This is going to be TL;DR but here ya go. Written 2/1/06...
"Let's finish this bottle of wine before we go to dinner," Michael yelled from the porch.
I joined him outside, poured myself a glass of Chardonnay, and dipped a cracker into the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus that lay on the table between us. Waves crashed outside against the shore, and the light of a full moon glimmered off the palm trees, which washed our villa in a mysterious greenish glow. It was a beautiful Caribbean night, the perfect night.
Michael seemed nervous. "There's something I need to tell you," he said.
"Is this going to be bad?" I replied. Always the optimist.
"Um, I hope not." He stammered. I continued to munch on crackers.
"I realize that you're giving up a lot – your home, your friends, maybe even your job – to move with me this summer. So I wanted to do something to show you that I'm just as committed to this relationship." I could tell he was looking for the right words.
Then he did something I wasn't expecting. Michael stood up from his chair, a cheap piece of plastic patio furniture, and dropped down to one knee against the rough, cement floor. He took my hand, stared up at me, and said, "I want you to become my partner."
It was my time to stammer. "Um, okay. What does that... mean?"
"It means we'd be fully committed to each other, and we'd have some kind of ceremony," he said. "And this watch is actually not my watch. It's for you." He unclasped a sparkling chrome bracelet from his wrist and handed it to me. It was an elegant, black-faced TAG Heuer with a stainless-steel band and a rotating dial, the watch I'd always wanted.
"Check out the back." I flipped it over and discovered that he'd inscribed my initials and today's date on the back. That's when it hit me. He'd been planning this moment for months, and he must have rehearsed it a million times. He'd even talked it over with his parents. His sister helped him pick out the watch. This is something he'd want us to remember for the rest of our lives. I turned my head towards the ocean, muttered "Don't look at me," and wiped away tears from my misty cheeks.
"So can I get an answer before I kill my knee?" He was still perched on the concrete floor beside me.
"Oh, yes. And yes, of course I will." He smiled.
That is how I became engaged while vacationing in the Virgin Islands.
It wasn't exactly a Hollywood moment. Our romantic setting was marred by awkward dialogue and the steady crunch of cheap crackers. Looking back, I realize the reason I responded so poorly was because I never thought this would happen to me. I always assumed this sort of thing doesn't happen to gay guys – not just because gay marriage isn't legally recognized in the United States. An old fashioned proposal like this is unheard of in the gay community.
Unlike our straight brethren, we have no standard template to follow. No traditions. There are no gay customs to guide us: Who asks whom? What do you give? Who wears the dress? (Just kidding about that last one. We'll both be wearing dresses, of course.)
We may not even define "marriage" the same way. Does marriage mean monogamy? Most of my friends can barely commit to an outfit, much less another person. I can count on one hand the number of couples I know who are truly monogamous (no, the only-play-together rule doesn't count). It's a bizarre paradox that gay marriage is the number one issue for gay rights, yet so few gay men genuinely want or deserve to be married.
Straight people, mostly straight women, have probably been thinking about marriage their whole lives. They can turn to their parents and older siblings for advice. Or they can head down to the local Blockbuster and rent the latest Meg Ryan movie. (Not recommended.) The most we have is two cowboys doing it in a pup tent on the side of a mountain. And by now, everyone knows how that ends.
Here's the real kicker: I've never even been to a commitment ceremony. Haven't been invited to one. The few gay couples I know who've had one had small ceremonies and did so many years into their relationship. For them, it served as a validation of something they already had. For others, it was a political statement. I don't know anyone – well, anyone gay – who's followed the old fashioned route: meet, fall in love, get married, start your life together.
That's what I want. I want a ceremony that represents a beginning, the start of something new, a celebration of the journey we are about to take together. I want the old fashioned romance. I want the flowers and the candle-lit dinners. I want him standing outside my window holding a boombox over his head and blasting our song. I want him to track me down in Paris when I've lost my way and bring me home.
I realize it sounds a little whacky. We've only been dating a year. And we haven't lived together yet. Hell, we haven't even lived in the same state. But it feels right. He's everything I've ever wanted in a partner.
So I said yes.