Why Did I Propose?


“In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything and two minus one equals nothing.” -M. McLaughlin

On account of it being relationship month here at DYNAMO I decided to post a thought on my own 11 year reality show. The question above is one that my fellas (75% of whom are married) ask in exasperation and the women I come into contact with at work and otherwise (90% of whom are single for whatever reason) ask with a sort of morbid curiosity.

The most obvious answers: kids, convenience, money, foolhardy love or family pressure don’t apply to me. There were no kids in the picture at the time, neither of us is wealthy yet, and I’m way too cool to make a decision outside the logic centers of my brain. Furthermore, there is nothing inconvenient about being a single, childless, educated and fully employed black man entering his third decade of life here in NYC (a treasure trove of single black women who just happen to act as if they aren’t aware of this). Instead it was a gradual change in thinking and a increased perspective that got me on bended knee.

Most recently the title question came up in the middle of a therapy session among female coworkers. I sort of got dragged into the defense chair as I heard the prosecution’s case against men (black men more specifically), who refuse to ‘seal the deal.’ Her words not mine. One particular women was at her wits end over what was taking her boyfriend so long? She expressed that they are both in their late twenties, been together for 4 years and are in a happy, fulfilling, and compatible relationship. In her mind the natural progression was marriage. My first thought was for her to ask him why, but she didn’t want him to feel pressured. She wanted it to be something of his own volition. Besides that, her girlfriends and family had thrown the hint around enough.

As I sought to address her, I began to think back to my own state of mind in the months prior to proposing in which I juggled the idea around in my head. I had known my wife for 5 years and dated her regularly for at least four of those years.  I knew she was a keeper at least halfway through, but marriage never felt like a necessary conclusion. Blame it on the way of life I grew up in, but most people I knew had kids, stayed together sometimes, lived together often, but marriage just wasn’t a part of the equation.  Looking back I realize a few factors that contributed to my change in thinking.

First of all, my wife’s parents are still together, married over 47 years. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was shocked since at the time I personally knew of no black people married for even half as long.  They were obviously happy and accomplished considering the daughter they raised. Her father was the disciplinarian who insisted, sometimes unreasonably, that her modesty be maintained at all times. It is something that she carried into adulthood, as a women who errs on the side of caution with regard to public displays of her God given a$$ets. Her mom is among her best friends, who also serves as the blueprint for how my wife handles her finances; developed as a cook, shops at the supermarket, or even how she dresses professionally (her coworkers think she overdoes it). It was obvious to me the important influence both her parents had in making her the person she is. All the things I liked about her were things that both her parents could take credit for. People married for what seemed like forever to me and still happy!  Who knew?

Secondly, is the influence of the church I was going to regularly. My future wife raved constantly about how much I would love it, before finally bribing me with brunch one Sunday. It turned out to be as good as advertised. I found a church that wasn’t a sorority house, but filled with respectable men who understood and managed their households. Men want to be men and this church seemed to stress how important fathers are and how a good marriage protects children, empowers women, and strengthens men. They went so far as to explain how important marriage was to our societal structure. It was good seeing other men who acted like men, were genuinely happy, and were led in their understanding by another man who did it all, maintains it all, and still drives a Lexus LS. Hmm.

Third and most important, my wife herself. I guess love did play a role, but not the way in which it seems to be depicted so often. I didn’t get some rush of feelings or have an epiphany one day and just ran off and bought a ring. As I understood her more, I began to understand what made her happy. She loved me to be around. She never held back her feelings for me and instead told me how important I was to her. I once read that a women shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ first. Well my wife broke that rule 100 times over. Before I thought about love, she was showing me how much she cared. It made me uncomfortable at first, but after awhile it just made me happy to be around her. She built me up.

Sometimes I would stay at her place during the day to catch some sleep after a overnight at work. I’d wake up, shower, and be headed back out the door and she would be handing me a pre-packed dinner to carry along (something she still does). Later at work I’d find a post it note with some cavity inducing message next to my spaghetti. After awhile I began to engage in a game of ‘how do I top this?’ Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries became my time to do so.

I went out of my way to get good seats to concerts and shows she wanted to see to make her happy. I once had a rule about overspending for any female, but it seemed okay for one who brought so much into my life. She got pricey gifts (or should I say more than I ever spent on a woman gifts). We tried new restaurants she would mention since I always liked her enthusiastic and genuine appreciation for my time and planning. She would offer to pay at least half the time (something she knew my pride wouldn’t have any of). A smooth move on her part which I appreciated. Once when I was sick she made me homemade chicken soup (which she called her mom to get a recipe for!). She then drove to Brooklyn (a big deal for a Queens girl who never went west of the borough) to bring it to me. There was never a sense of holding back from her. She just loved and let the chips fall. Either things worked out or they didn’t, but she was all in way before I knew what was going on. This was big for me.

Sometime in the summer of 2006 after leaving a wedding for one of my wife’s coworkers I began to investigate the price of wedding rings. I don’t remember what began my search, but I know I started at the website of my wife’s favorite store, looked around further, and wound back up there. It seemed like the sure bet and I knew she would love it. Was I blissfully thinking of how much I was in love at the time? No. I would imagine that most men don’t think like that and that included me. What I was thinking was that she would be thrilled and loved even the slightest of romantic gestures so I had to plan my proposal carefully. In November of 2006 I had gotten together the money (after sacrificing a badly desired new car purchase) and jumped on the -A- train to the jewelry store. After looking at about 10 different designs I settled on one after reaching consensus with two female customers and the salesperson. Next stop was my future father in law who approved and most importantly could keep a secret.

Looking back I realize a few things: 1) I was in love way before I knew (I suspect most guys will be this way), 2) I’m still the same guy four years later since writing #1 made me uncomfortable and hesitant on publishing this article, 3) It was worth it though I didn’t realize all that I had set into motion at the time (wedding reception, move to the burbs with Brooklyn behind me, my first kid, new family, and self-promotion to relationship expert), and finally 4) that I must have been crazy to ride the train back with the most expensive purchase I had ever made in my life up until that point, sitting inside a little blue box in my Northface sleeve. It was ok though since I was risking my life for the sweetest, smartest, sexiest, and best bedroom partner* I’ve ever known. It was good practice for what was to come.

                                     -S. Mat

*To Mr. B: I found that out after the wedding :-)

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  4. “Alpha Male” + “On That Independent Shit” = Interview with Engaged Couple Lamont and Ajanna
  5. “Try a Little Tenderness”: Toning Down the Alpha Female
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