I proposed to my boyfriend.

Why I Proposed

It was the 2.5-year mark when my boyfriend and I had the conversation about our future together. On the car ride home from an amazing Thanksgiving trip with his family in Sedona, Conrad initiated the discussion with, “So, my mom and I were talking…” I knew immediately where he was going.

As any woman in a long-term, intimate relationship or any hopeless romantic would hope, the discussion went super well. We established that we were in it for the long haul, that we both saw the other in our future, and that a long, fulfilling marriage is definitely something we both want and with each other. Great. Perfect.

But what was funny to me was that, even though we had a conversation about our future together, it wasn’t a proposal. It absolutely should have been, but because Conrad and I both had the implicit expectation that a ring had to be involved, we weren’t engaged yet.

The idea of an engagement ring was a pain in my butt, only because I didn’t know what I wanted. Conrad needed some reference for what he should get me, but I could not send him a design – doing so would have felt disingenuous. The only criterion I had was that it had to be a fair trade gem of some sort, or it could be a grandmother’s engagement ring. I also wanted him to get me an engagement ring that reminded him of me because I knew I’d love whatever he decided to get.

Eventually, though, my need for an engagement ring became almost nonexistent. What I wanted way more than a ring was that moment together, the actual proposal, the unmistakable commitment of marriage. I wanted to be able to look back on the moment and recall how big our hearts were for each other, not how big the rock was.

On our last trip to his family’s house in Mexico that July, 8 months after our commitment talk, I encountered so many moments that could’ve been the moment. Floating on the Sea of Cortez hand in hand; kayaking across the beautiful blue ocean; gazing deeply into each other’s eyes with the sun setting over the sea… I just wanted to blurt out, “I love you so much, I want to marry you!” at least 50 times that week, but since I had the hint that Conrad planned to propose sometime in the future, I practiced restraint.

That’s when I realized, Oh, my gosh. I want to propose to Conrad! I want to give him the moment I’ve been wanting all this time! I want to show him how much he means to me, how badly I want to spend my life with him.

So why wait for Conrad to do something I already expect him to do and diminish any surprise and shock from it? Why pressure him into buying a ring that could cost him a fortune, a ring that I’ve never really truly wanted in the first place? Why automatically exclude myself from the role of proposing just because society tells me to?

I wanted to do none of that.

The Planning

And so began the brainstorming. My girlfriend Aida got my juices flowing, throwing ideas about how I could propose. And the idea that stuck real good was integrating what we love doing together most – camping and playing board games – making the actual proposal super personal and super special to the both of us.

Camping in particular holds a deeply special place in our relationship. We never camped as kids, so we did our first actual camping trip together at Sequoia National Park just a few months into dating each other. That trip was the first time he’d said “I love you” to me. We’ve been camping regularly ever since.

What’s perfect was that, around the point I decided to propose, we were already planning to go camping in a few weeks, so all I had to do was create the proposal materials. (What do you call a proposal symbol that isn’t a ring??) The original plan was to camp at Big Sur, but because of the Carmel fires, that got nixed. So Conrad suggested a quick backpacking trip in North San Diego County called Barker Valley. It wasn’t Sequoia, our annual camping haunt, which would have been amazing, but trying something new sounded just as amazing.

So, I told his sister Allison the news and asked her to redesign a character card in a game Conrad and I have played hundreds of times called “Love Letters.” One of the characters basically looks like an Asian woman. Plus, she’s a guard with sword at the ready. Strong female character of color: hell yes.

Originally, I requested that the action text at the bottom of the card be changed out for my proposal, but Ali went one step further and imposed my face on the character also. At first, I thought it was way too dorky to use my face, but she made a great point – I’m proposing to her brother, who is a dorky guy. Her reassurance that he’d love it made me feel more confident about it.

I got 6 copies of the card (1 extra) for the deck, and when Conrad and I got to packing for our trip, I discreetly switched out the guard cards for my proposal cards. So far so good.

The Proposal

We drove out to Palomar on Saturday morning and started our 3.5 mile hike down Barker Valley around noon. Not a great time to do any sort of hiking with the heat and all, but we still got to our campsite with enough sunlight to pitch our tent, wind down, smoke, talk, chill, and make dinner. We were the only ones in the meadow for most of the day, so it literally was just us two and our doggy Cheyenne.

Conrad cooked jambalaya for dinner, definitely the best I ever had. It could’ve been that flower, but it was most likely Conrad’s amazing chef-ness. His ability to cook an excellent meal on a backpacking trip just confirmed for me that my decision to propose was so, so right.

The sun was setting by the time we finished dinner, so we cleaned up our communal area and went inside the tent. I suggested we play Love Letters, of course, so I took it out of my pack and started shuffling. While Conrad changed into his PJs, I sneakily fixed the cards so he would draw my proposal card at his first turn.

When he drew it, he immediately felt the difference of the two cards in his hand – an actual card from the deck and my card. He flicked the corner of the card, testing the weight, and tried to look more closely at the card. The lighting wasn’t great so he couldn’t see well – the sun had set by then, and we only had light from one of our headlamps. He asked me, “Is this a different deck? It feels different. And the guard looks different. Though, I don’t remember now what it looked like before…”

“Why don’t you read the action?” I replied.

He read it to himself: “Name the one person you want to spend your life with. If that person agrees, you both win the game.” He smiled and looked at me for a few seconds, trying to read my face to see if it was a joke or something serious. He later told me that at that moment, he knew that what he said next was uber important. “You, of course,” he answered.

I smiled, grabbed his hand, and said my proposal with my cheek resting on his shoulder. I’m embarrassed to recount what I said because oh. em. gee. It was corny. Short and sweet, but so corny. But Conrad apparently loved it because he said yes! We laughed, we kissed, we embraced, and we relished the moment. I turned off the headlamp and the stars were all out, shining through the screens of our tent. We held each other and admired the sky, smiling and giggling like fools about our future together as a betrothed couple. Yeah, I used the word “betrothed.”

It was a perfect night. Even more perfect than I could have planned.

What Conrad Thinks

The true cherry on top is that Conrad absolutely loved that I proposed to him. He’s worked in the wedding industry and has seen literally hundreds of weddings. So he’s seen every kind of couple, every style of wedding, and he has become anti-convention because of how unremarkable and forgettable 99% of those weddings were. To him, a lot of the details seemed to be the same from wedding to wedding, so he knew his own wedding had to be special somehow.

When I decided to propose, I didn’t even have that in mind. To me, it just felt right that I do it because, well… I wanted to. I was excited to. But my proposing spoke so much to his anti-conventional-wedding attitude, and he was ecstatic.

On top of that, I involved his best friend and sister Ali in the whole thing as designer of the card. It added another layer of special for him, as he’s really close to her and had such a kick that she was in on the secret.

The payoff came in his lasting reaction afterwards. For at least few days straight, he was in awe that I, his girlfriend, had proposed. Let alone in a way that folded in our mutual hobbies and spoke to his attitude about the conventions of weddings. It made him very proud.

What I Think

I had an incredible time planning the proposal and actually proposing. I was nervous, even though I knew he’d say yes. The moment was exhilarating, heart wrenching, and an absolute adrenaline rush.

I hadn’t thought about how people would react. Though, I wasn’t at all surprised that even friends responded in sexist ways. For example, a friend joked that I proposed because I couldn’t wait for him to do it. I figure that’s what many people perceive when they hear that I proposed, but I don’t care. He and I both know I could’ve waited a long time for him, but impatience wasn’t my motivation. It was my overwhelming love for him that drove me to the decision. We have a relationship that I so cherish, so why not show him that somehow?

My decision also had a little to do with empowering myself as a woman and going against the grain. I can count on one hand how many women I know who proposed to their men, and that’s a shame, really. I have friends who consider themselves feminists, yet wait for their boyfriend to propose. Which I’m not knocking at all, but why do so many women opt out of even the possibility of proposing?

In my mind, a good marker that feminism is widespread (or better yet, when feminism becomes a word of the past and its principles are the norm), would be when it is common that a woman proposes to her man, and she is not perceived as desperate, impatient, or that she “wears the pants.” We are definitely not there yet.

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