A couple years ago, I watched as one of my best friends got engaged in a restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The man proposing was, in no uncertain terms, the man of her dreams. Several of our friends waited eagerly at the front of the bar for the cue that he had proposed to her and it was time to celebrate. Cut to the next day, and she was popping Xanax and crying on the floor of her shower.
This story doesn’t end how you’d expect. They’re happily married now and have the kind of marriage based in the kind of beautiful, raw honesty that I hope to have myself someday. What happened at her engagement is something that happens all over the world, but is rarely talked about. My friend knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with her future husband, but she was not expecting a public proposal right then and there, and that very public choice, which was incredibly romantic but did not involve her planning, left her reeling from a feeling of lack of control in this massive life choice.
The reaction from a lot of people was, "this must mean you don’t want to be with him!,” which couldn’t have been further from the truth. The truth is that she wasn’t involved in the making of both a huge and special choice in her life. One she had made internally- but needed to be a part of making externally as well. We teach little girls they can be anything; doctors, lawyers, presidents, moms, teachers, fighters, writers, superheroes, etc., but we don’t update our traditions to reflect the evolution of the modern woman. Having control and agency over every part of your life, but being excluded from the moment in which you and your partner decide, privately and publicly, to spend the rest of your lives together feels bizarrely divorced from how far women have come.
Some women want the romance and the fairytale of a proposal, but also want to feel like an active participant in the way that choice is made publicly. Why does a proposal have to be all on one person’s terms when the rest of our lives together are expected to be a partnership? Why does the proposal look so disproportionate to the life we plan to spend together?
So how do we fix this? I don’t think there’s a one-answer-fits-all, fortunately. And I say fortunately because thank god we’re all different. Some women might still want it to be all one giant surprise, and that’s beautiful, too, but most importantly because it’s their choice. But for those of us who want and need to be more part of the process, we need to have options. One option is to have open and honest conversations pre-proposal. Knowing that a proposal is in the future doesn’t ruin the surprise, in my opinion, it actually can make it more exciting for the Type-A gals out there. Another option is the new “Will You” ring by Helzberg Diamonds. The “Will You” is a new band that men can purchase as a temporary ring to use in the proposal, but isn’t the final engagement ring. It signifies the act, but after the proposal, he and his fiancé select the forever-ring together. The final ring chosen is something the couple has picked out together, making the woman intimately involved in the object that comes to represent their forever.
Romance is subjective. What’s romantic to one couple is hokey to another, and so on and so forth. If romance, for you, is knowing and being an intimate part of this life decision—that’s something we need to make space for culturally. We need to normalize and diversify the ways in which we tell the romantic stories of how two people start a life together.