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?
Yes! I could not agree more. How did it become the norm in our culture that the man must make a surprise proposal, and the woman always says yes? So basically women should have no say in who they marry. We get bombarded with these ideas, so it is great to encourage young kids to think differently.
Great timing with this! For years I’ve felt guilty for being the nag and rushing the ring shopping and proposal. Recently someone on a local mommy forum asked about our proposals, and in describing it, I started to get really mad and sad about this tradition. Why did I have to lose control over the planning of my own life? Why would I let someone else choose jewelry I’d be wearing the rest of my life? Luckily my husband has better taste in jewelry than I do. And everything worked out really well. But I’m saying “GOOD-BYE!” to the guilt and having some honest conversations with my kids about the tradition when they’re old enough. Happily, my husband didn’t ask my father for his “blessing.” At the time I thought it sounded like a sweet thing to do. He thought it sounded awful, like they were treating me like property. I’m so happy he had that point of view.
The “surprise in public” (and the less she knows the better) gets sold as The Most Romantic Thing Ever when it’s actually big fat coercion, as so many things in our culture. The romantisation of abuse and coercion are not a bug, they’re a feature.
As mentioned in the OP: It’s OK if something is a semi-surprise, when people have already agreed that they want to spend their lives together and that marriage might be totally an option. When it’s actually a question of “when” not “if”.
I hate the notion that either party is waiting on the other to choose them. It’s a mutual decision that should be made by two adults considering the long term. Marrying because you’ve been dating for a few years and haven’t cut the others brake lines (yet) seems desperate.
I would add to this list – Do you both have a good grasp of how money works and have similar views on utilizing it? For instance, do you understand credit? Do you both believe that credit is reserved for large purchases, or do you both believe in having and using a Macy’s card? Do you both believe in saving and investing for retirement? Nothing is necessarily right or wrong, but marrying someone who doesn’t understand money can make credit card debt of $50k feel even more burdensome to the spouse that doesn’t believe in credit cards.
I think this is a great article. My wife and I met in culinary school, we each thought the other was weird at first, we started dating. We moved in together, we talked about getting married, all that stuff. We went to a jewelry store together to pick out an engagement ring, she narrowed it down to 4, and I picked one of the 4. So she knew it was coming. I was still able to make it a very special occasion, proposed on a ferry boat (which the Captain saw, and then announced to the whole boat, which was super cool). We didn’t feel any loss for having planned things out together. We’ve been together over 11 years, married over 7. And of course, neither of us have cooking careers anymore.