A DUAL MOUNTAIN PROPOSAL: MATT & SAM
Sam is a contributing writer for Men’s Vows Magazine and has penned several pieces on featured couples. Now he shares his own engagement story with Men’s Vows.
When I was a college freshman, I remember calling my mom upset at how challenging it was to make new friends. At the time, I was not only closeted from the world, but from myself. My greatest fear wasn’t that somebody might find out that I was gay. My greatest fear was that I might actually be gay. This made it difficult to be authentic and genuine with other students, leading to the inevitable challenge of fitting in. My mom’s advice: “Be yourself.”
Be yourself? It sounded obvious, but I found it remarkably difficult. How could I be myself when I had yet to accept myself? At that point in my life I had dreamt of having a wife and kids, complete with a solid career and picturesque home. I couldn’t conceive ever being happy without that fantasy being fulfilled, but felt equally anxious that I would be living a lie in those circumstances.
Be yourself. My mom’s advice was difficult to digest, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I really had to dig deep and ask myself what I wanted in life. I don’t think there’s ever a moment where the question Who am I? is answered in entirety. We go from being sons and brothers to boyfriends and husbands and eventually to fathers. The answer to Who am I? changes in the pivotal events throughout our personal journeys.
Meeting Matthew was one of those defining moments that helped me learn how to be myself. From the start, I was enamored with Matthew. He wooed me with talks of triathlon training and flexed his domestic handiness as he told me about his DIY home remodeling. I was completely drawn to his disarming charisma and southern charm. Here was a man who was devoted to family and open to the idea of having his own one day. In Matthew I found someone I could see myself sharing a future with.
A central tenet of southern culture is the fantasy of the picture-perfect family and quaint home, which is why as a young man I placed such emphasis on realizing that dream. There’s talks of “The One” and “I always knew” in couples getting married. Matthew and I had discussed marriage and family, so I certainly looked forward to the prospect of getting engaged, but what makes it work for us is that there’s no pressure to be perfect for each other. There’s no pretense that the relationship before or after marriage will ever become a complete paragon. Rather it has required ongoing patience, humility, and compromise from each of us.
Caroline Kitchener wrote an article for The Atlantic titled Marriage Proposals Are Stupid. In it she writes that “proposals do seem to be changing [...] They’re becoming less egalitarian: less conversation-like and more elaborate and fantastical.” When I started thinking about how to ask Matthew the big question, I shared the same sentiment. People like to hear the story of the proposal (that’s why you’re reading this article, isn’t it?). How could I craft an elaborate proposal event that would warrant an epic story to share? I considered several options: a private dinner, a scavenger hunt, a romantic getaway. I wanted to do something that made him feel special and that elevated the event as something we would always remember, but wanted to avoid going over the top. The fireworks of the moment aside, a proposal is a monumental commitment to one another.
Some rituals of courtship we learned from our parents, but others Matthew and I had to learn on our own. Should I ask his parents for permission before proposing? That didn’t feel right. Asking for permission seemed like an antiquated practice. I felt I should at the very least inform them that I wanted to marry their son. His family had always welcomed me with open arms, but I still found it difficult to broach the subject of same-sex marriage with either of our families. Ultimately I decided to send his parents a handwritten letter. On a phone call with Matthew’s parents on which we all were on speakerphone, his father brought up the letter without having opened it. “I got your letter, Sam--what’s inside?” Not knowing how to answer in front of Matthew, I deflected the question and acted like I didn’t know what he was talking about. I later found out that Matthew assumed the letter was supposed to be private--probably something about a proposal!--and decided not to press the issue.
One of my sisters offered great advice for planning the proposal. “If you put a lot of effort into manufacturing the perfect moment, remember: things may not go as planned, but you will have placed so much pressure to ask the question in that moment.” Instead, she suggested carrying the ring with me and being prepared to pose the question when the moment felt right.
Matthew and I had looked at rings together on a number of occasions, and decided when the time was right that we would get matching rings. In the spirit of surprise, we never defined “when the time was right.” After a year and a half together, we packed up and moved from South Carolina to Colorado for a fresh start. As new Denver residents, we spent a year making new friends, developing in new jobs, and getting acquainted with a new town. Having survived the transition, I started thinking it was time for next steps in the relationship. We often joked about who would propose and when, but never concluded who would ultimately make the move. I figured that after I proposed, he would get my ring size and buy me the ring we had picked out.
We planned a camping weekend on the outskirts of Telluride, Colorado, over the July 4th holiday. My brother and his boyfriend were with us as we traversed the Via Ferrata and backpacked the Blue Lakes trail. This seemed like a fitting place to ask Matthew to marry me due to his love for the outdoors. He’s an avid mountain biker and skier, and since moving to Colorado we had frequently spent quality time in the mountains together. I kept the ring concealed in a custom wooden ring box that fit perfectly in my pocket as we hiked up to one of the peaks overlooking the azure lakes far below.
I asked my brother Lawrence for his help in finding the right spot to pop the question (none of us had hiked Blue Lakes before) and to photograph the proposal. As we explored the upper lakes and scoped out the right hilltop for getting a good view, Lawrence and I kept exchanging glances--Here? No... there?--before we found the perfect spot. I meandered away from the group, down the hill overlooking the valley, and sat on the ground. I waved Matthew down to sit with me. I felt the choking pressure for perfect words start to well up before swallowing it down and speaking the thoughts that came to mind in the moment. He knew what was coming. We stood up, I went to one knee, and asked him to marry me. He smiled.
I had no idea what was coming next. He said yes, put on his ring, then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an identical ring. Whatever shred of doubt I had in the back of my mind about the timing of my decision to propose was immediately erased. He had been planning to ask me on this trip all along. My brother, taking photos from afar to capture the view, shouted for Matthew to kneel as he reciprocated the proposal.
Then the truth came out. Matthew and I are both very close to Lawrence, and we had each confided our plans in him in the months leading up to the proposal. He was the first person to know that I was ready to ask Matthew and purchase a ring. He knew that Matthew had bought my ring months ago and had been waiting for the right time to ask me. He knew that we both wanted to propose at the top of a mountain on the Telluride trip. Matthew and I were both so grateful for his support and ability to keep a secret.
Before hiking back down to our campsite, we stripped down and jumped into one of the glacially cold mountain lakes. The hike up the hill before the proposal was full of nervous silence as Matthew and I were both mentally preparing to ask the other to marry; on the hike back down the hill we were all elated.
Sometimes I wish I could talk to my 18-year-old self, an anxious college freshman uncertain of the future, and tell him that everything has a way of working out. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that by 2015 Justice Kennedy would have written that “in forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were” in reference to same-sex couples. I would tell a younger Sam that one day, you’ll find a man with whom you will form a marital union and become something greater than you were before. Be patient. Be yourself.