Just before Christmas, my third daughter, Kristi, got engaged. From the time she first met Sam, it was love at first sight. Everyone knew marriage was on the horizon, and when Sam was awarded a 3-year full-ride fellowship to earn his PhD in the very specialized field of Rhetoric and Linguistics, we collectively held our breaths. The mother in me knew that with Kristi in Nebraska and Sam in Virginia, it was only a matter of time before she followed him.
Understandably, their first semester (last fall) apart was hard, and though they talked constantly by phone and webcam, they missed each other terribly. Sure enough, when he came home for Christmas break, Sam set the wheels in motion to make Kristi his wife.
From the get-go, time was going to be tight. They wanted to be married by August, before school started up again in Virginia. Kristi wanted a Friday night July wedding at the beautiful church on the Creighton University campus (her alma mater), but on such short notice, the first availability was May 22nd. Gulp! Our diocese required a 6 month waiting period, and they were just under that. And so on. But they conquered the hurdles, and now we’re running full steam ahead with preparations.
The historical writer in me wondered how different weddings are nowadays, compared to the 1800’s. I pulled out my trusty, but oh-so-fragile copy of OUR MANNERS and SOCIAL CUSTOMS – A Practical Guide to Deportment, Easy Manners, and Social Etiquette to find out. Published in 1892, I bought it for a song at an antique shop, and it’s one of my most prized reference books.
Following is an actual proposal the book’s author shares with her readers and attests to its authenticity for the time:
“Gentleman–‘Well, miss, the long and short of it is this: Here I am; you can take me or leave me.’
Lady–scratching shyly in the sand with her parasol. ‘Of course, I know that’s all nonsense.’
Gentleman–‘Nonsense! By Jove! It isn’t nonsense at all! Come, Jane, here I am; come, at any rate, you can say something.’
Lady – ‘Yes, I suppose I can say something.’
Gentlemen–‘Well, which is it to be–take me or leave me?”
Lady–(very slowly)–‘Well, I don’t exactly want to leave you.’
The poor guy really had to work for that rather blase answer, didn’t he? She was probably being demure like a well-bred lady should, but let’s hope she at least sealed the proposal with a kiss, eh?
Of course, I can’t attest to how Sam worded his proposal, but I do know he tried to be creative about it. He baked a batch of sugar cookies and wrote “Will you marry me?” in frosting, a letter on each cookie. Alas, while waiting for Kristi to come home from work, one of her cats jumped up onto the counter and licked the frosting off. The entire batch had to be thrown in the trash.
Sigh . . . not being a cat lover, I found this really annoying, but I’m told when the moment arrived, Sam got down on bended knee and proposed, then slid a beautiful diamond ring on her finger. And it doesn’t get any better than that, eh?
Consulting Her Parents
“The proposal over and the lady’s acceptance secured, the next thing is to “see papa” . . . You may not be very coherent, and possibly, you will be quite ridiculous, viewed from the strictly critical standpoint; but never mind, the old folks will understand and make all necessary allowances.”
My book lists this as the second step, but Sam considered this the first one. It was the Monday before Christmas, 9:00 pm on a frigid cold night. Doug and I (aka ‘the old folks’) couldn’t figure out who would be ringing our doorbell at such a time, but as soon as I saw Sam standing there, I knew. I also knew how much courage it took to come to us and ask permission to marry her. It was wonderfully old-fashioned, beautifully romantic, and showed so much respect for us, and so much love for her. I will forever admire him for the gesture.
After hugs and blessings, he went home, and Kristi was none the wiser. He proposed the next day–after baking cookies.
The Engagement Ring
When the engagement has been duly made and ratified, it is customary for the young man to seal the compact by some present to his affianced. A ring is the usual form of the gift . . . among the wealthy, the preference is for diamonds, and either a solitaire or a cluster ring may be chosen. But the ring may be set with any other stone–the diamond is not essential–or it may be a family heirloom. The engagement ring should be worn upon the ring finger of the right hand.
Kristi did indeed get a diamond ring–with lots of sparkle. One big difference from the etiquette of old–the engagement ring is worn on the left hand.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll continue on with Part II – The Wedding, Then and Now.
With Valentine’s Day next week, love truly is in the air. Let’s talk engagements! Share how yours came about. Was it traditional and old-fashioned? Or something more unique? Did you follow the rules of 1892 etiquette?
As for me, Doug proposed while we sat in his car in a park. Soon after, he and I both went to my dad to ask for my hand, and it was traumatizing for all 3 of us, but probably most for my dad. I suspect he didn’t think anyone was good enough for his little girl. Ah, well. Thirty-four years and four daughters later, we’re still married. After all that, then I got my engagement ring!