My unique experience started the day before a friend’s wedding, in fact.
It was my birthday and my then-boyfriend was taking me out for a meal in Cardiff. That was unusual enough in itself (the years before I’d had to put my own birthday banner up), so even if he hadn’t slipped up months earlier and told me he was going to propose then, I probably would’ve guessed anyway.
We get to Cardiff and to the restaurant no problems, but while we were waiting outside another friend, Sarah, walked up. It turned out her work was doing their Christmas meal at the same restaurant, at the same time, as our meal. No problem, as far as I was concerned. The three of us chatted outside for a bit until the restaurant opened, then we said goodbye and went to our different seats.
A nice romantic meal for my boyfriend and I, up on the balcony. Not my usual scene, actually being overly-affectionate in public, but I know what’s coming so I go with it. Except now he’s on his phone, sending texts and ‘sorting something out’. Typical of modern life, you might think, but we’re very strict with no phones at the dinner table, that and we’d both much rather talk to people in person. We send texts to organise events and meet-ups, but that’s about it.
Now I start worrying. What could he need to organise while we’re at a meal? Was he going to do something melodramatic and over-the-top to propose? Even less my scene, and though the curiosity is eating me I carry on, waiting to see what he does.
A few texts back and forth then, between main meal and the dessert, he gets down on one knee.
Of course I say yes, get him off the floor as quick as I can, the whole thing only noticed by a young girl at the table behind us who seems a little confused by the lightning fast proposal and lack of ceremony.
“So what the hell was with all the texts?” I ask.
Turns out he’d previously spoken to the couple who’s wedding we were going to the next day, to ask if they minded if we announced our engagement. The bride- an incredibly talented woman who I love far better than know- had asked that we didn’t. She hadn’t been in the country long, and hadn’t actually met, face-to-face, a lot of the people who would be turning up to the wedding. My now fiancé and I however had been peripheral members of the friendship group for about eight years, and while we weren’t overly close to many of them, they had at least known us longer.
A completely fair request, and I had no wish to overshadow their day, but that didn’t explain all the texts.
“I was trying to get Sarah’s phone number, so I could text her and ask her not to tell anyone. I didn’t want her to see and spread the word, not before the wedding tomorrow,” he explained. Also fair enough, given she was part of the same friendship group. "Which meant I had to text yet another friend, who didn't have her number, so he then had to ask the group chat for her number, for a reason he didn't know and I couldn't disclose." It turned out she hadn’t been invited to the wedding, so that was one less thing to worry about, but she still spoke to enough of the same people. It would’ve been easy enough for her to off-handedly mention that she happen to see the proposal, and that would be the cat out of the bag.
So that first day was just about managed, and the only people who knew that we were actually engaged were Sarah and the couple about to get married. We hadn’t even told our parents, just to be on the safe side. As it happened Sarah hadn’t even seen the proposal, being hidden on the lower level, and would've been none the wiser if my fiancé had told her.
The day of the wedding came about, and we headed off to the venue with another friend, who’s partner was one of the bridesmaids. As we were grabbing food before the ceremony he asked what I’d done for my birthday, and I said we’d gone for a meal and gone shopping, mostly because that was the sort of thing he’d have done for his girlfriend and it seemed like a grown-up thing to have done.
“Aw, nice. What did you get?”
Damn it. I could’ve just said anything- shoes, clothes, a book- but it felt wrong to outright lie to him. While I was wearing my engagement ring it wasn’t on the right finger. My hands are ridiculously small, and to get a ring that fitted it would have to be custom made. As my fiancé had wanted to buy something there and then we settled on a ring that I could wear on my index finger, which was where it was for the wedding (now it lives on a chain round my neck, and keeps trying to strangle me).
But if I’d said I’d brought a ring, or rather that my partner had brought me a ring, it would’ve opened up a whole world of teasing and mockery, and our friend might well have just guessed anyway. Better not to put the suggestion in anyone’s mind, especially not if there was going to be alcohol later as well.
And this is were I was saved by the fact that my fiancé had talked me up to buying a more expensive ring. Stupid I know- I doubt there are many people who need to be persuaded to spend more money on an engagement ring. But, given it was Christmas time, the jewellers were running a promotion, a free gift if you spent over a certain amount. The more expensive ring hit this threshold, so now I had a nice shiny bracelet as well.
“I got this,” I said, holding out the bracelet- on my left wrist mind, with my engagement ring hiding in plain sight on the wrong finger- to show him. The truth, but nowhere near the whole truth, nor the significant truth.
The ceremony went beautifully, with me holding the hand of the best 'man' as they cried the whole way through. Legally binding words, a few jokes, photographs and some very cheesy music and it was all done.
With all the formal part done and out of the way, and all the group photos taken as well, the whole wedding party headed across the street for the reception. At this point the bride and groom held me and my fiancé back to secretly congratulate us, both of them seeming as thrilled by our news as they were at their own marriage. The bride even offered to do the make-up for my wedding, being a professional make-up artist herself.
All well and good, and we got away with no-one else knowing about the engagement.
Halfway through the disco I’m sat with one of the bridesmaids- the partner of the friend who was asking about my birthday earlier- when I notice a ring on her left hand, on the ring finger. I didn’t get a chance to ask her about it then, but brought it up with my fiancé, given that her and her partner had been dating a few weeks longer than us. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to be engaged as well, and I was now wondering if I could secretly tell her, if she was in the same boat.
A chance came up later in the evening to ask her.
“No,” she said, “sadly. It just fits really nicely on that finger.”
Fair enough, and I’ve not given us away so that’s all good.
Except for the fact that we shared a taxi back home with them, and I hadn’t had a chance to explain to my fiancé, and he now asks them if the pair of them are engaged. This irritates her partner, who doesn’t like her wearing the ring on that finger because everyone makes that assumption (and I don’t envy him that pressure, given the pair of them are a lot more ‘couple-y’ than me and my fiancé). But that then leads us on to a conversation about what they would do if they did get married. A small affair, simple registry office then a home-made buffet in a town hall. Nothing fancy, just good mates and a good party.
So my fiancé and I are sat, in the back of a taxi at about midnight, after the first wedding in our friendship group, twenty-four hours after getting engaged but with only three other people aware of it, listening to how someone else would plan their wedding and trying not to burst out laughing. We told everyone two days later, but I don’t think any of them realised just how daft that day was for us. It was as if the world was trying to tempt us into telling people, and it was so hard not to say anything.