February 14, 2010

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How not to propose marriage

More correctly: How to not propose marriage

During the formal meeting of the two sets of parents, my mom asked us to tell the story of the engagement. W- and I looked at each other, puzzled. Fortunately, our videoconference ran into some technical problems, and we took advantage of the break to formalize the proposal. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Tada!

What? No dramatic tension? No wondering about what’s next? No getting down on one knee and not knowing what the answer is?

The most Hollywood-uncertain moment we’ve had was at the start of the relationship. We had just watched Rigoletto, and we were talking about how reading the libretto with English translations had helped us recognize some words during the opera. “You can call me buffone,” he said. “Or even buffone mio.”

His last word couldn’t have been accidental, knowing the delight we take in the subtleties of words. We had been good friends for a while, and I was resolutely ignoring a crush on him. In a movie, this would have been the point at which soaring music would play, we’d kiss, and then credits would roll.

None of that happened. Instead, I blinked a few times and babbled, preoccupied with figuring things out. Later that evening, when I was alone again, I mindmapped what I wanted to say and wrote him a letter to clarify what he meant. On gridded paper, too, as that was all I had. The next day, I read his reply confirming his feelings. So that’s how our formal relationship began.

Since then, we’ve had many, many conversations, which gradually included longer-term plans. Marriage isn’t so much a big change as it is a useful formalization of our plans and a commitment to work things out together. I might have even started the process by bringing up long-term thoughts. Technically, I guess that means I proposed to him, but it was less of a “Will you marry me?” and more of an “Okay, let’s look at where we want to go with this. If we want to do B, we should probably do A first.”

No fancy engagement story. No engagement ring, either. (I think diamonds are overpriced and there are better ways to use that money, such as saving for long-term goals.)

The difference between “Will you marry me?” and “So, when do you think we should get married?” is fascinating. I love how our conversations grew into the second question rather than the first.

So that’s how it happened!

(Reflecting on it now, I remember those lessons on assuming the sale: instead of asking people if they want to buy something, ask questions like if they prefer to pay cash or use their credit card… ;) )