The following is a first-hand account of what not to do after your proposal.
The week before last, I asked my long-time girlfriend to marry me. I got the engagement ring, called her folks for their blessing, got into my fanciest suit, tied the ring around the dog's neck, lit candles, bought flowers, and was there on one knee when she got home. Overall, I think I did a good job setting the whole thing up. I would like to say that I had a nice speech laid out, but it basically came out as a tender yet extremely nervous confession of my love and a request for her hand in marriage. She said yes, all was right in the world, end scene.
The funny thing is that was only the beginning. Like many hopeless romantics I had played this scene in my head for years but never thought about what happens right after you get engaged. After kissing and hugging and taking some photos, we had this "What now?" moment.
We agreed to go to the bar where we first met. We were thrilled. We wanted to tell people about the big news but didn't want a million phone calls invading our private celebratory moment. So what did we do? We opened up our phones, sent text messages to friends and family, and changed our Facebook relationship status to "engaged." We told everyone we knew in the least personal ways possible.
In retrospect this was the worst idea I've had in years. Close friends and family started calling immediately. One text message didn't make it out of my lady's phone and left a dear friend hurt, since she found out the news via Facebook. It took days to call everyone back and even then the conversations felt like we were apologizing for our lame level of initial communication. So here are my tips for anyone who wants to get engaged and wants to compassionately follow through on communicating that to others:
- Plan beyond the proposal -- This was my first error. I should have realized that I didn't live in some fade-to-black movie, and I should have had a game plan for compassionate communication of the big news (assuming she said yes). After the act is done, both of you are too likely to be in shock to actually know what to do so take a big view approach and plan the full day, not just the proposal.
- Don't show unless you want to tell -- We weren't ready to tell the world that night. We wanted to celebrate and enjoy one another's company. If you are in a similar position, don't jump the gun and tell people. Just soak in your own level of enjoyment. Allow yourself the space to just experience whatever strong emotions come up without feeling like you have to do anything.
- When you do show, tell it well -- If I could do it all again I would wake up the day after the proposal, call my folks, then my siblings, then some friends, and take a solid chunk of the day for it. Only when I've thoroughly exhausted telling the news for the one thousandth time would I post it somewhere public like Facebook. Learn from my mistakes, people: genuine communication in today's era does need to have a voice attached to it. Meeting with people and talking with them on the phone allows you to share your joy in an authentic way.
- Know your technology -- Technology itself is not the root of all evil, but if you use it in inappropriate ways in this case you are liable to bruise a few friendships. Big news of any kind needs to have a personal touch. E-mail and Facebook don't have that (yet). So if you want your dad's cousin Steve to know about this and you are going to be content simply getting a "Like" from him, go that online route. If you love Cousin Steve, give him a call.
The future Mrs. and I are still soaking in the news, but we wish it didn't come with a lot of explaining and occasional apologies. Getting engaged is a big deal. As with anything that is a big deal, you need to communicate it in a way that is consistent with your heart. You can be mindful with your speech and only tell people how and when you feel comfortable. This is compassionate activity for yourself, but also for all of the ones you hold dear. Mazel tov!
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