Imperfectly Perfect: Proposals and Perseverence

It seems, somehow, that we never talk enough about proposals on APW. Proposals, of course, are the introduction to the huge cultural pressure that comes with wedding planning. There is pressure to Get It Right, to Have A Story, and worse, to Have The Perfect Emotions. Almost none of us can live up to what’s expected, and it’s hard, feeling alone in the imperfection of your emotions. It also might be the perfect introduction to wedding planning, where most of us have to learn to throw out the book of what’s expected, and learn to be ourselves (with everyone watching). So today, we’re bringing you Heather, sharing her engagement story, and letting all of you feel less alone.

When I was studying Sociology at college, my tutor Penny told us that her proudest moment had been receiving a postcard from her daughter telling Penny that she and her fiancé had eloped, signed off with her daughter’s new last name. I was horrified and fascinated. Despite years of WIC fairytales, that story stuck with me. So I decided to buck tradition and I proposed to my man last week.

It was a perfect, private moment, spontaneous on my part. We were so thrilled, we jumped up and down on my bed. Slowly it dawned on us that our families—mine, divorced and complicated and his, disapproving of me—had no idea this was in the cards. As he fell asleep beside me, curled into my body, I laid in the dark and felt a sense of foreboding.

Since we don’t live together, he left my apartment the next day with a goodbye kiss—we would see each other three days later. He intended to talk to my family in that time; I arranged to take his parents out to dinner that Sunday. We had a plan. The enormity of our commitment hit us quickly. Overwhelmed by his work commitments and the prospect of his family’s reaction, he went into his mancave, and I waited, ringless and bound to secrecy, until we had told our families.

My family was thrilled. My father even passed up on his plan to interrogate my fiancé. He always approved of our plans to marry. My grandparents comforted me when I worried what my future parents-in-law would say, regaling me with all sorts of relatives past and present who contended with the same issue.

My fiancé’s parents were vicious in their disapproval, and he refused to tell me what they said for fear of hurting me more. He was weary and hurt, and I was angry and sad. That night, unable to sleep, I laid in a hot bath lit with candles. I had taken a Xanax and my tears rolled off my puffy face and into the water. The champagne toasts, the compliments on my ring, the happy hugs from our families—it all seemed to disappear before my eyes. I felt sad that our engagement hadn’t happened how I hoped and guilty that I had the hubris to hope at all.

In the end, we got the flowers, the champagne and the hugs from the people whose blessing we never even had to ask for. The friends we had rallied around us with offers of venues, a dress, a cake, and minister services if it meant we could marry soon on our small budget. The women gathered around my plastic ring, and a remarkable number of them said they wished they had the courage to pop that question. My grandparents gave me their engagement ring, so we could melt it down to make something we could afford. I was humbled by the love we received.

When I saw my fiancé that weekend, we held each other for a very long time. We were quiet witnesses to our own palpable relief. It was done. As I looked into his eyes and I asked myself if I regretted what I had asked, I could see, more than ever, that to do it our way was the best way to honour what we had. I would go through disappointment, pain, and disapproval for this man, a thousand times over. I had given up the dream—the breathless yes, the shiny ring, the kudos and the seal of approval—and we felt stronger and wiser for it. I traded the fairytale for who we really are, and I don’t regret it.

Photo by: Heather’s personal collection

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  • This: “I traded the fairytale for who we really are, and I don’t regret it.”

    That is so perfect. Especially since, in our own ways, I think many of us do this to some extent.

    I’m sorry for the challenges you and your fiance have to face (family is HARD), but congratulations and good luck!!!

    • A lot of people make that trade in without even realizing or acknowledging it. I think recognnizing that, and owning it, is super powerful though!

      • KatieBeth

        Amen!! You are so brave.

        And another thing – fairytales are someone else’s stories that have already been told. You write your own story – and, in the end, it’ll be your very own fairytale :-)

  • Congratulations! I’m glad that your family is so supportive. Maybe his will come around.

  • Maureen

    “I traded the fairytale for who we really are, and I don’t regret it.”

    Love it. What I actually think is most beautiful about this post and all the proposal posts on APW is not that we are dispensing with tales, fairy or otherwise, but that we are creating new ones. Fairytales communicate cultural values, and often share how those values are gained through incredibly difficult, galvanizing experiences. I love that through avenues like APW we can re-write those cultural narratives and teach ourselves and future generations that being who we really are and genuinely experiencing things like proposals, weddings, and LIFE with all the raw, complicated emotions (or lack thereof) that may accompany them are the true values we should be aiming for.

    Thanks for reminding me that REAL fairytales can and do come true :)

    • meg

      Yup, this.

      • Rachel Wilkerson

        I personally would love to see “Fairy Tales” as an APW theme week. Just sayin. :)

  • Caroline

    Thank you so much for this. I dread how my parents will react when we eventually announce we are engaged. (we don’t call it that yet, but we have agreed we will soon). Thanks for writing about how it is ok even when they react with disapproval.

  • PA

    This post was too moving not to comment, even though I find I do not have much to say! Mostly: WOW. Also: hooray for popping the question to him! Also Also: your grandparents are awesome, and that is so sweet that you’ll be able to wear a ring made from their ring!

    • Em

      Also – can I just say how much I love calling it “their” ring and “our” ring instead of “hers” and “mine”?

      • PA

        Exactly! Agreed.

  • Heather

    Thanks Maureen!

    What I found was that being the one to do the asking actually put me in a really anxious position, I felt responsible as the initiator, particularly for how people saw our decision. I’m a pretty modern woman in a equal partnership but suddenly the fact I had ‘popped’ the question made me very sensitive to any criticism, real or imagined. I spent some time telling my fiance to look happier, because I worried so much people would feel I had bullied him into it. Which is ridiculous given how immune to bullying from me he can be!

    But I totally understand why some men drag their feet, feeling intimidated by the prospect. It’s terrifying.

    I do feel a privilege to have a new story to tell, in the way you point out, fairy tales can change and renew with each generation. It has been really humbling and fun to create a new fairytale for us and those around us.

  • SJG

    SO vulnerable and honest. A wonderful post.

  • Heather

    Caroline, no one talks about disapproval when people get engaged, it’s culturally spun as this joyous event. It was tough to feel that joy mixed with some sadness. I almost felt like we had ‘done it wrong’ since not everyone celebrated with us.

    However the web of love we were in meant that we didn’t get too bogged down with the sadness, we felt it and moved on. Meg is so on the money when she talks about it being about being yourself and braving others reactions. I do feel like I can brave planning a wedding with a little more courage.

    Thanks PA, we’re using the ring to make a wedding ring, I think. It just struck me as that really open hearted gesture from one generation to another to use what they had to do what we wanted to do, no matter what anyone else thought.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      You’re right, no one does really talk abou disapproval. Thanks so much for writing about it. You got through it, and it’ll make you and your fiance a little stronger than before. My parent’s, and more specifically mom, were not thrilled with out engagement, but absolutely every other person was. It was tough not to let the dissaproval eclipse the joy. However, they came around, for the most part. So, keep having hope, and keep celebrating. I really hope we get to hear more from you!!

    • Lisa

      Exactly. My mom has never come close to saying anything like “congratulations” to us on our engagement (we’ve been engaged for over a year now). This weekend we were visiting my home city and just yesterday she stormed out of the house when we were talking about wedding planning and didn’t come back for hours. When she finally came back she went to bed without talking to anyone. We had to leave early this morning so I’m still not sure exactly what upset her so much. A lot of my friends have gotten married recently or are planning weddings and their parents all seem to be very supportive. I know I’m doing the right thing for me, but I would really like my mom to be happy for me.

  • Ana Maria

    Thank you for sharing. I remember when I told my mom we were engaged her words were, “What does that mean?” ! I don’t remember who, but someone on this site once said that your family members and friends won’t change just because you are about to get married; they won’t necessarily become supportive if they haven’t been so far. Way to go for getting past that with the in laws – your love is more important than their acceptance!

    • meg

      I said that, silly! It’s one of my rather constant lines :)

  • And the nerd engaged to the even more nerdy comic book guy just got a little bit of a thrill from the plastic love lantern ring (I have one too).

    • Heather

      My fiance owns a comic store…. it was a bit of a given that we’d settle on a lantern interim ring! It did make people smile when they wanted to see the ring.

  • tenya

    The proposal I received was after watching a movie about escaping a cult, we were lying around on the couch and I had been kind of wanting to steer the conversation towards a general “where do you see yourself in life?” topic and then he asked, then I took a few seconds to take it in and respond, so he panicked “Ye-” “Hypothetically? MAYBE??” “es!” “Was that a yes?” Poor guy. No ring or anything else, just words.
    Thing was, we’d just had a vacation in Paris two weeks before, and so many people asked if we’d really gotten engaged there. Nope! He’d taken the advice of practical friends not to make a dramatic proposal before a 9 hour flight + 3 drive that would become exponentially more awkward if I’d said no.

    And sometimes he gets all envious of youtube videos of ridiculous coordinated proposals and says “I should have done that for you!”
    No, really, mine was just perfect the way it was.

  • B

    My fiance proposed to me while I was sitting on the living room floor in my gym clothes (after the gym and before the shower!) while studying for a grad school final. There was nothing glamorous about it, but by God, I was comfortable, and it was US. He knew that I would be anxious if he did the whole fancy restaurant shindig because I would know what was coming (and we couldn’t afford it), and he’s right. He proposed with his great-grandmother’s ring, which is an opal, and quite non-traditional, but I love the history and sentiment. He feels badly sometimes that he didn’t do the grand gesture and create a story that would be “a moment I would remember forever,” but (as I pointed out to him), I would much rather have a lifetime of so many wonderful memories than just one. Afterall, a guy must really love you if he proposes when you smell like the gym! :-p

  • Heather

    It’s so fab to hear that other people didn’t have the big scripted romantic proposal.

    It was the third anniversary of his comic store turning a profit, we’d had a great meal and were cuddled up in bed and it was one of the calmest, most natural conversations we’ve ever had. But it wasn’t what the template said it should be.

    I don’t care in the end, I’m just glad he said yes!

  • carrie

    It’s the most human thing and the very hardest thing to stay true to yourself. There are so many voices, expectations, pictures, words that make us doubt so often. Staying true is very difficult, but so very worth it. So many congratulations. You are awesome.

  • My fiance proposed to us in our apartment–very intimate, quiet and very us. It was a Wednesday, and it created a little oasis of quiet in the middle of a hectic week (until we started calling everyone we know!). He feels bad too sometimes that he didn’t do anything grand or get me a “better” ring, though I’d have been happy with no ring at all.

    Now we’re a little quagmired in our own journey through various family anxieties and disapproval. I was feeling alone until I stumbled on APW. Now I see light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you, Heather, for writing about this powerful subject. Thank you Meg for the community that makes these conversations possible.

    Sometimes I wish there were more on here from a male perspective since there is pressure on men in the marriage business too. My fiance has asked me if I have found anything that can help him through this process. I point him here, but I think he might be looking for something in a voice he can identify with.

    • meg

      If anyone who has a male partner who’s willing to write about this, for GODS SAKE please make them write something and submit it. We’d run it in one hot second.

    • Ceebee

      I liked that you said “proposed to us”.

  • Another Meg

    I think maybe in real life, fancy and dramatic proposals are the exception, not the rule. Mine was in our living room, on an ordinary week night. I was cleaning the kitchen and he herded me into the living room using his toy helicopter so he could propose. It was pretty perfect, as far as I’m concerned.
    Heather, your post made me cry in my cubicle. It’s SO hard to tell someone the best news you’ve ever gotten to share and have it be taken so badly. I’m sorry you and your fiance had to go through that. But a partner who will support you and help to create your best life is absolutely worth it. And it sounds like you have an amazing support system, whatever the weather.

  • such an honest post. thank you for this. our story is different, but you’re right; there’s disapproval and disappointment from people i love about other things and i’d go through it a thousand times over if that’s what i needed to for my man.

  • Moz

    I think this is totally brilliant – congratulations!

    I am sorry some important people let you down. But equally thrilled you had your community rally around you.

    Sometimes, weddings rule so very hard. Your proposal is part of that amazing story.

    Wishing you all the best xx

  • Crayfish Kate

    So happy for you Heather!

    I’m adding to the chorus of folks who didn’t have the huge, showy, scripted proposal. My fiance proposed to me while I was at the kitchen sink doing dishes. We had just gotten home from picking up my ring, and I thought he’d at least wait a few days. Nope, haha. He said he didn’t think he could wait that long, which I thought was cute.

    At first I felt a little silly with no ‘huge showy proposal’ story to tell friends when they asked, as you could see they wanted to hear a fantastic story. I tried to keep in mind what his mom told me on the phone after we announced the news – “Well, I guess it runs in the family!” Apparently, his dad proposed to his mom in their kitchen too! It made me feel better, like he was unconsciously carrying on some sort of tradition. Thanks for writing!

  • Sandy

    I honestly cannot recall when we decided that we were going to get married this summer, the decision to do so just evolved. So, I guess we don’t really have a proposal story?!

    • SelkieKel

      Totally with you on this! My fiance and I mutually decided that we wanted to get hitched. I eventually gave him my claddagh ring to commemorate this arrangement, but that was the extent of it. It was more like a communal agreement than anything else.

  • I adore your grandparents, and you for doing what felt right.
    I am dealing with so many of these issues right now. My partner and I have agreed that we want to get married, and I’m feeling like we need to do something to recognize our commitment to each other as she gets ready to move 400 miles to come be with me. We probably won’t get married until sometime in 2013.
    In the back of my mind is the fact that her family won’t approve or understand, my family will see it as a surprise, and may be disappointed in a number of ways. There is the question of who does the asking? If she’d had her way, she would have asked a year and a half ago. I’m the one who hasn’t been able to quiet the shoulds or the “fairy-tale” (that I didn’t think I wanted until I got here).
    I’ve had to put all of that out of my mind and do for us, and like you said, I am sure we will be stronger for it. I’ve picked out her ring from her not-so-subtle browsing and I have my great aunts ring that she knows I want to wear. I’m going to see her other over 4th of July weekend with some rings in my pocket, nothing scripted, just whatever ends up feeling right at the time.

    • Heather

      That sounds amazing, I hope it ends up being lovely for you both. I know it’s better to be sure and do it your own way than rush it because of expectation.

  • Marissa

    Adding my name to the non-showy proposals, but it was more like plans-gone-terribly-wrong proposal.

    We were vacationing in the Bahamas and supposed to stay on a boat the whole week. I got awfully seasick, so we had to get off the boat. Ended up with an impromptu vacation on land (plus another round of a stomach bug) and some hotel horror stories that kept ruining his plans.

    He proposed anyway, and I don’t regret it for a single minute. Would it have been beautiful and romantic on the tall ship or a private beach? Of course. But this last-minute, thrown-together idea was still beautiful and romantic, and most of all, it was very US. He still worries that I didn’t get the perfect proposal, but I usually tell him to hush, because I got the perfect man, and that’s loads better.

  • We have the great story (he proposed under a waterfall in Belize) but what nobody knows is that he was so completely terrified after he did it of the great big commitment step that we didn’t talk about it for days. I wore the ring, but otherwise, we pretty much pretended it didn’t happen until he could calm down a little.

    We’d talked about it before the trip and I knew that he wanted to marry me, but the actual act of proposing was going to make him far more scared than happy. I cried for a while and grieved the perfect fairytale proposal moment that I wasn’t going to have. Then I remembered that while the process of deciding to move in together was extremely difficult, the actual living together has been wonderful. So the proposal wasn’t going to be what I’d dreamed of, but the far more important thing is that I believe the marriage will be great. He’s happy now and so far we’re having fun planning the wedding, but it was still hard when we got engaged that I felt like celebrating and he really, really didn’t.

    I guess my point is, even when it sounds like someone has had the fairytale proposal, it’s entirely possible that it really wasn’t. I’d have taken him excitedly proposing on a weeknight at home over a panic-ridden waterfall proposal any day.

  • KatieBeth

    Can I get a virtual show of hands of how many people didn’t cry at their proposals? I am the type of person who cries copiously at weddings, christenings – even commercials (see, e.g., and Yet when my fiance made the sweetest proposal speech ever – nothing! I think I was too shocked and/or excited. I’m a little sad I didn’t cry (which might be the weirdest sentence ever).

  • Senorita

    SuperFantastic took the words right out of my mouth. There is *always* something people aren’t telling you about the Great Big Story Proposals. I found out a year later that a friend of mine wasn’t actually a fan of the proposal I had always thought was “storybook” . It turns out she was strolling out naked after a shower, he’d used priceline to book the surprise hotel and it ended up being a bit dodgy etc. Personally, I think these are the details that make the stories beautifully yours and no one else’s (he loves her just the way she is, razor cuts and all, and she’ll never have to worry about him being reckless with their money… all wonderful things) but the point is, that you should never compare your story to the story someone else tells you, cause it’s probably been edited anyway.

    • N.

      This 100%. Our “proposal story” as told by my fiancé and me is quite the Disney version of events. The proposal itself was sweet and romantic, but that leaves out the months of crying (not happy tears, sometimes in public), frustrations, and difficult emotions leading up to it. The full story of how we came to be officially engaged is too long, personal, and painful to share with the casual asker. For me, the important thing is that we decided to get married, which happened to be well before the actual proposal. I’m grateful that the proposal gave us a sweet little memory from what at times was a really hard process. Of course, if we had been home on the couch in our PJ’s, that would have been a sweet little memory, too.

      • Kat

        Oh thank goodness we’re not the only couple who has had the weirdest, hardest, most emotional rollercoaster of trying to get to officially engaged. Since we’ve discussed the getting married thing back in February we’ve had a pile of fights, tears and pretty heavy conversations just getting to the point of having the “official proposal.” For a while I was wondering “what is wrong with us!” but now we’re both at the point where we’ve realized that the fairy tale magical engagement moment/story probably just doesn’t exist for us, and that’s just fine.

  • Flo

    Holy crap that was BEAUTIFUL. Thank you so much for sharing such intimate moments of your life with us. I’m so happy to see I’m not the only one with disapproving in-laws, too… Congratulations on everything, you two will be very very happy together !!

  • our proposal story: online, long distance, I assumed we’d do it and we started looking for tickets to get the deed done. no ring, no popping a question, no waiting for a yes, just the certainty that it was the next step if we wanted to continue our lives together. And every time I think about it I reflect on that it was perfectly us.

  • Amber

    I had the big, perfect proposal (Paris! French food! The Seine!) but it wasn’t me, and in the end, neither were the plans we were making for our lives. Being true to yourself, whether it’s with a great story or a silly one or a hot pink ring (also – great nails!), trumps the WIC fairy tale. Besides, fairy tales are sort of based on awful historical circumstances, like people not having enough food and being eaten by woodland creatures. :) Great post!

  • KW

    “I traded the fairytale for who we really are, and I don’t regret it.” I love this. Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you the best in navigating the family stuff.

    On my old blog, I once commented that I never really wanted the fairy tale, but that I was ready for the action adventure (I was single and frustrated at the time, haha!). And now, that’s really how it has turned out for my fiance and I. We have no proposal story, no engagement ring, and we plan to elope and have the kind of intimate ceremony that means everything to us (by a waterfall, since that is how our story started) but that we could never otherwise manage to have. The fairy tale is someone else’s dream, not ours.

    BTW, new commenter here, so hi everyone!

  • Kaitlyn

    I have such mixed feelings about my proposal. On one hand, my first proposal from my ex was everything I could have ever pictured…. but the emotions around it sucked because it was a terrible relationship.

    On the other hand, with this relationship, I didn’t really have a proposal. It was more, a predetermined set of conditions were met and we went out to go get a ring. I picked it out, and I was so disappointed. I really wanted him to at least pick out the ring, if not pull of a storybook proposal. I talked myself into being okay with it based on I know him, and left to him, he would never propose simply out of a lack of motivation to take the active step forward of looking for a ring. I love the ring I picked out, I really do, but part of me will always be disappointed that he didn’t pick it out for me.

    And I so very understand having family not approve of the engagement. When we announced the engagement to FMIL, the conversation was so bad I had to leave the room. It started with forbidding the ceremony we had decided on and went downhill from there.

  • Sass

    This is such a sweet story and it shows just what strong, loving people you two must be. There’s no fairy tale over here either, I was folding socks in my pajamas one night, he walked in asked me if I wanted to marry him, I thought he was joking, we argued, I said yes the next day. We got lots of support, and we got a lot of comments about our age (early 20’s). There were horrible things said behind our backs, things that ended friendships and lead to a bridal party shrinking by a groomsman. We also had terrible things said by his parents. Not just when he called and told them we were engaged, but on many days after that, on our wedding day, on many days since, up to two months ago when his father wrote him a letter saying he should leave me. What was said crossed a whole new line and we’re not currently talking to them, but my husband is seeing a counselor to help with the shit going on there.

    In many ways I guess we’re kind of a worse case scenario. But we’ve been married for 7 years now, and our marriage is still something that we both treasure more than almost anything else in the world. It makes us both better people, we are stronger for it, it’s given us the support to invest more of ourselves in things we couldn’t do alone, and as much as there are parts of our life that suck like you wouldn’t believe, we’re happy. We really are truly happy and I don’t even really know how, just that we are. And it’s wonderful. And you can have a wonderful, happy, fulfilled life even with horrible in laws. That’s what I wish for you, if they can’t learn to love you & support your marriage, I hope you can find a way through it to the life you deserve anyway. It’s so so hard to not let it get to you, but if you can just keep trying to be the person you want to be in the relationship and ignore what they say, you can hold your head high at the end of the day.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your unsupportive inlaws. I admire you and your husband for staying strong in your marriage despite the onslaught. Congrats on 7 years of marriage!

  • honeycakehorse

    Congratulations, especially to all of you above who suffer from less-than supportive families. It is a major pain. If I’ve learned anything from my parent’s generation though (and they went through some truly nasty*ss stuff when they declared their engagement), is that if your relationship is *it*, people will eventually come around. And if they don’t, they are not worth your time. Doesn’t make it any less hurtful, but it does help to draw a line.

    And since we’re all sharing “non-stories”: I proposed to my guy on the fly in the coatroom of the restaurant we were having a dinner in before. I couldn’t stomach it during dinner. I didn’t want to leave the place without proposing. Was very spontaneous – no rings, no plan, nada. It has taken us four months, two sets of rings (his “real” one still in the mail, and my “real” one a lucky unexpected afterthought from a totally random source), and several complications later to finally break the news to (most) important people. Some still pathetically outstanding. It’s all coming out in little dribbles. It feels crazy. It is also totally “us”. And by now, it’s really turned into a story of it’s own. And the best part is: the longer it goes, the more we laugh at it all.

    Big hug and best of luck from over this side…

  • I proposed to my husband too. It was spur of the moment but at just the right place for us (the nature center where we had our first date and the first year of our relationship — we met two weeks into me working there, and we still volunteer there). It wasn’t all fairy-tale, but, as you said, it was still perfect for us.

    His parents were thrilled; they’ve been encouraging us to get married since before our first anniversary of dating. My parents had a much more mixed response, mostly due to me proposing and not waiting for him (and also due to their own relationship). But it all came together in the end. I did stand up to my mom and let her know that this was the right decisions for us, and that helped a lot. I’d encourage your fiance to keep talking to his family.

    Enjoy your engagement, and best wishes for a fabulous marriage!

  • Kristen Hanshaw

    This post is eerily similar to my story. I rarely comment here but couldn’t resist this time. After almost a year of marriage I can say that my husband and I still do not have the best relationship with his family. Time heals all wounds and I can honestly say that I’m getting there. In fact, when my in-laws were over for mother’s day my mother-in-law apologized to us for her mistakes. Her “crimes against our engagement” aren’t important. Plus, I find that the less I think about it and talk about it, the less it hurts.

    Overall, I’m grateful for our difficult engagement because it has made us damn near unbreakable. I was never the girl that played dress up and dreamed of the perfect wedding anyway! I was the girl who dreamed of being someone’s wife and of having a happy family…and I have those things now! If at the end of your wedding day you are, in fact, married – it was a success! I danced my sober ass off on our wedding day (and I’m not an “in public” dancer) because the drama and ridiculousness of the previous 14 months was over and we could go back to our quiet weekends spend cuddling with our two puppies (and eachother, of course)! ; )

    Best wishes to you, Heather! I thank you for your honesty!

  • Sharon


    I don’t know any of you personally, but I sincerely dislike your inlaws intensely for disapproving of you. His parents should simply be happy that their child has found someone that makes him happy. Period. End of story.

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