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How to Propose to your Minnesota Bride - or not

A local groom shares his story of finding the perfect time and place to pop the question.
updated 8/20/19

I’d had the ring for months—it was beautiful, antique (it had belonged to my grandmother), and a unique piece of jewelry. It was perfect. My parents had flown out in August for a visit and brought it with them. They’d wrapped it in a sock, and at the right time they handed it to me, beaming surreptitiously like amateur secret agents.   

I suppose, then, they figured it was only a matter of weeks until I’d drop to one knee, ask the question, and be on the road to grandkids. After they left, I stashed it, sock and all, in my desk. For a while, every time I called they’d say, expectantly, “Yes?” A month passed. Then another month. Eventually they stopped asking.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get married. I did. I’d found and was living with the woman of my dreams. We’d been together for three and a half years, and had recently moved from New York to Minneapolis to attend graduate school. We’d bought a house in the Kingfield neighborhood and were fixing it up, living together in a state of paint-spackled, take-out bliss. But we were always busy. I figured if I was going to ask her to marry me after all of this, I wanted to do it right. And doing it right, I thought, required planning. And planning required time that we, as graduate students, didn’t have.

This raises the question: What did I mean by “doing it right”? I wanted so badly for everything to be perfect. I remember thinking, You only get one shot at this question—don’t mess it up! So what to do? Jumbotron? Choreographed dance number on the banks of the Mississippi? Scavenger hunt culminating in a romantic paddle in the Boundary Waters? Even though I had it on pretty good authority—ahem, her—that it wouldn’t be an unwelcome question, the idea of proposing was in some ways getting too big. I would think of all these great scenarios, then be overwhelmed at the logistics of pulling it off; going big just wasn’t our style. I moved the ring from my desk to a more secure hiding place under my desk.
Everyone—post-proposal—has his or her particular story down. One friend took his girlfriend on a surprise vacation to Japan, and in the middle of an unbelievably romantic traditional Japanese dinner, proposed with a ring he’d bought at Target (they got the real ring upon their return). Another friend surprised his now-wife, whom he had been dating since high school, when he interrupted a week of well-acted nonchalance by splurging on a hotel room overlooking Seattle. (Unbeknownst to her, he’d packed an overnight bag for the two of them, complete with fancy clothes and champagne.) Someone else I know took his soon-to-be fiancé to the Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, for Juicy Blucys and Buck Hunter. Another friend, aware of his partner’s deep fear of mummies, led her to the Egyptian Room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, took her hand in his, and said that he wanted to protect her from the gauze-wrapped undead for the rest of his life. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever heard.

All this is to say that eventually it occurred to me: There is no right way to ask someone to marry you. Every proposal is a snowflake, as they say. The important thing—the hardest and most miraculous thing—is finding the right person to ask. And I’d found her. She was standing next to me, in cut-off work shorts, yanking out carpet, laughing and wondering aloud what it was, exactly, we had gotten ourselves into.

Seven months had passed since my parents had dropped off the ring. I realized, suddenly, that the reason I’d been dragging my feet was because I’d thought it would mean a change in our life. Here’s the thing: It can signal a change, but it doesn’t have to. It can also simply affirm and deepen the life you are already building together.

And just like that, I felt ready. I called her parents the next day (they were kind, and waited patiently for me to explain myself and my intentions). I knew only two things: that I wanted to propose to her in our house, and, since I’d never been able to keep even the most banal secret from her, I wanted it to be a surprise. Her birthday was coming up at the end of the week. It was the perfect smokescreen. 

The night before her birthday, I set everything up on our dining room table after she went to bed. I’d bought flowers and a huge “happy birthday sign.” I’d bought a scone pan. I’d bought a waffle pan. I’d bought an “I Dream of Edward Cullen” T-shirt from the Mall of America (long story). I wrapped it all up. The idea was to distract her with silly (but useful!) presents, with each gift leading to the next via well-worded and agonized-over cards. The last card read, “Let me know when I’ve got your attention.” That would be my cue to drop to one knee and say start my well-rehearsed lines.

I didn’t sleep at all. I kept thinking maybe I should’ve gone with the Jumbotron, and I hope she doesn’t think I’m proposing just to get out of giving her a present that’s not a waffle-pan.

In the morning, I pulled the ring from its sock under my desk and put it in my sweatshirt pocket. We both looked like a caricature of “tired”—her hair was in riot, I had a bad case of pillow-face. She was impressed with the birthday spread, and said as much. We made coffee. Besides my overwhelming nervousness, it was a pretty normal birthday morning: So far, so good. I could feel the ring in my pocket, and used my hand/arm/chair to hide the bulge. I figured I had about 20 minutes to rehearse my speech in my head before she got to her last present; the thought was calming. But I’d forgotten how fast she opens presents—we’re talking Animal-from-the-Muppet-Show fast—and before I knew what was happening, she was looking at me, saying, “Attention?”

It was time. I panicked. Then I started to talk nonsense.

Eventually, she interrupted me, and said, “Can this wait for a second? I have to go to the bathroom.”

And upstairs she went. Surprise? Check.

Clearly, I hadn’t got the point across that I was trying to propose. Clearly, she had no clue what was supposed to be happening. I had a hard time believing I’d botched it so badly. I felt like a bit player in an unfunny sitcom, clutching a ring, talking to an empty room, unable to say what I’d practiced saying so many times. In hindsight, it’s my favorite part of the story: I stumbled over my words, and she got bored and left, mid-proposal, to go to the bathroom.

To this day, I have no idea what I said when she got back, but it wasn’t what I’d planned. I may have blacked out a little. But when I came to, I was on my knee, and we were both crying.

So, was it “right”? Who cares? She said yes.

It was perfect.

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