Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think I made a huge mistake. My good friend got married earlier this month and I went to her wedding with my boyfriend. It was a really nice wedding and it was so romantic. I was crying during the ceremony and I told my friend afterward how beautiful everything was. During the reception, the DJ played the song that my boyfriend and I fell in love to. While we were dancing to it he suddenly dropped to one knee and proposed to me, right there on the dance floor. He had brought the ring with him and asked the DJ to play our song. I was so overcome, I said yes, everyone cheered and clapped including my friend and her new husband.
Now it’s been a few weeks and I just got an email from my friend telling me off. She said it was so rude for me and my boyfriend to steal the spotlight like that and ruin her wedding. I’m shocked because she wasn’t upset that night, she even hugged me and cried a bit because she was so happy for us. Now I’m mad at her for being so unreasonable. I didn’t ask my boyfriend to propose at her wedding so I’m not sure how this is my fault. How do I explain to her that we didn’t mean anything by it and that she should chill out?
Engaged and Exasperated
Dear Engaged and Exasperated,
Once, I was at a gorgeous wedding of a dear friend. The wedding took place at an organic lilac farm in New Mexico. The grounds were lush, the sun was setting over the mountains, there were actual white peacocks strolling around, we ate dinner outside on long tables with white candles and bowls of flowers, and it was completely perfect. After dinner I stole away with my boyfriend and we made out like teenagers in one of the many hidden groves on the property. And then suddenly, quite unexpectedly for both us, I proposed to him. He said yes and we cried and hugged and made out some more. And then I said, “I have to go tell everyone!” and he said, “Oh, no. No no no. Tell people tomorrow. Tonight, let our friends have their wedding.” It didn’t occur to me in that moment to pause, to wait, to let one couple’s story be the focus of that night and save our news for the next day, when it would be just as glorious and joyous and not at all disruptive. I was a bit let down about hiding our good news, but I agreed and we returned to the wedding and didn’t let anyone know what had just happened.
I’ve thanked my now-husband numerous times for his foresight in that moment. At the reception, the bride even asked, “Where were you?” and I said that we were making out and left out the key detail of why my mascara was also all smudged. The next day, I went to her house, and told her, and she was so happy, she hugged me and squealed and then immediately exclaimed, “OH MY GOD THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR NOT TELLING ME YESTERDAY.” Because, you see, while she still would have been happy for me, asking her to celebrate my relationship milestone in the middle of her wedding day would have been an imposition.
I’m very much opposed to the “It’s the bride’s day!” wedding rhetoric that you often hear. I don’t believe that being chosen by a man is the pinnacle of any woman’s life. I don’t believe that a woman only gets one day to be special before we descend into the daily monotony of married life. A woman doesn’t get just one special day in her whole life, a wedding isn’t the best day of a woman’s life, and a woman isn’t suddenly in charge of everyone she knows for 24 hours just because she’s getting married on that day.
But, just as it’s not the bride’s day, it’s even more so not your day. You stole the focus. Your boyfriend’s proposal took over a space that was supposed to be about a couple making a public declaration of their love for each. You took their event, their dance floor, their DJ, their flowers, their guests, and made it about you.
Getting engaged is great, being in love is great, being happy is great, but commandeering a party that you didn’t organize or pay for is all the way around rude. It’s something that seems nice but is actually really selfish. It’s like showing up to your Grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner with 12 pizzas. It’s like taking over the PA on a public bus and telling everyone what you like about their outfits. It’s like suddenly standing up at an Applebee’s and making a public speech about how much you love your mother. Bringing food, giving out compliments, and praising your mother are all nice things, but doing so at the expense of other people’s plans and forcing them to pay attention to you in a space that is not your own is rude as fuck. No one came to that wedding to celebrate your romantic choices. You and your fiancée overtook a space where you were meant to be guests and your friend is rightly upset about it.
The bride didn’t tell you she was upset on her wedding night because, much like your engagement, that night wasn’t the proper place or time for those sentiments. Also, it can take time to process and understand what you’re really feeling. What she did was show you grace in that moment, congratulating you and allowing you to be in your joy and held off on telling you why what you did was out-of-line until later, when she had time to process and could do so privately.
Now, you are right in that you didn’t plan this proposal. Your fiancé did. I understand that you’re feeling protective of him and not wanting to see your lovely engagement through the lens of horrific social faux-pas. But the truth is, your engagement was both lovely and a horrific social faux-pas. And while you didn’t plan for the engagement to take place that evening, nor were you in a position to stop it once your boyfriend started dropping down to one knee, you still need to acknowledge your friend’s hurt feelings.
Own it. Accept responsibility. Apologize for stealing focus from your friend during the wedding that she likely spent more than six months planning. Let her know how you felt in that moment that your boyfriend proposed – completely surprised and overwhelmed and happy. Let her know that in that moment you didn’t realize how inappropriate the setting was for an engagement, and that your boyfriend clearly didn’t realize it either. Tell her that you were wholly unaware that he was going to interrupt her reception with a surprise proposal and that, upon further reflection, you wish that those close to him would have counseled him against it. Tell her how much you loved her wedding and how much you value her friendship. Ask your boyfriend to also send her an apology, since it was his plan that caused all this strife. If you want to go for bonus apology points, send her some “I’m sorry” flowers or a gift card for a massage.
And then, after you’ve done all that, let it go. She’s married, and happy. You’re engaged, and happy. Your fiancé made an unwise choice that put a strain on your friendship, but it’s not irreparable.
Apologize, show that you’re sorry, and don’t be a jerk wedding guest again.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.