June 19, 2003
Getting engaged is a life-altering, mind-blowing, milestone event. It is the romantic equivalent of graduating from college and being thrown into the great unknown. We are transitioning here.
Getting engaged is also something you have to do. It doesn't just happen on its own. At some point, amid all the anxiety, the expectation, the excitement, it is something that needs getting done. The question needs asking. Proposing marriage found its way onto a to-do list for Sat., April 26. Who says romance is dead?
10 a.m.: Drop off dry cleaning
Noon: Get stamps at post office
4 p.m.: Get engaged
Talk about a matzah ball on the calendar!
It requires jewelry -- something about which I have managed to remain blissfully ignorant these many years. Alison's family is "into" jewelry. She has one aunt whose apartment looks like Cartier's vault. And, if I understand it correctly from Aunt Sylvia, where diamonds and romance intersect, size does matter.
Evidently, buying an engagement ring is not like ordering a book on Amazon.com. I spent a lot of time on the phone, designing the ring with my cousin Robbie The Jeweler in Detroit. (Who buys retail?) In my family, saying, "Did you talk to Detroit?" means that something shiny will soon be on its way. Rob taught me a valuable lesson -- literally -- about cut, clarity, color and carat.
I picked up the package at the post office. It came wrapped in plain brown paper and taped all the way around, completely discreet, but I felt like I was walking through the airport with a ticking bomb in my carry-on bag. I thought everyone must know that something suspicious was going on. No one let on if they did.
When I opened the box I still didn't know what to think. The ring was so small I could lose this thing in my pocket, but I could also trade it in for a new model convertible car. That's a whole lot of symbolism for one finger.
Now I just had to figure out the when and where of it. I chose the beach on a beautiful spring Saturday. The way I figured it, I'd take the ring, go for a walk with my girlfriend, ask a question, and come back with a fiancée. Talk about a rocket in my pocket -- I must have patted down that pocket about a hundred times to make sure the ring hadn't disappeared, like a stand-up comic checking his zipper before taking the stage.
As I was making plans to do the deed, she was outside, napping on a beach chair, blissfully unaware. I think she was expecting something sometime soon, but that's where I had the edge. I knew the place and time. She knew what the answer was. I'd done everything I could to narrow the odds for a favorable response, including moving in together a few months earlier.
We went for our walk on the beach. Alison had some gunk called a "treatment" in her hair. She was wearing a big, floppy hat to keep the sun off her face, sunglasses and a jacket she borrowed that was two sizes too big. An outfit only a mother could love. I figured if I could ask her to marry me looking like that, it must be love.
To be fair, I didn't look so hot either. I had a pimple on my chin. I don't know who could look me in the eye and say yes to that. "Do you, Alison, take this pimple, 'til death do you part?" I wouldn't want to marry a guy with a big pimple on his chin, but fortunately I won't have to. Maybe I should have put it off until I could get in to see Arnie Klein. Maybe not.
I've never done this, never actually asked the question in so many words, so I wasn't exactly sure where I ought to begin my sales pitch. I felt like I was going on a job interview. Should I remind her of my qualifications for the job? "As you know, I have an Ivy League education. My parents are nice people. I love children."
Actually, what I said was: "There's something I've been meaning to ask you," and she started crying almost before the words were out of my mouth. She was still crying a minute later.
"If you say 'yes,' you'll get a really good prize," I said. Fortunately, I didn't lose the ring in my pocket and its presentation was met with a resounding chorus of "Oh my Gods."
We'll have to assume her answer was yes by the way she put the ring on that day and hasn't taken it off since.
J.D. Smith can be further engaged at www.carteduvin.com.