How To Propose To Your Boyfriend

A few weeks ago, in his favorite place in the world, I proposed to my boyfriend and he said yes.

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For a long time, I wanted to be the one who was proposed to. The proposee. I wanted to have that big, surprise romantic moment and the butterflies in the stomach. Have I been taken in by the media? Absolutely. But I still wanted it. The way I see it, the proposal might be the last time you get those romantic butterflies. Sure, once you’re married there can be a million other great romantic moments. But there are no more nervous will-they-won’t-they moments after the proposal, and I didn’t want to lose my last one.

But with all my waiting for that moment, I started to feel like I had lost control of my life. I’m a planner, and if there was a wedding in my future, it was hard for me to plan the other big events I wanted: buying a house, flying to Europe, bringing my sister’s family out to visit us. I hated feeling like there was this giant life-changing event in my future, and I had no control over when it would happen. It’s my life! I should get a say in how it goes!

Then one day it hit me: I could still have a romantic moment. I could have the butterflies, it’s just that I’d be the one to put them there.

So in the middle of October, we flew from San Francisco to Joe’s home state of Michigan to experience fall (something we don’t really get in SF) and to see Joe’s family and friends. Our first full day there, we went to Franklin Cider Mill to eat fresh, warm cider donuts, drink cider, and feed the ducks while sitting next to a brook. This is where I asked him to be my husband.

I told a lot of people about my plan. Mostly because I was excited and because it seemed like too big of a deal to keep it a secret, but also because I didn’t want to spend my first few days of engagement calling everyone to explain myself. And trust me, it takes a lot of explanations. Not because it’s an intricate plan, but because people have questions. So if you are thinking of proposing to your boyfriend, here are a few questions I can pretty much guarantee you will field beforehand.

1. Have you guys talked about marriage?

I still haven’t figured out why people ask me this one, but they do without fail. My guess is that the subcontext is, “If you’d talked about wanting to be married, shouldn’t he have proposed by now? Maybe he hasn’t asked because he doesn’t know you want to.” Or maybe it’s, “If you’re being forced to ask, it must be because he doesn’t want to be married—maybe you should talk about it.” Or maybe there’s a much more innocent reason everyone asks me this question…I just haven’t figured out what it is.

Yes, of course we’ve talked about marriage—we’ve been dating for four and a half years. Our conversations changed from “if” to “when” a long time ago. In fact, we had a multi-day discussion about the merits of adopting this year, so yes, we have also discussed marriage.

2. Did you get a ring?

I did get a ring. I wanted the proposal to feel official, not like a suggestion. I wanted there to be a big moment of reveal. Some people laughed when I said I got a ring, I assume because they could only picture a women’s engagement ring. But I got him a simple, silver men’s ring.

Fun fact: there is no such thing as a “men’s engagement ring,” at least not on the internet. Only men’s wedding rings. (2015 edit! This is no longer true! Check out Buzzfeed’s “21 Badass Engagement Rings for Men” for starters. And a quick Google search for “mangagement ring” actually turns up some interesting things. I find this extremely awesome.) That’s okay, I’m pretty sure they look exactly the same. So I found a jewelry maker that I love, Turtle Love Co., and a ring I liked. I didn’t know his ring size, and Google is no help on figuring this one out. For one thing, I only found ideas for finding women’s ring sizes (“Ask her friends—maybe she’s already told them.” I can see it now: “Hey, Johnny, what’s Joe’s ring size?”). I emailed Turtle Love and asked about ring sizes. Since Joe is a light sleeper (no sneaking strings around his finger while he sleeps) and he doesn’t wear other rings for comparison, I was at a loss. Turtle Love answered my question right away, saying to choose a ring that could be resized, and try ordering a ring in an average size, which for men is size 9 or 10. Joe is a big enough guy, so I opted for a 10, figuring it would be better to be too big than too small.

I decided to make wearing the ring optional. I wasn’t giving him a choice in being proposed to, but I wanted him to have the choice to wear the ring throughout the engagement. The wedding ring is another story, but the engagement ring is really more about the symbol of my commitment and my seriousness in the proposal. Turns out, Joe loves the ring and the symbolism of wearing it, and as soon as it comes back from being resized, he plans to wear it.

I also got a special ring box, which I found on Etsy by searching for ring boxes with added words like “rustic” and “wood”. If you try to wade through all the ring boxes, you will find a lot of kitch and frills, as well as a lot of boxes that I would have loved for myself but which were just too girly for Joe. But the rustic and wooden boxes showed me lots of great unisex styles.

3. Did you get down on one knee?

No, I stayed sitting. For some reason, getting down on one knee felt wrong. I’m not sure if it’s the role reversal that I’m not comfortable with, or the fact that getting on one knee feels a little too close to begging for my comfort, but I knew I didn’t want to do it. Besides, the place we were sitting was rocky and next to a brook, and I’m clumsy. You can imagine that outcome.

I think people get so caught up in the way a proposal and wedding are “supposed” to go that they forget almost all of it is optional. You don’t have to get down on one knee in order for the proposal to be official. Technically, you don’t even need a proposal at all.

4. What if he proposes before you do?

I decided in January to propose in October. That left a long time for Joe to make a move, and in that time I got this question from people a lot. At first I was glad I was giving him so much time, and my answer to this question was “Then great! And if he doesn’t? Screw it, I’m proposing to him.” Once it got closer to my October deadline and I got more and more excited about what I was going to do, my answer changed to, “I hope he doesn’t, I have a whole thing planned!”

5. What if he proposes at the same time?

As the day got closer, people stopped asking if Joe would propose before me, and considered that he might propose at the same time. Especially once I described the romantic setting where it would take place.

I have to be honest with you: I wouldn’t have minded if he’d proposed, too. Sure, I was proud of my feminist choice to propose. But if he proposed, too, there’d be no question that I’m strong-arming him into something he’s not ready for. I imagined the scenarios where Joe would propose at the same time: that he’d propose and my response would be to pull out my own ring, or vice versa.

It didn’t happen that way. But after some happy tears and a pretty serious public make-out session, Joe did tell me that he had been looking at rings and thinking about what he would say when he proposed, so I still got to hear that speech. When I tell people this, I can see the relief on their faces. It gives a little of the traditional proposal back, and it ensures them that I haven’t forced Joe into something.

I’m not upset that this comforts people, because it comforts me, too. Stepping outside something that is so gendered is hard, and it’s scary. And having this safe place to lurk back to feels comforting. Analyze that how you will, but I’ve decided to be okay with it.

6. Do/Did you have a speech all planned out?

 Yep. And you don’t get to hear it. I told lots of people about the proposal (and now I’ve laid it all out here), but the little things I said? Well, some things get to stay private between Joe and me.

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For more info and ideas about women proposing to men, I highly recommend A Practical Wedding. Start with this one, and go forth!

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Goodbye, Saugatuck

Every summer since I was born, my family spent one weekend in Saugatuck, Michigan, at a private camp on Lake Michigan.

Emily 1.5 years

My first year at Saugatuck

Over 100 years old, the camp is made up of a few dozen wooden cabins filled with bowed twin beds. The cabins sit amongst dune grass and trees. Mosquitos and Daddy Long Legs run the place and there isn’t a square inch of the camp that’s free of sand, inside or out. It’s awesome.

My sister, my friend Elizabeth, my super awesome Tamagotchi, and me in front of our cabin

My sister, my friend Elizabeth, my super awesome Tamagotchi, and me in front of our cabin

It’s a church-affiliated camp, technically called Presbyterian Camps. The church I grew up in would go together. But my family always just called it “Saugatuck,” as if the whole town was contained within the boundaries of the camp.

The year my brother and his friend, Ben, shaved their heads

The year my brother and his friend, Ben, shaved their heads

The place holds years of fond memories for me. My brother (now 25) buried his last pacifier there. We would sing songs around a bonfire on the beach, staring at the stars we could never have seen from home in the suburbs of Chicago. We woke up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach only a few yards away.

My siblings and I outside our cabin, Rose 2

When I left for college, I stopped going to Saugatuck. At first because none of my friends were there any longer, and later because I was too busy, I suppose.

My senior year and second-to-last year at Saugatuck, sitting with my friend Sara

My senior year and second-to-last year at Saugatuck, sitting with my friend Sara

I hadn’t been for ten years when they announced they were closing. The Presbytery needed the money, and the camp was worth a lot. So my older sister emailed the family, asking if we’d like to go one last time. She brought her husband and daughter. I brought Joe, my boyfriend of 4 years, who happens to be from Michigan and has a deep respect for its Great Lake.

family at saugatuck

The camp hasn’t changed much since I left it—a fresh coat of paint and a refurbished cabin or two. I had expected the camp to seem smaller, and it did. But I hadn’t expected it to seem…less adventurous. As a kid, I was endlessly entertained by the camp. Running down the dune, digging a giant hole in the sand, running back up. At breakfast they had hot chocolate, and I was allowed to drink as much as I wanted. As much as I wanted! Me, a middle child! It was heaven.

My and my friends, digging another hole (I have a lot of pictures of me and sand holes)

That’s me with the short hair (of course)

But as an adult, I suddenly needed more to entertain me. A book, a deck of cards, a beer. Suddenly, grabbing a Sassafrass leaf and smelling it to see if it still smelled like Fruit Loops (it still does) wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring as I once thought it was.

My brother, getting ready to canoe

My brother, getting ready to canoe

It’s strange being able to visit a place that holds such strong memories of your childhood. I got to show Joe places that I barely remembered myself, and these memories were still so perfectly preserved: the dining hall still had the same brown tile. The walkways were made of the same wood. The smells were still there, right where I’d left them. It’s the closest to time travel I’ll probably ever get. I can’t show him my first day of high school. I can’t show him my 8th grade bedroom filled with newspaper clippings of Freddie Prinze Jr. I can’t show him what it was like to climb the apple tree in my best friend’s backyard. But I showed him Saugatuck and he knew that it was almost exactly what I experienced every year. This is where I played. This is where my memories are.

My younger brother and sister outside the camp's crafting area

My younger brother and sister outside the camp’s crafting area

It’s also strange visiting a place and knowing it’s the last time you’ll ever see it. That doesn’t happen often. Leaving old homes for new ones, maybe. To save myself from the sadness of finality, I always tell myself I’ll be back for some reason or another. I visit a new city and talk about all the things I’ll do next time I go. At least in America (and in Terminator movies), we don’t often say goodbye. We say “See you later!” But the truth is, there are some places you’ll just never see again. Saugatuck is one of those places for me, and I know that without a doubt. And it’s weird.

Me and my older sister, in a hole at Lake Michigan

Me and my older sister, in a hole at Lake Michigan

As we were leaving, I watched two people hugging goodbye. One person was a returning camp counselor; the other was the camp’s cook. It was the longest hug I have ever seen. They didn’t move, they didn’t sway, they didn’t pat each other’s backs. They just stood there. It was the hug of two people who knew they’d never see each other again. Is that sad, or happy? I’m still not sure. We don’t always get to know that this is the last we’ll see someone, but these two got to know it. Would you want to know if it was the last time you were going to see someone? That it was the last time you’d be back?

Would you make the time count any better?

katie kite

I don’t know if I made the most of my final weekend in Saugatuck. My adult brain, in its need for something more to create an adventure, kept wondering what about me had changed. Maybe it was the years of feeling self-conscious in a swimsuit that kept me from digging a proper sand pit. Or a deadened imagination that required outside entertainment. Or maybe I’m just remembering my childhood in Saugatuck with rose-colored glasses, weeding out all the adventures from the small moments of boredom and quiet.

My sister, Hannah

My sister, Hannah

But however I remember it, that’s where Saugatuck lives now. I won’t be able to bring my children there, as so many generations have done before me. It’s part of my past, along with all the other experiences that only live in my head, never to be seen or walked through again. When the person who bought the camp tears down the cabins and puts fresh new homes in their place, Saugatuck will live only in my memory. I will show my children photos and describe those memories to them:

“Here’s the place where my dad showed me how to fly a kite.”

My dad (on the right)

My dad (on the right)

“Here’s the porch swing where my sister and I would sit for hours.”

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“Here is the village that raised me.”

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And my kids will see it, and Saugatuck will still be there, breathing deep gulps of air that smells like sand and sunscreen and oak.

That’s where Saugatuck will live.

lake michigan sunset