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On Your Knees

by Dear Jon
January 20, 2004

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Sort 251_Dear Jon-On Your Knees Dear Readers: Late letters mean a late column. This came in for me on Monday, but I spent the evening observing a celebration of the life and principles of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a gathering of churches on Chicago’s south side.


Dear Jon,

I'm about to ask my girlfriend to marry me. Can you offer some good examples of ways to propose? Also, do I have to ask her father for her hand in marriage? Seems kind of old-fashioned.

- Nervous in New Jersey

Dear Jersey,

Are you kidding me? That your girlfriend even HAS a father is “old-fashioned.” That you are considering marriage is regarded in many circles as “old-fashioned.”

Oops, excuse me, I am old-fashioned enough to have assumed that you are a man.

I will continue on that assumption. In our current culture it is a bad thing to ask her Dad before you ask her. However, if you have asked her and she has agreed, involving your various and sundry parent/legal guardian figures is not a bad thing to do. In fact, getting their feed-back is a good way to get their support.

So, step one, talk to each other about marriage. If she agrees that marriage to you is a good idea, you can tell your parents that you are thinking about getting married, and she can tell her parents, with both of you asking what they think.

You need to know this, and I am not being funny: Most marriages that have worked until death they had parted have started out with unions that were agreeable to both sets of in-laws. I know that movies and situation comedies don’t go for that, but let us return to reality. It is true that there are some psycho parents out there, but for the most part, parents want their kids to be happy, and parents can tell the difference between an infatuation that will last for about six months, and a true love with a genuine soul-mate that lasts a life-time.

Infatuations happen in this way generally: matronly Sunday School valedictorian falls for rebel “tough life” bad boy with toned biceps, a tattoo and a smoking habit, or, work-a-holic accountant falls madly in love with shallow debutante party-girl. Bad boy likes the virginal purity, shallow debutante likes the money, and the parents tend to see right through that baloney which is blinding their infatuated offspring.

Of course, this is Dear Jon sounding grumpy and moralistic again, but it is not Dear Jon’s fault that half of marriages end in divorce. I guess the business of keeping vows is also “old-fashioned,” and “as long as we both shall love” is all the rage in trendy weddings, so that people stay married for exactly as long as infatuation keeps them blind to the foibles and humanity of their spouse.

Anyway, I hope you are not infatuated with a shallow debutante party-girl. Assuming that she is somewhat well-adjusted, mature, and only neurotic about some things, the time to buy the ring is AFTER all various and sundry parent/guardian figures have given their “blessing,” i.e., their expression of joy and support.

In our current culture, and I am assuming that you are not a first generation immigrant from India, it is inappropriate to ask the woman’s father for goats, cattle, or cash as a “dowry.” We do not do dowries anymore, and the woman you are marrying does not become your property.

How should you propose? Men have dressed in gorilla suits, they have flown in balloons, they have advertised their proposals on highway billboards. They have baked rings into cakes. They have published newspaper columns with the first letter of each paragraph spelling it out. The best proposal ever was when NBC sports correspondent Ahmad Rashad asked Felicia Ayers Allen to marry him on national television.

The safest bet with the ring is to have it be one she has picked out with you. If she thinks that all of this is unromantic, and that you should “surprise” her with the proposal and the ring before anyone else has gotten involved, then you are dealing with a person who needs to get over her neurotic Sleeping Beauty fantasy, and wake up to three realities:

1. Men do not take hints. Opening a Tiffany’s page and pointing to a diamond ring and saying “I think this is really beautiful” is only a hint, and it will fail to yield the desired results. Men think lots of things are beautiful; they do not expect to run out and buy everything they think is beautiful. His infuriating response will be to point at the necklace on the same page and say, “I think that looks nice, too.” So, women must be explicit.

2. No man considers himself as rich as the woman hopes or thinks. This became an interesting subject of conversation when, a few months after marrying, my college student loans came due for repayment.

3. No man is as romantic in real life as the characters portrayed in “Girl movies” like “You’ve Got Male” and “Sleepy in Seattle” and “Nothing Hill” or whatever those girl movies are called.

Whatever you do, you should be on your knees when you actually present the ring. After all, you are begging an attractive woman to settle for a funny-looking clueless schmuck. When I proposed, I chose a November evening with a light snowfall beneath a streetlight in Chicago. Very romantic. Eleven years later we’re still married. I’m still waiting for the goats, though.

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