So the part of the Valentine’s story I didn’t tell you:
After Doug had sent me “scavenger hunting” all over the house, told me he had the last clue, and then admitted it was just a card and a hug, I was relieved.
“Thank you for not proposing,” I told him.
“Did you think I was going to?” he asked.
“No, but…” We’ve already had the conversation, actually a few times, about how he doesn’t plan on proposing on my birthday/our anniversary/any major holiday, because it’s too cliché (and I’ve told him not to). Still, something about the way he was just sitting there, as though waiting, while I walked from clue to clue, was making me nervous. I do not want to be proposed to in this way. Not again.
Let’s talk shit about my ex-husband, shall we? No details or biases will be spared in the following paragraphs, so if you are one of my friends who’s still friends with him, please know I’m telling this in confidence.
My ex-husband and I decided we would one day get married after we’d only been together a few weeks. We’d been friends for several months already, and we knew we loved spending every minute of every day together – so we naturally assumed that the desire would continue for the rest of our lives, and that, therefore, we should wed.
At six months, we went ring-shopping together in Paris. It was a horrible day, as we went from jeweler to jeweler and found nothing we liked. My ex had decided that, since we were in Paris, and everyone there speaks English, we should pretend we didn’t speak any French, so that we wouldn’t have to struggle to communicate our preferences in our second language. As a result, we were snubbed, and our preferences pointedly ignored, by the salesmen in the jewelry shops, who kept bringing us rings with diamonds much larger than we’d asked for, thinking they would dupe the dumb Anglo tourists. (Of course, we could understand everything they were saying about us, since we were both, in fact, fluent in French.)
We finally found a jeweler we liked, and a ring we liked, once we finally decided to conduct our business bilingually. The ring itself was too big for my finger, and the diamond was a little smaller than we would have preferred, so my ex put in a special order – for that same ring, just in the right size and with an ever-so-slightly larger diamond (seriously, the difference was about .05 carats). But somehow this allowed him to brag, for the entirety of our engagement, that he’d had the ring “custom-made in Paris.”
He told me when the ring arrived (we were living in Wales at the time), and he told me that he’d hidden it, and he told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to see it until he proposed. But of course, his mum and dad and sister had all seen it, and all four of them delighted in telling me that I had one chance to say yes when he asked, because if I said no, or said I wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t be asking a second time.
Fast forward to our one-year anniversary. We’d spent the afternoon Christmas shopping, then had a quiet dinner at home. We were washing the dishes together – him washing, me drying – when he told me his stomach was hurting and that I should take over washing while he went upstairs to the toilet. A few minutes later, he came back down and resumed his post. Then, a few minutes after that, he asked if I’d go upstairs and get his Vaseline lip balm off the nightstand; his lips were perpetually chapped at that time, because he was on a course of RoAccutane for his unfortunate body acne.* (Note that this prescription also forbade him from drinking, which means we did not drink champagne at any engagement celebrations.)
As I walked up the stairs, I noticed that there was a trail of little paper footprints (from a footprint-shaped pad of paper we already had) leading up the stairs and into our bedroom. “F-O-L-L-O-W-M-E,” the footprints spelled. So I did. The next thing I noticed was that our bedroom window was wide open (in Wales, in December). I think I probably could have totally ignored the stuff on the windowsill, I was so put out by the cold. But to the windowsill I went. There was a box of chocolates, and a little stuffed bunny wearing a pink breast-cancer-ribbon t-shirt.** The bunny was holding the last footprint, which read, “Minou says look outside.”
I looked outside, and there on our back patio was my ex, down on one knee. There was no heartfelt speech, no boombox, no grand romantic gesture. He proposed.
What I wanted to say was, “That’s it?!”, but I remembered all the threats of him only asking me once. So I swallowed my discomfort and said yes. Later, I would report that it had been like being asked to prom. I really was so, so disappointed.
I don’t know whether he had taken my playful protests seriously, when, in the beginning of our relationship, he would threaten to embarrass me in public, and I would tell him not to. And it’s not like I was hoping for the jumbo-tron at a stadium event or anything. But I already spent all-day-every-day in that house, bored out of my mind. I hated it there, and he knew it. He could have at least done it on top of the ruins of some castle (Wales has about a zillion), or taken me out to dinner and had the pastry chef put the ring on top of the dessert.
He then told me he’d made dinner reservations for the next night, at a mid-level restaurant he loved, where he used to work, and where we’d been several times with his family. “I was going to do this tomorrow,” he explained, “because I figured you’d be expecting it on our anniversary, and I wanted to throw you off. And then we would have gone straight out to dinner to celebrate. But then we had such a nice day today, and maybe one of us won’t be feeling well tomorrow, so it just seemed like the right moment to do it now. And since today was almost over, I figured you’d already have given up on me proposing today. Were you surprised?” I admitted that I had been surprised, and kept it to myself that I’d been expecting something a little more exciting.
The next night, we did go out to dinner, where we drank sparkling cider and he made me brag about his “romantic proposal” to all his friends at the restaurant.
This makes me sound very ungrateful, spoiled, and selfish – and maybe I was. But let’s look at the facts of this proposal, the way that I would later tell them to my friends, when my ex wasn’t around: he made me wash dishes, he said he had to take a shit, and he asked me to go get his Vaseline for him – gross, gross, and gross. He did it in a place that I hated, with a gift I’d asked him repeatedly not to get for me, in a juvenile way, with a threat attached. In the end, it was more about him than it was about me, or even about us.
So I ask you: Was I wrong to be disappointed? Did this guy even know me at all? And how did I not foresee the way the rest of this engagement/marriage was going to go?! Stupid, Marie. Stupid.
Okay, enough ranting. The good news is, this won’t be a hard one for Doug to top, on whatever ordinary day he eventually decides to pop the question.
*I really did and do feel sorry for him on this point. He’d started getting acne as a teenager, like most of us do, and probably should have taken Accutane then – but his beloved mum, who, as a midwife, fancied herself a qualified medical professional, was scared of the potency of the drug. So instead, she let the family doctor put him on antibiotics for eight years straight – which, as far as I can tell, did nothing to help the acne, considering he would hardly take his shirt off in front of me, but probably did contribute to his inability to digest any vegetables.
**For the first year or so of our relationship, my ex would buy me a new stuffed animal almost weekly. At first, I would thank him and add, “But I really don’t need all these animals.” When he didn’t get that subtle hint (“I know, but I want to buy them for you! This one’s a frog because we’re in France. This one’s a clownfish because we watched Finding Nemo together. This one’s a tiger, because it’s orange like my hair.” Et cetera.), I had to flat-out tell him I didn’t want any more. When we made our bed, he would arrange all the animals on it, so our bedroom looked more like a child’s than an adult couple’s. I still have all these stupid animals. They’re at my mother’s house, with my wedding dress and all that other stuff I don’t want to deal with.