The finer points of asking someone to marry you after a three piece, biscuits, and mashed potatoes.
The idea of marriage begins, as every relationship idea does, with Martha. She is twenty-eight, around the age when women first begin contemplating their reproductive mortality. I am two years younger, around the age when men are not generally contemplating much of anything. It starts as a bit, a routine she and I do as a kind of verbal punctuation mark to any happy, shared experience. Like maybe we are walking back from one of our regular strolls down Third Avenue to Ben & Jerry's. As we walk, she might take my hand and sigh and press her shoulder against me and say, "Will you marry me?"
Whenever she says that I squeeze her hand and say something like, "Yes. Yes I will marry you, my sweet. We will marry and spend the rest of our days exactly as we are now, arm in arm, filled with Chunky Monkey." But I don't mean it. Not really. And I don't think she means it, either. After a year of those happy sighs, though, I start to wonder: Maybe she's serious. Does she really want to get married? I mean, I think she probably wants to get married eventually, start a family eventually. But not now. Surely she cannot mean now. I am content to keep everything on its present course. But I cannot keep ignoring those little sighs of hers. Over time, I am forced to conclude that when she says, "Will you marry me?" she is not being metaphorical. She actually wants to get married.
Do I? Shit. I don't know.
After reasoning through the problem to the best of my ability, I come to several conclusions, which lead, one after the other, to my ultimate decision:
• I love her and do not want to break up with her.
• Nor do I imagine us breaking up in the foreseeable future.
• She is the first person I have ever envisioned myself marrying.
• Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still like the idea of marriage even though I cannot explain why.
• If I can envision marrying her, perhaps I should marry her. One day. Not now.
• If I believe I am going to eventually marry her one day, why not marry her now? The only reason not to would be that a part of me believes somebody better might come along, and if I really believe that, then the right thing to do would actually be to break up with her now, which I do not want to do, thus taking me back to the top of my "logic ladder ™" (a term I have just invented, and am in the process of trademarking).
But logic does not feel like a good enough reason to get married. Marriage is an emotional act as much as a rational one. My emotions aren't there yet. As I am thinking about all this, a quiet mantra begins to insert itself into my brain. I am almost embarrassed to admit that this happened, but it did. In the weeks leading up to my decision, I start hearing a voice. It is an actual voice speaking to me from someplace at the back of my brain. This is what the voice says: Choose hope over fear. I hear the voice all the time, the same four words again and again.
Needless to say, the voice sounds a lot like Oprah. I am at a loss to explain the voice in my head. I am not a religious person and do not believe the voice has any religious significance. Nor am I a regular viewer of The Oprah Winfrey Show. But the voice is there nonetheless, quiet and unyielding. Choose hope over fear, it insists.
It is two days before Christmas, three Christmases after I first realized I was falling in love with her. We are leaving for her parents' house in Minnesota the following morning and have decided to open our presents before we go so that we do not have to lug gifts back and forth. When we are done opening presents—books, girly soaps, a sweater, a couple of CDs—Martha looks at me and quietly asks, "Isn't there something else?"
She knows. I was worried about this. A few weeks ago, I stupidly left the computer on one day while researching diamonds on the Internet. I went out to run an errand, and when I returned she was home, the computer still on a Web page listing the Four C's of diamond buying (color, cut, clarity, carat). She didn't say anything about it, and I wasn't sure whether she even saw the monitor. But I was pretty sure she did. Because she sees everything.
"Yes," I say. "There's something else."
Her eyes widen.
"I ordered that food processor you wanted, but it's late."
This is true. I really did buy her the Cuisinart she wanted; it's late because I didn't order it on time. "Oh," she says and straightens her face into a smile.
"Thank you." She kisses me.
"You're welcome. Merry Christmas."
I then excuse myself because I have hidden her engagement ring in the bedroom. Also, I feel a severe case of diarrhea coming on.
Earlier that night, I'd asked her what she wanted for dinner. I wanted to make the night special, but I didn't want to tip my hand, suspecting that she already knew I was going to propose. Rather than make reservations at some hoity-toity restaurant, I just casually offered to take her wherever she wanted to go.
"You know what I want? KFC," she said.
"Really?" I asked. "Because we could probably go someplace a little nicer."
"No. I'm in the mood for KFC."
My marriage proposal was preceded by a three-piece order of regular crispy, mashed potatoes with gravy, and two biscuits. Utensil of choice for the most important night of our lives: the spork.
Now that the moment is upon me, the combination of nerves and four thousand calories of secret herbs and spices is exacting a very specific toll on my body in the form of what I will delicately refer to as an "ass geyser." After a painful and rather effluvial half hour, I sneak into our bedroom to retrieve the ring. Martha is still in the living room when I return, the ring box hidden behind my back. How to do this? The whole "on bended knee" thing has always struck me as kind of corny. Who am I, Sir Lancelot? Instead I just sit down beside her and present the box. Inside is the one-carat, classic-cut, "Tiffany style" platinum diamond ring I ordered from the Internet.
(Yes, I ordered my wife's engagement ring off the Internet because it was so much cheaper than Tiffany's. I think Tiffany's is such a rip-off. I hate that place. It is, of course, Martha's favorite store.)
"You know what? There was something else," I say, presenting the ring. I don't know how else to say it, so I just say it: "Will you marry me?"
She takes a deep breath and gives the answer every man wants to one day hear: "I don't know."
I am overjoyed. Wait. What? What did she just say?
"I don't know," she stammers, "I just need to think for a second."
She needs to think? Think about what? For a year now she's been saying she wants to get married. "Mmm, ice cream, let's get married." "Yay. We're having sex. Let's get married." "This is a good TV show. Let's get married." Now I'm proposing and she needs to think about it? What the fuck?
Maybe I really did catch her off guard. Maybe she didn't see the diamond information on the computer screen. Maybe this is all a complete shock to her. Maybe I just made a huge mistake.
Finally, after what feels like a long silence, she says, "Yes."
"Yes, I'll marry you."
But now I'm a little freaked out. "
Are you sure?"
"Because it seems like maybe you're not sure."
"I'm sure. Yes."
"Because if you're not sure . . ."
She's sure. We're getting married. I leap on top of her and kiss her on the hardwood floor. "Ow," she says. "You're hurting my back."
Which utensil will accompany the most important night of your life? The spork? Chopsticks? The first step to finding out is to sign up for Nerve Dating.
Text copyright © 2012 by Hot Schwartz Productions. From You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations. Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.