Amy is a wedding planner in Brooklyn, so she eats, sleeps, and breathes weddings. But that doesn’t mean she wants all the bells and whistles for herself. When she and her fiancé, John, started talking marriage, she was sure to tell him that she did not want a traditional proposal. “Every proposal photo or story usually makes me cringe,” she says. Then she laughs: “Sorry! I'm a grinch about proposals. I just feel like they’re always SO canned and never empowering for women left desperately wondering when/where/how.” She told John this, and he completely saw where she was coming from. “So, we said screw it. Let's do something different.” Instead, they planned a secret engagement trip getaway.
Amy and John both had substantial dating experience when they met, but both quickly realized there was something different about this relationship. Amy says, “There's this great quote from Cheryl Strayed that goes something like, ‘You know when you're with the right person when you want to dig deep, not out.’ I spent a lot of years running from commitment. Even at our toughest moments, I've never wanted to run.” John sees their relationship the same way, saying that he likes the way Amy challenges him and that when they face adversity, he never has the desire to run from it. “I've developed a little saying for us: are we dancing or are we wrestling? It feels like a dance: figuring our lives out. But also there is some grappling, some pushing and pulling that takes place.”
So just as their relationship is propelled forward by a level of charged tension, the decision to marry required many late nights having “serious conversations that scared the hell out of each of us at moments.” They talked about everything: children, work-life balance, habits, and concerns. Amy says, “I was basically black coffee to John. I came off SO strong.” Beginning early on in their relationship, she asked lots of hard questions: “I had a gut feeling about him from the beginning, and I didn't want to get my heart broken. I think being honest early was so helpful.” John agrees that these conversations were hard, but necessary: “They helped us find compromise, as well as defend ourselves, in all the ways we felt we would need to.”
They both agreed that marriage was the next step that they wanted for their relationship, and they moved in together. “At that point the proposal was kind of a moot point,” John says. “Amy and I were never interested in the standard model of the man surprising the woman with some magical night with a videographer hiding in the bushes.” Instead they planned a trip out West, incorporating little surprises for each other along the way. Together, they proposed to one another on the rim of the Grand Canyon, exchanging engagement rings.
Amy says, “We got to craft an experience together that reflected us through and through, right down to the In-N-Out burger we scarfed in the seats of a top-down Camaro as we made our way to Route 66.” John reflects on some of the best moments, recalling their engagement photo shoot in Joshua Tree National Park, having the fire department come to their Airbnb when they set off the alarm cooking a romantic dinner, and “escaping our lives for just a bit to start a new life together.” Amy smiles, recalling “pulling into a drive-through for coffee in Kingman, Arizona, our faces when we realized we had to off-road through a ditch to get to our Airbnb, and all the sunsets. All the quiet. All the time to just revel in how crazy grateful we are.”
“Planning a secret engagement trip together for six months connected John and I in surprisingly deeper ways,” Amy says. “We had even more conversations about our future, our likes and dislikes, and got to confide about it just with each other. It was deeply romantic and felt much more empowering to me than waiting around for a proposal.” If you, too, are considering an engagement outside of the norm, John suggests you “find something that is symbolic or meaningful to you.” He says it doesn’t need to be a big trip, but “just don't worry about expectations or what anyone else thinks is best. Listen to the other person and be honest about what you want/need. Write something beautiful.“
Amy says this trip was so much better than waiting in the dark for a proposal: “Don't play by society's dumb rules of engagement if it's not for you.” And if a wedding planner says engagement rules are dumb, it must be true.