Relationships

A New Way to Get Engaged

My friend Nora got engaged this summer, and her engagement story actually felt kind of revolutionary…

Here’s her story:

In early August, my boyfriend Stan and I went to a B&B in Vermont for a long weekend. We wanted to get out of the city and hike. I had been thinking for a couple months about how to talk about getting married. Our past conversations—about, say, dating exclusively and moving in together—had always been very organic and easy. So, one afternoon, we were lying around and I said, “You know what I’ve been thinking about?” And he said, “Tell me.” And I said, “I’d really like to get engaged, I love you and want to spend my life with you.” And he said, “Me, too!” And we started kissing and crying, and it was so romantic. And the whole rest of the weekend turned into a very chatty weekend. We talked about what marriage meant to us, the religion of our future children, when we would want to have kids…

When we got back from the trip, we invited my parents to brunch at our favorite NYC diner. We told them that we were going to get married, and my dad said, “Welcome to the family!” and my mom started crying—which is exactly what I had told Stan would happen. Then we went to design a ring together, and Stan and I made decisions together on what looked best.

Later, when we were telling our friends the story, they really struggled with details—like, what’s the date of the anniversary of your engagement? And we were like, um, not sure, it has been a process. My friends would ask, So, are you actually engaged? Did he propose? What did he do?

Our conversations in Vermont, and talking to my parents, and going to design the ring, and telling people, and picking up the ring, and telling my sister and his mom…all of those things were joyous. There was never any moment where I was waiting or wondering or anxious or analyzing. I was never in the dark, I was just happy and calm every single step.

I love big proposal stories for sure, but a few of my friends will be the first to admit that they’re a little twisted up, they’re waiting, they feel at sea and out of control of the engagement decision. They hesitate to bring it up to their boyfriends, as if it’s a decision that he has to make, a trigger he has to pull. That can be an unsettling feeling. For us, it worked because we took ourselves through it every step of the way. I never felt like I was waiting for him to do anything. We decided together, and we moved through it together.


Thanks (and congratulations), Nora! What do you guys think? Alex proposed on a boat and I adored it—but there were a few months beforehand where I started wanting to discuss getting married, but I felt like I couldn’t bring it up or I’d look desperate. Which is kind of nuts when you’re making such an enormous life decision. There’s no other major decision—dating exclusively, moving in together, having children, buying a house, moving—that you wouldn’t discuss together as equal partners, right?

What do you think? Did your partner propose? Would you consider talking about it openly and moving through the process together? I’d love to hear…

P.S. Will you change your name when you get married? Or elope?

(Illustration by Nan Lawson; photo courtesy Nora and Stan)

  1. I really wanted the protect proposal so I kind of planned my proposal….. My husband was happy to follow a plan I made, that meant he didn’t have to think of one! It was a scavenger hunt to places that are meaningful to us. I told him I wanted my friend with me, not alone the whole time wandering around the city getting clues. That seemed lonely. I even told him where I wanted the final destination to be when he proposed!! It was so so so beyond perfect and he thought of the sweetest places to send me. I like proposals more than weddings because weddings are STRESSFUL and the proposal was just FUN.

  2. kristina says...

    It has been me who proposed. We’ve been doing some cleaning up in our new flat and when having a rest I just asked: “How about getting married now?” And he said: “Ok, I’m going to book a date at the city hall on Monday.” And that was it. Come to think of it, probably it does not matter how or where it happens, once you want to marry the other person and the feeling is mutual, you allways remember it with fondness and consider it romantic.

  3. Amanda says...

    There was no way my fiance’s and my engagement was ever going to be a surprise. We love talking things to death way too much for that to happen. We actually started talking about it two years before it happened, discussing timelines, expectations, what it meant to us. And then 9 months before he proposed, we picked out a ring together. Even when he did propose, while we were on vacation in Spain, he didn’t ask, “Will you marry me?” He brought me into it: “So what do you think, should we get married?” Every step of the way felt romantic, and mutual, and safe, and entirely us. I understand wanting the element of surprise, but I loved our multi-tiered engagement process. Ultimately, there are a million wonderful ways to enjoy an engagement — I’m just thrilled to be seeing more diversity in the process!

  4. Nancy says...

    We were sitting in the parking lot, having just left his sister’s wedding. He turned to me and said, “I’d love to marry you!” The ring didn’t come until our 15th anniversary — we didn’t want to rush into anything!

  5. C says...

    That’s similar to my story.

    At one point, I was telling my partner about something that I thought he should know about, since we had been together a while and were clearly serious about each other. He said, ‘It’s okay. I have been planning to marry you unless you object.’ And I said, ‘I planned to marry you, too.’

    Later, he proposed with a ring, because he’d always wanted to. That’s when we announced it.

    I can’t imagine being surprised with a proposal. What if you haven’t discussed important details yet?

  6. Becca says...

    I really adored this story. My boyfriend and I know that we’d like to be together, and yes, eventually get married, but we’re very casual and open about the process. I don’t want an engagement ring (or at least a diamond) because I’ve never been a big ring person, but a wedding band would be nice. Also, I came to the conclusion a few months ago that I’d like the wedding to be very small, just our immediate family and an officiant, at a private room in a restaurant (but decorated!) To make it a little wild, the Pt. II would be a surprise “reception” a week or so later to reveal our marriage to all our friends and family! I don’t like a lot of attention on me (I’ve rarely ever had a birthday party) so a big wedding doesn’t appeal to me, but surprising our friends and family like that would just be a blast!! The best part is that my boyfriend is 100% down with this idea! ;)

    • This is so cool! Yeah, that’s what I imagine I would do for my wedding. I never saw the romance in the actual wedding day. For me the romance was always about the man I’d marry. I’d love to be able to surprise my friends and distant relatives about a wedding party, and keep the wedding itself kinda secret.

  7. This was us, too. We just talked about it and told our family and friends like any other decision we would make together as a couple. I don’t have/didn’t want an engagement ring- just the wedding band. Having one ring suits my style best. Come to think of it, I picked out my ring on my own and we chose his together.

  8. I love this story and all the comments!
    We discussed together. We had already booked the venue, sight unseen due to limited availability, and were planning the wedding. We had talked about marriage and what it means to us. My husband asked if he could still do an old fashioned proposal, which was ok with me since I already knew when we were getting married.
    We went together and asked for my grandmother’s engagement ring (already offered). The two of us went to visit the venue (an old 1930’s CCC park within a state park), and after the tour, on a bridge he did asked me to marry him. It was very sweet, though I was terrified we would drop my grandmother’s ring into the water!
    We wrote our own ceremony, I wore a light blue dress (fav color), no “giving” of bride, I kept my name, and we are incredibly happy. Don’t follow tradition just because it’s easy; do what’s right for you and your partner for life.

  9. That’s actually how people usually get engage on Spain, all the time. For us, It’s kind of crazy all the ”big thing” around engage in the movies or online.

  10. This is my dream proposal, I’m even going to get the boyfriend to read this article! I hate hate hate surprises so we’ve already talked about how I’ll tell him when I’m ready and he can plan a proposal, but this sounds much better, so much more organic as she said. Lovely!

  11. It’s a great story! And it seems to me that having these kind of open lines of communication set them up well for a happy life together.

    My now-husband did a big proposal – surprise flash mob song and dance – but only after we’d spent several months of talking about all the details that need to be hashed out before you decide to marry someone. For us, it was the best of both world; we’d had the majority of the conversations we needed to have to decide we were ready for marriage, but he got to make a big, romantic gesture – which was VERY important to him – and I got to feel, for a moment (which is as much as I would ever want) that I was the center of the universe.

  12. Its funny… this is exactly how I pictured my husband an I getting engaged back when we were newly dating (and then not so newly dating in college). We met when we were babies (17 and 18) and ended up growing up together… my parents have been happily married for 40 years however, and his had a pretty traumatic divorce when he was young.

    As a result the marriage discussion that was so natural for me was a long and challenging process for him. I brought up marriage for YEARS before he was ready to see himself as marrying- despite the fact that he has been the most loyal, devoted and monogamous partner for 12 years.

    We ended up getting engaged on the 10th anniversary of our first kiss in a very over the top kind of way (a video of our lives projected on a private screen at the beach with music written by my husband and a stunning vintage ring)- all years after we had finished our BFAs and grad school, bought our first home and adopted our first dog.

    Today we are happily married for the past year and a half but have spent almost half of our lives dedicated to each other and live every day as a true team.
    It just shows that whatever works- WORKS and there should be no regrets or judgement as long as you have found your counterpart. I am grateful every day to have found mine- one who supports me in all I do and can tile a kitchen floor like nobody’s business…. cold feet or not! Cheers!

  13. Funny, I just read another feature that made me think of your piece. It’s about a designer/maker in Phoenix who had the coordinates of where she got engaged inscribed in her ring. And she went on to say “My secret hope is that in 200 years, long after we’re gone, someone will look up the coordinates from the ring, find out that it points to Machu Picchu, and my adventurous spirit will live on in a small way.” https://moorea-seal.squarespace.com

    It so nice to read about romantic and creative ways of starting a new life with someone. I feel like the wedding industry has spiraled so out of control that so many people lose sight of what the point of all of this is.

  14. I like that she did it that way. It’s similar to mine too. We already have a toddler together, and it’s been 7 years. He hadn’t purchased me a ring yet, and I just asked him. “Hey are you going to ask me to marry you?”. He said he felt like he didn’t need to because to him we were already married. And this made sense to me. We’ve been living together for years, have a family, pay for everything together, file taxes together, we’re bestie and super in love. We ARE married. It seemed a little silly to me that he would have to ask for something we are already doing.

    So when I was at Steven Alan, I just bought my own ring. I told him and showed him and he really liked it. Now now we’re going to the Philippines next year to have a small ceremony in Cebu, Philippines.

    When I told my friends, they laughed and my mom thought that it was an embarrassing story to tell. But I like it. We’re unconventional and this made sense to us.

  15. Oh what a sweet and lovely story!

    My love and I had been talking about our future for a while and were in the process of moving in together. Just a few days before her planned surprise proposal, I got caught up in a beautiful sunset and spontaneously asked her myself while we were walking the dog. That weekend she surprised me with a beautiful ring and we made it official between ourselves. It was then a while before we told anyone except my mum, keeping it to ourselves for a bit.

    Our engagement was really lots of small moments that we shared and talked about and loved. And I hope that our marriage will be the same!

  16. I love this. My boyfriend and I have had very organic and easy conversations about our future, including getting married. We will do it, but we’re not at that point to do it right now. We have a long distance relationship and so conversation and open discussion are what we’ve got most of the time. There may be some surprise involved when/if there is a ring (i’m anti-diamond which was definitely something he needed to know), but our decision to spend our lives together, and how quickly we’ll make each step is absolutely shared between us. I think I prefer there to not be a surprise. I love this story and how they did it. Congrats.

  17. This is how it happened for me too….5 years ago :) I agree tho that it is hard to explain it others that it was a process and not a date.

  18. We JUST did almost exactly this–we’re engaged as of this Friday, two days ago! We’re doing the long distance thing for the year, and we decided together to get married a few weeks ago when we were spending time with family in San Diego. We looked at rings together for a week or two, and then this weekend when he came to visit we went backpacking up in the mountains near Durango, Colorado. He proposed when we go to our campsite in a beautiful grove of golden aspen trees with what he called the “adventure ring”–the one he designed isn’t ready yet, so he bought a different one because he couldn’t wait and because he knew that I would need a ring to wear when we’re out rafting, backpacking, and climbing. We couldn’t be more excited!!

  19. That story sounds exactly like how we got engaged. It was just a discussion we had together and decided. We didn’t really make a huge announcement either (we told our parents) until we sent out the wedding invites. For us that is what worked best.

  20. This is sort of similar to how my husband and I broached the topic (except we were in Tahoe, not VT). Enjoying a wonderful and very private Thanksgiving weekend together, we ended up saying to one another “are you thinking what I’m thinking?”. We were both thinking that yes, we wanted to spend our lives together. Ultimately this led to a more “regular” proposal a few months later. Couldn’t be happier and just celebrated 5 years of thinking the same thing! ;)

  21. I love this. My husband and I got engaged in the same way, and I’ve found that people are always looking for a big engagement story that’s usually led by the male in the relationship (if there is a male in the relationship!). Whenever people ask, I tell them that we really just decided to, because that’s what we did  – decided as a couple that we wanted to get married. And that’s plenty romantic enough for me. :)

  22. My parents got engaged this way 34 years ago and have been happily married since. They were having dinner on the beach, after only a few months of dating, and my dad mentioned getting an apartment with one of his close friends. My mom replied with, something I thought only she could get away with. “Why would you do that? Don’t you want to get married?” Of course he did!

    My mom wanted a couch instead of an engagement ring. My grandmother, and dad, wouldn’t hear of it. She has worn her mothers diamond everyday since.

    I think marriage is such a beautiful decision, that should be made together.

  23. I asked my husband. We’re adults and equals and if he wasn’t cool with being proposed to, then he definitely wouldn’t have been the right man for me anyway!

  24. We had been together for 6 years and had talked about marriage for some time, one day in the car, again the conversation of marriage pop up since my best friend was getting married, and i told him why not we get married, and i’d really love to have my-then 90+ year-old granpa to witness his granddaughter’s wedding, he said ok, and after few days we told our parents, friends etc and now we gave been happily married for 2 years with a cute little daughter, no engagement rings, no down on one knee, friends surrounding dramatic moment, just simple & honest conversation. And am glad that we got married within 1 year as my grandpa pass away few months later.

    People always asked how’s the proposal like and i always have to answer “nope, no proposal but just conversation”. I love it this way and will never ever want to trade it

  25. This is exactly what me and my husband did! People would be so excited about the engagement story, then get bummed that it wasn’t a more exciting tale. It should be a decision for both of you, not one person just waiting around for the other to decide the future.

  26. I do love this story! Sounds like how I hope things go down one day. But, I must say, sounds like she pretty much proposed to him. All those sea of emotions and nervous moments would still exist for me even if I was just “bringing it up.” I think the introduction of the topic alone, even with no proposal, can be nerve-racking! Glad it went well for Nora!! :)