Surprise Engagements Are Overrated

“It’s like the woman has to be in the dark until the burden of the work comes along.”

“I hate this whole idea that everything has to be a surprise,” a friend recently told me. We were talking about proposals, specifically hers. It hadn’t  been a surprise; she and her then-boyfriend had discussed getting engaged. It was just a matter of when.

I didn’t really agree — surprises are fun! Then, she put it this way: “It’s like the woman has to be in the dark until the burden of the work comes along.”

Now that you mention it… Why do we wait, wait, surprise! You’re engaged! Now please start committing every free moment to planning a wedding.

It’s not just the wedding planning, my friend continued. Strangers regularly stopped her on the street to comment on her engagement ring.

“I cannot tell you how many women — friends, colleagues, strangers — compliment me on my ring,” she said. “They all say, ‘How did he know?'”

Her reply: “He didn’t! He had no fucking clue!”

My friend and her then-boyfriend had picked out the ring together, months before he actually proposed. It was, she says, one of her favorite memories.

Many would look at this situation with pity. It wasn’t a surprise? we think to ourselves. So, does it really “count”?

The thought crossed my mind, too. My friend continued: “I have friends who have beautiful rings — rings that cost five times what mine cost. These are 10 to 20 thousand dollar rings.” And guess what? “They don’t even like their ring! They’re just OK with it. Or they’re even upset that [their partner] paid that much.”

She mentioned a friend whose engagement ring was $12,000. “Even she’s like, ‘We could have used that as a down payment.’ She has legitimately tried to talk her husband into selling the ring so they can buy a house and he won’t do it!”

We know why he won’t: The ring is His Thing. It’s his “proof” that he loves his wife. To “downgrade” to a more affordable option — even if the money would go toward a down payment — feels like a failure.

It’s easy to call this guy crazy or stupid or macho but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This man felt compelled to make the choice he did.

That choice wasn’t practical or even what his partner wanted. But a lifetime of hearing an expensive ring is what they should want trapped them. It trapped them the same way I see so many couples get trapped. “Isn’t this how it’s supposed to go?” they ask of their weddings. “Aren’t we supposed to be happy?”

Surprise: You’re not, but you can be.

Elisabeth Kramer is a day-of wedding coordinator and writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Read more of her work about the Wedding Industrial Complex.

This originally appeared on Unwed: Not Your Typical Wedding Blog. There you’ll also find a Q&A series with women who’ve planned their weddings and a series about nontraditional wedding planning resources.