You know what’s considered romantic? Surprise proposals. The Internet is brimming with emotional videos and listicle roundups of the best ones, guaranteed to make you shed a tear or two. But for some, the idea of their partner “popping the question” can actually be quite terrifying. If you think about it, the decision to commit the rest of your life to someone is one of the biggest you will ever make, and it’s a decision worthy of ample reflection and many heartfelt conversations.
For Carly and Dustin of New York, one person surprising the other with a marriage proposal was never on the table. Rather, they approached the marriage proposal the same way they approached their entire relationship: mutually.
Carly and Dustin met through a friend who started a theater company. When they first met at the theater, they were both dating other people and recall not really caring for each other. Later, after their mutual friend had relocated to another city, Carly ended a five-year relationship, and their friend called upon Dustin, also single, to check in and see how she was faring. Dustin put a lot of care and research into finding a restaurant that would accommodate Carly’s gluten-free diet, so she remembers arriving for their meal being a bit more interested in him. He arrived, expecting to dine as friends, but halfway through the meal Carly recalls him asking, “Should we order wine?” And that’s how it started.
At a friend’s engagement party, other couples were discussing ring shopping together. Dustin was like, “Wait, that’s a thing? Okay, then I can show you all the images of rings I’ve been looking at.” Carly was taken aback; she had no idea he was looking. As they walked home from the subway, they started flipping through images of rings he had saved on his phone, which was the first cue to Carly that he was at that stage. After a bit of back and forth about ring designs, the conversation ended. Later, in June after a busy work season, Carly retreated for a week to Connecticut, where she spent time reading and journaling. “It became really clear that I had already made a decision, which I hadn’t fully known, that he was my person,” she says.
As she started thinking about their engagement, she recalled a male friend of hers surprising her three hours into their hangout by telling her he had gotten engaged, which made her reflect on “how unequal it is that one person is marked after an engagement and one person is not.” The more she thought about it, the more important it became to her that they both wear a ring as a symbol of their engagement. Furthermore, “two people don’t come to the realization that they’re each other’s person at the same moment; they don’t say ‘I love you’ at the same time,” so why would both people be ready and willing to propose or accept a proposal at the same time? It made sense to Carly that both people should have the opportunity to propose on their own terms: “Reciprocity is important to me,” she says.
So she started planning her proposal to Dustin. She estimated his ring size and ordered a $45 ring off Etsy, unsure if he’d hate it. She planned to propose and then tell him that she also expected him to propose to her, later when he was ready. They had a trip planned to Maine and Canada in June. “I was sort of imagining that we would be on this hike, and we would be at an overlook, and it might be a good time to say something.” She goes on: “I know that the endorphins when you get to the top of a mountain make you feel extra, so I thought that would be fun if we were both out of breath.” They started hiking, and when they reached the overlook, she started in on the little speech she had prepared while handing him a ring. As she was talking, he fiddled in his pocket, handing her a plastic case that is a part of his camera gear. She was surprised that he was handing her something in the middle of her meaningful words, but when she opened the plastic case, there was a ring that nearly matched the one she had chosen for him. “Yes, I will marry you,” he said. She hadn’t yet asked that question, but she was pleased with the outcome.
She came to learn that Dustin was also feeling out a good spot for his proposal, likely waiting for the peak, but they were nowhere near the top of the mountain. They actually had three more hours to go, to Carly’s surprise! While this was a somewhat comical realization, the remaining three hours of climbing gave them ample time to discuss their excitement. At the top of the mountain, they were able to get a bit of cell service to call their families.
Carly and Dustin think of their relationship more as a partnership. “We happen to be cisgender and heterosexual, but those aren’t the molds we try to fit in,” says Carly. They have plans to collaboratively design a ring for Carly with a stone in it. Dustin expressed to Carly, “If you have to wear the ring, you should like it.” She agrees that the ring design and cost should be a shared effort: “If we are about to share finances, the ring is part of that cost.”
“I think our proposal is very quintessentially us. It was almost casual, and it was part of a larger adventure. Both of those things are pretty in line with who we are as people,” Carly says. “It didn’t feel precious; it felt natural.” When asked if she ever considered a more traditional surprise proposal, she says, “Surprise is fun, but it can also be nonconsensual. The most consensual version was both of us happening to give each other nearly matching rings at almost the same time.”