There’s no dreamier dream for romantics — single or coupled! — than the marriage proposal. Even if you’re against the grand gesture, you probably have some idea of how lovely and perfect that moment — on your couch, surrounded by your favorite take-out — will be.

In reality, though, proposals rarely go perfectly. Because people are involved.

“PUT IT AWAY. IT MIGHT FALL IN THE WATER!” my sister screamed at her (now) husband, looking at the ring he held out as the wind blew and the rain fell in the glow of the Christmas lights of Victoria, B.C. Not the reaction he had envisioned.

In a culture where many still hold fast to the idea that surprise is a crucial element in a proposal, it’s hard to get people to behave exactly the way you want them to, given that they don’t know what’s happening. 

But if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big. Frankly, I’m disappointed by the best “dream” proposals people seem able to conjure. So I’ve gussied up the standards a bit.

Instead of Paris …

My lover turns to me. (Lover is no longer an embarrassing word to use in this dream world.) Backlit by the moon, he reaches for my hand. I smile at him. I’ve never seen so many stars. That’s because we’re floating in space above Mars. Together, we turn to face a distant swirl of blue and green. “Earth looks beautiful from here,” I say.

“You’re beautiful wherever we are,” he says as he fumbles awkwardly in his space suit. He holds out a ring. “We’re the first humans to ever land on Mars. Will you do me the honor of being the first to —”

“PUT IT AWAY. IT MIGHT FLOAT INTO SPACE!” I scream. He tucks it back into his layers of neoprene coating. I say “yes” and we bump our astronaut helmets together in our attempt to kiss.

Instead of re-creating the first date …

“Close your eyes,” he invites me as we sit in the park. I feel a whoosh and clutch his hand. When I open my eyes, a horse and carriage clop by.

“You know my PhD dissertation on black holes? Well, I found a way to time and space travel. Welcome to New Orleans in the Jazz Age.”

Later that night, Louis Armstrong plays “La Vie en Rose” as we twirl slowly around a dance floor. As the song ends, two waiters in tails appear before us and deliver two glasses of champagne, two rings clinking softly in the bubbles. We look at each other and laugh at our individual maneuvering. (Hey, just because we time-traveled doesn’t mean I can’t be forward-thinking about the engagement.)

Instead of the rom-com moment …

I step out of the limousine and walk nervously up the smooth flagstone path. My eyelids feel heavy beneath the fake eyelashes, and my lips glued together beneath the layers of lip liner. “Smile!” someone hisses in my ear. I startle, and then burst into an unnatural toothy grin.

There he is.

Our eyes meet and I feel the most intense rush of déjà vu I’ve ever experienced. It’s as if I’ve known this man my entire life, and he knows all there is to know about me.

“I’m breaking my contract,” he says loudly. Well, that isn’t very romantic. I look confused. He repeats himself. “I’m breaking my contract. Send everyone else home.” He lowers his voice. “It’s you, I know it’s you. There can be no one else.”

“This is the most dramatic season of The Bachelor ever,” Chris Harrison says. Weeks of contract negotiations, fines and counter-suing ensue.

Instead of a flash mob …

A zombie mob chases us mercilessly down the street. We’ve been fighting together for so long that we take turns scanning the landscape ahead and behind us without discussion. I spot an empty building ahead and urge us inside. He wants to keep running, arguing that we don’t know what waits for us and going in will force us up the stairs, where we’ll be trapped. Our fight about what to do is quick and furious. The stakes are always high in this world. If we don’t stick together, we’re doomed. But if we make the wrong choice about where to eat or where to sleep, we’ve condemned not only ourselves but each other to a certain death.

At the last possible moment he gives in and we kick our way through the door as one. We sprint up the flights of stairs, the zombies crowding behind us in the dark stairwell. Bursting onto the rooftop, we run the perimeter, scanning for an easy jump. I spot an old rickety ladder and we scramble across it like a bridge to the next roof.

The zombie mob’s disjointed arm and leg motions create a strange, interpretative dance — like my brother’s dance recitals we had to sit through before the outbreak. “You were right,” he says. “You’re always right.”

“Marry me,” I say.

Instead of a puppy under the Christmas tree …

I hear a scrabbling in a box under the tree — something that sounds suspiciously like claws against cardboard. I dive for the box while he watches, grinning. “Careful,” he says. “That one’s fragile.”

I start to reach for it but the box bursts into flame. When the smoke clears,  a tiny baby dragon sits on the living room floor. She opens her mouth and caws at me. Wrapped around her canine tooth is a ring set with the Philosopher’s Stone.


11 books, movies and songs for a Solo-ish holiday season

Living together is basically the same as marriage, study finds

Podcast: I’ll have some romance and a side of fries, please