(Continued from Permission)
When does a plan of engagement first transform into an Engagement Plan? When you first move in together? On your first anniversary? During the first kiss? On the first date? At first sight?
According to our firmly-established personal mythology, Elise’s side of the plan began – with tongue planted firmly in cheek – somewhere between the latter two occasions in our long and storied relationship.
It was at a theatre party over six years ago. I was in one of the darker territories of my life, but from the outside it looked as though I was on a flamboyantly giddy joyride, which lead to Elise’s infamous remark, “If he’s not gay I’ll marry him.”
My own engagement agenda didn’t get initiated until much later. At the time I was more interested in dating her roommate than the possible ramifications of her comment.
My life operates on a well-established network of arbitrary, sometimes nonsensical rules, like that I have a physical aversion to navy blue. It’s sort of an elaborate solitaire game of Simon Says. I like to think of it as “OCD Twister.”
Unfortunately for Elise, a lot of the rules manifested themselves as ridiculous hurdles for our burgeoning relationship. I would not say “I love you” until it came out spontaneous and unbidden, and refused to degrade the phrase by using it over the phone.
We could not make overt public displays of affection at parties. I was adamant that we not plan our lives more than two times the length of our relationship into the future. And, I would not even consider getting engaged until we lived together for at least a year.
Despite that last maxim, I lacked a rule for exactly when to get engaged. And, also generally lacking for happy, stable relationships to draw examples from, I hadn’t the vaguest idea of how I would know the time was right.
As a result, when the “living together” requirement first approached being fulfilled I solidified a new, previously informally considered rule. A moronic, obstinate, paradoxically difficult rule that I obeyed to the letter and don’t regret for a single second.
Our engagement would have to be a surprise.
As our relationship wore into it’s third – and then fourth – year, Elise, her family, and our friends certainly couldn’t be blamed for wondering when we would ever get engaged. As a result of my “surprise rule” I seemed doomed not to know myself.
Maybe “surprise” isn’t the right word, especially since early in our relationship Elise specifically barred me from ever proposing during a performance or via a jumbotron, which – given my flair for all things dramatic and flamboyant – would have been odds-on to occur if she hadn’t said anything.
I suppose the rule meant that engagement had to be a revelation. An epiphany. A moment where I realized I was meant to spend the rest of my life with Elise.
Being me, I constantly used the vague nature of my rule to disqualify any conscious thought of engagement as a pre-cursor to engagement. If Elise brought up rings, even in a non-threatening conversational way, any forward motion towards engagement would be halted. And, paradoxically, planning to start a bank account to save for a ring would disqualify me from planning to save for a ring, which seemed to mean I’d be doomed to buy it entirely on credit.
I had seemingly painted myself into an OCD corner – I was trying to plan to surprise myself with an unplanned surprise.
Last fall Elise and I both started new jobs, and Elise’s afforded her (literally and figuratively) her first chance to take an extended vacation. Having used my vacation days and accompanying budget earlier in the year to attend Bonnaroo, she opted for a solo excursion to California.
It was the first time I would ever be Eliseless for more than a long weekend, and I relished the thought. Finally, a house to myself. I would play loud music, leave the heat off, invite friends over to watch Aqua Team Hunger Force, blog all night, sleep on the couch, get drunk alone, and order lots of takeout. Sometimes all in one day.
After a week basking in the hazy glow of bachelorhood I was surprisingly relieved to have Elise back from California. I hadn’t expected to be quite so enamored with her return, and in my excitement I dragged her out for a day of wandering through the Italian Market, punctuated by our first visit to our now-regular local haunt, Cantina Los Caballitos.
There was a tangible excitement to our idle walk through South Philly. At the moment I would have told you that I was simply giddy to have her back home, but with even a few days of retrospect I realized that it was my reaction to seeing my future wife for the first time.
I finally had my epiphany. Now I just needed a ring.