner, so I excitedly whispered to him (okay, a couple beers deep) that my sister had a picture of an engagement ring that I really loved.

I’ve told my partner before that I don’t want to get married until after I finish grad school in 2017, but he interpreted my move to mean that I wanted to get engaged NOW NOW NOW. It led to a freak-out over the state of his finances because he can’t afford that investment right this second and actually has no savings at all. We made some resolutions to improve his financial situation going forward and our goals for the future remain strong, but one concern is really nagging at me: now when he does propose, is it just going to feel like a conciliatory gesture, like I basically forced his hand? Did I ruin the romantic, sincere engagement that I wanted by jumping the gun and rushing things? How do I stop feeling like the stereotypical nagging woman dragging her man to the altar? I feel so embarrassed and wish I could have kept my big mouth shut.

—Anonymous

 

A: Dear Anonymous,

You know, it happens. Sometimes one partner suddenly worries that the other has some unvoiced expectations and goes a little nuts with the assumptions. It sounds like your partner had that moment over the ring, and it sounds like you’re having it a bit now.

But you guys are forgetting what you know about each other. You’ve already discussed this stuff! This guy already said he wants to marry you, and to do it before you get a house—you didn’t pressure him into that. And you already told him you wanted to wait until you graduate. Those are things you actually said to one another! You’d both be better off if you took those statements at face value, rather than try to make assumptions about hidden motives based on outdated social narratives. Are you guys caricatures of pink and blue gender roles? No? Then ignore all that socially presumed stuff about the nagging, impatient girlfriend and the bumbling, commitment-phobe boyfriend.

In a vague sort of way, you’ve already agreed on a timeline. Sometime between 2017 and the purchase of a house, you’re getting married. Now that that’s settled, agree together that it’s not changing without some serious conversations. No more reading into things, wondering if it means that one person or the other is changing their expectations. And if it’d make you feel better, propose a more tangible timeline, something a little narrower than “between 2017 and some unknown house purchase date.” Right after you graduate? Five years after? If you’re both having trouble understanding where you stand, being more specific can’t hurt.

And hey. Let’s get one thing straight really quick, k? Talking about the future isn’t naggy, and it doesn’t ruin any sort of “romance.” If you guys are opting to go the surprise proposal route, that’s fine, but it doesn’t completely remove your ability to have input (say, suggesting rings, or agreeing upon an appropriate timeline). And more or less surprise doesn’t equate to more or less sincerity, or more or less romance. Knowledge and security, the comfort of knowing where you stand, the respect of a partner who treats you as a unique individual who deserves to know what her future holds? Mmm, romance.

Any time you’re feeling weird about it, bring it up again. Talk about the steps to marriage as much as you need. Don’t shy away out of fear that it’s going to make him suddenly, oddly afraid of marrying you, or that you’ll come across as overeager. This is your future, lady, and you’re allowed to discuss it.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Kay

    YES! :) Great response, Liz.

  • PW

    I’m here to reassure you that equating super-duper-i-had-no-idea-surprise with romance is a mistake, and that talking it over together beforehand is awesome.

    We talked about it plenty, and it didn’t ruin the romance, the sincerity or the goddamn awesome passion in the moment where we got engaged. TALK – talk as much as you need to, about whatever aspects of it you’re not sure about, or you think he’s not sure about.

    Also, if you want that ring – buy it! Wear it as a non-engagement ring, or give it to him as a gift, and tell him he can pay you back half of it when he puts it on your finger.

    • LydiaB

      Totally agree with the buy the ring advice! I had an heirloom ring so knew what it was like and exactly what I was getting – didn’t ruin anything. He can put it away until he wants to give you it or you just wear it because it is a ring you love. Don’t risk it being bought by someone else and settling for something less when the timing is right.

    • laddibugg

      Eh I think a surprise engagement is fine. A surprise engagement with no discussion about marriage, ever, is a totally different story.
      Talk about marriage, make sure you’re both on the same page regarding it in general and between you both. Surprising your partner with the time and plans isn’t the same as spring the whole thing on them at once.

    • anon

      So this is probably going to be an unpopular opinion and may make my fiance look like a neanderthal here—but my fiance would have been really, really, really upset if I had purchased a ring, gave it to him, and told him that I’d like it to be my engagement ring and that he could pay me back. Not only because of cultural pressure, but also because he would have felt left out of the process…something he was really looking forward to. Or, at worst, like I didn’t trust him to “do it right.” And I’m saying this as someone who did point out the ring I liked! I throw my hands up at Destiny’s Child as an Independent Woman, but I have to imagine this wouldn’t be an uncommon feeling among partners?

      • raccooncity

        Yeah, my partner wanted to pick the ring. The best I could do was also be there. Which I was. And I think it’s maybe a little neanderthal to not ALLOW a woman to help choose a piece of jewelry that she is then going to wear every damn day for presumably the rest of her life. But I think it’s totally legit for a guy to want ownership over that part and to be there to help choose the ring, etc.

        • anon

          We DEFINITELY talked about the ring I liked and he got me the same one, only with special customizations that he was really proud of. I think it was equitable and I don’t feel any feminist shame with how we navigated the ring process. But if he had said he wasn’t sure if he could afford it now and I turned around and purchased it for him…I think he would have felt sad. Maybe that’s a feminist failing (it probably is), but I don’t think he (or any other partner) would be a terrible person for that failing.

          (Though he would probably counter that it’s not a failing to want to be the person to actually purchase a gift, which is what he saw the engagement ring as—and it also happens to be a big part of his love language too, so maybe that matters.)

      • laddibugg

        I feel the same. I’ve also picked out damn near every gift he’s given me in the 7+ years we’ve known each other (either by telling him what I wanted or him giving me the money). Usually I don’t mind that because I usually want practical things that it’s important to have exactly what you need, but a ring, to me is just a little different.

      • emmers

        I think if you’re both OK with you picking out the ring on your own, then great! Do it!
        An engagement ring is a weird piece of jewelry because you wear it, but it represents a partnership. So it’s also OK if your partner does want to be involved in ring selection.
        Since it can be a big deal, I would definitely talk about it with your partner before making any moves to make sure you’re on the same page.

      • Erin

        I’m with you here. Especially since my fiancé is more into shiny blingy things than I am. He proposed with a “place-holder” ring, and then we went and picked out THE ring together. He had a lot of input into the process, and I got one that I’ll happily wear for all my days. I sometimes wear the old place-holder ring on my other hand when we go out to cool places, cause it’s funky and feather shaped.

      • lauren

        I picked the ring, but if I had bought it and given it to him? Aw hell no. He was just as invested in the idea of getting down on one knee as I was.

  • Amanda

    My husband actually proposed around 11pm one night when we were sitting at the kitchen table. I was ecstatic, but also wanted the down on one knee, hey I really mean this proposal. Which I got, after we picked out my ring together (with a lot of coupons involved, because liberal arts graduates). I was involved in the process and it was great. Talking doesn’t ruin surprises – it makes you both sure surprises are on the same page as you both!

  • TeaforTwo

    Ahhhh, the ring. I hate engagement rings.

    When my now-husband and I were dating, he was in law school with no money. And every time I would bring up marriage, he would say that he couldn’t afford to buy me a ring while he was in school, so there was no point talking about it until after he graduated.

    It drove me CRAZY. I couldn’t imagine what being able to buy a ring could possibly have to do with deciding to get married, but he was stuck on it. In some ways it was about buying time on his part, but even though I was adamant that I didn’t want any ring, it was still important to him to buy me one, and he did, right after he graduated.

    My heart goes out to the letter writer, because I remember our time of “pre-engagement” as confusing and sometimes excruciating, but I do think that for a lot of “pre-engaged” couples I know, the conversation would be easier if discussions of expensive jewellery were left out of it.

    • Amanda

      I insisted I didn’t need one, he insisted I did. In the end I did end up with one, and I LOVE it (we picked it out together) but I would still have followed him to the end of the earth without it. Which he knew, and took as still more proof (so he says) that I was the one for him.

      • TeaforTwo

        Yes. To be fair, I had been adamant that I didn’t even WANT (let alone need) a ring, but the antique pearl ring he bought for me anyway is lovely, and I was very touched when he gave it to me.

        I just hated the way that a conversation about whether or not to make a lifelong commitment could devolve so quickly to a conversation about a piece of jewellery. And I think it’s one area where the traditional hetero narrative is so hard on all of us: hard on women to be told they don’t get a say in whether and when they get married, and hard on men to peg the price of admission at X months’ salary.

        • AP

          Lord, yes. So many of our pre-engaged conversations revolved around the damn ring. It wouldn’t be *real* without a ring, a ring was *proof* (of something?), he had to spend over a certain amount or it wouldn’t be *special.* The pressure on men around proposals is incredibly frustrating. I just wanted to have a conversation and be done with it, and if he needed a ring we’d pick one out together.

          This is funny to me now though- when we did actually start looking at engagement rings, he couldn’t understand why I was so picky. I kept trying to explain that it was an emotionally-loaded piece of jewelry that I’d be wearing every day, so no, I wasn’t going to be talked into something I didn’t want by a pushy salesperson. Flash-forward to picking out our bands, and he has taken months to find his because it’s suddenly occurred to him that it’s an emotionally-loaded piece of jewelry that he’ll be wearing every day. Smh.

          • Eenie

            I really really really wanted him to get an engagement ring too. He said sure, but he only want one ring. We eventually decided to hold off and just get coordinating wedding bands instead that way he’d have something new for the wedding like me. Kind of wish we both just got engagement rings and skipped the whole wedding band process.

      • Eenie

        I tried to convince myself I didn’t want one. So hard. But I really did want one (I have hardly any rings). I didn’t need one, but I wanted one. And we were both eventually ok with that.

    • raccooncity

      Yeesh….same with me. It used to make me nuts. I’d show him $200 rings that I genuinely loved or offered family rings from my side, but no go. I have a very nice ring now that I love, but I wonder what he was thinking back then.

      • TeaforTwo

        I genuinely do think that my husband needed to buy some time. I was ready way before he was, and I was also at a different stage of my life. (I had been out of school and building my career for a few years, he had been in school for 26 years in a row.)

        Even when he could tell me that he wanted us to get married, he needed that to be a “someday” thing, and the idea of an engagement with no ring, I think, seemed like it was too easy and could happen too fast. He said he wasn’t ready to decide for sure about marriage until after he finished law school and the bar exam, which TERRIFIED me. What if I waited and then he decided he still wasn’t ready?!

        I think I’ve told this story in the comments before: he finished the bar exam at 6pm on a Thursday, bought my ring at noon on Friday and proposed at 9am on Saturday. All that time I was scared he would write the bar and then need a year or more to decide (and might still decide no!) – he didn’t even need 48 hours, he just needed to be done with that damned test.

        • AP

          “My husband is not a boat-rocker, and I think he also dreaded the idea of explaining for our whole engagement that he was marrying a killjoy feminist who honestly didn’t want a ring.”

          This is a revelation, and explains so much.

          • Eenie

            This is so great.

  • Christina McPants

    Even if you know it’s coming, it will be a surprise. My wife and I had a talk about when she could expect her proposal on Thursday (“before the end of the year”) and I proposed Saturday. She surprised me with a ring about 3 hours later. (Long story short, she’d floated engagement a year prior, I waffled, she told me it was then up to me to propose when I was ready) The discussions we had on the road to rings were not wasted – they were important discussions about our relationship and how we saw our future.

    And yes, like TeaforTwo says, if rings were left out, I think the discussion would be a lot easier.

  • Eenie

    The whole “surprise” thing always gets me. You can be surprised about a couple things: the actual proposal (although I don’t generally think this should be a surprise…), the ring, the timing, or how. I was surprised by the last two, since I had no idea how he was doing it or when. Still a surprise, and I designed my own ring. I am still a feminist.

  • Jess

    I promise you did not ruin your chances of having a romantic surprise proposal, and it’s super unlikely he feels like you’re dragging him to the altar after you clarified that you were just taking note of something you liked for him when the time comes (and maybe in the short term affirm for him once or twice).

    Personal Story to tell you that it’ll feel wonderful when it does happen:
    We moved in together this year and prior to doing so, I stated that I wasn’t moving in and then moving out at a later date. That doing this was stating an intention to get married in the next few years. We talked it through and determined that a year-or-so was a reasonable deadline to be engaged. At the time, I felt kind of weird about being the “impatient wanna-be-bride” but I wasn’t, I was planning for my future and stating what I wanted. And he stated that he wanted to be able to surprise me with the timing and ring because he likes surprising me.

    Fast forward 4 months, and R proposes, surprising me and we all cried happy happy tears of joy and it never once felt like it was something I forced him to do.

    • TeaforTwo

      It was similar for us. We had lived about 3 hours apart for most of the time we were dating while he was in law school (except for one summer when we lived together for four months). I was ready to get married before he was, so as his graduation approached and we would be living in the same city, it seemed assumed that he would move in with me again. I told him he couldn’t move in with me until we’d agreed to get married and had established a timeline for it. We didn’t have to be engaged, but we had to be on the same page about it.

      A friend of mine referred to this as an ultimatum, and maybe it was. But I didn’t force him into it – I told him what I needed. And when he did propose (I didn’t need a proposal, but he wanted to do one) it was still one of the happiest days of our relationship, even though it couldn’t have been less of a surprise.

      • Jess

        “We didn’t have to be engaged, but we had to be on the same page about it” I think I said pretty much exactly those words.

  • Meredith

    We talked about rings plenty. It was like, as soon as my husband finally landed a job with a career path that was our first goal was saving enough to buy a little ring. There were two very different rings I kept going back and forth on. I should have known it was coming any day, and I tend to be the type of person to ruin all surprises somehow, but he still surprised me with an over the top proposal on a downtown street corner with an appearance by our favorite local band. Don’t worry about the ring, you’ll still be thrilled and shocked when the proposal actually happens!

  • laddibugg

    We’ve talked about jewlery enough that he knows what I want. I don’t want to be fully involved in the ring choice process–I’d rather him take the guideline I’ve given him, and pick something out from the heart.

  • Laura C

    What jumps out at me here is the pressure the LW’s partner seems to feel that isn’t coming from her. Because given that she’s said she doesn’t want to get married until at least 2017, that he would interpret “there’s a ring I like” as “now now now” says it’s about outside pressures, or his own internal ones.

    Pre-engagement is hard for sure, but I do hate to see LW saying “I feel so embarrassed and wish I could have kept my big mouth shut.” You have to be able to say “I like this”! You have to! Even during awkward times like pre-engagement. This kind of stuff is why I so hate all the theater around proposals and engagements. They mess us up so bad.

    • Not Sarah

      I think you’re right that the pressure isn’t directly coming from her, but her talking about things is probably freaking him out a bit. My boyfriend definitely gets freaked out a bit when I talk about other friends getting engaged/married. It makes him worry that I want to get engaged/married soon, even though in other conversations, I’ve told him I don’t want to for a few years… The “there’s a ring I like” and “I don’t want to get married until at least 2017” are definitely conflicting things for the LW to have said and I can definitely understand why her boyfriend is a bit confused.

      • CMT

        How are they conflicting statements? I don’t think they are at all.

        • Not Sarah

          Well so I can see how they are not conflicting in that “I like this ring” and “I don’t want to get engaged yet” can happen in your head, but I can also see how it could be conflicting to her boyfriend. The sentiment of “I like this specific ring” could easily sound like “I definitely want this thing now.” If they’re both a bit freaked out about the idea of getting engaged/married, I can see most conversation around this topic being awkward/complicated quite easily, with all the emotions.

          • CMT

            It only sounds like that to the boyfriend because he’s not actually listening to the words she’s saying (“I don’t want to do this until later”) and he’s making assumptions. That’s really not her problem; it’s his.

          • Not Sarah

            Sure, but how often are men “trained” that women never mean what their words say and that there is actually some hidden meaning? All. The. Time. LW and her boyfriend are both feeling anxiety over getting married and in different, normal ways.

            I’m not saying the LW’s boyfriend is in the right. I’m just saying that the LW’s boyfriend sounds a lot like mine and misinterpreting/misreading things I say is part of how his anxiety about the whole thing shows. If I told him “I found a ring I really like and friend A has a picture of it!” he would freak out. And that’s totally okay. I can tell when he’s freaking out and reassure him. I don’t like your trying to police the LW’s boyfriend’s emotions around this.

          • AP

            Oh man. The “women never mean what they say” thing. I hate this trope so much, but you’re right, our culture teaches men not to fully trust what women say (and teaches women that it’s more feminine/acceptable to be manipulative than to ask outright for what you want. Although I love the movie, that whole “the woman is the neck that turns the man’s head” conversation in My Big Fat Greek Wedding makes me livid.) I’ve had to work really hard with my guy to establish that when I say something, I mean it. But it takes practice on my part, too, because the women in my family are big into passive-agression and doublespeak. It’s taken me a while to unlearn that stuff. So now, if I’m upset and it shows, I’ve stopped saying “I’m fine.” Instead I try to say “I don’t want to talk about it right now, but I promise I will when I’m ready.” Not to say the LW needs to change the way she’s talking about the engagement, but maybe just some insight into why her boyfriend hears “I don’t want to get married until 2017” and “I found a ring I like” as conflicting statements.

          • Jess

            I have spent a lot of time correcting the assumption that I won’t be upfront and honest – this assumption was mostly due to a past girlfriend of his.

            I wish it was just a trope, but evidently there are women who believe they have to behave that way… Which really? Why?!?!?!?!

          • Not Sarah

            I spent so much time correcting that assumption with an ex that I eventually broke up with him. It was exhausting! His values were also SO traditional that I had to spend so much time correcting him in the gazillion ways I am not interested in being subservient to a man and following societal expectations (taking his name, making less money, having no say in the money, being a housewife, getting married in our twenties, having children, etc.) So exhausting! After that, I set a rule to only date people from more similar backgrounds.

          • Jess

            I had written up a whole thing about the tropes and narratives men see about women who lie or manipulate or say what they don’t mean (How many times have we heard, “You say you’re fine, but I know you’re not.”)

            This is the unfortunate, annoying, awful, demeaning result of a society that shows women in a single light.

            Do the words she actually says conflict? No. Have men been trained by family stories, movies, tv shows, and comedians that women want weddings and babies and will lie to get them? Yes. That feeling of being backed into a corner is really, really scary for anyone, and can make us less-than-rational.

            Societal or familial pressure and narratives can take more to overcome than a simple “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH RIGHT NOW?!”

          • Amy March

            Right and it’s also gone from
            “Here’s a thing we are talking about” to “oh btw my family is also involved.” I think it’s perfectly reasonable for him to feel like wait what just happened?!?

  • MC

    We have friends that designed the engagement ring together, and the husband still managed to mega-surprise her with a proposal because that’s what the wife wanted. The ring is so not the only thing about a proposal that can be a surprise!

  • raccooncity

    So I thought I would share my tale of the non-surprise engagement and how it all worked out ok anyway. I hope everyone gets their super-romantic on the knee out of nowhere thing, but here’s some consolation that it works out ok anyway:

    So SO and I talked about getting married a lot for many years and he NEVER surprises me. So my main thing was that I wanted a surprise engagement. He wanted to pick out the ring, which wasn’t something I was too keen on because I wanted to like what I wore every day (I had actual nightmares about getting ugly rings i hated and pretending to like them…). Anyway, marriage/wedding was more his thing than mine, and he wanted to do it before we had kids.

    One day while discussing the whole kids timeline, he said “well, we could start trying next year” and I said “would you be ok not getting married first” and he said “well, we could get married this year if you want” and I said “sure”. That was it. He hadn’t planned it, so there was no ring or anything. We went ring shopping later and I actually was alone when I bought it and put it on my own damn self right in the store.

    Later I expressed a little sadness that there hadn’t been a surprise, and he offered to ask me to marry him properly a bunch of times. So for a couple months he’d just ask me to marry him at random times, which made me laugh. And now that the wedding is coming up, I find that I don’t think about the engagement part at all. It wasn’t that big of a deal in the end.

    • Eenie

      Yes. Everyone asks for the “story”. My response is: he asked me and I said yes. Yes I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know he was going to do it five minutes after picking him up from the airport.

    • Kate Hill

      Totally agree on this. I wanted a very romantic proposal, and it didn’t happen. Pulled out a ring while we were on the couch with the dog. No surprise, no pre-planning, no fireworks. But he’s an amazing husband, and my best friend, and I wouldn’t want to marry anyone else. Not to minimize the OP’s feelings, but now that we’re post-wedding (oh, and he relocated to the United States from the UK on a fiance visa, so post-country relocation as well) and a year and some change into marriage, I’m a little ashamed that I ever cared so much about whether my wonderful husband would pull off a dramatic proposal. I’m too busy being thankful that he brings me coffee in bed and puts up with my clothes on the floor.

    • Jess

      His solution to you wanting to be surprised is adorable. That’s all.

      • raccooncity

        He’s a sweetheart, that’s for sure.

    • Aw, that’s actually SO romantic. The types of engagement stories where people agree to marry each other are always my favorites. :D

  • savannnah

    Here is the thing–a proposal can be a surprise if that’s important to you or to him but getting engaged should not be a surprise. It should be something that should be talked about, a lot, ad nauseam. The proposal is but a moment. For instance my boyfriend and I have a plan, a pretty detailed plan for marriage. We just moved in together, we are saving for our wedding together and we are going shopping for a ring together. We want to get married in Sept of 2017 and we’ve already talked about some of the details of the wedding (like where and when) But in terms of the proposal, he wants some ownership over it and I am fine with that. So while I know the month we are getting hitched and I’ll know what my ring looks like, I have no idea when he is going to propose. I asked him for at least a year to be engaged so it will be sometime between when we buy the ring and sept of 2016. Because we have a solid plan in place I don’t feel anxious that he has basically a whole year or so to propose at any time. I also don’t feel nagging to talk to him about the proposal or the wedding because of our already agreed upon timeline.
    I also think its important to think about the surprise aspect because for me it comes down not to that I didn’t know what was going on or that feeling of a surprise but that it means he or she has put effort into the proposal. That they have thought about it and made it meaningful to me, and our relationship. Not everyone needs that aspect in a proposal however, so its good to think about what about the surprise aspect is important to you.

    • Jess

      Yes to this.

      Everyone has been asking “Oh, was it a surprise!?” and I respond, sensibly, with, “Well, we’d discussed it, so I knew it would be coming sometime this year. But the actual moment was a surprise and wonderful!”

  • Erin

    We had talked about marriage a lot, and he deliberately gave me the impression that while it was something he was pretty sure he wanted in a year or two, he wasn’t quite ready for it yet. I was fine with that, and in no rush, because I know he is the type of person that needs more time for big decisions. I was 100% confident that he’d come to the same conclusion as me, he just needed longer. Little did I know that he was secretly talking to my best friend about proposing for months, and then sprung it on me on Christmas morning.

    I was VERY SURPRISED (you might even say blindsided). And also confused, because I thought I knew where we stood. Once I found out what had really been going on, I was actually a little miffed. He deliberately misled me about the progression of our relationship for the sake of a SURPRISE. Well, I was certainly surprised, but to be honest I would have preferred to have had an accurate idea of where he was at in terms of the whole marriage thing. Ultimately I feel like the surprise was more for his benefit than mine, because it fit his ideal of the classic proposal trope.

    TL;DR Surprises are overrated, especially when it comes to the cultural pressure men are under for the “perfect proposal”. Much better to just be on the same page.

    • Eenie

      Wow. Definitely a case of the misguided attempt to make you happy!

      • Erin

        Absolutely! I think there’s just so much pressure on the ‘Proposer’ to have it be this big elaborate production. Like the flash mob, or the secret mountain-top photographer, or the scavenger hunt. Not to say that all those things can’t be romantic and perfect for some couples, they absolutely can. But let’s not discount the beauty and simplicity of two people just mutually deciding that they want to build a life together and calling that an engagement?

        • AP

          Hear, hear.

        • eating words

          Yes! That’s exactly why I had a hard time figuring out a proposal, because we knew it was going to happen and I just didn’t buy into the pressure for a big gesture. Even though now I sometimes feel inadequate that I didn’t do something splashier. (I made a photo book of our friendship and relationship, and the caption on the last image was: Let’s live happily ever after.) But: it was still a lovely and romantic moment, and we’re just as engaged as if we’d had any other kind of proposal.

        • Eenie

          Yes. This is why I try to focus on breaking the stereotype with our engagement. It really also made me think about the questions we ask newly engaged couples: Can I see the ring? and How did he do it? Instead I’ve begun asking: How did it happen? and Was there a ring? Small things, but I do the same with name changes: Did either of you decide to change your name? VS. (to female) Are you taking his name?

          • emmers

            Love all these! Will try to remember them all!

    • I pretty much new which weekend we would get engaged for various reasons and I was still completely surprised by what happened. I was thinking it would happen during a hike of something, but he totally surprised me Friday after work by proposing to me via a computer game containing a bunch of inside jokes that he programmed himself. I never could have predicted that!

    • Jess

      I think it’s definitely a case of proposals being mostly for the cultural benefit – it’s what family asks about now, it’s what friends are waiting to hear about, it’s something your coworkers will ask. People love stories that make them feel involved in your life.

      Unfortunately, this means that the story that goes, “Well, we were making dinner one night, and we were talking about wanting to do this forever, and so we decided to do so” doesn’t garner the same audience reaction as the Grand Gesture. Despite the fact that it is rooted in love, and honesty, and partnership.

      So people feel the need to make it a Big Thing because that’s how they are externally judged, for better or worse.

    • Julia

      All I can think of is how similar this is to Friends with Monica and Chandler when he tells her he doesn’t even want marriage with the ring in his pocket (guess what show I am binge watching on Netflix?).

      Mine was a total surprise although I knew it was going to happen this year, and I loved it! Although I broke out in hives for the first time in my life from the adrenaline rush and happy stress so take that as you will.

  • purekate

    Oh my, this is so me! It is possible that at my cousin’s wedding, I got quite drunk and then yelled at him back in the hotel room about why he hadn’t proposed yet. Many apologies the next morning and things were okay. We’re 3 months out from the wedding now and couldn’t be happier or more content with our life plan!
    Every once in a while, when I’m being an anxious stress ball, I feel guilty for pressuring him into proposing before he wanted to. Then I calm down and remember that he would never have taken this step if he didn’t feel sure and certain; that’s just who he is. And I know and trust him enough to believe that he wants this with his whole heart. If he didn’t, no amount of drunken yelling could have changed that. And I bet LW’s SO would say the same. Nothing is ruined unless you let it be.

    • TeaforTwo

      Who among us?! The reason this site talks so much about the pre-engaged state is that…most people I know have had similar episodes. It is HARD being on a different page from your partner about something so big.

  • Sosuli

    Man, I’m glad I grew up without this social pressure. Being from Finland, both men and women wear engagement rings, which are usually purchased together, and when a couple gets engaged there’s no automatic assumption that there will have been a proposal at all.

    My FH is British, and was clearly brought up with a different view on engagement. We talked about it for a long time, but in the end I was the one who bought him a ring and did the surprise proposal. I do sometimes wonder what lovely romantic proposal he might have thought up for me, but then I feel proud of what a surprise my proposal was and how happy he was about it… and that gets rid of any worries about “missing out” on something.

    Every engagement is special in its own way and it makes me kind of sad that there’s this social pressure to have it done a certain way.

    • Natalie

      This is so lovely.

    • Megan

      I wish it were like this in the US. Proposals are so pressure-filled, making the lead up very heavy on both parts of the couple. It should be a light and joyous moment, not one that causes anxiety and pressure!

  • Kelsey

    I am a huge proponent of the romance of planning things out
    together. We picked out our rings
    together, made zero interest payments on them for six months, then drove up to
    Boulder together to make the last payment and go out to dinner. Sitting at that restaurant, knowing our
    engagement rings were in my purse( which I was clutching in my lap throughout
    dinner) and just grinning our faces off at each other- I think that was actually more romantic to me
    than either of our proposals. Super
    awesome date night.

    • macrain

      Awwwww. Kelsey I love this!

    • VKD_Vee

      !!!!

  • macrain

    When I was at this particular stage of pre-engaged that the LW is describing, I was having multiple freak outs. It happens! I even double checked with him that we had agreed to start to looking at rings. I sort of convinced myself that I had made it all up or misunderstood. I think there is such a deep seeded fear in women that we are nagging our partners into an engagement that this type of things happens, probably a lot.
    Well said, Liz!

  • notquitecece

    Fistbump of solidarity. You will feel this again, several times, before 2017. But also, these feelings will pass, you can’t ruin anything, and communication never cheapens the relationship. Repeat: YOU CAN’T RUIN ANYTHING.

    My husband makes decisions differently than I do, so I was pretty frustrated a number of times before (and after!) we got engaged. Some big talks left me panicky that I was the nagging, desperate girlfriend. But we are real humans, not caricatures, and he did a great job of making it clear that he totally wanted the same things, regardless of pacing. THEN, even when we did get engaged, it took us moooooonths to figure out my ring — I had kinda picked one, and he didn’t love it. We wound up working with an artist to craft exactly the right thing, and it’s perfect, but there were many, many moments of wishing things were simpler or wondering if I’d ruined things somehow by being my decisive, opinionated, communicative self. Turns out that’s who he wanted to marry, and YOU CAN’T RUIN IT WITH HEALTHY COMMUNICATION.

  • eating words

    We agonized about the rings part of our engagement. We started looking for rings, then decided it didn’t feel right to buy rings without being officially engaged first. Decided to propose with ‘placeholder’ rings that we bought for each other. Got engaged with cheapie placeholder rings. Spent way too many months trying to work with a jeweler that wasn’t getting us at all (but that was a family friend that we felt pressure to work with). Got a suprise gift of two stones from a relative. Had the rings made by a jeweler we liked. And by the time we got them, there was such as feeling of “ugh, finally!” that kind of outweighed the happy excitement at first. Now I adore my ring, but I wish it hadn’t been such a process.

  • Kayjayoh

    I think my non-surprise surprise engagement story is pretty hilarious, so I am going to share it. My boyfriend had already moved several states to be with me in 2010, and I had told him that “if we were in it for the long haul” I would move back with him at some point. In the spring of 2012, I told him in clear terms that if we were going to move, that I wanted to be married, and that I would want him to ask me directly when he himself felt ready to do so. He wasn’t, but that was fine.

    In October, he started to obliquely inquire about rings and I made my preferences known about that, so I knew it was coming soon. The last weekend in October, I got a congratulatory email from his mom. She had heard we were getting engaged, but she didn’t realized that is hadn’t happened yet. Oops! (I held of on replying until later, so as not to embarrass her.)

    The *next* Saturday, I had woken up earlier than he and was sitting in the living room having a drink of water before going back to bed when the doorbell rang. I was still in my PJs and very much *not* ready for visitors. It was also the weekend before election day, so I figured it was a GOTV visit. Still, I popped my head out the inner door to take a peek. There was a guy standing there with a delivery of two dozen roses. I laughingly accepted the deliver, PJs, messy hair and all, and headed back to bed. At which point my boyfriend smiled and asked me to marry him, becoming my fiance.

    It was no less surprising or romantic for all the fore-warning. It just makes for a funnier memory.

    • Sara P

      Love it!

  • Ashlah

    “Those are things you actually said to one another! You’d both be better off if you took those statements at face value, rather than try to make assumptions about hidden motives based on outdated social narratives.”

    Oh my god, thank you! Please whisper this into my husband’s ear the next time I say anything related to babies. I swear to god he believes I want to be pregnant right now, even though we’ve established that we don’t want to start trying for over a year. But any time I say anything about babies or children or parenting, he assumes I’m hinting at wanting babies right now. And I think that’s part of why he then spouts off negatives about babies in response–because he’s trying to convince me of something that doesn’t require convincing! Are we just supposed to not talk about babies and parenthood at all until it’s time? No, so just listen to the actual words I have said to you and BELIEVE ME PLEASE.

    /off-topic venting

    • Kayla

      My husband gets so nervous when I wave at/smile at/make faces at babies. Sometimes I wonder if I should ignore the existence of all children just to keep him from panicking. It is bizarre.

  • Ashlah

    And to be more on-topic, I told my then-boyfriend that I had been reading wedding blogs and also once asked, with puppy dog eyes, “Are you ever going to marry me?” The latter was not my proudest relationship moment, but it’s not fair to be in the dark about the progression of your own life. We both agreed that he would do a surprise proposal, so I was okay with not knowing the details, I just needed to know it would happen. His proposal wasn’t a grand gesture, but it was a surprise, and it was lovely, and now we’ve been married a year. You didn’t ruin anything, letter writer.

    • Kayla

      I think making sure you’re on the same page as the person you want to spend the rest of your life with should totally be a candidate for one of your proudest relationship moments. It’s so important to do and it takes courage to do it.

      • Ashlah

        Fair point :) Though I surely could have approached the conversation in a more mature manner.

  • Casey

    I for one don’t like the amount of pressure society puts on couples to have “the perfect proposal”. Why is it romantic for the man (in a heterosexual relationship) to decide it’s time to get married, buy a ring that his girlfriend might not even like, plan out a surprise proposal, all without consulting his girlfriend. I think it’s much more important for the couple to be on the same page, mutually decide that it’s time to get married, and then plan a wedding.

  • Leela

    I asked my husband to marry me. We had been talking about it and knew we would get married one day, and I didn’t see why I should wait for him to propose to me. We just celebrated our second anniversary this week! He admitted that he was really relieved that I had done the asking; he felt like there was so much pressure for him to do it perfectly that he was afraid to do it at all.

    • Eenie

      My fiance drunkenly let slip that he wanted to get me an engagement ring with his bonus (this was two years earlier than our previously talked about timeline). He was so relieved he didn’t have to pick out the ring himself. I hate the pressures society puts on people around engagements and marriage.

  • Kattie Doty

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Sara P

    I’m a day late, but just wanted to share my not-at-all a surprise engagement story.

    We had been talking about getting married for over a year (I moved halfway across the country to be with him), largely prompted by my discovery of APW. We’d established that he didn’t really want to buy me a ring, and also that he wanted to be the one who asked me, not the other way around. We’d been at that point for a while, and I was getting a ring made out of an old earring – so I asked if we could use it for an engagement ring. He said sure, we split the cost, it arrived, and then proceeded to sit in his dresser for 6 months. We kept talking. Finally we were on the same page, and so we went out to dinner one night, and then went for a walk after dinner, and he proposed on a bench next to Lake Superior. It was super romantic, I cried, etc. I also 100% knew it was coming right then.

    I guess the moral of the story is that it doesn’t have to be a surprise to be delightful :). (We got married August 1.) Best of luck! Talking about it was the best thing we did, for so so many reasons.