A proposal need not make the earth move

Menno Tas proposed
Menno Tas proposed (to Anna Cambridge by phone: "I guess we should get married . . . .")
Posted: February 13, 2014

Call it cliche, but Valentine's Day remains the second-most popular holiday (behind Christmas Eve) to propose marriage. Now consider the thousands of askers readying themselves for Friday with rings purchased, roses ready, knees limber. All that's left to do is pop the question in a fairy-tale scenario that will be forever cherished by the askee. Or maybe not.

Despite a wedding industry that puts immense pressure on men to devise death-defying feats of romance with just the right unique proposal, there have been and always will be people who manage the most unremarkable declaration of love - and live to tell the tale.

Ten years ago, Anna Cambridge and Menno Tas were living together in Amsterdam. She was originally from London; he is Dutch.

Anna was sick at home with an upset stomach, lying in bed watching TV, when the phone rang. It was her then-boyfriend, breathless, talking a mile a minute.

"Are you still in bed?"

"Yes, I am," she said.

"Are you lying down?"

"Yes."

"Good, because my boss just called, and he wants to transfer me to Philadelphia. So I guess we should get married and go."

"We joke about it now," said Anna, who, with her now-husband of 10 years, calls the lack of proposal "a visa thing" - international travel can be easier when one is married. Yet, still in Center City and now with two sons, the couple's story lives on.

"The only ring I got was from the phone," Anna said.

A poorly executed proposal can be an overwhelming letdown, especially at a time when people hire photographers and videographers to document engagements in front of 40,000 Phillies fans or on private beaches. To prevent such a fate, tell your mate - in a subtle way - what you want, said Pella Schafer Weisman, a marriage and family therapist at the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia.

"It's OK to ask for a proposal that creates a special moment," she said. You needn't be specific about the what and where of the proposal, but you should let your partner know that you want it to be memorable and meaningful. Then let the person doing the asking figure out the details and the setup.

On the other hand, said Weisman, there are those unique occasions when subtlety may not be right. For instance, if your lifelong dream proposal always involved a hot-air balloon, then by all means, let your partner know.

And nobody should feel ambushed. If a couple has been successfully communicating, a proposal should not really be a surprise, said Weisman, and the asker should have a good idea of what kind of proposal the other would appreciate.

Sometimes, though, proposals come as a surprise to everyone.

Trish Thompson - once engaged but never married - and her boyfriend Joel Katz - divorced twice - were living together when they started arguing "about something stupid, of course," said Thompson. She can't remember what it was about, but she'll never forget how it ended.

"Well, I guess at some point, I'll probably ask you to marry me," Katz said. What a drag, she thought. This isn't exactly how I pictured it. So, just to be sure she understood, she asked for clarity: "Are you proposing to me?"

"Yeah, I guess so," he added.

They eventually wrapped their arms around each other as they wrapped their heads around the idea of getting married. Later that day, Thompson called her future mother-in-law, "a brilliant woman," she says, to tell her the news. Her reply?

"Are you sure you want to do this? He doesn't have a very good track record."

Another blow. But Thompson ignored the lack of endorsement, and thirty years of marriage later, the Logan Square couple are still together.

Of course, even with the best of intentions, a proposal can still go wrong.

Eighteen years ago, Rich Milgram of Haverford put aside his loathing of Valentine's Day to surprise his girlfriend Marla, who thought the holiday should be romantic. With the lights dimmed and a fire lit in their new townhouse's fireplace, he was waiting for her to come downstairs to propose - when the smoke alarm went off.

Marla did come downstairs - running - to find smoke everywhere (the fireplace had yet to be inspected to make sure it was working properly) and Rich pouring water on the fire, causing more smoke.

To make matters worse, the downdraft blew smoldering embers onto the newly laid white carpet. Rich was embarrassed, and Marla worried about getting the smell out of the house.

Eventually, after cleaning up, airing out the room, and closing the doors to the fireplace, the two recovered enough to have a romantic dinner.

There were candles and wine, and Rich asked for Marla's hand - albeit a sooty one - in marriage.

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