What’s Wrong With Wanting a Ring?

When I recently announced that I was getting hitched at 31, a bunch of people started asking me why. My 29-year-old college friend Marina, who just started medical school and is more or less single, was one of the questioning ones. “Wow! I’m surprised!” she told me over the phone, sounding-well, genuinely surprised. “That’s strange,” I replied, “you’re probably the only one who is.” After all, my boyfriend and I had been together for more than five years. “What I mean to say,” she clarified, “is I’m surprised you’re doing it because, well, it’s not really important.”

A few days later, I got an e-mail from a dear friend, a Danish engineer who’s in his early 40’s and has a live-in “partner,” as they say in diplomatic circles. He wrote: “Congratulations. What a pleasant surprise. First I got a little surprised to hear that you have chosen to belong to THE institution of married couples. But then on the other hand I find it sweet, and I am first of all happy that it works out great between the two of you. Secondly the marriage is what you, as a couple wants it to be.”

My grandmother, who got married for the fourth time earlier this month, subtly expressed some satisfaction that I had at long last succumbed to the call of convention. “So,” she asked glibly, “what made you decide after all these years to finally get married?”

Yikes! Had curtseying to the sirens of tradition made me a traitor? Had I become the anti-anti-conformist?

I can’t precisely pinpoint the moment I decided I’d like to make my man my husband. Sometimes big ideas just ooze in slowly, taking my head by surprise rather than by storm. The two of us had been knocking around the idea of getting hitched, but we hadn’t taken any measures; we just weren’t sure a public declaration was necessary. But suddenly, I was ready, as they say. And as I geared up to pop the question that my boyfriend hadn’t yet gotten around to asking, I hoped he was ready, too.

I planned my attack-not detail for detail, exactly, but I drew a rough sketch of what should happen. I discarded the standard soft-shoe proposal: the swanky restaurant dinner, the bended knee and whatnot. It freaked me out thinking about all the other people eating and ogling, and then maybe even clapping or something, the way folks do when their airplane manages a successful landing. The two of us had a vacation planned to go out west at the end of June. I figured with the wide-open spaces and all, some opportune moment would surely present itself. In hindsight, maybe I knew that, to carry out the task, I needed to leave New York and its cynical, judging eye.

My future husband has always been a man of the city, unacquainted with the wonders of Mother Nature. He’s rarely walked off pavement, and he’s spent only one night of his life in a tent-when, a couple of years ago, I treated him to a car camping adventure in a downpour at a state park in Connecticut. But I had been able to convince him to part temporarily with our small Cobble Hill apartment, the TV, cheap night at the corner café and our laundry man Mohammad, and journey out to Bryce Canyon in Utah for a little backpacking escapade.

Despite the fact that the 24-mile “Under the Rim” trail was a tad more extreme than I remembered, my boyfriend was good-spirited about the whole affair, and his brand-new hiking boots-chosen largely for their aesthetic advantages-rose to the occasion as well. Trip-trapping along taking in the views, I secretly assessed the terrain for possible locations to accomplish the task at hand.

The second day of our expedition came to an end around 7 p.m. at a place called Iron Spring. Looking at our map earlier that morning, I had felt optimistic about the place’s potential. It sounded rather forbidding, and the ranger had told us the water tasted like shit, so I figured we’d have the place to ourselves. The campsite was a bald, sandy knob dotted with low, scrubby growth. We took off our packs and gazed up at the last bits of sun that were ringing off the pink-and-orange hoodoos and pinnacles that formed a gigantic amphitheater about us. I sneezed. The sputter reverberated off the walls of the bowl.

Scouting out a spot for the tent, I noticed a few large paw prints in the sand. At the ranger station, there had been a leaflet about cougar encounters. You’re supposed to raise your arms above your head and thrash about, yelling at the top of your lungs. You’re supposed to become menacing, appear big and ferocious. I didn’t want to burden my boyfriend-who trembles when he hears a mouse rattling around under the kitchen sink-with yet another troubling feature of the great outdoors, so I didn’t mention the prints.

He came across them himself, though. “Doesn’t this look like a cat print?” he asked, poking at the indentation with the toe of his Merrell boot. I told him I’d swum with alligators. Accepted a ride with a stranger once. We lived in New York City, for crying out loud. “There’s never been a reported cougar attack in this park,” I said, nonchalantly repeating the ranger’s words. He suggested moving our campsite off of the cougar’s turf. We couldn’t leave now, I worried. We were rapidly losing daylight. No other hikers had moved in on our scene. We’d be out of the canyon the next day-this was my last opportunity if the deed were to be done in Bryce. My fellow camper was unaware of my private anxiety, had no idea of what was about to hit him. “You know, you’ve got a much better chance of getting mauled by some moron’s pit bull in Manhattan than you have of getting attacked by a wild cat,” I pointed out. Luckily, I quelled the man’s anxieties and he settled down to fire up the MSR stove.

For dinner we had a freeze-dried, mesquite-grilled chicken and rice dinner, which was so foul that we had to dig a shallow grave and lay most of it to rest. Leaning against a big log in the sand, we watched the night shoo the pink and orange beyond the ridge, leaving a blanket of stars in its wake. Except for the meal, which had started jumping around in my digestive tract, everything was peaceful and just as I had pictured it. So I turned to my boyfriend and asked him, “Will you marry me?” It seemed to take a minute for the question to sink in. “Hey, I’m proposing to you here!” I added helpfully.

The long and short of the story? He ended up saying, “Yes! I will marry you!” We made it out of the canyon just fine. And I found out later that a cougar is about the size of a female lion-five times as big as I’d pictured one.

We floated back to New York, but kept the news secret for more than a month. I had my reasons. For one, I was hesitant to officially commence the schmaltzy voyage that is wedding planning. I really didn’t think I had been keeping quiet to avoid the jaded, bubble-bursting reactions of some of our loved ones. Apparently, though, we had done something drastic and out of character! For whatever time-honored, hazy, perhaps non-critical reasons, my boyfriend and I had decided to tie the old knot-the ultimate old-fashioned expectation. All along I had feared that, by getting married, I would be behaving like a hard-core traditionalist-but now I’m wondering if, in fact, I haven’t become some new breed of revolutionary.

What’s Wrong With Wanting a Ring?