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Sometimes it can take a guy a while to pop the question, especially if he's like writer Peter Martin and wants the big moment to be genuisly inventive and crazy thoughtful. Here, Martin explains why some guys need a little extra time before they're ready to proposal — and reveals the very unique way he finally asked his longtime girlfriend to marry him.
I figured she'd start crying. Or shaking. I wouldn't have minded if she'd thrown up from excitement. Instead, I got the reaction, "What's happening?"
It's not exactly the phrase guys dream of hearing their girlfriend say during any intimate moment, and certainly not midway through a proposal. I was a minute or so from getting on my knee and offering a ring that cost me nearly a year's rent, and the woman I was so sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was... confused.
Not that I blame her. After almost six years of dating, Meryl probably wasn't waking up each morning wondering if today would be the day. (I know you're wondering, why six years? I promise I'll come back to that later.) What had pushed me to finally ask was part romance, part logistics. I knew she was the girl for me, but I also knew that one of her friends was getting engaged that summer. I wanted to propose with enough time before that to allow my girlfriend to get her fair share of attention but not steal the spotlight from her friend. And Meryl was leaving soon for a work trip, which meant I could meet with her parents to get the ball rolling without her knowing.
When I got to her parents' apartment, her dad's smile was huge. Her mom looked like she might cry. This was a big deal. We sat down to dinner, and... I talked about work. For 15 minutes. Every bite of food I took needed a sip of water to wash it down. When I couldn't think of any more small talk (and wanted to remember what it felt like to swallow), I finally came out with it. I wanted to propose, I told them — within the month. All I had to do was find the right ring.
That part would be easy, I thought. After Meryl got home from her trip, I told her I wanted a little guidance for when I "eventually" bought a ring. We looked at dozens of options online, none of which she was able to settle on. Finally, I took a screen shot of the one she seemed most excited about and went to a jeweler. That's when things got tricky. With the ring designed but not yet made, I wanted confirmation it was the One. Instead, when I showed the image of it to her again, she said, "I know you like that one, but I'm not sure." So I started over. I enlisted her sister for help, and while she did her best, she faced the same vague guidance and indecision I had. "She's not making it easy!" she said.
One month became two, then three, and eventually the gestation period of a bear cub. Her friend's engagement came and went. No ring felt right to me, but taking Meryl to the jeweler to pick one out felt like giving up. Even if the ring itself wasn't a surprise, I wanted her to see it for the first time when I proposed. Finally, she told me that she didn't care what I bought. Whatever it was, she said, if it came from me, she would love it. I decided to take her up on that. I went back to the jeweler and picked a diamond and an antique setting. When I left, I was excited — and nervous. I needed a plan.
Not just an average plan. For the ring, my main goal was to give her something that she wouldn't be ashamed to wear in front of her friends (all lovely people who, despite being in their 30s, board a plane in only Zone 1). The proposal, however, was my place to truly stand out.
The first few ideas weren't good. A carriage ride (suggested by my dad) was too cliché. I learned about engagement chicken — a recipe that every women's magazine and cooking site has run, only half jokingly telling readers that it will lead to a proposal — thinking it would be funny to make it for her, then feign innocence about what it supposedly led to. But that felt overly complicated. One idea that got farther than it should have was based on a trick I play on her most mornings that involves saying something from the other room like "Do you think I can take these to work?" then waiting for her to ask what, before I come into the room flexing my abs. She humors me. I even ran that one by a few friends before realizing I'd be dooming her to months of embarrassment, much of it at my expense, as she was constantly asked to tell the story. Finally, I settled on something I liked.
There are two things you need to know about my fiancé. The first is that she is addicted to Instagram. Like, meth-face-and-loose-teeth addicted. Once she opens the app, she can't stop until she gets to where she left off the last time, for fear of missing something. Taking a photo for her Insta requires her full-scale art direction. The other thing is more of a family trait. The women in her family love to plan, and they love to do it backward. As in, if we need to get to brunch at noon, we'll need to leave home at 11:30, which means I need to be out of the shower by 11:00 and up at 10:30.
So, how did I propose? On Instagram. I didn't have an Instagram account, nor did I have any interest in ever having one. She knew this, which meant the proposal would be a complete surprise. One Saturday, I signed up, and while she was in the shower I added her as a follower from her phone. I'd found and taken a bunch of photos and posted them in reverse order. The first image was of an old couple holding hands. The caption said, "Can we plan backward?" After that were some jokes and some serious pictures — a kid playing basketball, a foot stomping on a glass at a wedding (a Jewish tradition that, as a non-Jew, I was very happy to adopt), a GIF of me dancing in a tux — and the final one, a ring box, opened just a crack. When she got to that, I would grab the ring from under the couch, drop to one knee, tell her something touching and spur of the moment about how much she meant to me, and propose.
How it actually went down was a little different. I didn't know when she'd look at Instagram, so I didn't know when I would be proposing. That meant sitting on the couch for more than an hour, wondering when she'd pick up her phone. Eventually, she sat on the couch while
I pretended to watch TV.
"You're on Instagram?" she said, surprise in her voice. I paused the TV, the faces of the guys from The League frozen onscreen. Then, she uttered that phrase: "What's happening?"
I stayed quiet as she looked through the rest of the pictures and, I assume, figured out what was happening. When she got to the last one, I picked up the ring and knelt on the floor. As nervous as I'd been all morning, I was in worse shape now. I wanted to talk. I tried to talk. But nothing came out. So I proposed by whispering. It was the only noise I could really get out. She must have heard me, because she said yes.
Which brings us back to "What took you so long?" It had been six years since we'd started dating. It was a long time, but it never really felt like that. We both moved toward marriage not as an imperative but as an inevitable. Waiting so long, for me, had nothing to do with indecision. The first time I bought her a birthday present, and got more excited to give it to her than she was to get it, I knew this was the woman I needed to marry. But that still didn't change who I am — a guy who hasn't cashed in a three-year-old gift certificate to a trapeze class, and who doesn't want to do that? It doesn't matter how amazing something might be; if it involves planning, it's going to take me a while.
It's not a great trait, but it's one that I've learned to live with. And now that we're finally going to be married, I'm focusing on just one thing: making and keeping Meryl happy. I plan on taking a very long time with that too.
Want more genius planning tips? For the best wedding dresses, advice, and big-day inspiration, pick up the BRIDES December 2015/January 2016 issue, on newsstands now and available for download here!