Relationships

An Engagement Story (Not That Kind)

An Engagement Story (Not That Kind)

The other day, while on a walk, my friend asked me something I’d waited my whole life to hear…

“What kind of engagement ring would you want?”

The question was mostly rhetorical, her way of sharing that she and her boyfriend are planning to get engaged. Still, I had no shortage of answers. I have thought a lot about this question — far more than I care to admit.

There are certain personal goalposts we carry within us. Whether it’s going to school or having an apartment with in-unit laundry (something I have yet to experience), they serve as our barometers of adulthood, myths that shape our individual notions of maturity and success. When we get there — wherever there is — we expect that life will look or feel a certain way. That we’ll have “arrived,” perhaps. That things will feel “figured out.” This has never actually been my experience, but it hasn’t stopped me from believing.

For me, no myth has held more weight, or proven more elusive, than the one about getting engaged. Even in the most low-key circumstances, the whole shebang always seemed like nothing short of magic. Romance, promises, optimism, jewelry? Count me very much in. But for years — again, far more than I care to admit — engagement felt like a club everyone was admitted to but me.

All throughout my twenties, while riding the subway to work, I’d gaze subtly-but-longingly at the rings adorning the hands wrapped around the safety pole. Who were their spouses? What were their relationships like? How had it happened? The rings, to me, were glittering symbols that someone had been chosen. I wanted to know how that felt.

All around me, friends and coworkers showed up sporting new, glistening symbols of commitment. My text messages grew overrun with beaming two-headed portraits, one left hand held aloft. I loved how each story matched their personalities, from traditional to unconventional to “let’s-get-a-tattoo-instead.”

In my late twenties, one (overzealous) friend went from store to store, trying on every ring in Manhattan and some in Brooklyn. I accompanied her on these trips, gently explaining over and over to each salesperson that no, I was just a friend, and no, I was not also in the market for a rock that cost many times my rent. She wrote her name, size and preferred styles on the back of each shop’s business card, then left them around her apartment for her now-husband to find.

As the years passed, more and more friends were initiated into the Club of Engagement. I carried a hint of FOMO, a feeling like being the last cheese in the cheese shop. I felt ashamed for feeling this way. My ideal self was independent, aggressively channeling the proverbial fish with a bicycle. I wanted to be completely immune to the siren song of rom-coms and De Beers marketing tactics. But inside, I cared. I cared a lot.

As the years ticked on, my single friends and I banded together, sharing dating stories or life stories or just commiserative company. We texted each other photos of engagement announcements and wedding invitations, not because we were bitter, but because it was our shared myth. Eventually, nearly all of them, too, got engaged.

For one of my dearest friends — a person I would describe, more than anyone I know, as a true romantic — it happened on the same night that I had a terrible breakup. We made plans to meet up the following morning. As we strolled down the street, side-by-side, she kept her left hand firmly planted inside her pocket.

“I want to see it!” I insisted.
“No. I know what this is like,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t want to upset you and I don’t want you to feel left out.”
“I’m happy for you!” I pulled on her arm. “Let me see!”
Then we both stood on the street and cried.

Some months later, someone did offer me a ring. I have chosen those words carefully, since that’s the most accurate description of what happened. An ex-boyfriend showed up at my apartment suddenly, months after we had broken up. “I have a ring!” he said, and nothing more. His eyes held that same shade of panic someone has when they’re about to vomit in a public place and they don’t know where to run. Needless to say, it wasn’t the right decision for either of us.

That was the beginning of the myth’s unraveling, bolstered even more by the years that followed — happy years of living on my own terms. For me, part of what made The Engagement Myth so tantalizing was that it was never a narrative I could control. It assumed that others had cracked some code of human experience, rather than that they were merely facing a different set of challenges. That, of course, is the real story, though it is no less beautiful.

By definition, a myth has two parts. The first: a story that helps explain a social or natural phenomenon. The second: something that is false. A myth is inherently both — something that helps us make sense of our existence yet isn’t the way it seems. At its heart, a myth is a story, written and shared, gaining power over time. This means we have the power to create our own, as well as the power to amend them.

I anticipate that when and if I do get married, it will be a simple, under-the-radar affair, engagement period optional. I anticipate this because I have communicated this preference, out loud. It’s not that I don’t still love a good engagement story — I do! — but more that I found my own narrative, and as it turns out, it looks a bit different.

In the middle of writing this, I took a break and went down the street to the grocery store. On my way out, a woman held the door for me, and I caught a glimpse of her hand. “What a pretty ring!” I thought, reflexively. (Old habits die hard.) But that’s as far as it went.

In recent times, I’ve started wearing whatever the hell I want to on that finger — rings passed down from my family or ones I’ve purchased myself. This is part of a new myth; one I’ve crafted to my own liking. There is a chance someone may notice my hand, holding a door or gripping a subway pole or just going about my day, and assume I’ve got some magical adult existence, infused with love and belonging, the resolve of commitment and the hopeful promise of being a part of something greater than oneself. They would be right.


Have you held onto any personal myths or goalposts in your own life? Did they look or feel the way you expected? Did others work out differently?

P.S. A new way to get engaged and the love story I never thought to tell.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Kelly M says...

    Exquisite writing. Love this post. I think it would be so beneficial if we had close friends who weren’t just in our current age range or life stage. This feeling that you need to live with a partner, buy a home, get engaged, get married, have kids, etc at the same pace as your peers really isn’t ideal. I love working with people who range vastly in age. I don’t think there should be all these societal norms and it’s refreshing to be around so many different lifestyles!

  2. Charlie says...

    Thanks for this beautiful post. The paragraph taht hit me hardest: “Happy years of living on my own terms. For me, part of what made The Engagement Myth so tantalizing was that it was never a narrative I could control. It assumed that others had cracked some code of human experience, rather than that they were merely facing a different set of challenges. That, of course, is the real story, though it is no less beautiful.”

    I’m frustrated by dating, feel alone sometimes, and wonder when (and if!) I’ll ever find a partner and have kids. The reality is that many of my friends who are married are just as alone as me, committed too soon to the wrong person, before learning to love themselves enough to choose correctly. Some are happily married. And as for me: I know, deep down, that I have been chosen – by my family, my friends, and most of all, loved by myself. Self love is the only love we can control and ensure, and its the only thing that can really make us happy. (And I’m convinced that happy relationships with others often start with self love too.) It’s an ongoing lesson, but one I’m practicing daily.

    On a totally different note, have we noticed how wedding rings have become a status symbol of wealth and privilege? Buying a price-inflated diamond that has no function other than looking exactly like CZ has become the modern BMW “Look at me, I’m rich (or married rich)” status symbol. I’m not loving that trend.

    What would wedding rings look like if we all chose what we actually thought was beautiful, fun, and represented our love?

    • Emh says...

      I love your comment so much, especially when you say this, “I’m frustrated by dating, feel alone sometimes, and wonder when (and if!) I’ll ever find a partner and have kids. The reality is that many of my friends who are married are just as alone as me, committed too soon to the wrong person, before learning to love themselves enough to choose correctly. ”

      I just had this convo with some girlfriends and had to (unfortunately/fortunately) be the bearer of bad news as the lone one in the group who had previously been with a live-in partner for 5+ years throughout my 20s, assuming I would marry them. When I told them just how alone I felt the last few years we were together, knowing we weren’t “right” for each other, it was eye opening for them. It’s so easy to romanticize engagements, but I think you say it perfectly when you say we need to learn to love ourselves first.

  3. Mariana says...

    Well. I can say that one of the things that hinted to the eventual failure of my marriage was how disappointing the proposal was (the ring was nice, though). Do Not Underestimate the importance of your gut feelings in these circumstances, ladies. If it matters to you, it matters :-)

    • Ali says...

      Same, Mariana. Ugh. Sending you love from one divorced lady to another.

  4. Lauren says...

    Beautifully written!

  5. Hilde says...

    I can relate, this was me through my twenties.

    At 30, I met my husband. He proposed after eight months of dating. We had a small wedding with ten friends as guests (a corona wedding before corona times). Now, almost four years after our engagement, the formalities do not mean much. All the time that we have spent together in our everyday lives are of a much greater value.

    • This definitely resonates with me! Prior to my engagement and wedding, I thought those formalities mattered so much. The cake and dress don’t matter to me anymore. Now, 6.5 years in, I think back on all of that and kind of feel myself smirking. If I had a do-over, I would not choose that traditional/formal route again. I think It’d fly under the radar like Caroline suggests. I suppose that’s what growing up is all about. GROWING into yourself and realizing what really matters, even if that changes.

  6. Nicole says...

    This was so lovely to read. The stories in the comments too! At some point I decided it was ridiculous to save a part of my body on behalf of someone who may or may not exist. So I wear rings on whichever finger I please, whenever I please. :)

  7. Sarah says...

    I love this so much, and relate on just about every level of what you wrote. Thank you for your candor, as always, you write so well! xoxo

  8. TL says...

    This was an absolute joy to read and almost felt like the good kind of rom-com. Always love reading Caroline’s posts! xx

  9. Sarah says...

    This was so great and lovely and relatable! I’m in my first and only long term relationship (about 4.5 years now) and I’m just so confused actually! The idea of marriage really freaks me out and I don’t know if it’s because it’s the person or because the existential idea of forever (and infinity and space) really freaks me out. I’ve also always thought I’d prefer a family heirloom or sorts and didn’t want a big diamond as an engagement ring. But lately they’ve been catching my eye and they’re so sparkly! COVID has only confused me more. But I just had to buy my own insurance on the marketplace as I search for a new job and it’s wildly unaffordable, so I told my boyfriend if this lasts more than 5-6 months, we have to get married so I can get on his insurance. Such romance!!! <3

  10. janine says...

    I was once engaged to a man who proposed with a vintage, art-deco style ring. It looked like a nice ring at first glance, but in reality it was very cheap and poorly made – the band was thin and fragile and kept breaking. It turned out to be a metaphor for our relationship. The relationship, like the ring, wasn’t built to last!

  11. Kim says...

    Caroline, thank you so much for the this post. As many have stated, the resonation and pangs are so real and universal. The validation we want from society and from ourselves is so misconstrued. Its impact rides on our self worth so heavily, and makes us feel diminutive and not worthy.

    I had been engaged exactly a year when I moved out during the pandemic and left the relationship. He had proposed while we were on vacation in 2019. He had done it in his own way during a hike, setup cameras to capture the moment, but hadn’t had enough time to order the ring I had wanted. I was so surprised and touched in the moment, and I had said yes. But as we had excitedly had dinner that night to celebrate and told the staff we were newly engaged, the reflex for my hand was immediate. Strangers grabbed it and examined, and I could feel the judgement at the simple band, loosely fitted on my finger, and it really hurt me. The look of excitement and congratulations immediately got clouded as they let go of my hand. I felt small, I felt unworthy. I stopped wearing it during the trip because I was afraid to lose it, but I also didn’t want the judgement anymore. We got into a colossal fight during that trip, I almost thought I would need to fly home early by myself if I couldn’t last the rest of the vacation. But somehow we salvaged it and came back. We returned the ring and the ring I had hoped for would take other a month to make. I felt disappointed and unhappy, was this how being engaged was supposed to feel like? I know it’s not supposed to be about the ring – it’s about the person you’re promising to spend the rest of your life with. But I couldn’t pull away from my disappointment. I didn’t tell anyone at work because I had nothing to show for it. From Instagram everything seemed idyllic and awesome, but inside I was completely dejected. A year later our relationship had crumbled and I could no longer do it. I moved out and chose to focus on myself.

  12. Hannah says...

    This was definitely relatable! I had never thought I was someone who would get married or engaged or even have a partner to share life with. I think secretly we all want what everyone else is going through, we want to be a part of the club. It was hard when my younger sister got married last year, when everyone would turn and ask me when I was getting married. Being the oldest, there’s a lot of pressure to hit these milestones first. I was always fine with knowing I may not reach them. After her wedding, I fell in love with a wonderful man, and now we are living together with plans to eventually get married. He gave me a beautiful promise ring, which is definitely enough for me.

  13. Annie says...

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been with my loving boyfriend for several years and while we plan to get married one day (after I finish my PhD!), I still find myself impatient to get engaged (even though I actually do want to finish my PhD first!). Thank you for articulating the nagging feeling in the back of my mind – that “everyone has been admitted to this club but me” feeling, which is actually not based in the reality of my relationship. It’s helpful and comforting to know that other women feel this way, torn between myth and reality, and it helps to mitigate some of my funky anxiety!

  14. Susan says...

    My engagement was planned. We had already picked out a ring with a very small diamond, exactly what I wanted. We got married in my husband’s village in northeast India (I’m American and we met in Bangkok) and my husband took charge of the wedding planning. I basically just had to show up. And you know what? My wedding was an absolute dream.

  15. Zoe says...

    This was so so lovely. My absolute favorite bit: .” It assumed that others had cracked some code of human experience, rather than that they were merely facing a different set of challenges. That, of course, is the real story, though it is no less beautiful.”

    We all face our different challenges no matter how many myths we stack up in front of us. ❤️

    • Thelma says...

      That was my favourite part too. I read and reread it.

  16. Cheryl says...

    Dear Caroline,
    I couldn’t wait to get engaged. It was a relief. But
    There are also hands that reveal a tan line where that ring used to be.
    Because it’s a just a piece of jewelry and finding “the One“ in the moment can just as swiftly turn into the wrong decision.
    Overrated. All of it.

  17. Kellyn Frances Shoecraft says...

    I’m glad you have found an idea of what works for you…it is easy to just fall into believing what we’re told what we should want (especially in the social media age).

    I fall in the anti-engagement ring camp.

    Engagement rings started, essentially, as a way to generate sales for diamonds and for women to feel comfortable having sex with their soon-to-be husbands before the wedding day. Because of the ring, it proved that the men weren’t just saying they’d get married for the premarital sex. Since they invested (likely) 10% of their annual income in a piece of jewelry, they weren’t going to bed and scoot (I’m sure there’s a better idiom for that than the one I just invented…).

    The pressure to have a swoon-worthy engagement story, a hidden photographer to capture the moment, an expensive piece of jewelry when the man (in a hetero couple) doesn’t wear anything, the need for everything to be perfectly planned and for you to be surprised. Eeek. Not for me.

  18. A says...

    Caroline, your writing is distinctive and beautiful.

    While I don’t care about rings or engagement or weddings, the feeling of being chosen hits hard. This year my 11 year relationship came to an end, and it is hard to see our friends continue in their relationships while I am now, for the first time as an adult, on my own. It’s hard to feel that we should have tried harder, that their relationships are better, that we failed somehow. I know that this isn’t really the case, but the feeling is there anyway.

    • Thelma says...

      It is so, so hard! That feeling of failure, of a ‘failed relationship’ is so imbedded, but it’s just wrong. We should see it as you are doing this really difficult thing and carrying this heavy weight, which is something to be proud of! Your 11 year relationship had, I’m sure, a million little successes before it ultimately ended, and why do we erase those from our memories? Your relationship was not a failure, it was just complete.

    • Emie says...

      Please, please don’t think think of this as a failure. Failure is a heavy load to carry, especially by oneself. I figure it’s reevaluating what’s working and what’s not in one’s life. Simply, you’ve chosen a different path for yourself going forward. One full of wonder, hope and beautiful new experiences. HUGS

  19. AJ L. says...

    I relate so much to this. For so long I wondered how everyone else managed to get married. Finding someone who loved you as much as you loved them (and vice versa), were in the same place in life, and actually wanted to get married seemed like an impossible task for so long. While I have a dainty little ring (probably too small by most American standards) and my wedding turned into an elopement this summer (thanks COVID), it’s truly all lived up to my expectations and hopes (so far… we’re only three months in!). It was so worth the effort and wait.
    However, I said multiple times during the whole process that it’s BS you don’t get to be celebrated in such a meaningful way if you don’t get married. We need to come up with another kind of celebration for these scenarios!

  20. Gabz says...

    I’m sorry, this has nothing to do with the story, but it’s been a few times that I read a story on CoJ that mentions “in-unit laundry” and I just don’t get it : is it this rare to have a washing machine IN your apartment? It just doesn’t make any sense to me, a French-reader.

    • Rue says...

      It is rare!! Especially in dense cities like NYC, even very expensive apartments might only have a set of machines in the basement or first floor for all tenants to use. So you usually have to take your laundry out of the building or at least out of your apartment and then back in.

      What’s impressive about that precedent is that even in less populated and expensive areas, it’s become standard for smaller or less expensive apartment to provide no laundry machines at all, so you have to take your laundry to a laundromat, wash and dry it, then bring it back to your space. In a small city in a rural part of the US, I still didn’t have a washing machine inside my apartment until I had a job change and promotion in my 30s, and could afford an apartment with a washing machine. My brother still lives in New York City where we grew up, and with two very good jobs he and his wife bought an apartment in a building with a communal laundry room on the first floor, no laundry in their apartment, with two small children. In New York that’s common even for families.

    • Joyce says...

      In NYC it’s VERY rare, as Rue says, even for families with kids. In Brooklyn, I lived on the fourth floor and had laundry in the basement of my building (which needed quarters!) and my NYC friends were impressed at the ‘luxury.’ (I also didn’t have a dishwasher or central air, pretty normal for NYC.) In other cities where I lived, Madison, Wisconsin for example, it was super easy to find in-unit laundry in apartments. I lived in 3 apts there and all had in-unit laundry, dishwashers, and central air. Depends on the city!

    • Gabz says...

      Thank you so much Rue and Joyce for your detailed answers, it all makes much more sense now (also makes much more sense that people in Friends go the laundromat so often… which to me appeared as a « this is not real life!!!! » for a long time hahaha).
      xxx

  21. Lindsey says...

    THIS! What a beautiful piece. I loved it.

  22. Margaret Pycherek says...

    What a beautifully-written essay. I so relate. I’m 44, in a wonderful relationship (my longest thus far), and I feel the simultaneous longing to be “chosen” and engaged alongside the push to resist society’s prescribed timeline. We don’t want kids, why should we marry? We’ve each been independent for so long, why should we rush? I’m a feminist, why do I need this validation? So I’m doing my best to sit with both feelings at once, and not berate myself for either. That in itself is the hard work, no matter what age or what kind of relationship you’re in. Hugs to every one of us feeling this way.

  23. AMK says...

    Anyone else wonder if Caroline’s friend asked her about her ring preferences because she is helping the boyfriend pick something out?

  24. T says...

    Caroline <3

    My engagement was planned, unspontaneous, and very short. It was not one of those mythical, beautiful scenarios… yet, it was beautiful and special all the same.

    I had chosen a ring online that was specially/ethically made for me… after a month of wearing it, I realized it wasn't me at all. We returned it and I decided that I wanted to wear not one special "designated" ring for that finger, but any or multiple different rings!

    Now, I have about three rings I alternate as my engagement or wedding ring — and all three combined cost less than the first one I ended up returning. It suits "me" much better, as my style is that I can't commit to just one style.

    I loved the line you wrote, "It assumed that others had cracked some code of human experience, rather than that they were merely facing a different set of challenges." YES. Every. single. human. is facing a set of challenges, despite what we see on the outside.

    Now that I am married, a dream I secretly had even though I, too, was the quintessential independent woman, I have challenges being married! It's honestly hard sometimes. (Although I do think it's much more powerful than cohabitating or just dating. Call me old fashioned.)

    But sometimes, I feel really alone when I see friends who say their relationship is smooth sailing. But, alas, they are just facing a different set of challenges.

    We are all together, and we are all alone. It's a balance, an ebb and flow.

    Thanks for writing, Caroline. xx

    • Ashley says...

      Very well said, thank you for this lovely perspective. Wishing you all the best moving forward!

    • Gemma says...

      ‘We are all together, and we are all alone. Ebb and flow.’ I love that. It feels very accurate and poignant in these strange times.

  25. miranda says...

    I wish you’d write a post on how we can all write as well as you do, Caroline.

    Loved reading this story. I met and fell in love with a lovely man. We were both so focused on the ring/marriage/settling down that we forgot to note that we weren’t really RIGHT for each other. We both knew that it would bring us so much social status, security, and stability, we forgot to make sure we would be able to have an amazing marriage.

    Eventually the relationship ended, and we were both so sad because we love each other deeply. Now I am realising we dodged a massive bullet: the sadness of the divorce that would have resulted from our very different priorities in life.

    Very excited to be discovering what’s truly important to ME and creating my magical life. An engagement story is just one of the many happy stories that will be part of that.

    • Margaret says...

      You write pretty well yourself, Miranda! Lovely post and good luck on this next phase of your life. ( :

  26. Natane says...

    So beautifully and perfectly written. And 100% sums up why my now husband and I simply had a conversation and then a backyard wedding and skipped the engagement bit. We knew we wanted a simple wedding, no guests, so it was easier to do this without first being engaged. People were very surprised when we told them we were married!

  27. J. says...

    Caroline, this was a such a beautiful essay.

    I am in my early 30s and one of the last of my friends to get engaged. We’ve been together for 6 years and we never felt the need to rush into a marriage based on anything other than when we were ready. We’ve talked about getting married dozens of times but never placed emphasis on a lot of the “traditional” elements. He proposed this summer at our home with our #1 fans (our puppy and cat) and it was perfect. The diamond is from my great grandmother’s ring and the gold for the band belonged to his family. He had it designed to look like my grandmother’s ring which was given to her by my grandfather 64 years ago. Taking the time to be thoughtful in a design and to use materials from our family’s past will mean more to me than any ring you could buy from a store.

    While I am a hopeless romantic for a great love story, I often think our culture misses the mark and places emphasis on the material objects that do not matter: size of the diamond, cost of the wedding, etc. as if it’s a representation for how much a couple must love each other. I’ve watched friends over the years lose sight and at times their minds, over things that at the end of the day just truly do not matter. They let the stress of societal pressures and pressures from family and friends cloud what matters the most to them. My fiancé and I always knew that was something we’d never want to go through.

    We’ll be getting married next month in a tiny ceremony with just our immediate families present. We’ve planned the entire thing in less than 6 weeks and have decided to keep it a secret; we’ll tell our friends after the fact. Focusing on our commitment to each other, the people we love and adding elements that feel truly us, without the pressures and opinions of others, has been such a gift.

    • Susan says...

      I love your wedding plan. May you have a beautiful day and a beautiful marriage.

  28. Kath says...

    Caroline, I feel very much seen. As I move, rather begrudgingly, into full on adulthood, I find myself more focused on these milestones in a way I never was before. It feels so weird! Glad you were able to articulate the feeling so eloquently, you’re a great writer.

  29. Esther says...

    Thank you so much for this story, Caroline. I chased engagement and pushed it on my boyfriend and me only to realize it wasn’t right for either of us. Since calling off the wedding, I’ve mourned the loss of the social status, of the club that seemingly all my friends are in. But, I’ve also spent the past one-and-a-half years creating new narratives and fulfilling dreams that I couldn’t have had within my relationship (fulfilling a life-long goal of moving to Berlin—something that, although cut short by the pandemic, would never had happened if I was still chasing the old myth)…

  30. AMK says...

    Choose oneself and put a ring on it 💕pick the most glorious, sweetest ring for yourself and I promise you that you will treasure it always 💕

    • Janet says...

      Thank you for this comment ❤️

  31. Meggles says...

    Not the first time I’ve thought this, for sure, but Caroline, you are SUCH a talented writer. Please write a book, and I will buy it.

  32. Jules says...

    Completely brilliant, Caroline. As a SSB (single since birth), I totally resonate with this. Thank you for reminding me that I have the power to create my own story!

    Much love.

  33. Quyen Nguyen says...

    Skip the engagement ring! It is a waste of money. Spend the money on a honeymoon of a lifetime! Best decision I’ve ever made. We spent 2 weeks in Peru and 2 weeks in DC with my newborn nephew. Bliss.

    • Laura says...

      ha ha ha. I like this. however we did it a little differently. we got a beautiful engagement ring and honeymoon but skipped the wedding! no regrets!

  34. Molly says...

    I’d love a post on the promotion of the engagement myth in movies for kids! Why did Frozen 2 have to have the engagement plot line?!!

    • Ashley says...

      Mine was moving into my own place. All my life I’d had family or roommates/housemates, so making that transition to a place that was all my own felt like a serious Adulting goalpost.

    • Ashley says...

      Oops, sorry this was meant to be in response to Amy’s comment below. My bad!

      For Frozen 2, I suspect that pushing the engagement plotline might have just been an on-brand thing to do for the company that peddles the “Disney princess” dream/myth. I mean, they literally have their own Wedding Industrial Complex — couples pay top dollar to dress up as, and be feted like, literal Disney princes and princesses for a day with customized on-theme cakes, locales, photos, decor, etc. My main problem with Frozen 2 was that they did it anyway despite the filmmakers swearing that there would never be a sequel, and as a consequence it just felt a hollow, cheapened rehash of the same themes. But this is Disney and when it’s a sure money maker, what Disney wants, Disney gets — even if it means they destroy their own legacy in the process with terrible direct-to-DVD offerings. (The Little Mermaid 2, Cinderella 2 AND Cinderella 3: A Stitch in Time, anyone?)

    • Louise says...

      Guys, Frozen 2 was so much more than this! The engagement storyline was part of the wider dynamic of Anna accepting that her and Elsa could grow and pursue different paths without growing apart. And that it’s ok for Anna to fall in love and get engaged and for that to make her happy, but it was only a part of her life. She has so much more purpose than just finding love. And that sometimes it’s the softer, romantic person who is the strong person who makes difficult decisions. And to me the whole tearing down the dam storyline had so many parallels in the argument for reparations. I found it such a worthwhile AND enjoyable sequel!

    • Ashley says...

      Louise — I hear you on the tearing down the dam and righting a wrong part of the movie, but to me it felt a little half baked/like that storyline didn’t really go anywhere because it didn’t really show them being assimilated into Arendelle, or benefiting from improved trade ties, or any formal admission of their grandfather’s treachery to the people he betrayed. Like did they show the “indigenous” group going to live in the kingdom and sharing in its accumulated wealth built of the many years the dam existed? I may have misremembered (it’s been a while since I’ve seen it) but seeing as the kingdom avoided destruction anyway, it seemed like it just carried on benefiting from the previously established status quo even with the dam destroyed?

      Anyhoo, the sisters’ relationship in both Frozen movies have always secretly bugged me a little. When you look past their surface “happy together” dynamic, it always feels to me like Anna is too dependent on Elsa to be happy just being her own person. I get that younger siblings tend to hero worship older sibs and want their time and attention and approval, and Anna was coming off an ultra lonely childhood thanks to her parents’ ill conceived plan to keep Elsa isolated indefinitely to repress her powers lest she accidentally hurt anyone, but she just demanded too much from Elsa. The poor older sister clearly loves the sister but her every attempt to establish some sort of autonomy/boundaries with Anna gets overridden by the latter’s insecurity, so Elsa reluctantly goes along with Anna’s plans in order to keep the peace. That is one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship, when one party constantly pushes the other for more and more commitment and the other acquiesces because they think they should/have no other choice…

      Yes Elsa ultimately runs off to heed the call as the Fifth Element or what have you, but the fact that she’s wracked by massive guilt at every turn for wanting to chart her own path independent of Anna isn’t a sign of how much they love each other etc; it’s a sign of their unhealthy co-dependence. See Anna’s anger when she rants to Olaf that “she (meaning Elsa) always does this!!” in their canoe after Elsa realizes she has to make her way across the seas to the legendary river of the lullaby and it’s too dangerous for Anna, so she makes the unilateral decision to push Anna away from their parents’ shipwreck. Anna sees this as the sister breaking her promise to face things together, even after it becomes clear that Elsa’s quest to discover her true identity/destiny must be undertaken by herself. So the fact that the engagement is meant to help her realize that she can/should be happy without relying on Elsa’s constant presence and validation is to me a bit of a red herring, because really she’s just transferring her single-minded focus from Elsa to the boyfriend Kristoff (external validation) instead of learning to live with/love herself (internal validation) without having to constantly look to other people.

      Yes I know that in the end she’s supposed to have come into her own when she ascends the throne as the new Queen of Arendelle and tacitly gives Elsa her approval/freedom to go be her own person, but I would have preferred to see a storyline where Anna comes to realize her own worth and identity as her mother’s daughter, a leader in her own right, a woman who doesn’t have to have a man in order to be “given” permission to be happy, and as a sister who doesn’t need to control her older sister’s destiny or keep her so physically close as to smother her in order to feel close to her. As a younger sister myself, I didn’t like that Disney made it feel so imbalanced — like Anna would give anything to have her sister love her (Elsa already did, just not in a manner that Anna could recognize/feel satisfied by) whereas it felt like Elsa was constantly trying to pull away from Anna, as if having her sister around or not was something she really didn’t care all that much about (which she really didn’t the first time she ran away in Frozen 1 — she was fully prepared to live out her life on her own sans Anna and would’ve been happy about it).

      TL;DR: Anna too clingy/needy/ possessive, Elsa justifiably smothered if a bit flighty, Kristoff merely a consolation prize for Anna who really craved her sister’s affections/validation more.

  35. Amy says...

    Being able to afford buying a round of drinks for my friends. And being able to afford to purchase airplane tickets to a fancy destination. Those were my goalposts.

    • Ashley says...

      Mine was moving into my own place. All my life I’d had family or roommates/housemates, so making that transition to a place that was all my own felt like a serious Adulting goalpost.

  36. Tara says...

    I kinda felt like I joined a grown-up, posh club when I was able to afford wearing nice pajamas instead of saggy yoga pants and stained tanks that are not appropriate for public eyes. Yes, this goal post is everything I imagined it would be. I’m pretty sure I’ve really made it in life.

  37. Julie says...

    Caroline, you continue to bless us with the perspectives we need most! I spent so much of life obsessing over engagement rings and then eloped with my husband with a $100 band I bought on Amazon. Since then, I’ve found buying MYSELF a ring I like every year or two to be an actually-fulfilling practice that I look forward to with glee.

  38. Caroline says...

    Caroline, you are an incredibly captivating writer. I always look forward to your essays. You have such mastery of craft it is astounding.

    • Sarah says...

      Thank you for telling this story about engagements this way, and not waiting to have gotten engaged to reflect and recognize that it’s quite okay to happily live life as it is today, versus set on that goalpost of success.

  39. Marcelle says...

    Caroline you’re simply genius.

  40. Amy says...

    This is just how I feel about being a mother. After a miscarriage and years of infertility I’m unsure if I’ll ever get to join the mythical motherhood club. And although I know being a mother would be incredible, I’ve come to acknowledge in the past few years that my life as a non-mother is also incredible.

    • Sara says...

      <3

  41. N says...

    Last year I had to go to a jewelers to have my wedding band cut off. I was able to slide my engagement ring off (with a lot of ice, lotion and elevation) but after having an emergent surgery and gaining weight and being on new medications, my fingers were so swollen. I am sure the jeweler has said this line a million times but I was so grateful for how earnestly and kindly he said it to me while snipping through my beautiful gold band, “Gold is known to shrink”.

  42. MariaE. says...

    I just love this lovely essay. I love Caroline’s writing and I love reading all the different comments. I have always loved jewelry. I grew up being showered with different pieces of jewelry at Christmas, birthdays, graduation from school, university and two of my aunties even gave me pieces of jewelry when I got married. I have always loved rings and I have always wore them, many at the same time. I grew in a country were engagement rings were not a thing at the time. Some people got them, most didn’t and it was OK. When I moved to Canada the fact that I was always wearing different rings in ‘the finger’ caught the attention of my new co-workers and new friends. When they found out I was single, they were always telling me not to use rings in ‘the finger’; otherwise, I was not going to be able to meet anyone. I did not follow their advice. I have been using rings since I am 10 years old and I was not going to stop doing that; specially, if that was the way to show I was ‘in the market’. I can tell that the same way Caroline glances at others’ rings, they glance at hers, too. I know that for a fact because I do the same and I have been engaged in very nice-random conversations with strangers in public transit when they make a comment about my rings or I make a comment about theirs. Some lovely stories and some happy memories have been shared. To you out there, if you feel you want a ring and use it in ‘the finger’, go get it!! Don’t wait. Use it, enjoy it!! If one day, the ring you use in ‘the finger’ is to be replaced by the engagement/married ones, it’s perfectly fine. You will probably have to resize your ring and use it in other finger.

  43. Erin says...

    Beautiful, Caroline.

  44. Anon says...

    I am happily married for almost a quarter of a century now….(yikes) married when I was 24. I discovered sparks with a dear male friend, fell madly in love, dated for 4 months, was engaged for 2, tied the knot with a small wedding. So glad we didn’t waste time or energy on a big wedding – it just isn’t our thing at all!!! Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about the ring (And I have never ever noticed anyone’s wedding rings except to note whether they are married or not).

  45. katie says...

    Late to the party, but I wanted to say that I really loved this essay.

    I’m married. My husband didn’t propose with an engagement ring. Frankly, I didn’t want one. We did exchange simple bands on our wedding day which are engraved with our nicknames for one another. For me, the engagement ring myth was dispelled years ago.

    I was engaged once before. He proposed with a gorgeous, nearly flawless emerald cut plus baguettes ring. He and his dad picked out the diamond and the ring was built around that. It was so shiny and beautiful. Within a few weeks of the proposal, I realized I couldn’t go through with the marriage. I loved him, but something was missing. It took me a few months and therapy to come to term with that. The day I gave the ring back was the day I realized the ring meant nothing, at least to me.

    I don’t begrudge anyone their bright, shiny symbol of love. So, when I found my person, who was divorced and also bought an engagement ring for his first wife, we decided it was completely unnecessary.

  46. meredith says...

    A year out from a divorce from a emotionally, verbally and sometimes physically abusive husband of 17 years, having nothing on that finger is the best feeling in the world. And when I notice rings on others fingers now, more often than not, I’m wondering what kind of ugly things they are putting up with at home that they don’t tell anybody about.

    • JLS says...

      This completely resonates with me! The week after I left a very toxic, unhappy marriage of 10+ years, I went to the nearest pawn shop and sold both my engagement and wedding rings. I felt light and free for the first time in forever…and I was able to put the money into a savings account to help build a new life, on my own terms. It was glorious.

    • Ramya says...

      Here here! I love my divorced, no ring left hand. Love my singlehood and showcasing it for the world to see – that you can have a fabulous, fulfilled life on your own terms if that’s what you desire!

  47. Kate says...

    I am divorced, and keep my engagement ring and band in a drawer. I love jewelry, and inherited a magpie love for all sparkling things from my mother, who once worked for a jewelry designer and has quite a collection herself. I once found those rings very lovely; they were designed to have a timeless, vintage look to them. But they have become a marker of a chapter in my life that I am very glad to have closed.

    After the divorce was finalized, I tried to sell my rings, but found their resale value a mere fraction of their original cost. My mom had warned me of this, but I still stubbornly spent a day driving around town looking for a buyer, ultimately disappointed by the paltry offers. So in the drawer they stay.

    My mom recently gave me my grandmother’s ring and wedding band. My grandparents’ marriage was not a happy one, and apparently my grandmother cried disappointed tears when she saw the engagement ring. I find the set beautiful and elegant, but I can’t bring myself to wear them, thinking of another unhappy pairing, no matter how far in the past.

    My mother’s rings are hard to describe – because they are always changing. Like her mother, she didn’t like her original engagement ring. Unlike my grandmother, though, she eventually changed it. And a decade or so later, she changed it again. I saw her recently wearing a stone I didn’t recognize, paired with an old band. Sometimes she wears a cocktail ring, or costume jewelry, or “real” stones. It doesn’t much matter to her, she just enjoys the sparkle. My father – who passed away three years ago this January – didn’t much care, as long as she was happy and would sometimes let him pretend (with a big wink) that he was the one with great taste who had picked it out.

    So I try to take a page from my mom: if I want the sparkle, I wear a ring that I have picked out for myself.

    • Kelly says...

      get those stones reset into a necklace or rings or earrings…you design the setting and give them a new life with happier memories!

  48. J says...

    Lovely essay.

    I was engaged once, against my better judgment, with a gorgeous sapphire and diamond ring in an oval shape like an eye that stared up at me in reminder of how wrong the whole thing felt. Part of what felt wrong was the surprise, being put on the spot to answer a question on someone else’s time and turf. It also turns out fancy rings are just not me.

    When I met my now husband, we skipped engagement straight to a city hall wedding. It was natural, mutual and simple. I bought my wedding band for $30 on etsy.

    • Caroline says...

      “Being put on the spot to answer a question to someone else’s time and turf.” Perfectly said. I never understood the notion that an engagement should be a complete surprise to one party, and I think this “fairytale” myth in our culture is misogynistic and harmful. A decision to marry should not be reduced to a “romantic” surprise proposal story, a piece of jewelry, or a social media post – it’s a serious commitment that must be made mutually and equally.

  49. Tiffany says...

    I Just wanted to say that you Caroline have a beautiful way of expressing the human experience. I look forward to reading all of your posts which reflect a part of us all in unexpected ways. Thank you.

  50. Sadie says...

    We read the essay and then all the married woman tell their engagement story…

    • M says...

      I know right. Glad I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

    • Ginny says...

      Not sure why this needed to be said. The questions Caroline asked at the end of the post were open-ended and enquires about personal myths or goalposts as experienced by readers and whether they turned out as expected. Accordingly, women — single, married, divorced (or rather single after having gone through a divorce), or partnered — have shared about their engagement story myths, their pregnancy journeys, even meeting their financial goals. I fail to see how any of this was off topic. Also, the entire point of the post centered on the author’s dreams/hopes/thoughts/values on the whole engagement process, so it absolutely stands to reason that anyone who had gone through it would share their experiences with her, both good, bad and everything in between — it is not a hijacking of the topic in some invisible singles vs smug marrieds tug-of-war, as your tone seems to be implying. If you for some reason were thinking that only long-time singletons were somehow qualified to share here, then quite frankly you would be ascribing to a narrow viewpoint not espoused/intended by the author. A suggestion: instead of throwing shade on others’ comments, why not share something of your own experience and actually add to the ongoing discussion.

    • But of course says...

      Thank you for saying it – thought the exact same thing

    • Laura says...

      perfectly phrased, Ginny!

    • JLS says...

      Right? That’s exactly what I thought too. So yes…it did need to be said (and Sadie had every right to say it). And apparently, there are others who agree.

    • Christy says...

      Thank you so much, Sadie, for expressing this. I was so moved by Caroline’s brilliant, vulnerable message of mythbusting and the paramount importance of one’s relationship to oneself, partnered or not. But then I got really lonely reading the comments that were on some level “An Engagement Story (That Kind).”

    • Madison says...

      I’m a singleton and have to say, I 100% agree with Ginny on this — it’s not like this was a post on being forever single and the “smug marrieds” jumped in to give tone-deaf unsolicited advice about how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, that married people work hard at their relationships too, ad nauseam. Nobody attacked or disrespected singles or single hood. The perspectives shared by commenters were beautiful, raw and unflinching in their honesty, no matter their relationship status. It’s a shame we can’t allow more room for and welcome a multitude of diverse viewpoints as COJ has done.

    • Jenny says...

      I agree Christy. Of course it is an open forum for everyone to share their story. It just doesn’t change the fact that you do feel lonely reading all the comments, especially when you are in your mid thirties and far from a relationship, made even harder by virus lockdowns.

  51. Anne says...

    What a wonderful piece of writing. Thank you Caroline. My thought about reaching adulthood is that it didn’t happen for me until I was in my 30s, when I started losing family members, one after the other for a number of years. Helping three family members through terminal illness and death and having babies die inside me forced me to be an adult. Now I try to balance the adult feeling with the feeling of being a kid. I love to do things that involve hurtling myself down a hill at top speed, causing uncontrollable giggling, exhilaration, and hilarious wipe-outs. Skiing, biking, tobogganing, snow-sliding, rolling down hills, etc. I do have a ring, and it reminds me of my wonderful husband and his family members that have passed on, and I feel like an adult when I look at it.

  52. Laura says...

    Another great post, Caroline.

    Living in Seattle during my 20’s, I used to analyze strangers who had wedding rings to see what they were doing right. I concluded that one needed nice nails to score a ring and tried diligently to take care of my hands. However, as an avid outdoors person — I lived on a sailboat and spent all of my free time rock climbing — my nails rarely looked nice. Once I learned to let this unrealistic notion go, I fell in love, moved back on land, and got married (14 years ago). Now I only wear my wedding ring when I feel like it, wanting instead to talk about my lovely husband instead of simply using a symbol to covertly share my marital status.

    These symbols (or myths, as you say) carry so much weight. My wish is that we can celebrate ourselves (however and whoever we are) and one another without adding a narrative that may cause us to splinter from ourselves or from one another.

  53. florence says...

    Love this! I think the myth of a diamond is also rather silly… marketing turned into a strange societal ‘norm’… The myth of finding a “perfect” soulmate is also not very healthy. I always think of this quote when people list attributes of their ideal partner: “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”

    • K says...

      that’s a great quote.

  54. Kristin says...

    This is so beautifully written and I especially love the ending. As others have said, I hope if I have a daughter someday I can raise her with this mindset. As someone who spent most of her teens and early 20s really anxious and terrified about never finding a partner, I’ve found (now mid 30s, married with one kiddo and another on the way) that being engaged, married, having kids, etc. in no way means I have “arrived”. While I love and am so thankful for my family, there are things I miss about being single or newly partnered, too. That’s why I think the message here, to build a life you love regardless of relationship status is so important. It’s a lifelong process and I’m still definitely learning. Thank you for this beautiful piece, Caroline.

    • Katrin says...

      Yes yes yes to this – you captured my thoughts so precisely. This is exactly how I feel, in my early fourties, married, and with two kids. I‘m adamant about passing on this message – what Caroline so eloquently wrote about the societal standard norms and narratives and their risks and narrowness – to my daughters, I think it’s so important to give kids, especially girls, the freedom of not feeling like they have to be in a long-term relationship or married at a certain age.

  55. HeatherS says...

    This is just one of the best essays ever. Caroline captured a lot – the feelings about significant things – promises, optimism, jewelry – what’s expected and how those “expectations” can get overly involved and perhaps disappointing. And the part about what makes a myth a myth is really thoughtful, provoking and fun too. Can’t wait to read more of Caroline’s thinking and experiences. Really relate to the where she was presented with a ring from a past boyfriend. I was too and it was something I’ll never forget. My engagement in my tiny NYC apt almost 16 yrs ago was without planning or setting or knee-dropping or use of my middle name, but it was fine with me. It happened to be New Years Eve so we already planned to party with friends. It was so happy and in the scheme of things- homes, jobs, kids, life, death – it was just what it should be.

  56. Sydney Royes says...

    Such a lovely essay! Bravo!

  57. Y says...

    It’s a full time job raising daughters to basically understand the opposite of what society is telling them will be their fairy tale life. Marriage can be wonderful, comfortable and even magical, but not necessary to have a magical life. I am trying to teach them to find the magic in their own life and share it with someone who has done the same instead of relying and depending on someone else to “make” your life magical. You will never be disappointed . BTW, my husband does manage to make their life magical, so it’s a hard sell, but I continue the fight!

    • lindsey says...

      i totally agree with you! some people enter marriage as if it will make them complete, not realizing that we need to be complete on our own. it’s not my husband’s job to make me happy, i am happy on my own.

    • Annie says...

      I love this – you sound like an amazing parent!

  58. Rachel in Berkeley says...

    Rock on, Caroline!

  59. Sam says...

    This hit home, especially the “club” talk. In fact, what you said sounded so familiar, I went years and years back into an old journal and dug up my report of the same feeling (though it was about long-term partnership, not engagement per se). Here it is, in case it makes anyone feel less alone:

    “It’s like people are being divided into many teams for an important game. You’re behind the stadium in a crowd of people waiting to be put on a team, and you can hear the occasional cheering and celebration from within the stadium. The game is important and fun and fulfilling, and everyone cares about it. All around you, bit by bit, everyone is being put on a team. When they find out, they change into cleats and enthusiastically, happily, excitedly run into the stadium. Cheers erupt again and again. All day long this goes on. All day long you wait eagerly to hear what team you’ll be on. You move closer to the guy who’s announcing who goes where, just so you can be sure to hear him when he calls you. But then that guy starts packing up. Slowly you realize that the team assignment is slowing down. You look around, over your shoulder, in disbelief, confusion, and with a crestfallen heart. Surely they’re not finished…? A few more people get put on a team. More cheers. More of you just looking around. What about you? You, it will turn out, will not be chosen. You came here to play and with hope. But you do not get to play. You will never be cheered for. Instead, you get to go home. But there is nothing to go home to; everyone else is playing the game. There are things, back at home, that are meant to be taken as supplements: careers, hobbies, vacations. But they are supplements. They are not supposed to be the main course.”

    It’s a hard feeling. I’m engaged now to a wonderful person, and I know that many people find what I called supplements to be quite fulfilling and satisfying (though still, I do not). But I will never forget this feeling and how little the partnered people seemed to make of it.

    • Outside the game says...

      This is such an accurate description of how it feels. I’ve always wanted to find my person, but at 45, it looks like that’s not going to happen for me. My friends are all inside the stadium, and it’s lonely out here.

    • L says...

      That might be the most accurate description of what it’s like. I’ve been inside the stadium and know the feeling. I’ve also been outside of it for the past few years (being divorced and all) and understand that feeling too.

      I don’t necessarily want to get married again, but the long term partnership is just as desirable for me as marriage once was. Definitely a hard feeling.

    • Lilly of the Valley says...

      You’ve encapsulated quite perfectly the whole feeling of helplessness and despair over not getting picked for what might be the most important game we’ll play in our lifetime — the imagery of the stadium, the cheering, the teams, the crushing disappointment at never being given a chance to play at all are super on-point.

      What made it worse for me was how dismissive all the marrieds were in my life, even my BFF, since I was literally the last singleton left standing — it cut to the quick to have my already difficult and heavy emotions be so summarily and thoughtlessly invalidated by those who claimed to care about me.

    • Erin says...

      This should be published somewhere. I think its a great analogy and would give many people some sense of comfort, empathy, and understanding.

    • Azlin says...

      Now that I’m divorced I feel like I’m out of the club. It hurts to see most of my friends married, most seemingly happy. I’m in my mid forties and it just seems like it won’t ever happen again. I’m happier in some ways and I know I should write my own narrative but it’s still difficult.

    • Sam says...

      Not sure than any of you who replied to me will see this, but I just wanted to say that it means a lot to me that what I said resonates with you, and I’m sorry that you’re feeling these things, too. <3

      I wish we could hang out together!

  60. Caitlin Scott says...

    Absolutely yes to this. I wish we could change the cultural myth, because this narrative you’ve written, Caroline, is so much better and healthier and would prevent so many mismatched marriages. “…I’ve got some magical adult existence, infused with love and belonging, the resolve of commitment and the hopeful promise of being a part of something greater than oneself. They would be right.” This is how girls should be raised to think about themselves BEFORE they find a partner.

  61. Mary says...

    Instantly started looking for rings to buy for myself. I love, love, love the closing of your essay, Caroline – the idea that some of those beautiful sparkly rings on other women’s fingers are rings they gave themselves to celebrate coming into their own, rather than into the hand of some mythically perfect partner.

    • Zoe says...

      To this day I regret not buying a Tiffany Metro ring for myself 13 years ago after a difficult health time. And one day … I’m so gonna get it. Hope you find yours Mary!

  62. Jean says...

    Beautifully written and true for so many of us! Bravo!

  63. Sarah says...

    The ending of this essay is perfect. Tears are still coming to my eyes as I think about it now. Thank you, Caroline!

  64. M says...

    Engagement to be married was absolutely a mythical goal post in my life. In my case, watching my sister and how graceful, certain and happy she was during her engagement made me think “this is it.” When I got engaged I was still the neurotic person I have always been. The experience taught me to admire my sister’s attitude and who she is more than what she has.

    But damn do I love my emerald cut with baguettes.

    • Brittney says...

      Wow, that was more than worth the read. Thank you!

  65. Joyce says...

    Love what you say about myths, Caroline. I do find the myth of the “Prince Charming” to be particularly damaging. It seems to suggest that in order to get a partner to solve all our problems (lol) we must look pretty and do nothing else…. I mean Snow White & Sleeping Beauty were literally sleeping.

    I wonder if there’s some deeper interpretation to these myths that could be more helpful. Have you read “Women Who Run With Wolves”? I read 120 pages or so ages ago when I got it from the library. I just got a copy for my birthday though and might dive in again! :) I can’t get over what she says about mothers dying in fairytales. I always thought it was a writer’s trick to give the young characters agency. She says it is symbolic of the “death of the too good mother” who lives within us. In order to fully embrace our potential, and spiritually evolve, we need to “kill” the overbearing mother who lives within us, the voice telling us to not take risks and just stay safe and, essentially, telling us to stay a child. Anyway! Curious if “Prince Charming” could have some deeper metaphorical meaning.

  66. E says...

    If I could go back 9 years I’m probably prefer that more combined conversation and decision rather than what was supposed to be a “magical” proposal (we had discussed it prior to this…I just wish I wasn’t waiting around for him to do it). My memories of the proposal aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great either. I had been working on a construction site all day, with clothing to match, making dinner and preparing for a phone call with a student later – overall very distracted. My husband bought the ring that day and was terrified of losing it, so when he got home from his job, wearing a tie, he dragged me out for a walk where he took his time waiting to propose while some kids were trying to light a joint in the background (meanwhile I was looking at my watch because I had a schedule to keep!). I was mortified when he got down on one knee and used my full name (I HATED my middle name). Then went to dinner at a fancy restaurant in my work boots and greek letter hoodie. The first person I told was my student when I texted to let him know I needed to postpone our call. There are no pictures from that night because I was so literally dirty, I didn’t want to capture that!

    It just…could have been so much better and I regret that I gave in to the tradition of putting it all on the man to do all the work.

    • Lilly of the Valley says...

      Ohmygoodness E, I feel you — as a total girly girl who needs to be all dolled up even for regular dates, I would have been absolutely mortified at having to go to a fancy restaurant in my grotty work clothes; much less on such a momentous occasion as my engagement dinner! I think I would have actually dissolved into tears over not being able to take any nice pics to memorialize it, and more to the point the deeper cut would’ve been my partner’s clueless insistence that I “participate” in this big event while not looking or feeling my best. Being pulled away in the middle of making dinner would’ve totally harshed my buzz, too. I hate food going to waste!

  67. Alison says...

    This is my favorite post I’ve ever read on CoJ. It made me cry. Caroline, please publish a book of essays for adults!!! I am certain it would hit the bestseller list.

    • Rachel says...

      AGREED on the book of essays, Alison!

  68. Grace says...

    Going through this process now like so many here! In my 30s, and one of the lasts of my friends to get engaged/married.
    I did always think there would be a magical feeling to picking out my own ring, but like Caroline never had any particular style or kind in mind. I spent my childhood adoring my mom’s, and the way it would make a rainbow on the wall if the sun hit it just right.
    So my boyfriend and I put a bottle of champagne in the fridge and went to Tiffany’s, thinking we would find our ring on the first go. I always adored the Tiffany billboards growing up, and the Breakfast at Tiffany’s quote “The quietness and proud look of [Tiffany’s], nothing very bad could happen to you there.” The folks working there were so kind. But with everyone masked (and rightly so, yay public health!), and the constant sterilizing of the rings the moment they left my finger, the experience felt anything other than romantic. It just felt manufactured.
    We decided to work with a local jeweler. My boyfriend and I talked about what styles we liked the most, and designed a ring together that we both love. I don’t care how he proposes. I just love that sometime soon, I will be wearing a ring that symbolizes our commitment to each other, and one of the many things we will collaborate on in our lives. But he could ask me with the ring from a Cracker Jack box and I would say yes, because the real magic isn’t the ring, it’s the feeling when you’ve met your teammate for life.

  69. Erika says...

    What I love most about my engagement and wedding rings are that my husband picked them out totally on his own. I never wanted to pick out the ring and he knows me well enough to have gotten something I really do like. We were also young (19 and 20) but he had he worked hard and saved for the ring he picked out. I personally never liked the idea of telling him what to get – I like surprises! Getting engaged was a total surprise too and I had no idea it was coming. Next month will be our 20 year anniversary.

  70. Michaela S Carroll says...

    I have a slightly different story (but still with an engagement ring (two!)). My partner and I met in high school, dated through college, and law school, and had discussed marriage before and knew it was something we both wanted. I had said that I wanted to wait until he got a job and started working to get engaged- not because of some patriarchal norm, but because we both wanted children, and when we first started discussing, I was working full time and he was in law school, and I knew that because of where we live, I would have very little maternity leave and was worried about supporting both of us and a baby on my very small income! So after he got a job and started working, we started looking for an engagement ring (for me). We found a jeweler we both loved- local, woman-owned, uses recycled materials and ethically sourced stones- and started to design the ring with her. She measured my finger, and we came up with the general idea. I did want a stone, and it was important to me that it wasn’t super teeny because (while I disagree) many people in our area are judgey about small stones, especially in our fields. So we settled on a general size and shape, and then she sent a mock-up to my partner, and he made the final decisions so it was still a “surprise!” And then, a few months went by while it was made and he picked it up and planned a proposal… What he didn’t know, is that I went to the same jeweler and designed and had made an engagement ring for him!

    It had always seemed funny to me that men don’t wear engagement rings, and I knew he would wear one if I proposed and love the idea, so in secret, I had one made. He proposed to me at a picnic in a beautiful park one evening after work, and then… two months later, when the ring for him was finally ready, I booked us a weekend away in a tiny house, and proposed to him!

    Something I still struggle with is the culture of calling people “husband and wife.” I’m a queer woman, and to me, it feels weird to be “wife” or to call him my husband. We are, in fact, married, but I feel very uncomfortable using those words, but get a lot of crap for calling him my partner now, and that bugs me. He knows that, and is fine with it- it just feels like we are equal partners and our roles are not based on our genders? I’m not sure if anyone else has encountered similar feelings! But I just wanted to share a slightly different engagement story to show you that you *CAN* do it as partners and still have it be *you!*

    • Christina says...

      Where I live, both partners traditionally wear an engagement ring, usually plain gold bands, similar to each other. These are chosen together. Quite often, getting engaged is a separate thing, that is agreed upon without talking about marriage. Some couples just remain engaged without ever marrying. Which means, there is not a ring present at proposal! If there is even a proposal, many just talk about it and decide a date for the wedding.

    • Genevieve Martin says...

      Christina, where do you live/what culture is that? :)

    • Christina says...

      Genevieve, I live in Sweden.

    • Carlie cattanea says...

      So beautiful. Love seeing your stories on Cup of Jo, Caroline!