In a time of rabbit ears and black-and-white boxes, a guy could pop the question under relatively normal or neutral circumstances -- after a particularly nice dinner or a moonlit stroll down the boardwalk.
No such luck, kemosabe. Nowadays you can't help but notice that a guy popping the question to his dearly beloved had better bring his A game or just fuggedaboutit.
This self-destructive raising of the bar by the male of the species comes to mind because of Valentine's Day, of course, but also because of the attempt by Denver's Oxford Hotel in LoDo to help poor saps get over the hump with "Denver's Ultimate Engagement Package," including a whopping $5,000 credit from local jeweler John Atencio to put toward a non-tawdry engagement bauble.
The first time I got engaged was at eight am on a rainy morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but that was in another place, in a time when some people still had rabbit ears. When I popped the question again in the 21st century, the pressure was palpable. I would have to make up in moxie what I lacked in money.
To wit: when in doubt, return to the scene of the first date.
In our case, that was Breadloaf Mountain in Middlebury, Vermont on Mother's Day these ten-plus years ago. But there was a glitch, a best-laid plan whacked. At the last moment, my immortal beloved's daughter insisted on coming along. So now we were a threesome. And it was raining atop Breadloaf Mountain, a cold rain that was going to fall that day no matter what.
But I also knew it was now or never, baby boy: either pop out of the car and pop the question... or forever hold your peace.
"Stay in the car," I told her daughter.
I led the beloved on to the spot of the first date, and then I did what every man must do at the very least in the modern era: I hit the ground knee-first -- or, as football coaches say, I took a knee in the victory formation.
In such a situation, supine before your future, you can do worse than to keep it simple. Go down to one knee, profess your love, and close with: "Will you marry me?" You know: get in and get out.
If you're lucky enough for her to say, "Yes," then you're in business, Groucho.
Her daughter got to watch the whole thing from the car through the rain, and to hear the obvious: "We're getting married." But the ring remained a problem, unattenuated by John Atencio or anyone else. If you have an engagement, you need a ring and a date. We had neither.
At least we had one thing right: we embarked on a balmy engagement of several years, enjoying the prolonged moment, not to emerge until the knot was formally tied on a partly sunny spring day in Aspen, Colorado.
Could I have done better? Sure. But then I'm new to this marriage stuff.