The questions I couldn't answer when I got engaged
When my boyfriend called his sister and told her that he and I are going to elope to Kauai she immediately started asking, “What does the engagement ring look like? How did you propose?” I was sitting right there, and while I couldn’t hear her end of the conversation I could hear his stammering, “There isn’t any ring.” And then, “Mary brought it up, and then we talked about it.”
And while this was exactly the way it happened, I still found myself shooting him a dirty look, which only served to make his awkward stammering more pronounced.
Let me back up and say, that from the beginning of our relationship it was clear that my boyfriend and I were in love and going to be together for a long time. And yet when a friend of ours got engaged I told my boyfriend, “Whatever you do, please don’t jump out at me with a ring.” I did not want the decision to get married to be one that he made on his own and then sprung on me to accept or reject. I didn’t even want to decide together to get married and then have him propose. And while I’m not such a feminist curmudgeon that I don’t love to hear the story of someone else’s proposal and engagement, that’s not how I wanted things to go down for us. While it’s a first marriage for both of us, and we are certainly starry-eyed in some ways, I’m 38 and he’s 43—we aren’t 20-somethings following an engagement script.
I didn’t want to wait around for him to propose—or have him jump out prematurely with an engagement ring. I wanted a sane conversation between two equal adults—I wanted a grown up decision I was involved in. And that’s what I got. And I was thrilled about it.
I also didn’t want an engagement ring, just a plain wedding band. The reasons for this are multiple—while I think diamond rings are beautiful, I don’t usually wear jewelry. I lift weights regularly and so would have to take the thing off every day, and I’m absent-minded so would more than likely lose it. I like the simplicity of a plain wedding band. It’s a beautiful symbol of love that doesn’t loop in status and money and the most successful ad campaign of all time that’s convinced us all that a Diamond is Forever, when the consignment jewelry store down the street from my house packed full of diamond wedding sets shows me clearly that often a diamond is not forever at all.
But then when I heard George tell his sister, “There isn’t any ring. . .Mary brought it up, and we talked about it,” I felt a certain sting. I didn’t want the traditional narrative, and I got exactly what I wanted, and yet. . ..and yet . . .The story didn’t exactly sound romantic.
In a romantic comedy, I could imagine a man shouting from a rooftop, “I proposed! She said yes!” But in our case, my future husband would be shouting, “She brought it up! We talked about it!”
“Did your sisters ask how I proposed?” George wanted to know after he hung up the phone with his.
“Of course not,” I said. My sisters know me well enough to know that I’m not going to do things the traditional way. In fact, when I told my older sister about George’s sister demanding to hear the proposal story, my sister laughed until she snorted, which actually made me feel better.
But when I thought about it later, I realized why some women want the ring, the grand gesture, the beloved down on one knee. It’s all reassuring, tangible proof of sweet devotion. It’s also something to go back to, call upon, and share with others.
Still I don’t regret the way things went down for me. I don’t have a grand engagement to reflect on. I don’t have that sparkle on my finger. But one day after my boyfriend and I decided to get married, I came home and found a piece of paper on my bedside table. It was a drawing of myself on a surfboard, riding a wave in Kauai. I floated inside a giant wedding ring, and smaller wedding rings floated all around me. I was riding that wave of love and grace to the shore. That drawing didn’t cost money; it was a quiet gesture of love from my future husband that no one but myself would ever see. It was perfect. It was how I want to live my life. It was how I want my marriage to be.
Mary Pauline Lowry is a screenwriter and novelist living in Southern California. Her novel “Wildfire,” inspired by her experiences as a “hotshot” wildland firefighter, was published this month by Skyhorse Publishing. Her essays have been published by the New York Times Magazine, xoJane, and the Huffington Post. To find out more about Mary and her novel “Wildfire click here.