About three months ago, I decided that I would like to propose to my partner. We had had “marriage chats” so I was not proposing blind. I was 99% certain that, if done with love, we would end up engaged at the end.
Having made the decision with myself, I began to think about what an ideal proposal might look like, which included thinking a lot about my partner’s likes and dislikes and about what the best occasions we’ve shared have included.
Immediately I knew that neither of us were going to be happy or comfortable with a noisy or public proposal. I also anticipated that we were likely to have a conversation afterwards. We are not a social media-y couple and would not need or probably want photographs of the moment. Neither of us drink much although food is a big part of our lives so maybe I would cook a surprise curry feast or book a restaurant and propose on the walk home. I very briefly considered training Sula, our seven-month-old Rottweiler puppy, to do some sort of trick or to deliver whatever I used to propose with. I know now that my partner was also considering putting a ring for me on the puppy’s collar. However, I eventually decided that I wouldn’t do it at home.
I also flirted briefly with buying the coveted missing piece from my partner’s Star Wars Lego collection. I had a feverish exchange with one of my closest friends about whether I should sneak the walker into the house, build it, and write something on it before deconstructing and repackaging it. However, this plan was put aside when Sula (35kg puppy) tried to get into our toolbox. I feared that maybe a three/four-hour Lego project might end up not done for months and a post-it on a box was not really it.
Being a control freak, a planner, and a perfectionist trying to do something that made me feel vulnerable, I abandoned the “how” for “with what” for a few weeks. In our hypothetical wedding chats, I knew my partner did not intend to wear a ring. He’s intensely sentimental but also practical and I felt it was a shame not to get him something he would actually use and like. I went through various options but settled on a pair of cufflinks shaped like otters, which have had (for reasons) lots of presence and love in our relationship. Several check-ins with friends later, the pair I initially chose were ordered but they would arrive unboxed, so I moved onto a receptacle for them.
I really don’t know why but I decided to google “Star Wars ring box” on Etsy. My partner likes Star Wars a lot, but I definitely had an ADHD hyperfixation moment here. He likes many, many things that are not Star Wars, too. However, it was 11pm and I was feverishly looking for The One. The One turned out to be a 3D printed model of the Death Star, which opened up to reveal a hollow interior. Reader, the actual proposal – when it came – was entirely overshadowed by my love getting relentless giggles because I, an abolitionist passivist, used an imperial weapon of mass destruction as a symbol of my love. Many, many nerd jokes were made. If I could add a gif of our puppy sighing and rolling her eyes before flumping on the ground, I would.
When the Death Star first arrived in Nottingham, I had been sent one the size of a chocolate orange and not the size that I ordered. To receive my ring box, I had to post this one back and there was some excellent email exchange about the correct size of The Death Star, which I did not see in my life outline. The wrong box arrived while I was sick with Covid and a very minor blip felt devastating.
I also had a personality bypass when the cufflinks arrived without any dispatch notice or warning. We had been to see Thor: Love and Thunder and returned to the debris of some post that Sula had seen fit to destroy as a punishment for our absence. My partner held up a weird container that I had never seen before and asked what it was, obviously perturbed that it was swallowable size. About 10 minutes later, I saw the email saying “hurray, item delivered” and my stomach DROPPED. Had he seen what was in the little tin container? Had the dog got into the container? Were the cufflinks in the dog? He hadn’t. She hadn’t. They weren’t. But paranoid control freak me was then convinced that he knew what is coming. (He absolutely didn’t.)
Looking through my calendar for a good weekend, I saw that we had planned a very modest trip away to London to see a musical and committed that I would do it then. When I tell you that everything I planned fell apart, everything I planned fell apart.
We had already agreed to do a couple of tourist-y things in London, so I wrote to one of the places and asked if they let visitors do a particular activity. (I’m paraphrasing because the details of actual real people would be identifiable, and I can’t get hold of them to check if they mind.) The venue responded immediately that they’d never been asked before, but they loved the idea, and these were their terms. As part of our correspondence, they let me know that there was a secluded bench with a lovely view that I could have after the experience where we would be private but still in the attraction so I could do the actual proposal and I was so chuffed. It was going to be cute, personal, private, and a nice story/memory.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. I receive an email that the person who needed to be present to allow the activity to happen had come down with Covid and wouldn’t be able to meet. Their deputy was on leave. They were very sorry, but could we re-arrange? While I completely understood, I knew that we wouldn’t be making another trip to London together until the winter and that we probably wouldn’t want to do the activity then. Frustrated, I thanked them lots for all they’d done and called a small Lebanese restaurant I know and love, asking if we could have a specific table that’s practically in a room on its own. We’d feast and I’d ask over the dessert or on the walk back to our hotel.
Three days before the trip, we receive an email reminding us of the rail strike taking place (solidarity! Get your pay rise!). And my partner does a lot of logistical wrangling and swaps the trip around, so we do all the things planned on Friday and just need to get home on the Saturday. What a gem of a human. Reader, the restaurant does not open Friday daytime, and we were already booked for dinner with my parents and the musical in the evening. Doom.
I decide I’ll be spontaneous. (Lol. NOT MY NATURAL STATE. I was born a Scorpio, but I really identify as a Virgo.) There’s bound to be a moment. There’s bound to be a quiet time where we are happy and laughing and I can just make it happen. Our dogsitter arrives early and we decide to dash for the train an hour early to make the most of our day in London. The train is cancelled because there is a fire on the line. We are both anxious and impatient travellers. There is no moment when a 2.5-hour journey takes five hours. I’ll remember it fondly because it was so sunny and pretty, but we arrive in London three hours after we had intended to.
We decide to go to the zoo to be outside in the beautiful weather as it is near, and we can marvel at animals before our evening plans. When we arrive, many of the animals are shielding from the heat or their enclosures are being refurbished. We are relaxed but are surrounded by hot parents and tired children who are frustrated by the lack of things to see. There is no moment. We get to the otter enclosure, and they are out and playing and I think “here we go”. A child is almost sick and drops down the stairs in front of us. They are fine but there’s really no moment and we end up sitting in the park talking about whether zoos are even OK and if people should be angry if animals are asleep or absent. Not the moment.
And it’s time to be social and go and see a very mediocre musical. We are tired and content but not … in a moment. As we arrive at the hotel, footage of the writer Salman Rushdie being attacked is playing across numerous plasma screens.
The details of what actually happened about an hour later are ours and I’m not going to share them with anyone outside our close circle but suffice to say that frazzled and nervous, I left the Death Star on his pillow, went to brush my teeth, and we ended up happily engaged and listening to a playlist of Beyoncé lead singles in the first hours of Saturday morning.
Absolutely nothing went as it should. Adam thought he’d forgotten to buy me a present and then when he understood, the Death Star giggles began. RIP my childlike pride about getting something so particular to him/us on that front. It was cute and quiet and silly and intimate. It was all the things I wanted and I’m so happy he said yes.
I’m never planning a surprise anything ever again.