What happens when she's the one who proposes
by Stephanie Gold
"So, I was wondering what you'd...um...think about getting married?" That was how I popped the big question. No champagne on ice, no cleverly planted notes pointing to a diamond in the butter dish, nothing but us in our cozy post-dinner lethargy, idly indulging our weakness for Law & Order.
It was not the sort of engagement story destined to scintillate our friends. It was, in fact, a tale that had them cringing on my behalf. Never mind the absence of rings. You mean he didn't propose to you? Even my feminist-jokes-aren't-funny buddies blanched at the revelation that Jerry hadn't lowered his 6' 3" frame to rest on one bony knee while begging my hand in marriage.
When I asked Jerry to marry me (or, more precisely, when I inquired after his opinion on the topic of marriage, as it related to us) it was four days till my birthday, and two since I'd returned to San Francisco from a sad trip to New York. Thoughts of tying the knot with Jerry, percolating happily for months, had deepened in complex ways with my parents' recent deaths. When I flew east to deal with their apartment, the profusion of corny Valentines in their dresser drawers just intensified my itch. Next to the mismatched socks lay forty-six years worth of "Honey, Be Mine" cards. I teared up. I thought, when I died, I want to leave a pile of heart-shaped love notes, too, and I want them signed by Jerry, the fellow I've been joyfully cohabiting with for one year, three months, and two days--or thereabouts.
I returned home to my guy, my suitcase heavy with family silverware, my heart full of daydreams. No way around it: A drastic departure from my comfort zone was imminent. I let the issue gather steam for a couple days, and then, in the narrow window of opportunity afforded by fast-food commercials, I plunged in with a "Sweetie, there's something I've been wanting to discuss." Jerry promptly muted the remote and turned towards me. In the silence, I rattled on about the drawers of sappy cards and the thoughts that had led to us. And, finally, my lame proposal. To which Jerry said, "Yes, sweetheart. I've been thinking the same way." Then we cozied up to watch the rest of Law & Order.
As Sam Waterston resolved some murky legalities on TV, we let our new status sink in. Engaged! We found a bottle of bubbly in the back of the fridge, and we held hands with emotions too big for words. Then Jerry told me he'd been planning, actually, to ask me, on my birthday! That was sweet news, but even then, a shallow part of me was kicking another shallow part of me for not waiting just four more days so he'd have proposed.
The next morning, we entered the exhilaratingly vulnerable world of going public. Close friends couldn't quit beaming, but my casual pals wanted a more compelling story and a more conventional plot. The detail that it was I who had done the asking prompted sickly smiles. They'd recover quickly enough, saying something like "Oh, that's sweet," and switch topics in a hurry.
I felt uncomfortable, and a hypocrite, to boot. I mean, I was a feminist before I knew there was a word for it. I was a vociferous (i.e. irritating) teen when it came to getting the same rights my brother enjoyed, and in return I shared all the noxious lawn chores. But when it came to talking about my proposal, I began to hedge around the truth with an anemic evasion ("It was a mutual decision," I'd say,) that made our beautiful evening sound more like a session with a financial consultant.
Oh, we looked nakedly into one other's eyes and found the smolder of guileless love to spark a tender marriage, but it made for a stinko cocktail story. At least it did then. Now, five years later, my stockpile of Valentine cards no longer seems so crucial (though save them I do), and our postmodernist engagement tale has come into its own.
When I commenced this essay I asked Jerry what he recalled, and he confessed that while he'd definitely intended to propose on my birthday, he'd wondered if his nerve would hold. That was interesting new information. Good thing that I asked him, but not just because of that. In truth, my wambly proposal is among my warmest of memories. My one embarrassment is that, for a time, I bought so easily into the shame.