Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Over the years, Sarah and I have had the joy of photographing more than 40 surprise proposals as we watched young men ask a single question that would change the course of their lives. Between that and my own experience of proposing to Sarah, we’ve learned a lot! I certainly wish I had all this information before I got down on one knee!
But now it’s our turn to pass along our experience and wisdom to every guy out there wondering to himself, “How do I propose to my girlfriend?” Every week throughout this Spring, we’ll be posting an updated version of this 2018 blog series. It’s mostly written as a note directly from me, Hunter, to all the guys out there who are exactly where I was back in 2016: head over heels in love with a girl, with absolutely no plan on how to ask her to be yours! Sarah will even be chiming in with some of her input to the ladies who think the big question might be coming soon!
Although much of this series will be filled with heartfelt engagement stories and tons of tips and tricks for proposing, this week, we need to ask some serious questions. Although these might seem like overkill right now (you’re IN LOVE, after all!), it’s much better to ask yourself these questions NOW rather than 6 months into engagement, or 6 years into marriage!
Between close guy friends from high school and college, and the 25+ college students that I’ve mentored through Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at UVA over the past 6 years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about girlfriends. And occasionally, I’ve gotten to be a part of conversations about when girlfriends might become fiancées.
Although there’s WAY more to think about than just these four questions, I know that these questions are a way to help these guys begin to think more seriously through this huge decision. My greatest fear would be that a guy proposes to his girlfriend not because they’re ready to commit their lives to one another, but because it’s just “the next thing to do”. Everything that follows is, obviously, my own opinion, but friends have told me that it’s helped them figure out that she really is the one.
We’ve all had friends who do an emotional zero-to-one-hundred just a few weeks or even days into a new relationship. It’s one of those strange occurrences that is SO easily recognized by outside observers but is almost imperceptible to the two new love-birds. It’s often called “the honeymoon phase”, and it can be dangerous to make big decisions with long-term or even life-long implications when you’re in it.
Now you may have heard stories (like I have) of a two people who, on their first date, know that they’re meant to be together and are basically engaged from that point until their very-soon-after wedding, and they go on to be happily married for decades after. While these stories are awesome and certainly aren’t to be discounted, I’m fairly confident that that’s the exception, not the rule.
Usually, it seems that it can take anywhere between a couple of months and a year to get past this “honeymoon phase” into what lies beyond. In the honeymoon phase, your significant other can do no wrong, and both parties feel madly, overwhelmingly in love. You know when you’re around people like this, because they are just SO into each other. But usually, two people in this phase of a relationship are actually in love with the IDEA of each other.
It’s only past this phase, when you realize that your boyfriend or girlfriend is not, in fact, the crowning achievement of humanity but is a normal human being, that love can actually begin to grow. Past the honeymoon phase, you actually begin to know and love a person, rather than just the idea of a person. When you begin to realize that this person actually has flaws and shortcomings and isn’t a perfect human, and you love them in spite of that — well that’s when the real magic happens.
If you think you might still be in this honeymoon phase – if you’ve never had an argument or even a disagreement about anything; if your favorite thing to do together is sit cross-legged on the floor facing each other and staring deeply into each other’s eyes for hours on end; if you cannot possibly imagine a scenario when this person does anything wrong — then you might still be in the honeymoon phase. And if you are, that’s totally okay! Enjoy this time! But you may want to keep pressing on and get to know each other better with time, so you know who it is that you’re actually committing to.
Now I know that you’re thinking: ‘Hunter, love can’t be confined by things like finances or geography or our stage of life! Our love transcends those things!’ And you may be totally right! Love is able to reach across hurdles and boundaries of all kinds. But in certain stages of life, it can actually benefit your relationship – both present and future – if you hold off on getting engaged.
For example, if you’re both college students who attend different colleges in different cities or even different states, how will this work, practically? Will you be engaged until one or both of you graduate, then move to the same town? Is that a year away, or still seven semesters away? Because one will mean a lot of long drives for a year while you plan a wedding, while the other means you’ll either be living in different towns during your first years of marriage (certainly not ideal), have a 3+ year long engagement (not recommended), or one of you will have to transfer schools (and you’re not allowed to just assume it won’t be you).
I decided that I was going to marry Sarah in October of my sophomore year of college. But we went to different schools that we both loved, so I knew that it would be several years before we could get married and live in the same town. So I used that time to begin saving for a ring, and we continued to grow in our relationship. I waited until things made more sense, and all the while developed better communication and time-management skills because long distance forced us to be good at those things. This is obviously just our experience, but it’s hopefuly a useful example of when waiting might make more sense.
Next week I’ll be talking more about buying an engagement ring, but here’s a quick spoiler: it doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. However, if you feel like you do want to spend a pretty penny on a ring, or you think that she might be expecting it, and you have currently have $13 to your name and no stable source of income, maybe now isn’t the best time.
While an engagement ring is something that our culture deems important to a traditional proposal and marriage, that doesn’t mean that it has de facto importance. In my opinion, it’s certainly not worth going into debt over, and beginning a marriage on debt can set a precedent that can lead to colossal problems down the road. Maybe it’s better to forgo a big expensive ring, or spend some more time saving up for one.
There are also, of course, questions of how the two of you will provide for your new family of two once you’re married. Although every situation is different, just pause and consider what the marriage of your finances would look like too!
Sarah and I take marriage seriously. We believe that it’s a different type of relationship than any other in our lives on earth, so this is the most important question to ask.
In business, we enter into contractual relationships; we exchange goods and services for other goods and services. When you sign a lease with your landlord, you’re signing a contract. They give you housing, and in exchange you give them rent. If they kick you out without warning, or you stopped paying them rent, then one of you has broken the contract, and can appeal to the Law to uphold the contract.
In contrast, we believe that marriage is not fundamentally a contractual relationship. It is not at its core an exchange of good and services, but is actually so much more than that.
Sarah and I believe that marriage is a covenant relationship. And marriage as a covenant is fundamentally different from marriage as a contract. A marriage covenant says that we are both in it for the long haul, while a marriage contract says we’re in it as long as the other person provides what I need.
Marriage as a covenant pledges lifelong faithfulness and promises to do whatever is necessary to uphold and protect the marriage. Marriage as a contract pledges faithfulness as long as the other party is fulfilling its end of the bargain. In short, a marriage covenant is life-long and nearly unbreakable, while a marriage contract is in place so long as both parties find it mutually beneficial, and is broken as soon as both people — or sometimes one person — doesn’t feel that their needs are being met anymore.
Before you get down on one knee, ask yourself: are you ready to make a commitment like this? Are you ready to commit for life?
Yeah, I know. But Sarah and I know that it’s so much easier to not get engaged in the first place than it is to call off an engagement – or in the worst case scenario – go through the traumatic process of divorce. As important as marriage is to Sarah and I — and to the flourishing of families, cultures and societies — we want to do everything we can to make sure that people aren’t entering into it flippantly or lightly!
But anyway, we know that you came to this blog to find fun tips on planning a great proposal 😂 The future segments will definitely have a ton of that! So on to the fun stuff!