Last week, my wife Kathy and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had and we’ve shared so much fun and laughter that it’s hard to imagine spending those years with anyone else. Of course, life, as it will, has thrown us our share of curve balls, so we’ve faced quite a few challenges too. The good news is that these tough times have, invariably, brought us closer together. So, it’s safe to say, it’s been a great marriage (I should add that I checked with her and she agrees with my assessment.)
In the time leading up to the anniversary, I was thinking about how marriage proposals, over the years, have become increasingly complex. Of course, we’re all familiar with guys using the scoreboard cam at a sporting event or hiring a skywriter. But, as they say, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A simple YouTube search yields a myriad of examples showing guys popping the question in imaginative and unique ways. Most of them occurred either in public or at some sort of family/friend event. For example, I watched a professional baseball player propose between the innings of a game, a proposal made around an active beehive, with both the man and the woman bundled up in protective gear while the honeybees went about their business, one where the guy literally fell off a building, on purpose, so his girlfriend could read his proposal written on signs attached to the massive inflatable cushion that caught him, and one in an electronics store that had all the TV screens displaying the question. One couple got engaged on wakeboards being pulled by a boat (she was presented with her ring following the ride) and another when a marching band broke formation during a parade and surrounded the bride to be, serenading her with song. Asking for a hand in marriage is very popular while hiking, either in a deep canyon crevice, at a mountain summit, or at a particularly scenic spot on the trail. A lot of women say yes at Disney, right out in the street, hemmed in by Snow White, Mickey Mouse, and clamoring tourists. Our own son-in-law had his grandmother’s ring reset and asked our art-teacher daughter to marry him in Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France. While it was an enchanting moment, Monet’s Garden is, for an art teacher, a trip to Mecca. As a result, it took some effort for him to get her attention.
Back in the eighties, when I proposed to Kathy, these things were less elaborate but still special. There were romantic guys who hid a ring inside a stuffed animal, buried it at the bottom of a series of progressively smaller boxes wrapped as single present, or dangled it at the end of a ribbon inside a shirt pocket. For the more straightforward, the man dropped to one knee and asked the woman to marry him, usually in a private spot without cameras or family around. Regardless of the details, they were distinct occasions that the couple would remember forever.
The importance of a good proposal was highlighted in the introduction to a video I watched when the narrator said that it was “…the most romantic and exciting moment in a person’s life.”
My proposal to Kathy was not that.
First, some background. I’m an “act now” person—once I decide to do something I tend to move quickly. So, there was no scenario where I would decide to ask Kathy to marry me in, say, April, do an extensive market study before buying a ring in June, and then hold onto the thing so I could propose while we were surrounded by the fall foliage. I just don’t have the temperament to indulge that timeline. Secondly, I knew that, if I was lucky enough to get engaged, my mother needed to be close by. There was no way it could happen if she wasn’t in town.
Now, with that information in hand, let me set the scene. I woke up on a Wednesday morning in June of 1985 and, when my feet hit the floor, I had the thought, “I want to get married.” Letting the idea germinate, I went for a pre-work run. At the end my little jaunt around the neighborhood, I had determined that, yes, it was time. My brain immediately shifted to planning and I remembered that my parents were leaving to visit Japan that upcoming Saturday. Given my aforementioned impatience and the need to make sure Mom could share in the event, there were, basically, two-and-half days to act. To complicate matters, at that time Kathy worked evenings, which ruled out me accomplishing anything on Wednesday or Thursday. That left me with Friday, when she had the night off. With that decision made, the next issue was acquiring the ring. After doing some quick math and looking at my work schedule, I couldn’t see a way to get one in time. I quickly resolved that a ring would have to wait until post proposal. This entire cognitive exercise was completed by lunchtime.
Let’s fast forward two days. On Friday evening, my parents had the whole family over for dinner. I’m pretty sure this was so we could all be together one last time in the event their jet fell from the sky as they traveled to the Far East. My mother even pulled me aside to show me a place she’d hidden some jewelry in case, “something happens over there.” As the dinner wound down, I knew the big moment was coming and I started to get a queasy stomach. This sensation intensified as my brothers and their families cleared out and headed home. Finally, it was just me and Kathy in my parents living room (they had retreated to somewhere else in the house) and she asked if I wanted to see a movie.
“No!” I practically jumped out of my skin answering her question.
Kathy gave me a “okay, okay” type look and inquired about what I would like to do. I realized, with horror, that I hadn’t even considered a venue.
In a moment of sheer panic, I blurted out, “let’s go to the Ground Round.”
For anyone who doesn’t know or doesn’t remember, the Ground Round was a chain restaurant designed to simulate an old-time neighborhood bar. You could get burgers, wings, potato skins, and any type of fried food platter you desired. They also didn’t care if you just sat and had a few drinks.
Upon our arrival, we were ushered to a table that was, maybe, ten feet from the bar. At the bar, each stool was filled, mostly with people I knew, including an old friend from my neighborhood who was so drunk he was slurring his words when he said hi. The floor was littered with peanut shells (at the Ground Round they always brought a basket of peanuts and you discarded the shells by pushing them off the table) and the noise level was, shall we say, alcohol fueled. Somehow, I concluded this was an acceptable atmosphere in which to pop the question.
Our drinks came and, after taking one sip, with sweat soaking my shirt and making my hands clammy, I started to talk, planning to deliver a carefully crafted and rehearsed speech that I hoped was the perfect combination of romantic and convincing. Unfortunately, after I said “there’s something I want to talk about,” my mind went blank and nothing came out. I just shifted in the seat and mumbled a few nonsensical words, fear consuming my soul.
Kathy, being the person she is, reached out and took my hand while witnessing my public descent into a nervous breakdown. I later learned that this act was even more merciful than it appeared because, in the moment, she actually thought I was breaking up with her and STILL held my hand.
Finally, I choked out a coherent sentence, “I want to get married.”
“Me too,” Kathy said.
“Really? To me?” was my response.
I figured there had to be a more formal question involved. “So, you’ll marry me?”
And that was it. I paid for our drinks and we left to tell the families.
On the plus side, the next morning we picked out a ring together and it was different than what I would have chosen on my own. I think that’s a good thing. And, over the years, I’ve planned plenty of special and romantic times together that I’d like to believe have made up for that pitiful night in 1985. However, because I’m an overthinker, I’ll always wish I’d done it better.
One final comment. As part of a toast at the rehearsal dinner for our daughter’s wedding, Kathy mentioned that an important factor in any successful marriage is being willing to forgive. As I sit here today and write this, I wonder if, as she uttered those words, she was remembering the Ground Round and agreeing to marry me while peanut shells crunched under her shoes. She’s such a kind human being, I’ll probably never know.