The minute I spotted Andrew on the crowded dance floor, I had one thought: That man is going to carry my baby in a backpack.
It was the hair that got me: wavy, hanging below his ears, but not too full. It told me that he liked to hike, but wasn’t too crunchy. It said he frequented rock shows, but not the metal kind.
Our first date was Thursday, the second Friday, the third Saturday. After two years of “my place or yours?” we moved in together. And with increasing frequency — usually at the weddings of friends — someone would inevitably inquire, “So… when are you two going to get married?”
It was a question I had been considering for some time. In 1996, shortly after meeting Andrew, I began working at Ms. magazine. I sat in editorial meetings with the smartest, most independent women I had ever met and nodded along when they said that marriage was an unnecessary social construct. These observations made sense to me.
They weren’t saying that women should never marry, but they were asking us to consider the institution on its own terms.
Historically, men fared better than women after marriage, they reasoned — so why do it? And how could anyone tie the knot in good conscience when it was a right denied to gay couples? Each night after work, I would continue the discussion with Andrew, who shared my views. “How could anyone? Why would anyone?” we pondered. And just like that, I had talked my future husband out of marriage.
Almost five years later and 2,795 miles from my home, I changed my mind. Andrew and I had moved to Los Angeles for his job—and while I was initially up for the adventure, life on the west coast left me lonelier that I had ever been. But returning to New York City without him was something I couldn’t contemplate. I was in love, and I was proud of our relationship.
As a child, I dreamed of a home that would be different — where respect, communication, and affection were fundamental and aggression was not welcome. Andrew and I had that and more.
When we discovered that we didn’t like the clubs in L.A., we turned our living room into a dance party with house music, a disco ball, and fog machine. Those who attended our sleepovers were treated to banana splits and Andrew’s classic-rock tutorials.
Slowly, I was coming around to the idea of marriage.
But when I brought up our future, Andrew remained unconvinced. “I love you,” he told me. “I know that I am going to be with you for the rest of my life. I don’t need to get married.”
But now I did. Marriage, for all its faults, was a public declaration of our love for each other. I was ready to shout, “I love this man!” And I wanted everyone we cared about to bear witness.
My brother proposed to his girlfriend in a helicopter over Maui; my sister got engaged at my grandparents’ remote lake house in northern Vermont. I had always assumed that my own engagement would involve a comparably romantic gesture.
So it was with some trepidation that I walked to Angelo’s Pawn Shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, bent on buying Andrew an engagement ring. It was clear to me that I had to take matters into my own hands—but I was about to rewrite the rules, and it was scary.
“I’d like to buy an engagement ring for my boyfriend,” I told the brawny, salt-and-pepper-haired man behind the counter.
After a long pause, he threw up his hands. “Well, it is a new millennium,” he said, grabbing a tray of diamond-encrusted men’s rings.
He pulled out a gold band with a sparkling horseshoe and held it out to me. “Um… no. I was thinking something a little more plain,” I said. “Maybe a white gold band?” Angelo was disappointed, but he complied. And $97 later, I walked out with the ring that I would give to Andrew.
My plan was to propose in Vail during our Christmas snowboarding trip. That gave me two weeks to figure out exactly how a woman asks a man to marry her, and to find the courage to do it. I had questions: Does kneeling apply to women, too? Should I arrange a candlelit dinner? Do I need an audience for dramatic effect? I decided to wing it, with one condition: I had to ask before midnight on Christmas.
But as our vacation progressed and as the hours wore on, I was overcome with doubt.
Thanks to the combined effects of severe altitude sickness and the flu, I had been carting around a portable oxygen tank for days. I spent Christmas Day vomiting, and hadn’t showered. I was wearing gray plaid flannel pajamas, my hair was matted to my head, and I had tubes coming out of my nose.
In other words, I was about to ask a man to spend the rest of his life with me, and I had never looked worse. Was I crazy? I wouldn’t agree to marry me right now. Hell, in this condition, I wouldn’t even take myself to the movies.
As the clock crept closer to my midnight deadline, I kept stalling. At 11:45, we kissed goodnight and Andrew rolled over. I slid out of bed and pulled the ring box out of the nightstand. I held it for a moment and then, fumbling in the darkness, placed the box back in the drawer. I crawled back into bed, defeated. I had failed.
Weeks later, back in L. A., without the romance of the holidays, I was without a plan. My insecurities were at a full boil: how would I be judged for asking my boyfriend to marry me? I pictured my friends and family secretly wondering, “Wow, she had to ask him? Poor thing.”
Meanwhile, I continued to prod Andrew about marriage, hoping he would change his mind.
I had the ring, but I didn’t have the confidence to follow through. Driving home one night, I pressed extra hard. I can still hear his brusque reply: “I am not particularly motivated to get married.”
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Andrew parked on our seaside street, and I ran into the apartment. I threw off my clothes, turned off the light and jumped into bed, pulling the covers high.
When Andrew came in and sat against his pillow, I suddenly threw back the blankets, flicked on the light and grabbed the ring box. I opened it and with a thud planted it on his nightstand. “There’s your engagement ring,” I said, my face wet with tears. I crawled back under the covers.
“Babe,” he said, his voice full of tenderness and apology. He leaned down and kissed me for a long time. “I love you. I know that I am going to spend the rest of my life with you.” We kissed again and I cried some more. We looked at each other and smiled at the absurdity of the moment. Then, close to my ear, he whispered, “Let’s get married.” Still grinning, I replied, “Let’s.”
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