Ulysses believes that too much attention upon elaborate proposals causes people to forget that marriage is a solemn agreement between two people committed to do the work of making a life together.
When I saw the video of Isaac’s lib-dub proposal to Amy, all I could do was groan. It is not that Isaac has not raised the bar. He has. It is instead that this particular bar is not deserving of increasing raises. It instead needs to be lowered. For when the honeymoon is over it is not parades and grand gestures and super happy fun time. It is work. The work is worthwhile, but it is nonetheless work. As we are at a point in history when the failure rate for marriage hovers around 50%, the foundation should not be built on extravagance, but the complementary nature of the parties to be wed.
With a hammer and nails and a fear of failure we are building a shed
Between here and heaven between the wait and the wedding for as long as we both shall be dead to the world
Beyond the boys and the girls trying to keep us calm
We can practice our lines ’til we’re deaf and blind to ourselves to each other where it’s
Fall not winter, spring not summer, cool not cold
And it’s warm not hot, have we all forgotten that
We’re getting old
-Chris Thile and Aoife O’Donovan–Here and Heaven
That complementary nature is necessarily forged from duality. Duality precludes a crowd. Duality, by definition, is the interplay of two. Not a crowd, not sweeping gestures, not pomp and circumstance.
It is solemn.
And solemnity demands seriousness. Seriousness and super fun happy time are antithetical. So though the giant musical numbers, the flash mobs of proposals, may go viral and invite wonder and amazement, they do not build a shed between here and heaven. They are summer, not spring. They are hot, not warm. They ignore the fact that, just as Carl and Ellie in Up, we’re getting old.
There was a time when a proposal, though possibly a surprise, was not predicated upon shock. The conversations had occurred and the answer was a foregone conclusion. The ring was but a formality and the nature of the proposal was unimportant. Routines and videos destined to go viral were foreign concepts. Now, we all have anecdotes about lavish surprises, the rings hidden hither and thither, and complicated setups.
To which I say, don’t be a sucker. If you’re doing it properly, the engagement will be but a pretext for the wedding which will be but an official starting line for the rest of your lives together. There will be bumps. There will be happiness. There will be frustration. There will be elation. But there will be no constancy, other than duality. There will be no perfection, only the satisfaction of work well done. It will be fall, not winter; spring, not summer; cool, not cold. It will be warm, not hot as we’re getting old.
The happy medium is a place of wonder. Rather than treating the engagement as the culmination, we should be treating it as an eventual footnote. For when we look at our book of adventures, the important part will not be the starting or finish lines, but the journey. As Chris Thile and Aoife O’Donovan sing, the goal is not the starting point, here, or the finish line, heaven, but the space between.