As I said a few weeks ago, I have so many interesting conversations with my girlfriends about different aspects of relationships and I wanted to share the topics here because I’d love for you all to join in the discussion. The response to my conversation with Leah about adoration was great, so I’ve been excited to do this again!
Today’s topic is the topic of proposals. I feel like at least once a week, I’m talking to one of my friends about rings. It seems like a lot of modern girls have picked out the perfect ring (or at least a few styles they like) and have given their boyfriends detailed instructions about how he should propose. But as many girls start the “waiting for him to put a ring on it” game, I kind of wonder…is there even a point to proposals anymore? Once you’ve picked out a ring, it seems like a bit of a formality!
I turned to two of my girlfriends, Julia and Beth — neither of them are engaged, but each has done the “looking at rings” thing with her “pre-ancé“– to get their thoughts.
What is the point of a traditional, down-on-one-knee surprise proposal?
Julia: First of all, I gag at the thought of a down-on-one-knee proposal. It’s just not for me! But I do think a proposal can be a great opportunity for you to say something really meaningful about your relationship: how happy you are, how you are looking forward to your life together, etc. I’ll sometimes ask my (man of few words) boyfriend why he loves me just to hear his response; I know quite well he loves and adores me, but I want to hear him say it and say why. I think the traditional surprise proposal gives the guy the opportunity to wow his gal, put it all out on the table, and go out with a bang because he has nothing to lose at that point!
Rachel: Honestly, I think at this point, the proposal is less about “Will she say yes or no?” and more about “What can I do to make all her friends and family think I’m the best guy ever?” To me, it’s just the way guys are expected to “prove” their love in the year 2011. He has to do some showstopping event, but I think it’s more for the “audience” than for the couple. I do think that most girls are really excited by the idea that a guy put time/thought/energy into planning a surprise for them, because it makes them feel special and loved. But something simple and very “us” that he put a little thought into planning would make me more excited than an elaborate kidnapping heist involving helicopters, baby seals, and a video directed by James Cameron. I kinda feel like that’s the shit guys have to do these days to impress a girl (and her friends).
Beth: I don’t have any demands for the way my man will propose, and if he didn’t want to get down on one knee, that’s fine, I want him to be comfortable… but I must confess that I DO find something thrilling over the idea that we could be going along, doing something that makes us happy (a walk in Grant Park, a glass of wine at our favorite wine bar, listening to our favorites jazz artists at his apartment on a lazy Sunday) and then, BAM, when I least expect it, there he is, down on one knee, so quickly it takes my breath away and Aha! There’s that gorgeous ring I picked out! And NOW Omg what is he going to say!? I’m a fool for love, but it’s exciting to me, and I want to be that grandmother who looks back on that moment and feels young all over again.
Do you think proposals are at all overrated?
Julia: The more I think about it, the harder this simple question is! I’m going to say no, they aren’t overrated or obsolete. They still serve a purpose, even if the nature and delivery of proposals has changed. Can you imagine if everyone just had a casual conversation about getting engaged, like it was on the same level with deciding what to make for dinner or discussing your next vacation? I think proposals in any form, casual or formal, can at least elevate the conversation to a little higher level and distinguish it from other events in your life.
Rachel: To me, the proposal seems kind of silly and unnecessary. I know it’s not “romantic” to say that but at this point, most people know what the ring looks like, know he is going to “ask,” and know she is going to say yes…so what’s the big f-ing deal??? So yes, I think that proposals are kinda overrated. I like the idea, and I do think there should be something to make this a formal thing, but I don’t know that a proposal — or at least what a proposal has become in the last few years — is the right thing.
Beth: Proposals are NOT overrated! They lay the foundation for a rite of passage that is very layered and loaded with tradition. If proposals are obsolete, let’s do away with wedding cakes, maids of honor, and the first dance then too. They don’t need to involve an airplane etching the words, “Will you marry me?” in the sky while the couple stands below in a cornfield, gazing above in awe and tears, but there is a definite respect needs to be paid to this very romantic tradition. It is an unforgettable opening moment for the couple as they embark on a new journey together that just so happens to be a lifelong (hopefully!) commitment. And it provides the one proposing with an opportunity to express his or her undying love very simply and truly. In an age where society is either too far removed from romantic ideals or too uptight to embrace the beauty these once-in-a-lifetime moments offer, doing away with the proposal is a hindrance to the unity marriage and civil unions provide.
Rachel: Beth, that’s true that people don’t always embrace the once-in-a-lifetime moments anymore…probably because they aren’t always once-in-a-lifetime events. I think people have gotten cynical as over-the-top proposals or weddings continue to end in divorce. I agree that it’s tradition, and I’m not against tradition in general, but I do think that doing things just for the sake of tradition (including wedding cakes, maids of honor, etc.) is only cool if it makes sense for the couple. Sometimes a wedding doesn’t make sense to them. And maybe for some people, a proposal doesn’t either. I think as a culture we could be more open to alternatives and put less focus on the proposal — and probably the wedding — in general.
What are your thoughts on picking out your own ring? Why not let the guy choose?
Julia: If he/we are going to be spending so much money on one purchase, probably the biggest purchase we’ve ever made, then I better be involved in picking it out! Of course, a ring is a symbol of love and commitment and all that good stuff, but it is also a big-ass investment. And I’m planning to wear it for forever so it should reflect both of our tastes, not just his or not just mine. Ideally, I’d like to pinpoint some specific features that I like, try some rings on for size, and maybe not see the final product until it is completely done so it still has a small surprise element.
Beth: If mama’s going to wear that ring for the rest of her life, I better know damn well what it’s going to look like. I love my man very dearly, but the truth is, fashion just isn’t important to him the way it is to me. It’s not that he doesn’t have class and style on his own, and I’m sure he’d pick out something lovely, but to leave it up to him is not a risk I want to take. There’s no way to know that you’re going to be completely happy with this piece of jewelry — and heirloom, hopefully — unless you’re in on the deal. The real surprise is in how he’s going to give it to me; the real surprise is the proposal.
Rachel: Beth, I see what you’re saying, and that would make sense then that proposals matter to you. Um, well, given the fact that my boyfriend begs me to give him specific lists before any holidays/birthdays because he’d rather get it right than mess it up, and the fact that style and jewelry matter to me, I’d say yes, I’m fine with picking something out. But like Beth, I’d like the finished product to be a surprise. Also, this is not really related, but I’ve decided that instead of a wedding ring, I’d like to wear a Cartier love bracelet instead.
Are trips to jewelers and conversations about the logistics of engagement (like roughly when it will happen) killing romance?
Rachel: Well, they aren’t killing romance. There are plenty of opportunities for romance throughout your life…but maybe a traditional romantic moment isn’t going to be the most romantic one, nor should we expect them to be. But frankly, I think people don’t have enough conversations about logistics because they are too worried it’s not romantic. But I always consider that for most of history, marriages were arranged and had nothing to do with love (sorry, but it’s true!), so pre-engagement conversations were all about the logistics. It didn’t matter how someone proposed; it mattered if the woman had a dowry or was a hard worker or if it benefited their families for them to marry. So now that we do have love marriages, I think we need to be OK with a very small aspect of marriage that a little “unromantic.” But to avoid conversations about the rest of your life because they aren’t romantic seems shallow.
Julia: I don’t think they have to kill romance! We have incorporated trips to the jeweler into a day of spending time together and I think that can be romantic. And my boyfriend has expressed interest in helping to plan the wedding, which I would love to do with him. Also, I would SO stressed if we hadn’t discussed the logistics of an engagement. I worry about everything and I’m the person in the relationship that plans and thinks ahead. Not to say he never does any of the planning, but if I weren’t to be involved in the process, the resulting stress would be what kills the romance!
Rachel: I agree. And I think that it’s a really good idea to talk about when it will happen so you don’t find out that you two are on totally different pages about what you want it to happen. Maybe not down to the date and time if you want it to be a surprise, but a range of a few months is smart. I think that makes it more equal and not this “girl waiting” scenario we see again and again. It’s also more fair to the guy…so he doesn’t have a “girl saying no” scenario. We live in a modern world where people have career goals, personal goals, timelines…so both people’s feelings need to be taken into account. You might find your timelines don’t mesh too well, because maybe you made them before you actually met someone, and so you need to re-think things.
Beth: They are a perfect opportunity for the two of you to become closer on a new, invigorating level.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s true! I think that when we’re young, we think that relationships and marriage will be one thing…and as we get older, we learn it’s real. It’s not a fairy tale. So getting to experience these new real aspects of life with someone is surprisingly romantic and exciting.
So isn’t “picking out rings” kind of the new proposal?
Rachel: I think so! And I’m totally cool with that. I think there is still room for some tradition/ritual when it comes to involving your friends and family and telling the world about it, but I don’t think the proposal should be the moment you decide you’re going to marry someone.
Beth: It’s the nuevo approach to engagements; in this economy, with these divorce rates, let’s have a legitimate conversation followed up with proof we’re both serious and let us pick out a ring so we’re really and truly on the same page.
Do you have a dream proposal in mind? Would you be upset if it didn’t work out that way?
Rachel: Um, in 8th grade, Beth and I wrote a list in her diary of like twenty ways we’d like to be proposed to. Every one of them involved people watching and clapping. Beth, remember that? Can we please find it? I’d like to share those with your man with some notes/comments added in.
Beth: LOL Rachel, I know for certain that one of those proposals involved the red carpet at the Oscars, and another one involved his proposal as part of his Oscar speech, and another involved his interrupting our Oscar speeches to get down on one knee on national television. Talk about dramatic! As far as the question is concerned, the only thing that would make me cringe is if he DIDN’T propose, or if he proposed in front of my family…how embarrassing! I don’t need my mother brimming with pride and taking pictures during our special moment. All I ask is that it’s at a moment when we are connected, present with one another, and aware of how very special this is. And if he stumbles over his words or I notice the sweat beads on his forehead, or a homeless man interrupts us to ask us for change, so be it! This is true love, after all, and like Julia said, it’s our unique story.
Julia: For as much as I love looking at wedding stuff, I don’t really have a dream proposal in mind! More so, I know what I don’t want: no sports venues or jumbotrons, restaurants, huge crowds of people, flash mobs, etc. I don’t think I would be upset either way though. I’ve learned not everything goes perfectly according to plan in relationships and that’s OK — it is what it is and you go with it! Besides, the imperfections add to your own little unique story.
Rachel: I think the “don’t” list is pretty common for most of us! But I’m really more comfortable with the idea that him asking if I want to go to the jeweler and designing a ring is sort of “our” moment, and how we decide to later share that with friends and family once the ring is done and we’re ready to change our Facebook statuses and planning a wedding, is just something different. And neither look like a traditional proposal to me. But that’s my vision, and a proposal isn’t just about me, so I’m not going to be married (no pun intended) to things I must have. Julia has always been my “run any big ideas for surprises by her first” friend, and she and I have talked about what I want (and don’t want!) so she’s totally ready to share if asked.
Beth: Just don’t do it while we’re having sex. How could I possibly answer people when they asked how he proposed?
What does your boyfriend think of all this stuff?
Julia: I don’t know!
Beth: Y’know, I’m not sure what he thinks he of proposals and now I’m determined to begin the conversation since evidently, I have some strong beliefs!
Rachel: OK, sometime soon we need to get the men’s thoughts on this to share!
Beth: I do know that he thinks that rings are meant to be heirlooms, and should be classic in style — and, because he’s Mr. Finance and Investment, he thinks anything other than a round cut is an unwise investment because if the going gets rough one day and we have to sell it to buy a loaf of bread, the round cut will ultimately carry the most value. I almost slugged him when he said that, but I knew he was kidding….kind of…
Last question: is your man asking your dad if it’s cool?
Rachel: My mom would say what she said when I said I was moving to Texas — “If he can stand you, he can have you.” But I think it’s good to let both your families know it’s coming soon. I’d want them to know. Not to say yes or no, but just because it’s a big deal and I’d feel weird cutting them out of it.
Julia: LOL, um, no. Or at least I would prefer if he didn’t. I’m in staunch opposition to traditional gender roles, I’m very independent, and I’ve never had that close of a relationship with my dad. I’m also not a fan of the history behind asking for permission to propose or “giving the bride away” — passing the daughter (the property of the father) over to the husband. I think having a group conversation with me, my SO, and parents about our intentions and our plans would be more my preference.
Beth: I am with you, Julia!! I love my dad, but we’re just not the touchy-feely kind of family and I think everyone would feel really awkward and I’d like to avoid that as much as poss…
All right, lots to think about/talk about from that one! Jump in in the comments with your feelings on this! I’m sure you have many!