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January 17, 2008

But Seriously, Will You Marry Me?

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In the spring of 2006, we were heading off to Mexico and Belize for an exotic, sun-drenched vacation. Near the end of the trip, we planned to visit the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, famous for its towering pyramid. The proposal would go something like this: We'd hike to the top of the 1500-year-old temple, and there, in this mystical place high above the jungle canopy, I would present her with the ring and ask her to marry me. In the movies, it would have culminated with a parade in our honor and a blessing from a village shaman. Instead, when we arrived, we found that the base of the grand pyramid had been roped off because of a recent fatality. My plan suffered a final, devastating blow when I contracted a nasty case of the turistas, which had me sprinting to the commode at regular intervals. I spent the last three days of the trip locked in a hotel bathroom.

There's a lot about sharing a home and a life that keeps romance at bay. She discovered my borderline-creepy obsession with the Food Network's Giada De Laurentiis and my inability to hit the toilet bowl when taking a late-night leak. In turn, I found that she leaves more hair in the bathtub than a yeti, and her bubbly laugh was beginning to sound like a witch's cackle. In the TMI department, she's seen me eat pudding skin out of the kitchen garbage, while I've learned that she takes Metamucil for irregularity.

Over the next six months, I bumbled my way through a number of elaborate engagement scenarios, each one flaming out more spectacularly than the one before. There was the skywriter, the hot-air-balloon ride, the high-school marching band... The gestures felt contrived — not us, like so many of the timeworn rituals of courtship and marriage. Was she really expected to wear a white wedding dress when we've been sharing a bed for five years? Was it necessary to ask her father's permission to get married, even though we were already legal domestic partners? Would I get a dowry — two goats and a rucksack of cornmeal? Even the terminology smacks of another era. When I hear the word fiancée, I think of William Holden sipping brandy and smoking a pipe in the study. Certain aspects of romance and marriage are no longer relevant, like the comedy of Joan Rivers or the 2nd Amendment. It was time to take marriage back and make it our own.

So, late last Christmas, after everyone had gone to bed, we reheated some Chinese takeout and settled in front of the tree to open the last of our gifts. "I think you forgot one," I said nervously as I handed her the small ring box. I'd had plenty of time to work on my proposal, but I still fumbled through it like a jittery teenager. Her eyes welled with tears, and she replied, "Of course I'll marry you." Alas, the perfect romantic moment didn't take place over breakfast at Tiffany's or along the rim of an active volcano, but rather, right here at home, in our pajamas, over lo mein. If I'd known this a year ago, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble.

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