Last year I proposed to my girlfriend in Paris. I thought it would be a cake walk. What I didn’t expect was having my plan go to crap, then the difficulty in winging it. I was also torn between doing a funny proposal or a serious one. This is ultimately what I learned.
#1 — According to everyone, you’re going to get mugged
The thing about telling people you’re going to propose in Paris is that everyone’s either been robbed in that city, or knows someone who’s been robbed in that city. That’s at least the experience I had, telling someone about my plans, only to watch them digress into a very detailed and horrific account of having something stolen. Family members mourned the loss of their wallets or purses, while a friend told me the story of watching a woman have her backpack surreptitiously cut off near the Luxembourg Gardens. When I asked why she didn’t say anything to this woman, perhaps a polite, “Hey, your backpack is being cut off,” she said she simply didn’t have time. “The gypsy was just so fast!” she explained. “He was on a moped before I could say a thing.”
#2 — People will want you to do it sooner. And by “people,” I mean your mother.
With our trip still six months away, and my deciding that the engagement was going to happen then, my mom began badgering me about—of all things—doing it sooner.
“Lauren really wants you to do it before the trip,” she’d say to me over the phone.
“No, you just really want me to do it before the trip”
“No, she told her mom she wants you to do it before the trip.”
“Her mom told you that?”
“On the phone last night.”
“You guys talked on the phone last night?”
The conversation would continue this way until I got tired of it and would resign to saying what I said all over again every time she brought it up.
“Look, there’s no way I’m doing it sooner. I’m spending thousands of dollars just to get to Europe. I only get to propose to Lauren once. I’m doing it in Europe and that’s final.”
And it was final. At least, six months later it was final.
#3 — Old resentments may rear their ugly heads.
Lauren and I arrived in Paris on a cold, clear Sunday morning and too wound up from our nine-hour flight, we decided to begin our trip with stroll along the Seine. Almost immediately we discovered that Parisians are a lot like Nashvillians, in the sense that everyone there seems to be working out except us. Every step we took we were passed by men and women in full workout regalia, jogging or sprinting to some unknown destination. Truly, this might not have mattered after a while, falling into the backdrop the way certain odors do around the house, except for the fact that most of the men were wearing what I can best describe as yoga pants.
While many Americans might be baffled by this, or concerned, I was simply annoyed. Not because I wanted them to wear sweatpants like the rest of the world, but because, more than anything, I wanted to be wearing yoga pants. I have for two years now, since trying on a pair at an athletic store in Nashville and finding that they not only looked awesome, but were unbelievably, almost mythically comfortable. I texted Lauren a picture, informing her that I was thinking of getting them, when she responded plainly, “Hell no.” When I asked why, she explained it wasn’t so much their complete disregard for masculinity, but how revealing they might be if worn without shorts. “That’s the only way you can get them,” she added. “You have to wear shorts over them.”
There was no way I was doing this, and as I watched what seemed like every man in Paris run by in my dream activewear, I grew resentful. “See,” I pointed at an older gentleman in neon Nikes, “guys can wear yoga pants without shorts.”
Lauren watched silently as a few more passed us.
“Yeah, but they can do that, here,” she said. “They’re French.”
“Well so am I!” I said.
“It’s not the same thing.”
“How is it not the same thing?”
“I don’t know. It’s not.”
And with that, the conversation was over. At least until I saw another guy in yoga pants.
#4 — Don’t be alarmed if your plan comes from a Mark Ruffalo movie.
A few blocks from Notre Dame, there’s a bridge called the Pont des Artes, though it’s now more frequently referred to as “The Lock Bridge,” thanks to the hundreds of thousands of padlocks that adorn its railings. This is a rather recent tradition, less than ten years old, and it holds that if you and your lover take a lock, write your name on it, place the lock on the bridge, then throw the key into the Seine, you will remain committed to each other forever.
I, of course, learned all of this from Mark Ruffalo’s character in the movie Now You See Me, which is essentially Ocean’s 11 with magicians. Watching him explain the lock bridge concept to his love interest in the film, I knew exactly how I was going to propose to Lauren. It would go, minus a few details, like this:
Step 1: Obtain one of those locks that people use to store keys on their door knobs.
Step 2: Somehow place said lock with the engagement ring stored safely inside on the Pont des Arts without Lauren knowing.
Step 3: Walk across The Pont des Arts, making sure to point out various, cool-looking locks, using the phrase, “Hey, that’s a cool-looking lock.”
Step 4: “Stumble” upon the lock I somehow placed without Lauren knowing and say, “Hey, I wonder what’s inside that?” She’ll laugh and say, “Who knows?” And I’ll say, “I’m going to try to open it.” She’ll say, “No don’t,” but I’ll do it anyways, because I’m a man and I rarely get opportunities to remind her of this. I’ll try several combinations, each one failing, before saying, “Ya know what? Why don’t we try the date of our anniversary?” Naturally, she’ll roll her eyes, maybe try to pull me away, but then it’ll work and I’ll open it, revealing the contents inside, before getting down on one knee, delivering some pre-written speech, asking her to marry me, then hugging and crying and kissing, followed closely by…
Step 5: Selfies.
#5 — No matter how much you plan, it won’t go to plan.
Ultimately I was not able to carry out my lock bridge scheme, or the revised edition I came up with later, which involved putting a fake ring inside the lock instead of the real one, then “accidentally” tossing the fake ring into the Seine, letting Lauren freak out for a second or two before saying, “Ha! Gotcha!” and presenting the real one. A few months before we left for Paris, the Parisian government removed all of the locks from the Pont des Artes and placed coverings over the railings so as to make it impossible to do it. While I tried to find other bridges that might work, I eventually gave up, not because they weren’t there, but because, as it got closer and closer, I realized I couldn’t put Lauren through it.
Few things, she’s learned, are sacred when your significant other is a writer. And for the most part, she’s been a really good sport about this, except for the time she got on stage at church and told the entire congregation that I loved getting hugs from people.
“I’m going to kill you,” I mouthed to her from the audience, and when I repeated it later, she simply smiled and said, “Not so fun being talked about on stage, is it?”
You have to love a woman like that, and I do immensely, so instead of the lock bridge gag, I decided to let Paris dictate the proposal. I would carry the ring with me, in my secret vest pocket, and when the moment felt right I’d propose. Which is exactly what happened, on our last night in the city.
After several near misses, some because I forgot the ring, and some because of Lauren’s inability to digest beef, we stood in the rain and the wind, overlooking the city from the steps of the Sacre Coeur. Turning to her, I said, “So…” I began to take the ring out of my pocket, trying to remember what I was supposed to say next, but all that came out was, “What do you say we take this relationship to the next level?” Getting down on one knee, I showed her the ring. Here, I tried to rebound from my “take this relationship to the next level” line, but found myself, instead, blabbering the same words again and again, “The past two years have been so special. This trip has been so special. You’re…so…special.” So I scrapped it all and cut to the chase. “Will you marry me?”
Thankfully, she still said, “Yes,” and I slipped the ring onto her hand. The wrong hand, mind you, but she didn’t really care at this point. Switching it to her left, she began crying, and from there we hugged and we kissed. Then we hugged some more, before another kiss. Before finally hugging one last time.
Then we took out our iPhones, making sure to protect them from the rain, before snapping at least a hundred, possibly two hundred, selfies.
Photo courtesy of author