Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Should I propose to him?

Dear E.S.B.

Ok so here’s the thing. I’m thinking of proposing to him. Not proposing in the traditional sense, because we both already know we’re going to get married some day. He asked me years ago, and with the joy of being young and in love, what else would I say but yes? The more interesting thing is though, that we’ve stayed together for 7 years since, through lots of various drama – moving countries, moving in together, moving cities, taking jobs in different cities from each other to do work we both really wanted to do. And we know this is it. He’s my best friend in the whole world – he’s my family – I can always trust him, and that’s been hard for me to learn.

And I know not to expect a traditional proposal from him, since we’ve agreed to spend the rest of our lives together already (even though a tiny bit of my girly heart sort of wants a romantic re-proposal, and the rest of my independent, egalitarian, feminist self hates that!) So last night I thought, well, what about it? I could make the romantic proposal thing happen – I could do it! Instead of the usual ‘will you marry me’ though (because I know he will, sometime) it would be a proposal to start actively planning a wedding (and maybe calling ourselves engaged, because we haven’t done that).

But there are a few things to consider. In my head, I was sort of waiting until we both got jobs in the same city before getting married (we’re both academics in the same-ish field and live in a small country which doesn’t have a lot of universities). And then I thought, well, that might never happen. Or maybe it might happen sooner if we did get married – either way, no point in waiting for it. So then, it became about waiting until we both got more permanent jobs before getting married – because we’d feel more secure, and we’d have the funds to throw a good party, and also in a permanent contract there’s more room to negotiate working from home etc, which we’d do so we could live together. And a few weeks ago, I landed a high-profile job in my university, which will probably be made permanent.

He, however, is finishing up a one-year contract in a different university, and has an interview this week for a permanent job in a university in another country. He’s not sure if he wants to take it if he gets offered it, because a 3 year contract is coming up (which he’d have to fight for, and might not get) in the university he works in now, and he’d prefer to stay here (he’s a bit of a homebird and also feels his work is taken more seriously here). So if I propose starting to plan a wedding, and he doesn’t want to, because of the uncertainty about his job, will I have ruined my chance of making this ‘proposal’? He might feel like he’s disappointed me by asking to wait, so should I just wait now until things are more certain for him?

The thing that’s kind of lit a fire under me about this is that we’re going to Paris next weekend – a sort of slightly belated 7 year anniversary present to ourselves (we were a bit too frazzled with work stuff when the actual anniversary did arrive, and it’s a bit of a fiction anyway since there was a very blurred line between friendship and relationship which we danced for a while). Though the location might sound corny, we both love France in general and Paris in particular (the holy trinity of wine, cheese and raspberry tarts) and this trip is going to be a much-needed holiday for both of us, so it might be a good time to broach the subject, when we’re relaxed and can consider things calmly. I was even thinking about asking him in Les Deux Magots where Joyce, Hemingway, Sartre and de Beauvoir used to hang out (maybe a bit cheesy, but I’m not sure I care). Today, I bought a very lovely but simple watch which I’m thinking of giving him when I ask as a symbol of the gesture, but might just give it to him either way, as an anniversary present.

So do you think I should do it? In Paris, kitsch, and all? Or should I wait until things are more certain (career-wise) for us? Part of me thinks that if he gets offered the new job while/before we’re in Paris, then I’d definitely ask, because a) I’d like to remind him that I’m in this for the long haul, even if we’re living in different countries (again) for a while, and b) if he takes the job, that might be the security he needs to say yes to starting to plan a life together, even if it’s not his first choice of job location. But then, if he does get offered it while/before we’re in Paris, and hasn’t made up his mind, am I just throwing another decision at him, which might complicate his decision about the job? I might be over-thinking it. Your sane, snappy advice is always appreciated (sorry for the super-long email).

Nervously Excited in Europe


Do it.


(WE ARE EXPERIENCED by Danielle Levitt via Charles Hall via Fucking Young!)


  1. please write back after you do it! I wanna know how it goes :)
    And I don't know how kitsch or cheesy your reasons/places are. They seem personal to you two and that's all that matters.
    Seconding ESB: Freaking do it.

  2. Do it in Paris. Sometimes kitsch is highly underrated.

  3. are you ready to put your money where your mouth is and take concrete steps, now, to coincide with him at a distinct point in the future? then propose. if not, give this a serious think-around; it sounds to me like formal commitment - or formal commitment to him - might not be for you.

  4. I agree with Molly.

    As a fellow academic dealing with similar geographic/professional bullshit, I say, do it now, don't wait for a cleanly stable and settled moment. Because that moment can be a long time coming, and, in my view, being Married with a capital M can help you to make (sometimes excruciatingly difficult!) decisions together about building the kind of life together that allows you to eventually live in the same place. Also: Paris! Wade bravely into the kitsch and avail yourself of some good old Ronsard: "...n'attendez à demain:/ Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les roses de la vie." Glorious cliché and really quite true in this case I think.

  5. The one thing that concerns me with this email is all of the talk of "this might be happening soon" and "what if he gets XYZ job and I/he moves XYZ place." These are all things that, if you are really partners, married or not, should be discussed as a couple and figured out. Together.

    You claim you're already super committed, so what does location/job relocation matter to the proposal either way? If you need an answer regarding that, you should be asking your BF about it. Being a partnership is about open communication and joint decision-making.

    Also, marriage is kind of like having a baby. There are better times to do it, sure, but if you're waiting for the perfect time, it won't come.

    There's something off about this email for me, just based on what you wrote, which I know isn't the whole story, but still. This is all I have to go off of.

  6. You know what the right answer is.

    But I am not sure Les Deux Magots is the proposing sort of place, no matter how illustrious its previous clientele. I was there last week and it is very busy with the tables so close together you are pretty much involved in your neighbours conversation whether you wish to be or not. It is also teeming with overly efficient waiters who insist on speaking English even when you speak to them in French. That said, despite it being overly touristy, the hot chocolate is said to be the best in Paris (I didn't try it - 7 euros seemed excessive).

    Paris is full of little romantic wine bars which I think would be much nicer and far more memorable places if you do go ahead with it.

  7. Do it! I came back from a trip to China this winter intent on proposing to my fiance -- but he beat me to it just a day after I got home. I found this post at A Practical Wedding while I was using Google as my life counselor ("women proposing to men" searches, etc.) and found it incredibly useful and thought-provoking:


    Also, it already sounds like you know this, but marriage doesn't have to mean a white picket fence and shacking up together for ever and ever. Obviously most of us prefer to live with our partners. But after our wedding this summer, I'll be spending four months on the other side of the country finishing a graduate degree. Think about whether or not you'll still want this commitment, even if he decides on taking a job further away, or making another move. If the answer is yes (and it sounds like it is) then just go for it.

  8. sounds like your email should have said, "I am proposing to my boyfriend, be excited for me and cross your fingers!"

  9. DO IT. isaiah did the same thing. loosely proposed to me over a late-night game of Super Mario and we just considered ourselves engaged from then on out...he did re-propose...but he wasn't a mind reader. i had to ask if that was something he was gonna do or not, as un-romantic as it might have sounded...because if it wasn't, i would have proposed...he wanted some time to think and blahblah...and then he re-proposed in a sweet way, as sweet as the first...with the ring and all of that hooplah. so either bring it up, it's not awkward, in my opinion...or just get the ring and do it yourself. it'll be awesome either way.

  10. Your relationship and commitment to each other is so beautiful! I'm in academia too (philosophy), although not on the job market until next year, so my heart goes out to you and what you're going through. I actually know a number of professor couples who got married and lived far apart until they could both get jobs in the same city or state. It sounds like you two love each other that you'll make things work even if it takes a extra effort to overcome a complex situation.

    BTW, when my guy proposed to me, he was so nervous and I was so shocked that it didn't feel romantic at all. It was really awkward. My point is that the proposal will reflect who you are, not where you are. My sweetie and me are awkward, so our proposal was awkward.

  11. Have you guys been talking about getting married? (Since the original proposal 7 years ago, I mean)

    You know your partner best, so you'll know whether he's likely to be blindsided by a firm marriage proposal or if he's the sort of person that needs time to adjust slowly.

    Being with the same person for a long time, we sort of grew into the idea of being ready and it started coming up in conversation more and more often.

    But I won't give you any advice on the proposal itself, because mine was troublesome - I thought we didn't need one, turns out that a special proposal (on his part) was a big part of his mental picture, eventually we had some serious tears and we talked it out and it got resolved. But honestly, the proposal part kind of sucked.

  12. First of all....why is it that a romantic proposal from a guy is somehow not feminist, egalitarian and implies that you're not independent. It doesn't.

    Also..I agree with Chesapeke that all these "if this happens...or if this happens" should be discussed with your partner. your relationship sounds untraditional in terms of your different locations so why shouldn't your marriage be? If you want to marry him, ask him. If you're not sure, don't. done.

  13. Coming from similar position (I am finishing a PhD and need to start looking for a post-doc somewhere in the same time zone as my FH - I'm in California, he's from Paris and there working on his PhD), I say DO IT!!! Finding academic jobs are hard, but finding a good partner is even harder. Also - it will be easier to find jobs at the same university or same region if you guys are actually married. I know many academic couples who live separate from their partners and I know the climate isn't exactly super sympathetic to human relationships - especially when there are examples of people who make it work apart. This still shouldn't get in the way of your life though and you shouldn't let it. I think people get caught up in the academic lifestyle and it's hard to let anyone know you are interested in anything outside your field - especially if that interest is another person or getting married. If you let yourself get entirely sucked in to that and put things off you may regret it later. One of my female professors who is a work powerhouse keeps telling me to get pregnant now (even before I am married) because she waited too long because of work and regrets it. Same goes for marriage.

    And then if he wants to wait a bit, then you guys can just be engaged for awhile.

    Also - I lived in Paris for a couple years and go back often because of my man and my work (going next week). If you want cheesy and romantic I say take a walk on some of the bridges when the sun is setting. Just not Pont des arts when it's crowded...it's full of drunk kids who don't want to pay for drinks at a bar.

    Also again - if I can recommend my favorite brunch place: Resto Zinc on rue de la Roquette near Bastille (between that and metro Voltaire). Brunch is just Sunday mornings (maybe Sat too). It's a tiny old bar with yummy food. Haven't tried their dinner menu yet. I know there are a million things to do in Paris but this is one place I try to make sure to go each trip. For some reason it makes me happy.

  14. I love reading these long emails, resisting the urge to scroll down, predicting ESB's short, blunt answers.

    Nervously Excited in Europe, what was your gut reaction when you saw EBS's response? That's your answer.

  15. The real question is, will you regret it if you don't? If the answer is yes, then do it! I think your email sounds a whole lot excited and a teensy bit scared. If British academia is anything to go by, it's probably the right way to be: short term posts + constant moving around + con-dumb privatisation of UK universities under a different name + economic crisis + rising tuition fees + imminent closures + fear of failure + goddamn REF (and impact) = ENORMOUS ANXIETY right now, even if it is what we signed up for. and it's sometimes hard to understand if you're on the outside.
    ps. we're getting married in 3 months, even tho we don't know where/if academia will take me. Totally the right decision for us, but I really do recognise the emotions in this post. Good luck!!!

  16. Thanks so much for this - and all your comments, it's been exactly the encouragement I needed. I'm going to ask, this weekend (although probably not in Les Deux Magots, thanks for the advice - I think it would be a bit much).

    And I should have said, we have talked about getting married, and starting a family, A LOT, especially in the last few years. We did live together for a year about 2 years ago, but I moved away for a job, which he really supported me to do, and he's moved a bit further away again for a job now, which I encouraged, and I think it's made us even stronger and more committed to each other, because we both decided we'd rather each of us is doing work that we love right now, than for one person to give up their job just to be near the other person, and although we're serious about our work, our weekends are sacred 'no work' zones, so that we can really spend proper quality time together. And he supported me so much when my mother died, which really cemented for me that this is it - that he's my family.

    And there's never going to be a 'perfect' moment to ask, and all the stuff I've been wondering about can be worked out together, whatever his answer is.

  17. Love it! Ask him! And if he's as cool and laid back as he sounds he'll love it.

  18. Lots of luck, and happy wishes for your trip, and your proposal, N.E.E.! I hope you'll let us know how it went.

  19. So, I did it! Asked him in a little cafe by the Musee Rodin, got a bit teary, and gave him the watch. It took a while for the significance of the whole thing to sink in - because as far as he was concerned we were already engaged, we knew we wanted to get married, so it's more a question for us of deciding when and how, and also when to tell people.

    We've decided to wait a few weeks before we tell people, because we're going to be doing this in a slightly unorthodox way (my father is very religious and is going to be very upset at the fact that I don't want to get married in a church) so that we have a rough time frame and an idea of how we want the wedding to go, so that we are prepared for the inevitable onslaught of questions.

    I'm really glad I asked, and we had a wonderful weekend, even starting to discuss some of the details, but in a more concrete way, rather than, 'hey, if/when we do this thing we could do it this way' which was sort of how our conversations had been before. Thanks again to ESB and to you all for the words of wisdom!