Engagement tales

In London, we had dinner with a group of young married American couples who made up about half of the active population of our ward. Someone told the story of how they got engaged –it involved a scavenger hunt around Utah Valley — and other couples picked up the theme, telling of the elaborately romantic gestures involved in popping the proverbial question. There were horses and orchestras and airplanes involved in these stories, with weeks of planning and a fair amount of money. I mean, how cheap can it be to rent a suit of armor?

Someone asked how we got engaged, and my wife laughed. I told them the story.

We were at H’s apartment on a Monday night watching The Matrix on TV. During a commercial, H was in the kitchen, and as I saw her through the door, I said, ‘Hey, we should get married.’

And she agreed.

There’s a little more to the story. We had known each other for almost two years — I had been her home teacher — but we had only been dating for six weeks. We had become very fond of each other, but I had not expected to become attached to someone in Finland, and she had not expected to become attached to someone who was not from Finland. I had accepted a job in London and would leave the country within a month. I knew that I wanted to be with her, but I wasn’t sure if marrying in those circumstances would be fair to her — she’d leave her country, her family, her career, really the whole shot. I had spent the day before fasting about what to do.

I wasn’t really focused on the movie — I hadn’t received an answer to my prayers, and I was weighing pros and cons, working out how we could maintain relationship in different countries and how soon I could get back to Finland without destroying my career. And then, during the commercial, as I saw her in another room, I suddenly knew I should do everything I could to stay with her, and that we could make each other happy. It was an epiphany, a flash of spiritual truth.

And so, in that first moment of knowing, I called to her and said, ‘Hey, we should get married.’ I explained how I felt, and she explained how she felt. And she agreed that we should get married. And so we were engaged.

That was five years ago today. You can have your arranged meals, your blindfolded romps, your big-screen proposals at the basketball game — I like our engagement narrative. It embodies those elements of our relationship I still value most — emotional clarity, spontaneous matter-of-factness, and a desire to act upon that which feels right.


  1. Good story. The spiritual witness is the key for both parties. I never understood the elaborate dating and engagement patterns at BYU. An anthropogist could do a masters thesis on the topic.

  2. It scares me that young people think that so much fanfare is needed for engagements, wedding receptions and similar events. Real life is choosing to eat tuna casserole three times in one week so that you have money to put gas in the car. What sort of precendent are they setting for their married lives?

  3. Jennifer in GA says:

    I love your story, Norbert. It’s perfect in its simplicity.

    Five days after we met, my husband started saying stuff like, “When we’re married…”. He waited for his next payday, two weeks later, to buy me a ring. He says he just knew it was me. I knew it was him about a week after he did, when I saw how he acted around my family.

    We joke the the proposal itself was decidely “unromantic”. I had just walked in the door from work, and I was dirty and my hair looked gross, and I had to go the bathroom so bad I thought my bladder was going to burst. He was waiting with my roommate, and told me he needed to talk to me. I said I needed to use the bathroom first. He was so excited to show me my ring that he dropped to his knee right and officially proposed right then and there. He had to wait for the answer until after I got out of the bathroom. ;) We eloped to the Orlando temple three months later. We’ll celebrate our 12th anniversary in September.

    I never understood the elaborate dating and engagement patterns at BYU.


  4. That sort of proposal is totally my dream; I am apparently so pragmatic that nothing seems more romantic to me than a simple, almost offhand proposal with a simple, almost offhand answer, except, maybe, the former plus an agreement to forgo an engagement ring in order to save for a car/house/awesome honeymoon backpacking through Africa.

    And oh, the engagement-ritual horror stories I could tell!

  5. My husband and I went from talking about “if we got married” to “when we get married” to actually getting married.

    We were 18 years old when we got married. Next February will be our 20th anniversay.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Great story, Norbert. I don’t even remember popping the question, it happened so seamlessly.

  7. Norbert,
    That’s beautiful!

    I was in the middle of trying to finish “Christabel” in time for my mid-term the next day and was reading out loud to keep my boyfriend from getting too bored. Apparently the cadence was inspirational because, voila, he proposed. Spontaneous, inexpensive and effective.

  8. Really cool story. Like somebody mentioned, it is very pragmatic.

    My wife and I served in the same mission. (Yeah, one of those.) We stared dating about a week after she returned. We were engaged a month later and married two months after that. I do not recommend this. (Kids, don’t try this at home without supervision of an adult.) Basically, there was a series of events that led us to attending the temple together. We were both going to meditate on the idea of getting married. Once we were sitting in the Celestial Room we started discussing dates and plans. I don’t think I ever ‘popped the question.’ We just kind of arrived to the same decision. If only all of our decisions in life were this smooth.

  9. BruceC says:

    What sort of precedent are they setting for their married lives?

    A precedent that leads to buying the $30K SUV to drive around in while they live off student loans for dental school. That didn’t come off as bitter, did it? My bad.

  10. My wife told me that if I didn’t make up my mind she was going to take out a one-year lease to live with an old girlfriend of mine. not an ultimatum, just a requirement for clarification for her planning. Somehow I took it as an ultimatum and realized that no matter how much I feared marriage, I loved her and wanted to be with her permanently.

    So I collected a bunch of poems, had a friend help me hand-bind them into a book, then bought her favorites foods, stuffed them in a backpack, and took her on a walk one night. We climbed up a fire escape on campus overlooking a quiet acre of grass and trees framed by brick buildings. The last poem was one I wrote, the last stanza of which was the proposal.

    I have never, before or since, done something so sentimental and staged, but it was wonderful at the time and in retrospect. I also like the less formal modes of committing, like Norbert’s, which flows organically from the relationship.

  11. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, you romantic fool! What part of The Matrix were you at?

  12. Mark IV says:

    I think it’s funny that Norbert’s romantic impulses are stirred by the sight of his beloved, busy in the kitchen.

  13. Matt Thurston says:

    I’ve made all of my most important life decisions since Sept 1999 while watching The Matrix. I don’t know, it’s just something about Neo and the whole “The One” thing that brings clarity to my mind.

    So I decided to switch careers, from marketing to computer programing, while watching The Matrix. We decided to redecorate our house around a “black leather” theme while watching The Materix. And yes, my kids — Morpheus, Trinity, and precocious little Neo — were all conceived while watching The Matrix.

  14. “my kids — Morpheus, Trinity, and precocious little Neo — were all conceived while watching The Matrix.”

    TMI. The Matrix movies don’t teach you about TMI, but they should have.

  15. Norbert says:

    Steve — I don’t remember, but I know the Oracle came after.

    Mark IV — Yeah. I remind her of that all the time.

  16. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who proposed in a less-than-grandiose way.

    Because of a really bad car accident (which is a long story in itself), my between-girlfriend/fiance was my caretaker in which she would wake up every morning, come to my apartment, take me to phsycial therapy, etc.

    We had just gotten back from PT, sitting in the back parking lot of my apartment complex, her in the drivers seat, me in the passengers seat. I opened the box, and asked her, “Are you doing anything for the rest of your life?”

    Without a second thought, she looked at me and said “I think I can schedule you in.”

  17. Matt Thurston says:

    If only The Matrix had been out when I popped the question to my wife…

    As it happened, we followed Susan’s sensible “if we got married” to “when we get married” model, but that didn’t necessarily rule out an elaborate pomp-and-circumstance proposal.

    It pains me greatly to type this…

    I asked her to marry me a few days prior to Xmas. Uh, so I got dressed up as a reindeer, with a friend she’d never met dressed as Mr. Clause. We distributed little gifts to the people at her office and did the “photo op” thing with all of the office workers for the company newsletter. They all opened their gifts, but in her gift box was an engagement ring, whereupon I doffed my reindeer head and popped the question.

    The whole memory embarrasses me and I cringe if asked to recount the story. Feels so cheesy. So BYU-y. What can I say, except “that’s amore.”

    Honestly, what I wouldn’t give to adopt Norbert’s “Matrix” story…

  18. #9- HA. so sad, but so true. it is especially annoying when they are just oh-so-impressed with themselves and expect everyone else to be also. gag.

  19. #18

    Perhaps those who do summer sales for companies such as Apex and Pinnacle Security and the pesticide companies should be lumped in the same group?

  20. I believe my proposal included the terms “crap” and “get off the pot.”

  21. hawkgrrrl says:

    We were in the Norbert camp, and it kind of happened accidentally, without “malice aforethought.” We were sitting in the car, I think in a parking lot outside a store, and I said, “Do you think we’ll ever break up?” My now husband laughed and said, “Isn’t the opposite question, do you think we’ll get married?” I hadn’t really thought about it, and then I thought, ‘oh crap.’ But then it was out there, and we’ve been married 17 years now.

  22. Peter LLC says:

    Like somebody mentioned, it is very pragmatic.

    Norbert’s pragmatism wilts into hopeless romanticism compared to my own story–I married to get that ever elusive green card.

  23. #19-

    I was going to comment about that also.

    So many of them are dragging out school until they are mid-3o’s (for useless degrees). In the mean time they are surviving off student loans/summer sales/credit debts. Its going to be ugly when all those bills finally come due.

    I’ve heard many cracks about my beater car and time in the service from these folks. But I’m feeling pretty good about my debt free – college grad status. Besides, rolling up my own windows pumps my biceps :P

  24. DH and I referred to the “are you going to get married” question as “the elephant.” The elephant in the room that we weren’t talking about even though we knew it was there. We were in our late 30’s, compatible, with a lot of mutual interests, and it was getting a little frustrating making out in the car in Findlay, Ohio in sub-zero temperatures.

    So I brought up the elephant, and we agreed that we needed to decide: either we were going to get married, or we were going to break up, because if we were going to get married, what’s the point of waiting, and if we aren’t going to get married, what’s the point of making out in the car in Findlay, Ohio?

    God was really clear to me about the matter: he didn’t have an opinion on whether or not I should marry the guy, but that if I did marry him, I’d be happy.

    DH asked me to marry him over a dinner at a Greek restaurant in Detroit, I think on Memorial Day weekend, but it was just a formality at that point – I was already trying to figure out what to do with my house.

  25. Norbert, you are a man after my own heart. My wife and I went through Jr. High and High School together, but never dated. Through our college years, we dated a few times, but mostly were just friends. That even included her dropping the statement when I started to speak seriously one time that she “just wanted to be friends”. After about six months of not speaking we started hanging out with the same group of friends, and then did a whirlwind six weeks of dating. A week before Valentines day, we had gone to see a Disney movie (that old racist “Song of the South” in reissue), and I surprised myself by saying “I think it would be a good idea if we got married”. She hugged me, started to cry, and after a minute, I had to ask again, and she said yes. 35 years and counting…

    I never understood the games and oneupmanship involved in the BYU style of proposals. It always seemed like it was more for the friends than the intended.

  26. Matt Thurston says:

    Ann, good story. “What’s the point of making out in the car in Findlay, Ohio?” would make a great catch phrase to encompass that either-get-married-or-break-up point in a relatioship. It would also make a great title for a Chick Lit book, or a chapter heading for your personal memoirs, the chapter where you met and married your DH.

  27. funny, the shenanigans continue on past engagement. A friend from church once asked me how I told my husband we were having our first baby. ummmmmm??? I didn’t know there was more than one way!! Apparently, it was my turn to pull off the surprise scavenger hunt with plenty of pickles and ice cream and baby-to-be memorabilia and I blew it.

  28. I think I said something like, We can’t just keep hanging out together forever. We need to move on. Let’s break up or get married. And my husband said, OK, we’ll get married.

    20 years this December!

  29. Wusses. I can’t believe you people actually dated before you proposed!

  30. #3 – Awesome story, Jennifer.

    I also have never understood the elaborate ritualistic engagement frenzy. It just feels so contrived.

  31. Having typed #30, perhaps it seems contrived because I was engaged before my mission – just before her senior year in high school started. I didn’t need elaborate; we picked the ring together, then I proposed behind the Provo Temple.

    That was 23 years and 6 kids ago.

  32. Spontaneity can go awry: my husband proposed on the spur of the moment, which I definitely was not expecting. Shocked, I said no. However, his next proposal was also spontaneous, and since I had had time to think about it, the answer was much more to his liking. The third proposal–the one with the ring and down on one knee–was refreshingly simple.

    That was a lot of proposals.

  33. I like pragmatism.

    I mailed David a single word, typed on a 1926 typewriter- right in the middle of the page… “yes”

  34. Ok I have been practical and different on two different engagements.

    My first fiancee I had known mostly by letter fro about three years when I took the steps to get serious. I waited for her family to leave then with her alone, I popped the question, she said yes. Then it all fell apart so I decided that version sucked.

    Second time, I was off and on dating a girl for about four months. After getting really serious in April I popped the question in a much more elaborate way.

    My wife at that time was interested in mideval costumes, so we got kitted out in to mideval wear, I sent my “herald” to warn her I was coming, then with ladder in hand I climbed on the balcony, put out the ring on a pillow and popped the question, then I had a friend sing and play a song for her. Meanwhile my herald and other friend set up dinner for us at her house.

    Total cost, probably 15 bucks for dinner, the cost of the ring and that was it. Yet it was such a elaborate deal that people living in the area who had witnessed it were still talking about it six months later when friends of ours moved into the complex.(They thought it was them)

    So nearly 13 years later I do not regret doing it that way. Oh and btw I had been 99% sure of the answer otherwise I would reluctant to go to that length.

  35. Would it be wrong for me to send this link to the guy I like?

  36. Anon, knock yourself out.

    I would think that for many, the worst engagement proposals would be:

    1. the unwanted ones or;
    2. the ones that never happen.

  37. We were skiing over Thanksgiving weekend. I followed him through a bunch of trees, and he popped the question. No fanfare, no audience – just us and our favorite sport. I agree with #2 – people who NEED to make a big deal are HM (high maintenance) and it gets worse as time goes on.

  38. Ann (#24) – I’ve worked in Findlay, and I would phrase the question thus:

    “What’s the point of being in Findlay, Ohio?” I mean, if you have to be there, making out in the car might be about your only option.

  39. Steve is right- the worst proposals are the unwanted ones… it’s heartwrenching.

  40. Unwanted proposals are the sign of a deluded mind. Proposing should be like playing tee ball. There should be no question as to getting a hit. If you have any doubt in your mind as to what the response will be — my friend, you should not propose. Instead, you should go stick your head in a toilet; you will come out of it looking and smelling better to the world than if you had launched that romantic scud missile you’d been mulling over.

  41. Kristine says:

    My friend had the least romantic proposal I’ve ever heard of, and it is my favorite engagement story ever. She and her then-boyfriend were both in graduate school, and it was nearing the end of a semester, time to think about apartments for the next fall. He said something about how maybe it would make sense to just move in together, and she responded “no way! You’ll never buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.” His response/proposal? “I’m willing to buy the cow.”

  42. #36 – Steve, I was reading this thread to my wife and kids. They were laughing almost hysterically, then I read your comment. It went dead silent when I read, “the ones that never happen.” My thirteen year old just said, “Wow.”

    Truer words have never been spoken in the Blogernaccle.

  43. Thomas Parkin says:

    #40 snort. Fortunately, both my wives proposed to me – in a matter of speaking. I’m the one who pushed my first marriage forward, but it began with a casual comment that I kind of rhinoceros stupid bulled ahead with. Olivia and I had been living together for some time, when she asked if it is something I’d ever consider doing again. And I said sure, and we got a Univeral Life Minister freind of ours to drop by our apartment and marry us.

    Hey Steve Evens, can you get Dave Hanley’s new e-mail address for me? Gracias.


  44. I always swore that I wouldn’t do one of those impulsive, classic mormon engagement dealios.


    Here is ours:


    (Hope it isn’t bad form to post the link. It’s just looooong.)

  45. Steve Evans says:

    TP, I’ll email it to you. He says hi.

  46. Ray #38, Findlay was half-way between Detroit and Columbus. Plus they had a Damon’s.

  47. We did the progression/mutual agreement thing where we just sort of transitioned into talking about marriage. We did some ring shopping together and I gave him suggestions. Then a few weeks later he surprised me with a picnic in the park and officially proposed with the ring. We were both BYU students, but neither of us is into elaborate game-playing. We were even boring and had our reception in the cultural hall of the church.

  48. My husband and I had been been friends for a few months before we started dating. We worked together, rented rooms in the same house, and traveled together frequently. By the time I told him we should start dating I already knew I would marry him if he asked. Well, two and a half months later he still hadn’t. This boy was slow. I figured telling him he should date me had worked, so I said, ” You should marry me. It would be a lot of fun.”

    He spent the next three weeks secretly hand-making a silver ring. Then one night as we were leaving for a night out he got down on one knee in the garage, slipped the ring on my finger and said, “Yes.”

  49. sol, somehow I should have guessed you proposed to him. :)

  50. Giggle.

  51. Sorry folks, but give me the orchestra and the suit of armor any day. (Or even a reindeer suit, but only if when he took the head off he was as cute as Matt Thurston.)

  52. Mark IV says:

    Steve, comment 40,

    Proposing should be like playing tee ball. There should be no question as to getting a hit.

    Precisely. That is why I used the commitment pattern I learned from the missionary discussions. I used a lot of soft closes first – “Hypothetically, I wonder what it would be like to be married.” “If you were going to get married, I wonder what kind of ring you’d like.” “If you were going to get married, which temple would you prefer.” Then I moved onto the hard sell. “If we were to hypothetically get married, I wonder how many hypothetical children we should have.”

    Keep this up for 18 months and not only is success assured, you will also acquire a reputation for sophistication, romance, and suavity. Take my word for it.

  53. Mark, if I had tried that approach she would have punched mye and told me to shut up – but I’ll take your word for it.

  54. Mark IV says:

    Ray, that’s the value of keeping everything at the hypothetical level. She could have only hypothetically punched you in your hypothetical eye and told you to hypothetically shut up.

  55. My pops pulled off the whole low-key anti-romantic proposal by asking my Mom to visit him in CA where he was doing his residency. She asked if she’d just be staying w/ the RS president again, and he said something like, “I had something a little different in mind.” He then tried to buy the ring at her uncle’s jewelery store, but he hadn’t cashed his paychecks for a few months so the check bounced. Not a good intro to that side of the family.

    My favorite, though, was my best friend from elementary school, who one night said to his girlfriend while sitting on the sofa next to her, “Hey, I’ve got something for you.”

    She replied, “What, are you going to fart?”

    He pulled the ring box out of his pocket and showed it to her. That was it.

  56. I nominate myself for “Worst-sentence-structure-of-the-year” award.

  57. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah, peetie, now that’s romance.

  58. He said something about how maybe it would make sense to just move in together, and she responded “no way! You’ll never buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.” His response/proposal? “I’m willing to buy the cow.”

    Sweet leaping Jehosaphat, Kristine, that’s an awesome story. Awesome because I didn’t think that any actual human being had ever actually used the whole “free-milk” thing in any actual conversation, ever; I kind of figured the whole matter was invented by moralistic grandmothers and moderately risque youth church leaders, and then later made famous by the Georgia Satellites. Shows you what I know.

  59. Mostly, I’m disappointed that the title of this thread wasn’t, “Rules of Engagement.”

    (I should also note, in the interest of full disclosure, that my wife’s response to “will you marry me?” was, “are you serious?”)

  60. A serious question (perhaps J knows the answer to this one):

    When did marriage proposals become such an elaborate affair? I had one co-worker who painted the side of a mountain (and just about got arrested) for his proposal. Even much less serious endeavors — asking a girl to prom — often involved elaborate plans with lots of moving parts.

    When did this become part of Mormon culture? And, is it restricted to the Jello Belt of Utah/Idaho/Arizona?

  61. Jello Belt. Hee hee.

    A friend’s roommate asked a guy to Sadie Hawkins in an oh-so-clever way. His response? A dozen donuts with a note attached that read, “No. I donut like you.”

  62. Our kids in this Stake move to Utah and get engaged and married there, but I don’t think they do it in as dramatic a manner as native borns! Back here, the big deal is Jack and Jill parties before the wedding. Non-member weddings, that is. People raise a couple of thousand dollars towards the cost of their wedding by charging everyone to come to a party. Very strange, if you ask me. Of course the cost of the wedding and honeymoon is probably close to 10k so I guess you have to do something!

  63. Oh, the past. I believe that it is a shame if both people do not know beforehand. The question is then almost superfluous. I agree that a surprise is a very bad thing. It would appear that elaboration and ritual bespeak fear and uncertainty. As if an elaborate production could preclude a negative answer. If she is stunned by the question, it is wrong and she probably wanted to say no.

    We had talked about marriage but clinched the deal when I said, if we were going to be married in December, that she had better change her student teaching to September. She did it and I realized afterwards that it was the proposal. It lasted 41 years until we were parted forcibly by fate.

    The second time I had learned; so I started with the proposal, up front, before anything (we had be friends for 20 some years and acquaintances for 40). She finally said she wanted a formal declaration. I told her that I would ask again when I knew she would say yes. It did not take long.

    It is different making a commitment and seeing if that works, rather than trying to decide if a commitment is forthcoming. You can not be too elaborate with such a prior commitment, except it did cost a fab weekend in S.F. (more of a really nice outing with a very good friend).

    Age has its advantages.

  64. My husband proposed to me at 4 am after making out all night.

    It went something like this:

    me: “the only way I’d move back to Utah is if I was engaged”
    husband: “could you move here in August?”
    me: “Was that a proposal?”
    husband: *sheepish grin*

    Any guy has a good chance of getting a yes at 4 am after making out all night- it’s the closest thing you’ve got to getting her drunk.

  65. Salty, the guys are pretty makeout-drunk at that point as well.

  66. Kristine says:

    Russell, I know–I would have thought the same thing; even my unbelievable Southern Laurel advisor (who, upon hearing I was going to Massachusetts to college, shrugged and said, “oh well, at least I taught you to cook”) never used the free milk analogy! But I heard the story independently from the two parties involved, so I’m reasonably convinced.

  67. Eric Russell says:

    “And, is it restricted to the Jello Belt of Utah/Idaho/Arizona?”

    Kaimi, yes. The BYU students from outside of the Jello Belt are as freaked out by it all as anyone else. It’s a part a Utah tradition of elaborate prom invitations that has somehow worked its way up into marriage proposals.

  68. My husband and I decided on marriage after less than two weeks of dating. It was very casual and natural. And I didn’t want a ring because I don’t think the woman should be marked if the man isn’t! I also hate the idea of the woman waiting for the man to propose. I was probably the one who suggested marriage…

  69. BobW,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I agree–age has its advantages.

  70. --I am I-- says:

    I formally proposed to my wife, and gave her a ring in the woods behind her parents house after I asked her dad for permission to marry her. Of course, that was after I’d already talked to her about it a number of times, so I dunno…

    The FIRST time I asked her? In a hotel room she was staying in when she came to visit me. I had been working in Utah over the summer and she couldn’t seem to wait 3 months to see me, even though we had only been dating a week before I left. We had gone to the Temple for a visit, come back to the room to talk for a bit, made out a lot, then were just talking, and I sorta said something like, ‘We should get married.’ She said something like, ‘Yes’ or ‘Okay’, and that was that. I saved up and paid cash (just under $900) for a ring, and gave it to her a month later.

    The lesson I’ve learned is this: simple engagements are best. Simple weddings are also best, but the truest principle is this: don’t start your marriage in debt because of your engagement or your wedding. The ring and the honeymoon shouldn’t put you or your parents in financial straits. If it does you’ll regret it, and that will place a burden on your marriage.

  71. This thread is nearly dead, but that last comment made me remember a YW activity we had once. I don’t remember very much about the point of the activity, sadly, but we had a woman there who was a financial planner and she talked to us about money and debt and things like that. At the time I was only about 14 or 15 and knew little about finances or anything, but she talked about couples she’d seen starting out with $10,000 (or more) worth of debt from a wedding. It blew my mind and really left an impression on me for my future wedding. Our parents were not in a financial position to help pay for anything, so we had a very simple reception and spent our three-day honeymoon in the Best Western out by the interstate, but we didn’t have any debt. The truth is I still sometimes regret this, especially when I see my friends’ photo albums full of fancy pictures of their elaborate weddings. But the older I get the less I care.