Some kinds of expertise will benefit you the rest of your life. My friend Gregg cycled from coast to
coast, my friend Ben enjoys riding the Virginia Creeper trail once or twice a year, and my friend George tears up Knoxville’s mountain biking trails weekly. Other kinds of expertise are like chinchillas: once you have them, you don’t know what to do with them.
If I am ever again sitting across from Hunter on a train to Budapest, Hungary, while he realizes that he has forgotten both his passport and his Eurail pass, and watching while guards with sour faces, thick arm hair, and semi-automatic rifles escort him off the train, I will go with him.
I know how to get a passport renewed in less than twenty-four hours, but that’s not the kind of expertise I ever want to use again. I also survived a circumcision.
I have successfully extracted a “yes” from my beloved, and once was enough. I escaped various sticky situations: I drove to Nashville under the pretext of giving my Dad a check, looked at several rings, had one appraised, created a “You’re not going to believe what happened…” ruse to figure out Megan’s ring size, bought the ring, transported it from Nashville to Knoxville without detection, elicited Megan’s best friend Whitney’s approval of my choice, planned a decoy trip to the beach with friends, and sat on all those secrets, lies, and life-altering decisions for three months.
Let me share some my expertise in getting engaged: don’t hold onto the ring for three months. The anticipation began to feel like wearing an iron football helmet.
And if you’re old-fashioned like me and want to ask for her father’s blessing, don’t be thirty minutes late.
And don’t chose a Starbucks as the meeting place.
Of course, there was more than one on Winfield Dunn Parkway (I-40, exit 407). This is Starbucks we’re talking about! Only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and a friendly Starbucks near you—now with free WiFi.
I left with plenty of time to spare for the twenty-mile drive, and I even grabbed my bible and journal in case Ash was late. You never know how these future father-in-law characters will upset your cool, so it’s best to go prepared.
At five minutes to nine, I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, which was about eight miles from the interstate. I didn’t see Ash’s green Chevy truck, but I went in, sat down, and opened my bible to Jeremiah 34.
People came and went. I read the chapter slowly, then checked the time:
I decided to give Ash a call. After three or four rings, he answered, “Hello?” but the line went dead.
I dialed again. No answer. I dialed a third time and got his voicemail. Strange.
Ash called me back.
“What’s up, brother?” he said.
“Hey, Ash,” I said. “Did you remember that we were supposed to get breakfast this morning?”
“I sure did. I’m sitting right here at the Starbucks.”
“Well, that’s strange. I’m sitting in the Starbucks too. Which Starbucks are you at?”
“The one at the Bass Pro.”
“There’s a Starbucks inside of the Bass Pro Shops?”
“Ah, there’s our problem. I should have known. I’m at the one about eight miles down Winfield Dunn Parkway. When I did a Google search to get directions, this was the only one that came up. I didn’t know there was one in the Bass Pro Shops.”
“Do you want me to come to you?”
“No, I’ll come to you. I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
“Alright. See you soon.”
I found the Bass Pro Shops without any trouble. It’s near a steakhouse and a beef jerky outlet. Imagine that.
Ash was waiting outside for me.
When I’d called him a few days earlier and invited him to breakfast, I ended the conversation by telling him not to tell Megan that we were getting together.
“Oh. Okay,” he said. “OH! Okay! I think I know what you mean, and I’m excited about it.”
Though his reaction gave me a good idea how Ash would respond to my request to marry his younger daughter, I was still nervous. You can’t talk to a woman’s father and still have a clean break-up. This was getting serious. This was like a tattoo or mortgage, plastic surgery, or adoption. No going back.
Nothing to do but order a grande Vanilla Latte and make small talk.
Ash thought he knew a good, quiet place outside that we could talk, so we went back to the entrance and to a right. He led the way to a patio with a bench wrapping 180˚ around a table. We sat down, and I asked him if we could pray. As soon as I finished and opened my eyes, I saw that we had company.
Somehow, we’d managed to choose the Bass Pro Shops’ smokers’ pit. Over the next hour, a dozen different people joined us. They smoked cigarettes or Black & Milds while I told Ash I wanted to marry Megan. They packed big dips into their lips and gossiped and joked around while I asked Ash if he thought there was anything about Megan that might make our marriage difficult.
We laughed and cried a little, and our oblivious friends went back to their places in the world’s largest hunting and fishing superstore.
I was amazed that none of the employees picked up on the seriousness of our conversation and migrated elsewhere to get their nicotine buzzes. Perhaps I’m too much of an eavesdropper, but I can usually detect whether my presence is welcome, unwelcome, or passing unnoticed. C’mon, people.
Perhaps, those green aprons were a kind of omen: be careful with your expectations. Few things work out perfectly, especially if other people are involved. Their addictions will be more important to them than your privacy.
I don’t blame them for wanting a break from the sheer volume of stuff available for purchase. Nothing about Bass Pro Shops says “moderation,” not that I haven’t spent my share of money there. A boy has to acquire his Yo-Zuri crankbaits somewhere.
This store could only occur in America: tree stands and turkey calls; an enormous fish tank with bored-looking largemouth bass and rack after rack of camouflage; flannel shirts, waders, shotgun cases, fishing poles, and thousands of other goodies manufactured in China. Bass Pro Shops is either the Promised Land or hell, depending on your mood.
I couldn’t help but commemorate the occasion with a new fly box, which I’ll be able to use a long, long time, unlike my newfound expertise. Perhaps it will be of some use to all those you men out there with knees knocking just thinking about popping the question.
Learn from my mistakes:
- Limit the number of days that pass between picking up the ring and proposing to what you can count on one hand. Don’t buy the ring three months in advance. It will burn a hole in your dresser drawer, your closet, your cedar chest, or wherever you choose to hide it. It will feel like the All-Seeing Eye of Mordor. You will obsessively take it out and look at it and stroke it and put it on your pinky finger and imagine how she will respond when she sees it for the first time and then the full import, the tremendous psychical weight of a life spent with only one woman will begin rolling toward you like that giant stone ball in that Indiana Jones movie and like Indie, you’ll want to run, run away into chronic singleness and selfishness and impossible fantasies of a devastatingly beautiful heiress, part Cate Blanchett and part Penelope Cruz, who has never lived and never will, and then you realize you’re running from yourself and not to a perfect relationship. This woman is good for you precisely because she holds up a mirror. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, you see yourself in her as you actually are, not as you imagine yourself to be, and this jolt of reality, this woman who calls you to be a better man, scares you because like Jesus Christ dying for his church, you will have to die for her. The relationship will fail or sink into mediocrity if you don’t. Sigh. Put the ring back in the box. Hide it in a different place because your paranoia knows no limits, and try to get some to sleep.
- Choose an easy, unmistakable place to have a conversation with the woman’s father, if appropriate. Don’t go to Starbucks or any other franchise. Otherwise, you could be thirty minutes late and arrive with sweaty armpits and a mouthful of excuses.
- Tell as few people as possible. I probably told a hundred people, and though you should be excited about engagement, you don’t want that many leaks.
- Create a beautiful memory for her by making the proposal as unique and specific to her personality as possible. Don’t just take her to an expensive restaurant and drop to one knee.
- Try to follow up the ring with a party. Ask a couple of your friends and hers to help you get all her favorite people in one place for pictures and congratulations because as soon as she has the rock on her finger, she’ll want to show it off.
- Think through every detail, including what you’re going to say. The more time and attention you put into the experience, the sweeter it will be, unless she says no. In that case, you should move to Denver or an island in the South Pacific. Or you should grow a beard and kill a bear.
- Have a Plan B.
If things don’t go according to plan, it’s okay. Your future father-in-law will probably forgive you, or you’ll just spend the rest of your life alone.
Please click here or on the thought bubble next to the title to leave other advice for anxious young men. Horror stories are also appreciated.