Last month, I got engaged. To a man, obviously. I wish I could say "legally engaged" but that's not actually a thing. But to us, it feels like the term "legally engaged" is appropriate because we're now allowed to get "legally married".
We've kept this quiet because we weren't prepared for people's questions. How big is the diamond? Where was the proposal? Was it beautiful? Was it from a hot air balloon? Did you almost choke on the ring as it tumbled out of the champagne flute? Have you set a date?
Sorry folks, our engagement was plain and simple, and you'll be really disappointed if you're expecting any extravagance.
Gay engagement shouldn't be any different than straight engagement (after all, that was the point of marriage equality), but it is. Newly betrothed heterosexual couples have it both easier and harder - depending on the way you look at it - as all of the traditions of engagement have been laid out for them for centuries.
Customarily, the man asks the woman. He must spend a good chuck of his salary (they used to say three months' worth) on the ring. The woman should pretend to be surprised. There must be a fancy dinner, complete with champagne, afterwards. And for the next year, he will sit back, while she fastidiously plans spending every dollar of $30K on one day. Even though the original budget was only 10.
These rules don't apply to gay engagements. They are different. In fact, no rules apply: we have no books to go on, no elders to seek experienced advice from. Everything is brand new in the request for a same-sex hand in marriage.
The first question to tackle is, "who asks whom?" It's a tough one. Is it the more romantic one in the relationship, or the more dominant one? Is it the one with the funds for a ring? Or is it a race: who can orchestrate a proposal fastest? I asked my boyfriend to marry me, because we've always had an unspoken mutual agreement that I would be proposing, not him. Mostly, this was because I was the reserved one about legal commitment; he would have asked after a year of dating if he had his way.
Though it seems antiquated, there are still some couples out there that think asking the father of the bride-to-be for his permission is "the right thing to do". To me, this has more to do with the concept of ownership of women than proposal traditions. It's something that belongs to slavery-era America, not modern-day New Zealand. Every man (and woman) is his or her own, and it's their permission that's important.
The ring brings up many dilemmas. Should there be a ring? If you do present a ring, do you buy one for yourself, too?
I bought almost-matching engagement watches, because I want us both to wear wedding rings, but not wedding rings AND engagement rings. That's way too much bling on one finger, not to mention the fact men can't wear diamonds without looking like Liberace. In case you're wondering, I spent about three weeks' wages on both watches. I wasn't going into debt for something I couldn't afford.
Without a ring, but still with an engagement gift of sorts, is getting down on one knee required? Unless you're comfortable with it, I argue not. There are weird power dynamics associated with the kneeling down custom; it would've made me feel like a dog asking something of my master. Best leave it, I think, to Katherine Heigl romcoms from the 2000s.
There's temptation to do an exuberant, public proposal, to the tune of the tear-jerkers on YouTube. It feels like gay engagements are something that should be big, with music and fireworks and Liza Minnelli impersonators. But in reality, proposals should respect who you are as people. For us, that meant sitting quietly on beach with nobody else around.
Straight couples are supposed to have long engagements. These are a recipe for stress: every betrothed hetero couple I know currently hates what has happened to their wedding dreams (the costs, the venue availability, the self-righteousness of unfamiliar cousins who won't fork out for a babysitter for ONE night... I could go on and on.)
My boyfriend - sorry, fiancé - and I are having a short engagement (i.e. weeks not months) so we can keep the tension at bare minimum by not over-planning. Then we can just enjoy the purpose of it all - actually being married. That's how I think most men think about marriage, really; whether gay or straight.
There are too many norms and conventions to navigate as a gay couple getting engaged. Gay couples should throw them all out the window and do exactly what they want. After all, gay liberation is about following your own path. It seems counter-productive to set rules, as neither of us plans on "the moment everyone is waiting for": walking down the aisle in a white dress.