Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Delayed Ring Story

The person who told me in the summer of 2009 that I should not be planning a wedding without a ring was wrong.

After the initial shock of the guy's statement wore off, I think I just politely ended the conversation and mentally dismissed it as a rude comment. But if I could go back now and re-do my reaction, I think that had I possessed the courage and good sense to claim my ring-less engagement experience as equally valid and valuable as his fiancée's ringed experience, I might have gained that needed boost of confidence to approach our non-traditional engagement more boldly. Looking back, I can see how I let that particular comment reinforce the power of the cultural narrative around The Way Engagement Should Be Done. 

In the few weeks before that unhelpful comment, S and I had taken the final steps from seriously-dating-for-a-year-and-a-half to we-both-know-now-that-we-want-to-spend-our-lives-together. Key to that transition was meeting with our fabulous pre-marital counselor for what I called "pre-engagement counseling." I wanted to work out those necessary pre-marital discussions BEFORE we even got engaged and made the commitment to marry. I am a planner like that, and I wanted to try to minimize the unknowns and try to figure out a "game plan" for dealing with our differences in advance. S is not a planner, but he joined me because it was important to me. (He's great like that.) We both ended up really liking our pre-engagement counselor, and this time was essential in me feeling "ready" to go to the next step of marriage. We also learned some things that have proven helpful in dealing with our personality differences and resolving conflict.

Anyhow, before I was reprimanded for planning our wedding, we had already met with our pre-engagement counselor, had decided we were both ready to get married, had begun planning the wedding, and had told our family and close friends. We had my dress, our shoes, the invitation design and all the necessary supplies to make those DIY invites. S told me that he had ordered my ring. We had set our wedding date for three and a half months later. We had not had any sort of official proposal experience, and I was in the process of trying to separate the concepts of "proposal" and "engagement" in my head.
So now as I think about it all, well over a year later, I know that I allowed a reprimanding comment and my own high regard of tradition and ritual to have power over my perception of the actuality of our engagement. I allowed myself to believe that our chronologically atypical engagement was somehow less valid than one that begins within the framework of a traditional proposal experience. S was wise enough to know we were engaged without that, while I kept thinking that although, yes, we were actively in the planning process to get married in the near future, we would really be engaged after some sort of official proposal. I was stuck in the traditional narrative of my (American) culture (of a Southern variety) that I had heard over and over since I was a little girl. The schema of The Proposal As The Beginning Of The Engagement, and the lack of an official proposal question threw me off so much I didn't allow myself to feel enough of the giddy enthusiasm of being engaged. By telling myself I was planning-the-wedding but not actually engaged, I cheated myself out of some of this life experience.

Interestingly, S was also operating outside his cultural narrative by even deciding to getting married, since he comes from Québec where marriage in uncommon. Perhaps S's unfamiliarity with proposals, engagement, weddings, and marriage gave him a clearer ability to see the process of engagement for what it is actually about, and to separate the essential from the cultural clutter. About six weeks into our short planning-a-wedding-ment, when I offered my usual faltering explanation to someone of how-we-were-getting-married-soon-and-he-had-bought-the-ring-but-he-was-in-Canada-at-the-moment-and-so-we-weren't-really-officially-engaged-yet, this wise person in my community said, "Marriage is not a commitment held together by a physical ring, so why should a ring be necessary for engagement?" 

These empowering words replaced the previous negative statement and something "clicked" in my head. During those last two months before the wedding, I finally began to let go of my traditional ideas of engagement and accept our process, different though it was. I wish I had been confident enough to boldly embrace our engagement from its gradual beginning instead of letting the blurred line between "pre-engagement" and "engagement" prevent me from changing my Facebook status to "engaged", or using the word "fiancé" more than a few times. At the time when we were planning the wedding, I had not yet heard any unconventional engagement stories, so I had a hard time processing our own. Thankfully, over the last year, I have noticed some smart women speaking up about their atypical experiences of engagement, and lots of smart women sharing stories of how they choose to carve out their own non-traditional paths through life in various ways.*

And shortly before the wedding I realized that I might, in fact, not see my engagement ring until sometime after we were married. And it was mostly okay because I was just ready to be married and move on to the next stage of our life together. But S surprised me. During the week of our wedding, S took me to a nearby waterfall for a short time of quiet and hot cocoa before all the out of town people began arriving later that day. As we were stopped on the suspended bridge overlooking the powerful rush of water speeding to the edge of the cliff to meet its free-fall fate, I suddenly felt the bridge bouncing. Gripping the rail much more tightly, I began to look around and saw people running on the bridge with balloons and flowers. Only when they stopped right by us did I realize that those people were running towards us and that those people were six of our friends. Each one had red and white balloons and a bouquet of daisies. In complete shock, I turned back to S only to see that he was down on one knee and holding a ring. He said, "Will you marry me on Saturday?" It was funny, sweet, and perfectly us. And then we went to eat poutines.

Because our proposal experience was three days before our wedding, it is linked together with my memories of our wedding. Instead of being the beginning of our engagement process, it felt more like the end of the difficult and exhausting planning-a-wedding stage and the beginning of the infinitely-more-fun state of being married. I'm a person who loves tradition, so I am completely thankful to have had the proposal experience, while the unconventional aspects of our entire process taught me some valuable lessons about commitment, and learning to be more confident even when I find myself on a road that diverges from The Way People Tell You Things Should Be Done.

*Meg and commenters over at A Practical Wedding have since talked about some atypical engagement experiences, and it's exciting and liberating to see how many different approaches there are to the decision to get married....and to other choices we make in life.
Posted by Picasa


  1. That's such a lovely post and moment! Probably even more meaningful than most "typical" proposal stories!

    I kind of had a similar thought process towards having had a kid before I got the ring -in the end, I just shouldn't have stressed over it that much. I'm glad the ring and the official marriage eventually came, but really, even before that, we were just as committed to each other, and I just have to laugh at people who thought we were any less of a "real family" then.

  2. This is such a great post! And holy crap, look at all those flowers!

    As someone who explicitly rejected having an engagement ring or a proposal, and who caught an incredible amount of shit for it, I really appreciate this post! Traditions can be useful, but should not be dictatorial. And I really resent people telling ME how I should be living MY meaningful experiences. It all seems so damn petty a year later, huh?

  3. @Marie-Ève: Very interesting that you had a similar experience by going against a more traditional chronology. Was it older generations that commented on it? I would be surprised if people in our age range in Quebec said anything at all!

    @accordionsandlace: I didn't know that you guys decided against a proposal. I would love to hear more about your experiences with that. Did you write about it?

    @accordionsandlace and @Marie-Ève: I am glad that you guys made the choices that were right for you! And it does stink that so many people have so many opinions on how things should be done, when it is not their decision to make or their life to live. And year later I feel like I have a much stronger and rational out look on it all, and have learned a lot through the process of getting here. :) Thankfully.

  4. Wonderful post. I believe we all need to learn that not everything has to follow a prescribed framework or direction to be valid. I personally think we should all follow a path that feels right to us instead of trying to fit what our culture dictates.

  5. that's a terrific story, although someone's small-minded-ness may have tainted it at the outset.

    my parents never underwent the proposal process. no ring, no request, no bowing-on-the-knee. so being a little girl and assuming that everything is to be done the way my parents did it, i always assumed i would have the same. weird, right?

  6. @Melissa- I agree; I wish there were more freedom and support in society to take non-conventional approaches, especially in regards to weddings. I guess my difficulty was also largely due to the fact that my experience was different than what *I* would have previously envisioned for myself as my engagement experience. So I was dealing with an experience that was different my own expectations for myself AND society's expectations.

    @Elizabeth- Good point about your parents' experience impacting your expectations. I think my parents had a very low key decision to get married, but perhaps I saw way too many movies with elaborate proposals? Haha.

    @ everyone: Last weekend, S and I were hanging out with some québécois friends and our wedding and engagement rings came up in a conversation about the local jeweler who made them. One of the friends, who is female, was confused about the difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring. S had to explain the tradition of the engagement ring. She literally had absolutely NO idea. So...I guess that gives me more perspective in how very foreign all of this wedding/marriage stuff was to S.

  7. Hey, I'm late to comment but just clocked through from APW today and loved this story!
    I didn't have a big proposal story - one evening on his couch he'd told me he wanted to marry me and I'd said "me too!" And then spent the next few weeks worrying because I didn't know if it "counted" or whether I had to wait for him to do a "proper" proposal. And then finally realised that was just stupid. We were engaged. Sans ring and sans proposal but no less valid!

    I still see other people's confusion though when they ask "how did he propose?" and I explain it didn't happen that way.