Of the 16 categories I mentioned in the first post (Organizing a wedding in six months – Part 1 – Early planning), one thing that makes almost no sense at first blush is to have an engagement heading. After all, aren’t you already engaged if you’re planning the wedding together?
For us, the answer was yes and no.
As I mentioned in the last post, we kind of “decided” this was the year we were both ready and we would move forward with a wedding. We’d been together six years, were already living together and had bought a house together, but we hadn’t gotten married yet. Without getting too far into personal details, my wife is a lot younger than me, and while she was ready for the rest, she wasn’t ready for marriage and I wasn’t pushing. So I didn’t want to spring an engagement ring on her if she wasn’t ready. Then we decided we WERE ready, and we were planning a date, but she had no ring, since we kind of “discussed” our way into it, it wasn’t a “fun and spontaneous” moment.
You also might have noticed in the previous post, that one of my MUST-HAVES was a ring for my wife-to-be. I wanted her to have the engagement ring, to enjoy it, to enjoy the experience of getting it. Yet I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise, so some of the “fun” part of the experience — the stories that people tell for years — was missing. And I didn’t want her to miss out on any part of the “wedding” or “engagement” experience.
Choosing a ring
Lots of people go and look at rings before they get engaged, get some idea of what the woman wants to have in terms of design, the guy figures out his price range (and then often doubles it), and then the guy chooses the ring. In many ways, that process seems fun and exciting, but as it will likely be the most expensive jewellery that the woman ever owns, shouldn’t she have a bit more say in it?
In our case, my wife’s aunt is a private jeweler in Toronto. In month one, we went up to Toronto, looked at a bunch of cut but unmounted diamonds, and basically freaked myself out. There were all these stones rolling around the desktop, $5K, 10K, $20K each. A couple fell on the floor at different times. I couldn’t keep them straight, which was which. We got a feel for what my wife-to-be liked, chose something approximately, and then my fiancée (hey, cool word to use! let’s use it all the time!) left while I chose the ring and mount. All good. The aunt said it would take about eight weeks.
After we got back to Ottawa, I had a small regret. Yes, my wife-to-be got to choose her stone and have a say in her biggest jewellery piece, but would she feel surprised when she got it in two months? Would she be excited? It bothered me that she didn’t have the “real” engagement experience, the fun part, essentially. And I started thinking deviously. What if we told her it wouldn’t be available until May 24th, but it was actually available May 8? We could slip down to Peterborough for Mother’s Day or so (and her mother’s birthday), I’d work some magic with the aunt, and I’d have the ring ready to give her as a surprise two weeks early. Great plan.
Except I didn’t tell the aunt it was going to be a total surprise on timing. So about two weeks before May 8th, the aunt said in an email to both of us, “Good news, we’ll have it ready for the 8th”. Dammit! I blew it. She now knew the date again. Shoot. No surprise.
Unless I somehow got the ring from the aunt BEFORE the 8th, and didn’t tell my wife. Maybe by courier. It sounded like a plan to me, but the shipping with the full insurance was exorbitant. Hmm…what if I drove to Toronto and picked it up? Then I would have it early, and she would then be able to show it off at Mother’s Day. Hmm…would that work?
Discussions of logistics with the aunt proved it was possible, but how would I drive to Toronto and back without my wife knowing where I was? We work in the SAME complex, she would know something was up if I didn’t go to work one day. I devised a plan. I would take a day off, but tell her I was going to a conference instead. That way, she wouldn’t suspect. We got up that morning, started getting ready, I put on my suit to go to the “conference” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and then when she went to the shower, I grabbed some casual clothes to wear on the drive, jumped in the car and I was off to Toronto!
For those of you not familiar with the Ottawa to Toronto trip, it’s about 4.5 hours. I got there, had lunch with the aunt, hopped back in the car, and I was off again!
It was Thursday and we were going to Peterborough on Friday. Which meant I had Thursday night to get her the ring. Sure, I wasn’t nervous about her answer, but I wanted it memorable. I called her from the car, suggested we go out for a nice dinner, sounds good, right? Nope, she said we had some leftovers we needed to eat up. Leftovers were NOT special, was my thought.
I suggested a nice dinner instead, since I was already wearing a suit (supposedly, at least, for the “conference”, nudge, nudge) and I had just accepted a new job, a little celebration. I wasn’t looking for super high-end, that would have been suspicious, but there is a Keg Manor in Ottawa that’s in a historic old house with a nice garden next to it. She said, “Okay, sure”. She wanted to change first though, so we went home, got ready, headed out.
After the plan of “drive to Toronto and back in a single day”, I didn’t really have anything further in mind. We wandered around the garden, looked at some nice flowers. I was debating what to do…one knee? Something memorable to say? My mind was relatively blank (a common occurrence, to which she would likely attest). In the end, I basically said I had something for her to celebrate our “two month anniversary of being engaged” (March 8 to May 8). When I pulled out the box, I said, “this is for you,” (I know, really memorable, right?) but she was all giggly and surprised anyway. “How did you get my ring?”. When I told her I didn’t “really” have a conference that day, she was like, “You DROVE to Toronto and back all today? How???” and then she had the ring in her hand and it didn’t matter any more how or why or when. Jackpot!
And she got the chance to call people and tell them, and then to show them the ring that weekend too. Not exactly traditional, but it worked for us. ** Spousal edit: My wife reminds that I also forgot my wallet when we went for dinner and she had to pay.
So what was on my hidden part of the tracker?
- Get engaged (Week 1)
- Tell parents (Week 1) ** Spousal edit — My wife informs my memory is faulty…we actually waited two weeks to tell the parents in person.
- Tell family (Week 1)
- Tell friends (Week 2)
- Buy ring – engagement (Week 3)
- Give ring / propose (Week 8)
In most cases, people would only have the “tell / tell / tell” headings under their Must-Haves-For-Us headings. Of course, while we were picking out her engagement ring, we also looked at wedding bands too. Some people might do those under the ceremony heading, or here. As long as they’re being tracked somewhere, it doesn’t matter!
But if you thought you were going to get off scot-free on this heading, you’d be mistaken. Because there are a few other things that you might need to do:
- Choose wedding date — Yes, we had a notional date, September, but with only six months on the clock, we needed to choose a date immediately. With a backup in case a venue wasn’t available. September 13th would be our date, screw the superstitions of 13 being an unlucky number;
- Put an engagement notice in the paper — Some families do this, particularly if it’s a small town, it’s just tradition;
- Publish banns in the church — if you’re in a particular religion (like Catholicism), the churches “publish the banns” (i.e. notices) before the wedding to see if anyone objects, again for tradition if you care;
- Engagement party — Some people want to have an engagement party to celebrate, but for us, that was way down the list of “nice-to-haves”, and maybe if we had a year or two, we might have done it, but we pushed it off a bit (and later it morphed into something else);
- Pay for rings — I mentioned you could track the engagement ring and/or the wedding bands here or under ceremony, but wherever you track them, you also need to pay for them and put them in your expense tracker;
- Introduce the parents — lots of people get married and their parents already know each other well, by circumstance, by schedule, or by planning, but in our case, they didn’t, so we arranged for them to “meet” (there were only three, it was easy to arrange a quick lunch or dinner, I don’t even remember which…or was it a BBQ? ** Spousal edit: My wife reminds me went to a restaurant in Peterborough.); and,
- Discuss any big questions that are outstanding.
I threw this last one in here because a lot of people “think” it is already done before they get engaged in the first place. But many churches suggest that before you get married in their church, you should attend a pre-marriage counselling. Think of it as pre-marriage boot camp. Why? Because they want to know and they want you to know that you’ve addressed most of the big questions that can lead to divorce later on. Like for instance, how many kids do you want? If you have kids, will you take them to church? How will you handle discipline? How do you feel about who takes care of them if Mom goes back to work right away?
I know, you love each other, none of these questions are deal-breakers for you, right? Until you trip over one that is. Wait, what, you expect me to TAKE YOUR NAME? You want FOUR kids, not TWO? Everybody is different. And something you never thought about could prompt a discussion you’re not expecting or ready to have with your spouse-to-be.
For us, we didn’t particularly feel like we needed that discussion to be with a religious leader, nor did we have one handy in Ottawa to do it anyway. Nor did we feel we needed anyone facilitating the discussion, although some people we know think it was a fantastic idea. Instead, we downloaded a bunch of questions off the net and we both went through and picked a few that were important to each of us. Then, over time, we discussed a few of them. Nothing earth-shattering, partly as we had already had many of those discussions earlier.
One that was an interesting one for us was last names. But not in the way you might think. For me, I thought it was ludicrous that she might take my name after marriage. I dated her as Andrea H—–, I fell in love with Andrea H—–, I was marrying Andrea H—–, and then she would be Andrea S—–? That made no sense to me. Or her, which was the important part. When someone asked her if she was changing her name, her response was, “Yes, I’m thinking of Elizabeth.” I’ve always loved that response. Now, don’t get us wrong, we don’t care what other people do, but it made no sense TO us, FOR us. So that was normal for us.
And when it came to the possible last name of our future children, we glossed over it at the time, but for me, I just assumed they would have her last name. So no real issue for us, and in the end, that’s what we did. We stuck my last name in as a middle name, but I didn’t feel strongly about it.
Most people get spontaneously engaged for love, which is exciting, but the actual marriage is more about the sober reflection side of life. And running through some of these questions can be eye-opening, even if only for the ways in which you discuss things and communicate. You’re planning a life together, this is a good little test for yourself to see if you can work through things that are a bit more challenging than what restaurant you want to go to tonight.
However, for most of the items above, the schedule is relatively flexible. It’s up to you to decide if they are must-haves or just nice-to-haves, and when you want them to happen.