At first, and for an awfully long time, I just didn’t feel like proposing and being engaged and having a wedding.
This is not to say I didn’t want to get married. I did. I had always planned on getting married, and I’ve known for quite some time now that I wanted to marry Abby, who I successfully proposed to on Friday night.
It’s just that I never really had any interest in the process of it. I just wanted to skip right to the being married part. And what I didn’t fully realize until Friday night is that the very process of proposing, the process that seems so trite and ceremonial and needless is, in some ways, the part that forces a man to decide who he is going to be.
When I was 16, our school paper did a survey asking guys how they would eventually propose. Some gave cliche answers (“probably at a nice dinner or something”), some put a little more thought into it. I said this: “Hey, you in the red, you wanna get hitched?”
I was trying to be funny, of course, but it was a revealing attempt. I’m not much for social convention, and I don’t like doing things just to avoid being considered a jerk*. I am not good at that, by the way.
*For example, at any large social gathering, you inevitably meet someone for the first time. Although I don’t normally get a real sense of enjoyment out of this, it’s fine. What I can’t stand is the conversation you inevitably end up having with that person during a moment when the person who introduced you is not part of the conversation for some reason.
What I say: “So what do you do?”
What I mean: “My options are to just walk away or say something, so here’s something.”
What he says: “I’m a sales rep for a financial software company.”
What I say: “Oh, that sounds interesting.”
What I mean: “In no way is that interesting, but if I say it is, maybe he’ll take up the next 15-20 seconds talking about it while I space off.”
What he says: “Yeah, I like it. It pays the bills.”
What he means: “I hate it, and I really wish this conversation would end soon.”
So it was with my engagement. The process always seemed like a formality to me, even before I met Abby. I knew I was never going to be one of those guys who proposes without knowing what the answer would be, so the whole thing always felt a little unnecessary.
Nonetheless, I got the ring on Monday and on Tuesday had a brainstorming session with a couple of my writer buddies as to how I could propose. The session centered around this idea: She’s going to be telling this story over and over for the rest of her life, so you cannot screw it up.
That’s what I kept hearing. I got it from everybody. My friend John, who had proposed at night, on a beach in Tampa, said this to me. My friend Lance’s mom said this to me. The lady at the jewelry store said it.
Generally, I would say I work well under pressure (some would say I work only under pressure), but this was a different kind of pressure. This was pressure to do something I didn’t know how to do. And it was pressure to be a way (romantic) I’m not used to being. It felt sort of like being asked to fill in for Walter Kronkite one night, only you’ve never been on the air before and it just so happened to be the day JFK was assassinated*.
*I mean, sort of.
And I just made it worse with the most moronic move possible. On Wednesday, I made reservations at the restaurant for Friday, and told Abby about it, before I had any real idea how I was going to propose. I had jumped out of the burning building without bothering to make sure there were firemen holding a trampoline beneath me.
At that point, this was all I had:
- I wanted to do it in a romantic, secluded place in Kansas City.
- I wanted to involve sentimental elements from the past.
- I wanted it to be (somewhat) surprising.
By Thursday evening, I had created this:
After a day of taking her on what amounted to a musical scavenger hunt, using songs that were in one way or another relevant to our time together, I tucked this inside an actual newspaper, asked her if she had seen my story that day and handed her the paper. “It’s on the inside,” I said.
Her mascara started running pretty much immediately, but I made her read the column first and when I could tell she was done, I got down on my knee, pulled out the ring and asked that final question I refer to in the column.
The funniest part of this story is the re-telling of it, especially to my family, who basically think of me as a caveman. I think they expected I would just walk in from work and toss her the ring box like it was a Keystone Light on a fishing trip.
I don’t feel like a new man, but I do feel like a little bit more of one. Not in some macho way. But there are certain things a man must do in his life, and (generally) I think getting permission from his girlfriend’s father and then proposing to her is one of them.
More than anything else, it is the dividing line between boyhood and manhood. There are others things, too, but this is the one you get to choose. You get to decide when you’re ready for full-on manhood. And when it’s time, you have to step up and make a play.
Near as I can tell, that’s what manhood and leadership are about. Recognizing when it’s time to make a play, and then making it happen.
I’m definitely not the playmaker I want to be. Not yet. But I feel good about this one, and I think maybe that’s the difference between 16 and 26.