A few weeks ago, we brainstormed every question we have about engagement rings—then got completely side-tracked. We ended up talking for hours, not only about rings, but also about engagements, and our general philosophies on marriage and proposals. To tell the truth, more and more of our office conversations have veered towards the traditions around engagements (it's no coincidence that several of us have them in our near future). Read on for our unedited conversation:
Emily: So we've been talking about how people get engaged, and how they approach weddings and marriage in general. It's funny because G and I took a very traditional approach to our engagement even though we aren't the most traditional people. We got engaged on a Monday night, and G had actually pushed it up. He'd come home for lunch that day, with the ring on him, and I didn't know what was up. I just knew we just couldn't stop giggling—both of us were laughing. He was in on the surprise, but I knew nothing and was like "Haha this is awesome!" After lunch he said, "Okay I'll see you tonight," and I said, "Great, I'm making us dinner." When he came home from work that night, he said, "You know, your orzo sounds great, but we can have it for leftovers all week. What if I took you out for sushi?" I mean, I'll never turn down sushi. I went into our bedroom closet and had almost finished getting dressed, and he met me in there. He looked at me and said, "You look great, but I feel like you're missing something." And I was like "Umm, do I need a belt, do I need a jacket?" When I turned back around, he had the ring out. It was very surreal, and one of the interesting notes is that he didn't get down on a knee. Which again, everything else was very traditional about the proposal, he had asked for my parents permission which I loved...
Leslie: And your parents knew it was happening right?
Emily: Yes, my mom did but my dad didn't yet. He cut it close—he asked my mom literally on his way home from work, so it's a good thing she said yes! And I think the fact that he asked is something that she had found even more amazing. So anyways, he said a bunch of other really incredible things that I don't remember...
Jess: Did you black out?
Emily: Yes. I don't remember one thing. I do remember thinking he seemed a tiny bit nervous, and it was the first time I had ever seen G nervous which was really sweet.
Jess: Did you know it was coming?
Emily: So we had spoken about the fact that we wanted to get married. I mean, we had that conversation probably a few months after dating because when I moved in with him, it did happen very quickly. It had only been about eight months, but we both knew that this is what we wanted long-term. We had just recently celebrated our three-year-anniversary, so I had my nails done just in case, and I think every girl has that moment where she thinks, oh it could be now, it could be tonight. Then the anniversary passed by, and I talked to my friend Cristina, who had bought the ring already with G, and she threw me so hard.
Jess: How old were you?
Emily: I was 27, about to turn 28, and we met when I was 24. After he proposed, I Facetimed my mom—I get teary even talking about it—and she already had Champagne. We were both just happy-crying, it was amazing. And I think just so much of the engagement for me was that he made the call. I think it's one of the most important decisions in a man's life. From choosing the ring, to deciding how he’s going to do it, and I even think how they ask you is really indicative of how well they really know you. Like had G done it on a jumbo-tron at a Dodgers game, I would have walked out. So it was in our house, and it just felt so sweet and personal and you know, our cats were nearby! I’m a traditionalist in this sense, and it was fun for me to have G choose the ring because he has really great taste. He then told me about the ring because I didn’t know anything. I had done zero research. All that I cared about was spending my life with him, and the ring was really just a token of his love. I trusted that he would find something pretty, but I know a lot of people who want a collaborative decision.
Leslie: I'm really somewhere in the middle. 50% of me wants Jonah to buy a ring, sweep me off my feet with a proposal, the whole nine yards. But the other 50% of me is much more practical, in terms of putting "ring" money towards saving for a house, and I'm highly aware of how weirdly old-fashioned the whole custom is. Jonah and I have had a lot of conversations about it, and I feel like I tell him I want a different thing every time, ha. Obviously the only thing that matters is our decision to be together always, which we've already committed to, but will I regret not having a "classic" proposal or will I regret losing the opportunity to collaborate on it?
Jess: I think the longer I’ve been in a relationship, the longer I think the practical, partnership route feels like me. We’ve been together for seven years, so at three years, it felt so exciting, and I was Pinterest boarding my dream wedding gowns and rings...
Emily: And how old were you?
Jess: I was 23 I think…
Emily: You’re like a girl on The Bachelor!
Jess: Exactly, and now, you know when you talk about something for so long—we talked about getting married when we first started dating. We knew it was it when we met each other. And now, the magic of it has worn off, and all my friends are getting married. And also, seeing them get married is wonderful, but I see how exhausting it is…
Leslie: It becomes a trope.
Jess: I’m also very particular when it comes to jewelry, so I’m kind of proud of him for letting me steer the ship because I would never want to be in a situation where he proposes, and I hate the ring. And it’s possible, not because he has bad taste, but because I’m so picky. So I didn’t want that to be any part of the equation.
Leslie: So you’re fully going to go pick out the ring. What does your process look like?
Jess: So Justin, my boyfriend, is significantly more traditional than I am. He wants a surprise proposal, he wanted to pick out the ring himself, he wants to ask my parents for permission, he wants a big wedding with a large ceremony. And right now I'm feeling like the opposite. I want to pick out the ring myself, I want it to be a conversation that we have as adults who are becoming a team, and that's that. I would love to elope or go to city hall and then have a party after to celebrate it. So we're meeting in the middle. On the engagement ring thing, I'm going to win because if it's going to sit on my finger for the rest of my life, I think I should have the final say. And then in terms of the wedding, we will probably do something more in line with what he wants because everyone else in the family wants that except for me.
Leslie: I have fantasies about going to City Hall tomorrow and just doing it because I know Jonah is the person I want to spend my life with. But I think what makes me so excited about a wedding is having all your favorite people in the world in one place. As expensive and nuts as it is, it's a once in a lifetime thing, and I think it's less about Jonah and my union and more about having a fantastic party with all our best friends and family.
Emily: Our wedding had 78 guests and it was a very perfect number just because it felt like a party. Whereas if it had been really small, it would have been like oh this is a little too small so I felt like our number was so manageable. I literally got to spend time with every single person at that wedding.
Leslie: That to me is the biggest thing.
Emily: Yeah, that's a big deal for me. It did feel like a party with my favorite people. And it's funny because I remember getting ready for the wedding and getting so excited to see everyone, and I was so blown away and moved that everyone was coming to celebrate us. So it really was the best day of my life. Sloan was the best thing to ever happen to me, but it was not a good day, ha. Nothing will ever top my wedding. It was funny because my mom used to say that her wedding was the best day of her life until she went to mine.
Leslie: That's really sweet!
Emily: So maybe I'll keep room for Sloan's wedding...
Leslie: Also, going back to the proposals, I actually just had a conversation with Jonah's mom about proposals I want to bring up. Both of our moms proposed to our dads, and when I told his mom I wanted Jonah to propose to me, she was, I think, rightfully surprised. In other aspects of my life I don't feel traditional at all but in this...
Emily: Yeah same! We're both progressive, and attended all-women's colleges, yet I would never consider being the one to propose! But maybe there's nothing wrong with that.
Leslie: Two of our other best friends just got engaged, and the guy proposed to her and then a month later she proposed back to him. I love that because she got the full swept-off-her-feet proposal, and then did a big thing for him. I should really start planning.
Emily: I feel like G would be like, "What are you doing? We already did this..." So Kelly, you just recently got engaged, and you said you were very surprised with how it went down. When you had envisioned getting engaged, how did you envision it versus how it played out?
Kelly: Oh that's an interesting question. I guess I've never really been one of those girls who envisioned the whole thing, but I definitely thought that it would be just us, which is not how it happened. I was totally and completely shocked because I had no idea. My fiancé is a huge introvert, and the fact that he proposed to me in a room full of people was nowhere even on my radar.
Emily: Which just shows it was about you, and he put his own stuff aside to be like, alright, this feels right for her.
Kelly: Yeah, I think the main thing is that he wanted my family to be there because my family is really important to me. I think that was the number one reason why he did it in front of them, because he knows I only get to see them a few times a year.
Leslie: And you had talked about it beforehand, right?
Kelly: Yeah, we had. Like you mentioned Emily, we started having these conversations very soon after dating, especially since we're a little bit older. I think you guys have more of a unique situation where you met your person in college, but we met when I was 28 and he was 32, so you kind of have those conversations faster. You don't really want to waste your time unless it's a real thing. We started having these conversations a month or two into dating, and we started having conversations about getting engaged shortly after we moved in together, so maybe 8 or 9 months into dating.
Emily: I mean timing really is everything. Part of me was almost upset when I met G because I'd just gotten out of a long relationship and G is not the kind of guy I wanted to just date for 2 years, he's the kind of guy you marry.
Leslie: Kelly, did you and Alfie pick out your ring together?
Kelly: We were at a friend's anniversary celebration in Palm Springs, and he actually asked me out of the blue what kind of ring I eventually wanted. I used to work for a jewelry company, so it probably would have been a disaster if he hadn't asked me what I liked! I had been casually looking and found this really cool company in Texas that uses an algorithm to find the perfect diamond for you, which he loved. He followed them on Instagram, and then we didn't talk about it for a couple of weeks until I got a text with a link, and out of all of the rings they have on their site, it was the one I had been looking at.
Jess: And you didn't even try it on... that's crazy.
Kelly: No, we literally ordered it after just seeing it online, and we even made a small change to it.
Emily: So Kelly is like the hybrid. I was like, "I don't want to be involved." Women get to make so many decisions especially with wedding stuff, and I was like, "This is the one thing you get to do so you do you."
Kelly: That's actually is funny because you were totally not involved, I was somewhat involved, and Jess is very involved.
Leslie: And I'm even somewhere in between where I honestly think Jonah knows my style better than I do. I used to say, "I want a big, beautiful rock," and finally Jonah was like, "I hear you, but I also know you and know you like rock climbing and running and adventuring, and want to wear it all the time. So I'm going to get you something super beautiful, but it's not going to be big." [laughter]
Kelly: I want to hug Jonah for saying something like that, because when you're in the "pre-engagement" time of your life, you're very concerned about the ring. Once that bubble bursts, then it's completely different. A lot of people are like, "what is this heavy, big thing on my hand, it's getting in the way..."
Emily: I have multiple friends who had massive engagement rings and they never wear them, and that makes me really sad. I love wearing mine, and I would never not wear mine because I can wear it all the time and never take it off. And it's one of those things where I love that at 27, this was the ring. And if we had gotten engaged later, it probably would have been a lot bigger, but I love how it tells how long we've been together, and that he did it all by himself.
Jess: I went into my ring appointment and when they asked me what my checklist was, I just said I want platinum and I want low-set and that's really all. I just don't like things that are big and clunky and...
Emily: Yes, I think the less you have to take it off, the safer. I have a friend who took it off in the car while putting lotion on, and then she went to go grocery shopping, and it fell off in the parking lot and they never found it. It was traumatizing.
Kelly: Yeah, my sister has a family heirloom, it's this gorgeous ring and both of them love it. But she's a mom to two boys under three, and she doesn't wear it much anymore because it gets in her way. And I knew that going into it. I wanted a ring that I could wear every day for the rest of my life.
Emily: So on the topic of married names... the interesting thing for me is that I waited a while to take G's last name. I just didn't get around to it, and when I finally did, I was nine months pregnant, and had an emotional break at the DMV. I had waited for three hours in the most uncomfortable chair and when they finally called me, I had a copy of the marriage certificate to which they said they needed the real one. I got outside and called my dad, and was so hysterical that he thought something really wrong had happened. So, long story short, you can make appointments ahead of time, which I did a few days later and got it all done. It was something that I always wanted to do, and it meant a lot when Sloan was born that we all had the same last name. There's just something about it that felt like: We are very much a true family. What I will say about my situation that I truly love is that professionally, everyone knows me as Emily Schuman, so I feel like I still get to pay homage to my family. But then on a familial level and when friends invite us places, we're the Fullers. So I really feel like we have the best of both worlds.
Jess: For my entire life I thought that I would change my name. When I started dating Justin I did the "What will my name be..." And then I saw a tweet probably three years ago of an envelope that was addressed to a Cosmopolitan editor and her husband, and it said "To Mr. and Mrs. Jack Donaldson" – or whatever his full name was. She tweeted, "Why does my identity become eliminated when I get married? This doesn't make any sense, I'm my own person." And truly that Tweet completely changed my mind about last names, and it made me realize that if my brother decides to not have children, my parents' last name will no longer be passed down. And so that freaked me out enough to tell Justin, "By the way, I'm not taking your last name," and he's mega-feminist, so he was like, "Great! Love it!"
Emily: But then, let me ask you this, if you have kids...
Jess: Still a debate, yes. So I know in history, the reason that men gave their last name to their children was that there was no way to identify the biological child, and so it was by giving the last name. Now we have science that can do that. My opinion: If I'm doing the work of delivering a child, why does he or she get to bear my husband's last name?
Leslie: Yes! You could also do what Icelandics do...
Jess: I knew a girl in college who is a female, and her mother decided that any girls they had would take her last name, and any boys would take his.
Leslie: I like that!
Emily: I had a friend who had a different last name than her brother and it was really confusing and everyone was always asking them if they were related....
Jess: So I have to decide if that confusion is worth my principles...
Kelly: I am definitely taking Alfie's last name.
Leslie: But you're the only Kelly Johnson in the world! [laughter]
Kelly: Yeah me and all the other thousands of me! I hate that my name is in no way unique, and I've told my parents this so many times. I have been looking forward to having a more interesting name forever. But I'm going to do what both my mom and my sister did: Take our last names as our middle names. So my middle name will be "Johnson" after I get married. I don't have any emotional connection to my middle name, so it's just going to be struck from the record. Interestingly enough though, I have some friends who are taking kind of a different approach by combining their names.
Leslie: That almost feels like a lose-lose to me. Neither gets their last name! And what happens when someone with two hyphenated last names marries someone else with two hyphenated last names? Does it become a quadruple hyphenated last name??
Kelly: Create something new! Nobody else has that last name.
Leslie: I recently had an experience similar to Jess's. I was talking to my mom and told her I was considering taking Jonah's last name because his family has such a strong connection to their name, and we don't have a strong connection to 'Stephens.' My mom immediately was like, "What do you mean you don't have a strong connection to 'Stephens'? Besides the fact that you've been 'Leslie Stephens' for as long as you've lived, and that it's your identity?" So that sealed the deal for me! I'm keeping my last name, he's keeping his. TBD on our future kids' last names though... [laughter]
Jess: Yeah, I do know that no matter what you decide to do, people will assume that you have taken your husband's last name.
Emily: That doesn't happen in my case! People are actually often surprised, they're like "Oh! I thought it was still Emily Schuman!" And I'm like, "No, I changed it!"
Leslie: The point you brought up about having a professional name is also so important, E. For the past eight years, I've been writing for publications as "Leslie Stephens" and if I was suddenly "Leslie Ollman," it would kind of erase everything because people wouldn't be Googling "Leslie Stephens" and finding past pieces.
Kelly: Well I'm changing my last name, but we will not be referred to as "Mr. and Mrs. Alfie," like that would make me die. Absolutely not. I think that idea is just so antiquated and horrible. I'm still changing my name, but that's just stupid.
Leslie: And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter! Whether you have two different names, are "the Fullers," or decide not to get married at all.
Emily: And that's a perfect note to end on!
We'd love to hear: What are your thoughts on traditions around engagements? What did you do? Let us know in the comments!