Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have been dating for five years now, and it’s been really great. We’ve spent part of college together, overcome the transition of moving to a new and exciting city, landed happy career paths, and moved into our first apartment together last year. All in all, the past five years have been amazing, and we’ve really been able to grow up together, overcome challenges, and positively push each other to be better people.
It really seems like the natural progression to get engaged, and I am 100 percent ready for the commitment. I believe he is too based on hints from friends and family as well as our long-term conversations.
As a natural planner, I’ve already started looking at rings I would like, and I know exactly what I want — style, price, etc. I’ve even figured out when stores are having diamond sales so he would get the best deal.
How do I make sure he knows exactly what ring I want without taking the romance out of it? I feel like ring shopping puts so much pressure on men and can take the spark out of the actual proposal. But what do I know?
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Ready for the Altar
Do you know whether you’d spend as much money on him to show how committed you are to his happiness? Do you know whether you’d marry him without a ring at all?
Do you know what you’d do if your life — with him or without — took a radically different turn from what your natural-planner self had in mind?
Do you know for sure you want your life to include him for the sake of him, even if that meant stripping away the exciting city, happy career path and “spark”? Or is it possible some of what is “really great” about these five years is the way they fit your expectations?
If your definition of “romance” requires that certain details not be discussed in advance, do you know for sure romance — and your investment in preserving it — isn’t blocking your view of important ways you two don’t agree?
Do you know how little a ring has to do with the rest of your life?
Call me a buzzkill or b-something-else, but you’re talking jewelry and third-party hints when these have nothing to do with actual intimacy.
There is, of course, romance in surprises, and there’s also attraction in mystery.
But to live in service of sparks and romance is to live at the surface and, as you maybe unwittingly point out yourself, leave your true desires unsaid — and while some happy endings start that way, it leaves that outcome largely to chance. You’re hoping your true desires match, versus seeing for yourselves.
Plus, if familiarity kills romance, what will happen over decades of shared daily life?
There is a whole other level of romance, a profound one, based on sharing your true desires (among other things) without fear. Desires deeper than diamonds. It’s a romance that isn’t so fragile that it can be ruined just because you decided to say, “I’d like to marry you” or “I’d like to choose my own ring.” On the contrary; it’s the trusting, abiding love you feel when you know you can talk about anything – your fears, your frailties, your frustrations with each other. And, yes, your attachment to frivolous things. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as perspective sticks around to chaperone.
It’s natural to put on a layer of shine when you’re trying to get someone to choose you as a life partner. Your whole question is about maintaining that shine, even five years in, while still getting what you want. It’s a shortsightedness so many live to regret.
That’s because marriage rubs off all the varnish and sparkles we use, even unwittingly, to attract a mate. To get what you want from a life partnership, the best thing you can do is accelerate that process by speaking and acting freely, as your truest self. Crash through the outer layer and find out whether there’s durable love — and yes, romance — underneath it.
Think about the “do you know” questions I threw out at you, and add a bunch of your own. Ask him a bunch too. When you know you haven’t held anything back, and when you have reason to believe he’s been as forthright with you, and if you still feel certain you want to build the rest of your life with the two of you at the foundation, then: Tell him you want to get married. Get to the point where you never justify anything you decide using the phrase, “based on hints from friends and family.”
If you get to that intimate place still eagerly at each other’s sides, then mazel tov to you both. Oddly enough, people tend to know they’ve reached this point when one would buy any ring the other wants, and the other would be fine without any ring at all.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.