When I was a child (perhaps 8 at most) I was sitting in the living room of our then house playing* while my dad was watching a film set in what must have been Victorian times. I was slipping in and out of attention to it, as kids do, but I remember being struck by a scene in which a dashing gentleman asked an aging dignitary if he could have his daughter’s hand.
“Why does he want a hand?”
“It means he wants to marry that man’s daughter,” replied my dad.
“Oh. Why is he asking? Why doesn’t he just marry her?”
“It’s traditional to get a daddy’s permission** before a man asks a lady to marry him.”
“Oh. Does that mean if a man wants to marry me, he needs to ask you for my hand?”
“Yes, but don’t worry, I’ll make him take the rest of you as well.”
Thus began a list of stipulations in my young mind about what my future paramour would have to do before I would agree to wed him. Obviously, as was proper, he would have to seek and gain my father’s approval and permission. I have always trusted my father would never sanction any man he deemed unfit to be my husband. As I grew up I began to understand that this was an out-dated, actually rather un-feminist tradition based more on the idea of passing property and status than a girl’s happiness, but my heart clung to it. For me, if the man who had raised me and protected me, and loved me without condition, gave his go-ahead, I felt I really must be in safe hands. And so it has remained an important part of any proposal, and I have let all possible suitors*** know this.
I have always reserved the right to say ‘try again’ if he lacked the courtesy of getting down on one knee. I mean… right?
Lastly, a speech. It didn’t have to be saccharine or long, just sincere and conveying the reasons why marriage (and marriage to me in particular) is an important step he is now ready to take. And why he thinks I should be ready to take it to.
Just three non-optional stipulations a man had to overcome to ‘win my hand’^. In a book I love, a character tells her partner, in no uncertain terms, that before he can ask to marry her, he must achieve three great deeds. I would much rather fight the dragons and walk the darkness with the man I love rather than have him do it for me, but I consider these three stipulations rather like the ‘great deeds’ a man must complete to earn his right to get a ‘yes’. Maybe not a feminist or modern-age way of doing these things, but hey-ho, there you go.
Of course, outside of those mandatory stipulations, I harbored hopes about how a man would propose to me. I wanted to be surprised, and swept of my feet. I wanted it to be perfect for us. I wanted special and magic and beautiful.
And then it happened.
I expected so much to happen when I was proposed to; I believed it would be important, where and when and how it happened; the speech, the candles and flowers, the ring^^, and romance. Really though, as soon as the question is out and around you, the only significant factor of a proposal: the person.
The truth is in the quiet moment that follows, when your heart jumps and then stops, when your voices catches in your breath, the place and time fade into the background, until you’re left with a human being kneeling before you waiting on one word.
Here before me was a person who had walked into my life just over two years ago, and started adding stuff, like magic and adventure and laughter and swords^^^, and all the really important stuff, like support and fun and generosity and courage and acceptance and kindness. And understanding. He just seemed to get all the less admirable qualities in me – all the bad anxiety days when I would withdraw, or cry, or find nothing good in myself or sometimes even the world. And he would come and hold me, or just be still and silent with me, or remind me why I have value and show me just a smidgen^* of the beauty in other people and the world. He can just make me laugh, no matter what mood I’m in; I can be drenched in my own tears and snot, or so worried my heart is beating too fast and he will say or do something which forces me to smile. I really am not sure how; I believe it’s just a wonderful aspect of who he is.
Here before me was my partner. Someone who had stood beside me during the dark days of both our lives. Someone who was always honest about our relationship, about our future and about his past. Someone who both trusted me with his broken bits and could be trusted with mine. Whenever some difficultly arises in our relationship, I always know I can speak honestly about it, when I am calm and ready, and be listened to and valued, and I have been amazed at how my comments are met with genuine understanding, and an active effort to better the problem which is instant and consistent. I see him making the effort to create lasting harmony between us, and I am always grateful for someone who believes in us enough to do so.
I saw this person who had been so easy to love from the beginning, the process of which had been as wonderful and as simple as stepping out into a beautiful morning, in the honey glow of a summer day, colours so much more vivid. Everything about is had been gentle and private – our meeting, our first kiss, our goodbyes and reunions, and all the little everyday adventures, going on holiday, making dinner, talking well past bed time about everything from the NFL to books and writing. Whatever we did was better because we were together. That’s all we needed. Just us.
It was no different when it came to the proposal. On an ordinary morning on May 28th*^, as gentle as as simple as all our engagements, Chris decided to ask if I would marry him, and that was all that mattered.
Did I want to be with this person for the rest of my life?
No. Not just the rest of my life.
A lifetime wasn’t nearly long enough. Forever could never be long enough to love and be with him.
So, I said yes.
*Probably Barbie was rescuing my little pony figures from the peril of my sister’s action man villains. Or possibly they were hosting a party with the villains. I can’t remember exactly.
**And I remember being extremely proud of myself that I knew what that meant.
***Two. There have only ever been two serious suitors who might ask for my hand in marriage, and one of them, I am pretty sure, would have received a resounding ‘no’ when he asked my father.
^And the rest of me too.
^^The ring, just by the way, genuinely struck me as incredible. Chris, all credit to him, managed, by himself, to venture into the jungle of engagement rings and strike gold. Now, I must admit here, I doubted him. Just a little. Simply because he is a man with little care to artistic design. Yet, I don’t think I could have chosen a better ring myself. So, bravo, Chris, bravo. I shall never doubt your jewellery picking ability again. But also, now you have no excuse for not buying me jewellery. …. I get to squeal about the ring.
^^^Both metaphorically and actual. There is a real sword in our living room, which has become the point of focus for many guests, and which sometimes I remove carefully and use to duel the powers of darkness while riding my imaginary dragon. I always win.
^*There’s a word I don’t think we as a society use enough ‘smidgen’ – say it lots. It’s kinda fun.
*^Yep, it’s taken me that long to get this post written. No sign of those Winchester blogs I promised yet either. It’s a wonder I have any hypothetical audience at all.