Jim has five siblings, all married. He likes all of his siblings. He likes all of his siblings' spouses. He even likes all of his siblings' spouses' siblings. So at his family gatherings, he really noticed the only one with an empty space next to him. He was ready to be married.
I wasn't so sure. I hadn't ever been able to maintain a romantic relationship for more than a year. Most of my role-model couples have gotten divorced. Heck, I haven't been able to maintain interest in a job for more than two years. How could I commit to a lifetime?
I'd been dating Jim for about six months and we'd really only discussed the "M" word once. Jim more-or-less sat on my chest to keep me from convulsing too much. "I'm thinking about refinancing my condo, but I need to know how long I'm going to live here." I gave a very noncommital answer.
Then, he had Thanksgiving with my family. As part of the goodbyes, he told my cousin, "Well, Mike, nice to meet you. I guess I'll be seeing you at the wedding." Nobody in our extended family was getting married. I panicked.
But then Jim immediately went to Japan on business for ten days.
I missed him. And there was a feeling I'd become unaccustomed to. "This feeling is familiar. What is it? Oh yeah - this is what being single feels like. Oooooh, I don't like this feeling."
With how Jim felt about marriage, if I wanted to keep him, I was going to have to marry him. I spent a number of sleepless nights coming to grips with that idea. "What if he got hit by a drunk and became a vegetable? What if he lost his job and I had to support him? What if we can't agree on the kids question?" It was emotionally very difficult. It was much more difficult than I had gathered from how proposals are portrayed in popular culture.
But I did resolve that I was willing to marry him. Since I had been so firmly and strongly against even talking about it, I wanted to let him know in a very explicit, very public way so that he would know that my heart really was in it. I didn't want to let him see any room for me to wiggle out of it.
So I called up the San Jose Lasers, a professional women't basketball team, and asked if I could get a proposal on the scoreboard.
They were stumped. The league was in its first season, and nobody had ever asked for that before. So they said they'd get back to me.
Jim called from Japan. "Hey, honey, there's a basketball game the day after you get back. Wanna go?" I asked. He said yes. "Are you sure? You won't be too jetlagged?" No, he said, he'd be fine.
I asked my housemate Rich if he and Chris wanted to go to a basketball game with us. "I'll have to talk to Chris, but maybe."
I asked my mom if she wanted to see the game. "No, I've been pretty busy lately, and I need some time at home."
The Lasers called me back. "It's too late to put your name on the scoreboard, since they have to program it in way in advance. However, there is something else we might be able do. We're going to have a Santa there, and we could have him deliver the ring. It'll cost you $75."
I thought that would be just fine. "Tickets! I have to get tickets and let the Lasers know where we would be sitting." I faxed an order off to the box office, telling them it was critical that we get an aisle seat. (I normally have season tickets, but I split four with another couple and they happened to have all four tickets that day.) The box office came through, and I told the marketing department that I'd try to get Jim on the aisle. We agreed that Santa would show up between the third and fourth quarters.
I asked my housemmate Chris if he and Rich were going to go to the game with me. He said that he and Rich hadn't gotten around to deciding yet.
I asked my mom again if she wanted to see the game. Her answer was still no. I thought about telling her what was going to happen, but what if the Lasers didn't pull it off?
I asked Rich and Chris again, and they said that yes, they would come. (This surprised me a little bit, as these two are so sports-disinterested that they aren't even aware of when the Super Bowl is playing.)
"A ring! I have to get him a ring!" In the few days that I had left, I looked all over for a nice ring. This was a bit problematic. I didn't happen to know his ring size, and there is no tradition of men's engagement rings. I hunted all over and found a ring that was kind of nice, but would have to be ordered from Germany. So for the meantime, I got him an AIDS bracelet. (He'd had one before, but given it away to a covetous friend.)
Jim called again. "Are you sure you want to go to the game? You'll be pretty tired from the flight." He said he did want to go.
I picked Jim up at the airport. It was hard not blurting out a proposal right then and there.
The next day came. "A camera! I have to get a camera!" I also had to figure out an story for where the camera came from and why I was taking it to the game. I bought a camera and developed this story: "Weeks ago I'd sent email to the Lasers critiquing their Web site [true], and they finally called me back this afternoon and asked to talk to me. I had meetings all afternoon, so told them I'd stop by and talk to them at the game. I was hoping to parlay this meeting into a locker-room visit to the team, and had borrowed my co-worker's camera to try to get some photos out of it."
The story went over perfectly. Walking to the game, Jim asked if he could listen in to my critique. Not having a plausible reason why he shouldn't, I said yes, and burned rubber in my brain trying to figure out how to wave him off. A few minutes later, I asked him not to, since if a male were with me, it might be harder to wangle an invitation to the locker room. He bought it! *Whew!*
We got in and sat down, but I ended up on the aisle. Hmmm. I dashed off to the marketing table, slipped them the bracelet and a check for $75, and told them "he's wearing black slacks, white shirt, and a tie. He's the only one around wearing a tie." I told them I'd try to get him on the aisle. I went back to my seat, and Jim had taken the tie off. Arg!
Halftime came. Jim wandered over to the marketing table. I snuck up behind him and pointed to him. "He's the one", I mouthed. The woman at the table was so slick - she nodded her head so slightly that Jim didn't notice.
The third quarter started. I was still on the aisle. How would I fix this? "Honey, why don't we switch seats? That way I can talk to Rich and Chris for a while." He bought it!
The third quarter ended. I was incredibly nervous. What if Santa picked the wrong person? What if they forgot? But then the Santa started climbing the stairs. The announcer came on. He called attention to the rent-a-Santa, made a blurb for Toys-for-Tots, and said, "And now Santa's got a very special delivery to make."
I started shoving the camera at Chris, never taking my eyes off of the Santa. To my left, I could hear Chris saying, "What? What am I supposed to do with this?" but I kept shoving it at him and he finally took it.
The Santa got Jim to stand up. He did, with a skeptical look on his face. I slid down to one knee.
The announcer said, "Jim DeLaHunt, your girlfriend wants to know if you will marry her!" Jim got a puzzled look on his face. My heart fell. For a millisecond, I wondered if maybe he didn't want to marry me. But as he turned from facing forward to facing me, his expression changed from one of puzzlement to one of astonishment and joy. He completely ignored Santa trying to hand him the bracelet in his enthusiasm to hug me. I had to reach past him to take the bracelet from Santa and hand it to Jim.
(Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, the scoreboard flashed, "Jim Delahunt, Will You Marry Me???". Rich pointed it out to Chris, who acknowledged that it was neat. "No, take a picture of it!" He did.)
Santa finally got Jim's attention and said, "Well, what's your answer?" Jim bellowed "YEESSSS!!!" to the audience.
Meanwhile, the crowd was going absolutely bannanas. They were going nuts. I had not expected that. I'd expected some polite applause, but not a wild frenzy. (One of the coaches later told me that the players' huddle was even disrupted as the players craned to see what was happening.) One of the fans later told me, "if it had been a guy proposing to a woman, we wouldn't have cared. But you proposing to him, now that was cool.
For months afterwards, we'd have complete strangers coming up to Jim and asking, "Well? What did you say?"
People asked me if I was nervous, if I was worried that he'd say no. I was nervous, but nervous about whether or not everything would come off as planned. I am always acutely aware of just what might go wrong. And I knew he wanted to get married.
And we did. On August 22, 1998, we got married!