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.