I know I’m going to rub some (lots of?) people the wrong way, but I’ll just go out there and say it. One of the most harmful, sexist, and arguably codependent examples parents can set for their children is to have one of those beautiful and romantic surprise proposal stories. Don’t get me wrong. If your man (or woman) got down on one knee with (or without) a ring and it was a pseudo-surprise, then that’s a swoon-worthy story. By pseudo-surprise, I mean both parties involved were expecting to get engaged sometime very soon.
I know that sometimes women propose to their boyfriends, and that there are gay couples getting engaged all the time, but for the sake of examples I’m going to talk about the most common permutation. How many couples have you known with a wonderfully gag-tastic relationship? They’ve been dating for 4 years, both have great jobs, she’s 28ish, he’s 30, and always hold hands. Her friends and family have been oh so nosy asking when are they going to get married already. She usually blushes girlishly trying to hide her annoyance, and says something to the effect of, “Oh, he’s just waiting for the right time.” Only she’s been saying that for over a year now, and she really has no idea when he’s going to pop the question. She’s been hinting for over a year now too. Another year and a half in, the hints turn into nags, and who likes to nag? He finally hides a ring in some really romantic/cute/creative place, they plan a really fun and unique wedding, go on a breathtaking honeymoon, have kids, and live happily ever after.
IMO, that story is super sweet, saccharine even. But it sets up a precedent for poor communication. After each of my kids date the requisite duds and finally meet “the one,” I hope that there is some basic planning before a relatively expected engagement. And by planning, I don’t mean wedding planning. Here is an incomplete list of items you should know about each other and/or generally agree on before considering spending the rest of your freaking lives together, and I’m talking “Forever, forever ever, forever ever?!”
- Do you want children, and approximately how many. You can round to the nearest whole number (I’m shocked all too often when people marry without agreeing on at least whether they want kids at all.)
- Will someone stay home with said kids when they’re very young?
- How lavish or not do you want your lifestyle to be?
- What are basic values that will be important to your family?
- Where do you want to live?
- How important is your career?
- If one of you are deathly allergic to cats, is the other okay with never ever having a cat? Because that is REALLY important.
I’m not saying my marriage is perfect, and we all know about best laid plans. I’m also not saying that all married couples who totally winged it don’t have a solid relationship. But I am planning to start a dialogue about this with my kids when they’re a little older than preschool and infant age. I would hate to see my daughter in the role of waiting around, or my son being all vague because he can. And I’ll be able to say I was not surprised when my now husband got down on one knee with a ruby (because he is so anti-diamond? That’s a story for another day.) If I do my job, my kids will know to have these discussions with any potential life partner. Would you add any questions to the list?