Ordinary Moments and Marriage Proposals

Big expectations can trump ordinary moments. Image: Disney (C)

Eleven years ago today my husband asked me to marry him. I remember it was Martin Luther King Day because we had both had the day off, a rare event for him as he was serving in the Navy at the time. We were living in San Diego, and had spent the day with an early walk on the beach and then went to Balboa Park for a picnic and an afternoon spent reading while sprawled on blanket in the shade of the giant trees.

That night as we were getting ready for bed I was picking up our clothes from the floor, and stood up to find a little box with a ring in it sitting on my night table. I was completely caught off guard, which is what my now-husband wanted. He laughed and pulled me into his arms.

He said that he had thought about doing it at the beach or Balboa Park, or a fancy dinner downtown, or maybe a hot air balloon at sunset over the bay or a rowboat on the lagoon, but he wanted to propose during an ordinary moment, because our life together would be full of ordinary moments with a few big moments sprinkled in between. He wanted to know if I would love him through the years of ordinary moments.

I said yes and we kissed and then he put the ring on my finger.

We didn’t have the money for a carat diamond like most of my friends at the time were getting, but he knew that kind of thing wasn’t important to me. He could have planned something over-the-top and flashy so I’d have a great story to tell while my friends admired my ring, but flashy isn’t really our style. Technically my proposal came while I was picking up dirty socks that had fallen short of the hamper, but it felt more romantic than what it sounds.

As we were laying in bed together I laughed and told him I always thought I would be proposed to on Christmas morning or in a rowboat. He said he had thought about Christmas morning, but that my brothers had told him that would be like a bad diamond store commercial. (I didn’t share those sentiments and was pissed for two weeks.) But I’m glad that I didn’t have a Princess Complex about all of it, hung up on the carat diamond or the perfect proposal. I’m glad that I was able to get out of my own way and see the value in a guy who wanted years and years together of happy, ordinary moments.

He asked why a rowboat, and I said it was from watching too many romantic comedies in high school and college with my girlfriends. I told him I called it the  “The Little Mermaid  Complex” that builds girls up into thinking the perfect guy would provide these mind-blowing dripping-with-love romantic moments so that you know he is the one. He said flying magic carpets and rowboats were romantic, but they didn’t give you happy ever after.

“But then you get off the rowboat, and then? You never really see the happily ever after in those movies, do you?” he asked.

“That’s because they don’t make enough movies about the ordinary moments,” I answered.


I’ve watched a few people get engaged, like at the ballpark or a restaurant. I clap and cry every time. I love the story of my best friend who ruined the first two proposals in a tale of hilarity but is now happily married with a beautiful son. Or my other friend who did have the picnic at sunset on the bay and then a small group of friends surprised her at a beautiful Italian restaurant for dinner. Her husband had written her a beautiful poem, and he had me proofread it for him and then try to keep it a secret for three days. One girlfriend just got engaged a couple of weeks ago, and her fiance was so nervous he dropped on one knee outside Starbucks just to get it over with so he could breathe again. I love their stories, perfect for each of those couples. And I love my story, dirty socks and all. I didn’t love it at first, but almost nine years into marriage, I value it now.

With all the focus on little girls being princesses and grown women being in shows that compete for husbands or act horrible to each other once they are the housewives of rich husbands, I hope other families are focusing on the ordinary moments like ours does. There is a special beauty in the authenticity of it all.

Maybe a rowboat at twilight with fish spontaneously deciding to be fountains while a handsome prince sings to me the second time we meet would blow my mind. But I’m thinking probably not.

As I look over at my kids while I write this, one is in his underwear jumping on the couch pretending to be a spotted dolphin and the other is setting up a dolphin aquarium built inside of an igloo tent. There is popcorn on the floor and a basket of laundry that needs to be put away. There is always a basket of laundry that needs to be put away.

I’ve never been married to a prince and I’m sure that is a sweet gig if you can get it. But I think I like my guy and our extraordinary children, and all of our ordinary moments.


  1. Missy – I love this! You have shared what so many miss as the true “diamonds” in our life, all those “ordinary moments” add up to an exatraordinary life! Its finding happiness in the simple things that keeps one grounded and content. It warms my heart to read about another who knows whats important in marrige and family isnt the material posssessions, but the “momemnts” we treasure. XOXO

    • Stacy –
      Did you ever know that Eric shared that poem with me days before he gave it to you? I could barely keep it a secret! I’ll always remember that dinner, and getting to be a part of your special night and of course a part of the wedding. But mostly, all the ordinary moment we got to share and have yet to share over the years. xoxo

  2. I love this! My parents got engaged in a restaurant parking lot and they’ve been happily married for 32 years (33 in November)! My childhood was filled with ordinary moments and I’m just now realizing what a blessing they were. Thanks for sharing this sweet story 🙂

  3. My military husband proposed to me while I was visiting him at his new base for the weekend. It consisted of pulling out a calendar and asking “What about September?” As much as I might have felt cheated out of the fairy tale, it was an ordinary moment that I’ll remember forever (and a great story to tell the kids… at least it makes them laugh at their dad’s romantic nature)

  4. I received my engagement ring in a similar fashion. It was delivered to our door and he just couldn’t wait one more minute to give it to me. Very sweet.

  5. Gypsy Chaos says:

    It is the ordinary moments, isn’t it? The ones we sometimes neglect to appreciate, neglect to accept as happiness.

    My ring was on my dresser.
    We knew within a month that we were going to be married. I was looking for new living arrangements; two guys offered me their extra bedroom. When I told my guy, he said I could move in with him. “There’s a condition that has to be met first,” I replied. He responded with a simple ‘okay’. And that was that. In September.

    We told his parents Christmas Eve as I was headed to the airport to fly home; my parents were told on NYE – guy had flown down after Christmas. {Like my parents didn’t know; he was the first guy I brought home after high school.}

    We picked out my ring in January; I didn’t know when it would be ready. Mid-February, I came home to my apartment at midnight after one of THOSE days at work, furious. I bounced on the bed and ranted – while he laid there with a cat that ate the canary grin. Finally, I slowed down, he really smiled, and told me to look on my dresser. I knew immediately what it was, but I wouldn’t go get it! He had to climb out of the nice warm bed!

    I often wonder about surprise proposals. If the situation is planned and a surprise – great. But do guys really propose without knowing the answer? That just seems so weird to me.

    • I always just assume that the couple has talked marriage and the guy pretty much knows the answer, but the proposal itself is a surprise. Of course, there are always those unfortunate public surprise proposals where the woman says no, or says yes to avoid embarrassment but later recants.

  6. My proposal was similarly ordinary. He came up from school (3 hours away; he was finishing his PhD) and came up with some horrible story about how we couldn’t go to dinner right away because he had some stuff in his car that couldn’t stay out in the cold.
    He had me sit down on my couch (moving cats and newspapers first), got down on one knee, and I said, “What do you think you are doing? Get up already!” He proposed, I accepted, and I got the ring about 3 weeks later.
    When he got back to school and announced the engagement, his closest friends knew. But the “GBTC” (guy behind the counter) at the local convenience store said, “Engaged? I thought you guys had been married for years!”
    Evidently, we worked well enough together that we “presented” as a married couple. Except to my pastor, but that’s a whole other story…

  7. I hope this lovely story is in your new book somewhere… Ordinary people, ordinary moments, extraordinary times. Here’s to keeping what’s important front and center. (And of course, +1 for brand consistency, dialing down the dazzle vs showy sensationalism on the virtual stage) Happy Anniversary you two!

  8. My “proposal” couldn’t have been more prosaic. Browsing through the Sunday papers with my now husband-of-41 years, in true engineer style he simply said “I guess we should think of getting married”. We’d been together at that point for more than a year and had known we were headed toward marriage for several months. After agreeing, very casually…although with a real flutter inside!…one of my first coherent thoughts was “Mom is going to stroke out” My sister already had her wedding plans well underway, just two months before our day!
    Now, actually getting the ring was a lot more dramatic. We had picked out the setting and selected a diamond but the day we were to pick it up, Los Angeles experienced a major 6.9 earthquake. Undaunted, we navigated non-functioning traffic signals and fallen masonry from Santa Monica to downtown to “seal the deal”!

  9. I simply loved this! My heart swelled while reading it. I do hope this story finds itself into your book

  10. I love this post. My husband proposed to me on a park bench overlooking a giant dirt pile and Lake Michigan while we were on a morning walk. The dirt pile was the site of a new art museum but at the time it was just dirt and construction equipment. His proposal was simple as well “is this how you want to spend the rest of your life–doing things like this, with me?” Ordinary days are what makes life grand.

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