ACT ONE: My husband and I decide to trade in both our cars and get one new one after we finally figure out we can do it without killing each other. That’s why we are in the Acura dealership when the email comes.
I read it while I am in the women’s room. I can’t tell whether I want to burst into tears or laughter or both. I rush out, hoping to tell my husband the news, but I can tell it’s too late. He already has a big grin on his face and he’s wiping his eyes.
So, he and I sit there, listening to the sales guy talk about the benefits of Acuras. From time to time, my husband and I exchange glances and burst into fits of laughter. The Acura guy must think he’s landed a couple of lunatics, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s so hard to behave yourself in public when you’re really happy.
The next day, we talk to the author of the email, our daughter’s boyfriend of three years. Sure enough, Bennett is about to pop the question.
“I won’t offend your liberal sensibilities by asking for your permission,” he says. “But I wanted to let you know and get your blessing.”
We tell him how happy we are. It’s wonderful to see your kid with someone who loves her so much, someone she fits so well with.
“When are you going to do it?” I ask, straining to appear nonchalant.
A few minutes? A couple of hours? I am ready. I’ve always wanted to scream like Benjamin’s mother in ‘The Graduate.’ I’ve been thinking about it, priming my vocal cords, for years.
“Oh, sometime this week,” he says. “I’m not sure when. It’ll be soon, though.”
I point out that the next 30 minutes would be even sooner. “How long do I have to keep this secret?” I whine.
Bennett tells me to hang on and just be patient. He and our daughter are heading to Charleston later in the week and he’ll be scouting out appropriately romantic locales there.
“Charleston? Really? You mean where the Civil War started?” I ask helpfully.
Bennett pleasantly agrees that yes, indeed, the Civil War started there. He promises he’ll avoid Fort Sumter as a proposal site.
He still doesn’t budge on the timing, though. Oh, brother: yet another soon-to-be family member I can’t push around. I supposed I might as well get used to it, since I am determined to be a really great mother-in-law and everything.
We hang up.
“How are we going to keep from spilling the beans?” I ask my husband, the pronoun expert, who is tactful enough not to point out we aren’t the problem, I am. “I’ll go nuts,” I add.
I already know I can’t talk to our daughter for the next few days without totally blowing it. That girl is an emotional bloodhound, brilliant at sniffing out secrets. I should know; she’d learned most of it from me. I may have taught her too well.
ACT TWO: Decisive action! My husband and I decide to buy an Audi, not an Acura.
Elsewhere — and I won’t mention any names — inaction. Bennett and our daughter go to Charleston. So does Tropical Storm Andrea.
I have been silent as a sphinx. I have only told my friends Betsy, Jeannette, Hester, Jim, Michel, and some total stranger in front of me in a movie line. My husband, in contrast, is a real blabbermouth. He’s told half the psychology department at the University of Texas, his golfing friend, and somebody who cut his hair. Men have no self-control. It must be because they don’t go through childbirth; women know how to suffer in silence.
Bennett sends out a secret communique to me, my husband, our son, his parents, and his brother. The weather is bad, he says. He may have to delay the proposal.
Our son helpfully responds the weather forecast in Charleston shows only a 20% chance of rain. What’s the problem?
I chime in, using my mathematical skills to say this means Bennett has an 80% chance of proposing the next day.
Bennett’s mother responds that we should remember Bennett is at his best when the pressure’s on.
Fine, I email back. But the rest of us are cracking under the pressure. Who knows how long we’ll be able to keep our mouths shut?
ACT THREE: Bennett proposes. Our daughter accepts. The venue, along the Battery and not at Fort Sumter, is perfect. It isn’t raining. The ring is beautiful.
We are all deliriously, ridiculously happy. We tell even more people. We’re probably boring everybody to death; we’re going to have to cut it out.
Talking to friends who are roughly my generation, we puzzle about the younger generation. They’re so much more formal than we were when it comes to the rituals of engagement and marriage.
We recount what it was like in the 60s and 70s, when you rolled over in bed and suggested to the person next to you the two of you might get married. Somebody mentioned it, somebody agreed, lots of gallon jugs of wine were bought, homemade vows written and exchanged, a minister or justice of the peace appeared, the honeymoon was at some cut-rate motel.
At a superficial level, everything has changed. At a deeper level, though, the couple and their families are still looking for the same thing.
So, this is Act Three and the curtain’s supposed to fall — but if you know anything at all about marriages and relationships, you know the play’s only beginning. Let it be a long and rich one.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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