For someone who is the oldest of six children and spent hardly any of her first two decades alone, I think I am remarkably good at handling solitude now. Or perhaps it’s because of those first two decades that I can handle solitude. When I was younger it was very hard for me to get a quiet moment alone, so now I’m making up for that. Often, I relish my time alone.
Which is good, because I’m alone tonight.
I can hear you gasping. Alone on Valentine’s Day? Her husband always sounds so sweet when she talks about him! How could he do this to her?
Rest assured, Bryan is still wonderful and I am still loved by him. He’s in DC tonight because he had to do mandatory training for work, and he could either do it today or the 28th, and on the 28th we’re going to be on a trip that he’s planning as a surprise for me. So you see he’s still eligible for his World’s Greatest Husband title.
(A surprise trip! Isn’t that great? Bryan has been trying to plan surprises for me for as long as we’ve been together, and it rarely works because I am such a good guesser. I mean, I don’t try to guess surprises, but if he drops a hint my mind just starts whirring, and before I know it I’ve figured it out. So he’s taken a tip from my dad, who knows that if he wants to keep something secret from my mom he can’t give her a single clue about it, and the only thing I know about this trip is its length. Eight days, for those who wonder.)
I’m thinking tonight about Valentine’s Day four years ago. In case you’re really bad at the math, that was early 2002. We were both at the same college; I was a sophomore and Bryan was a junior. We had a date to go out that night (just for dessert, not dinner, as it was a Thursday and he had a meeting that lasted until nine). And I knew he was going to propose.
If you’re thinking that proposals should be surprises in order to be romantic, let me assure you that this proposal was meant to be a surprise. (Not an out-of-the-blue oh-my-gosh-he-wants-to-marry-me-I-never-suspected kind of surprise, just an oh-goodness-I-wasn’t-expecting-this-tonight kind of surprise. We’d talked about it, obviously; it’s a big decision to get married as young as we did, and we were both active participants in that decision well before any diamonds were involved. Although of course it goes without saying that getting married was his idea.)
Where were we? Oh, yes, it was meant to be a surprise but wasn’t, because I don’t happen to be an idiot. Bryan’s hands were sweaty and he was jittery and he kept patting the pocket of his jacket. It took me about .2 seconds to figure out what was going on, or would have taken me .2 seconds if I hadn’t already known what was going on, as a result of the fact that Bryan’s father (incidentally, a jeweler) had driven into town (a three-hour round-trip) the following evening just to meet his son for dinner. Clearly it was a ring drop-off, and I knew Bryan wouldn’t be able to hold on to it for long.
So we sat there, eating carrot cake, and he knew what was coming and I knew what was coming, and the minutes feel long and dry and shaky. In principle I like romance to be dramatic but in practice I’ve found that I don’t really enjoy the drama, that the most romantic moments are the simple ones that I don’t anticipate at all. I wanted the proposal to be over so that we could enjoy being engaged.
Fortunately, before I knew it we were walking again, and despite the cold, an evening walk on campus is not an unpleasant thing. Then we were under this tree, beside this bench (it’s Michigan in February, what do you expect, waterfalls?) and he gave my Valentine’s Day card. Actually, he gave me another Valentine’s Day card; if I recall correctly he had already given me at least two that day.
So this is the cute part: the first Christmas we were dating, back in 1998, I had no idea what to get him (the story of every Christmas, actually; he is very hard to buy for and I am easy so he always completely outshines me in the gift-giving arena; fortunately neither of us minds) and so I got him a variety of small things, one of which was a collection of coupons, for batches of brownies and other things like that. I left one of the coupons blank, to be filled out by him for whatever he wanted. And he… kept it. For three-and-a-half years, and he filled it out and taped it into my Valentine’s Day card, and that was how I first, officially, knew he was proposing. (I tried to find the coupon because I can’t remember exactly what it said, but it must be in a box somewhere. I remember it was something like “for a lifetime together” but it was better than that.)
Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him, with real, out-loud words. I’d dreamed about that moment for as long as I could remember, and I was a little surprised at how silly it felt. I mean, of course I was thrilled that the love of my life was asking me to marry him. But I think what I didn’t understand at eight, or even at sixteen, was that a proposal is not a goal in itself. It’s a way of getting to a goal, of getting to marriage, which is vital and permanent.
(I soon found out that engagement, which I’d always imagined to be a very romantic time, is actually pretty uncomfortable – I talked about that a bit when I told our love story. Illusions were shattering all over the place for me, that year. But of course it was the year we got married, so it was still wonderful. If engagement was less than I expected it to be, marriage is ever so much more.)
Bryan had thought I would cry when he proposed, as I cry very easily, carrying on the proud tradition of my mother and her mother before her. (I plan, in this tradition, to embarrass my children by tearing up at only the slightest provocation, such as at stories in magazines. It’s only fair that they should have to endure it, since I endured my mother’s crying when I was a child.) I anticipated crying, myself. But instead, I laughed. Happiness fairly bubbled out of me. He spoke those words, his knee on the freezing pavement, and almost before he had finished them I pulled him to his feet and started jumping up and down. If the actual proposal had felt odd, that moment felt exactly as it should. Standing there, holding each other, jumping and laughing for joy, was perfect. (That moment got its fulfillment six months later, when we stood in the vestibule after our wedding ceremony and laughed for the sheer joy of finally being married to one another.)
A few minutes later he remembered to give me my ring, and that was a beautiful moment too. I’ve seen plenty of engagement rings but I have never, before or since, seen one that dazzled me the way mine dazzled me then. It looks like this (or like this , if you prefer a more focused picture) although those pictures include the wedding band, which he obviously didn’t give me that night. (I can’t take a picture of the engagement ring alone because the two are soldered together, at the insistence of my father-in-law the jeweler. I am nothing if not an obedient jewelry owner. And actually they look much better soldered anyway.)
(Digression: this past Christmas I was thrilled to receive this. I may have hinted a little bit. (Sorry for the horrid photo; it is abysmally hard to take good pictures of your own hand.) I know, some of you probably think a plain wedding band is a boring gift, but the truth is that I really wanted it. A wedding set like mine is not conducive to those everyday activities which I love so much, like laundry. And sleeping. (At first when we were engaged I slept with the ring on, until the morning that I woke up with a long, prong-induced scrape on my thigh. Since then the ring and the sleeping have not gone together.) Generally when I come home I just pop my ring on my handy ring-holder, which means that before I got the plain wedding band, I was spending most of my time with a bare left hand. Now I have the beautiful band, and I feel married all the time, which is great.)
Wow. If there is anything we have learned from this entry, it is that apparently my husband’s absence makes me inclined to blather even more than usual. I absolutely must go to bed. In conclusion: we got engaged! It was fun and had good results, and I would absolutely recommend it. Happy Valentine’s Day!