Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship. In this series, couples analyze the origins and mechanics of their One Fight. To pitch your own One Fight (we’ll also accept pseudonyms, if necessary), email us at email@example.com.
Tanya and Thomas have been married for a year and a half. They live in Denver. They previously discussed this fight on John Hodgman’s podcast.
This is part of Say Yes to the Mess, a pop-up Slate series on the unsettled state of the American wedding in 2023.
Tanya: It was 2021 when the proposal incident happened. We’d been together for about two and a half years. We were sitting on the couch in the house we bought together, and I was reading an article in the New York Times about how all the wedding venues were getting booked up because of the pandemic. The gist was basically that if you were even so much as thinking about getting married, you needed to book something now.
You and I had casually talked about marrying each other, and as a planner, I took the article very seriously. So, I turned to you and said, “Do you want to get married?”
Thomas: I did! So I said yes to your proposal.
Tanya: It was not a proposal!
Thomas: Yes, it was! You asked if I wanted to get married.
Tanya: No, I was confirming whether you wanted to get married in general. It was a logistics question—I was asking if it was a benchmark we should be planning for. That’s not a proposal. That’s a discussion.
Thomas: Seemed like a proposal to me.
Tanya: A real proposal is a commonly phrased “Will you marry me?” The “will you” is operative—it signals that the question is a proposal, not a logistical quandary. People don’t just casually say, “Do you want to get married?”
Proposals are also intentional. This was not! We were sitting on the couch. I was in my pajamas, thinking about organization and preparation. It was not thoughtfully planned out! If I was going to propose to you, it wouldn’t have been like that.
Thomas: Well, I, for one, was very excited. When you asked me if I wanted to get married, I didn’t even think about it—I just said yes. I knew that we loved each other very much. We’d already established that we were both interested in marriage. Plus, we owned a house together, and you were looking at wedding venues, so this just seemed like a natural progression. I was happy.
Tanya: Since I had no idea I’d proposed to you, I just blankly said “OK” and went back to reading. I thought nothing of it. I didn’t text my friends. I didn’t tell my family. I just went about my business, assuming that one day, one of us would propose, we’d get engaged, and a wedding would follow. I had zero awareness that you took that seriously.
Thomas: Later that day, I called my mom and told her we were engaged. She was very happy. She said I’d never seemed happier than with you in my life.
Tanya: For a day or two, you kept calling me your “fiancée.” I thought you were joking. When you called your mom to tell her we were engaged, I was like, “Ha, yeah, whatever, Thomas.” You’re quite funny, and you’re always doing bits—especially puns—so I thought you were just playing around.
Meanwhile, while you were telling people we were engaged, I was calling my parents to ask about Hindu wedding requirements. Part of a Hindu ceremony requires an open flame, so I wanted to know if they had any thoughts about the right type of venue. To my surprise, my brother called me the next day, enraged. He’d heard that you and I were “engaged and discussing wedding venues”—he was so upset I hadn’t told him. My brother and I are very close, and we tell each other everything. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t come to him with the big news. I was like, “What are you talking about? We are not engaged!”
When he asked me to explain, I told him that you and I had simply been looking at venues and I’d asked you if you “wanted to get married.” My brother was like, “OK, you’re an idiot. You proposed to him. You’re engaged.”
That’s about the time I had a full-on breakdown. I burst into tears. Snot was pouring out of my nose. It wasn’t pretty. I was so confused. In my mind, I hadn’t proposed, but everyone thought I had. I was the last person to know!
Thomas: It was so hilarious and cute when you started crying. I had to document the moment and started taking pictures.
Tanya: I was just upset because I’m the type of person who obsessively prepares for things. I’m an academic. I do research, I organize, I plan. When you and I first started dating, I literally kept a list of all the dates we went on, including how long they lasted and what we did. It would be totally unlike me to let such a consequential question fly off the cuff.
Were I to propose for real, I would have been detailed and considerate about it. I probably wouldn’t have gotten down on one knee or anything, but I’d at least be wearing something other than pajamas! But I never got the chance to do it properly, and now we were supposedly engaged. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy—I was thrilled to be getting married to you. I just didn’t think the “proposal” counted, and the whole situation was just nuts.
Thomas: In my defense, that night I did propose to you. I got down on one knee and said, “I don’t have a ring, but I can give you my heart.”
Tanya: Yes, but that was a pity proposal! I was sobbing—I thought you were just doing that to get me to stop crying.
Of course, we did eventually get married at the courthouse on October 23, 2021. In a lot of ways, it was as nontraditional as the “proposal.” We had our dogs put their paw prints on the witness lines of our marriage certificate, and we blended some Hindu elements in. Your mom Zoomed in.
But even though we’re married, we can never agree on the proposal thing, so we actually took the issue to Judge John Hodgman, who has a podcast where he settles issues once and for all. I’m a huge fan of the show. When I heard they were coming to Denver, you and I decided to submit our case for the live show. Instead, we got picked for a whole episode! The judge decided that there was a “reasonable misunderstanding.” Although he was incredulous that I didn’t realize how you could have interpreted it as a proposal, he ruled that I didn’t knowingly propose … and gave me an opportunity to intentionally propose on the show!
To be fair, you did try to propose to me a few months afterwards. You even gave me the most amazing charm for my charm bracelet (there was no ring).
I think it was sweet, but I remember almost none of it! I honestly never even heard you ask me to marry you, so I didn’t think that counted either.
Thomas: Oh, that one definitely counted! I don’t see how you missed it, but I also get it: Neither of us are big on grand gestures. We show our love and appreciation in small ways, by doing things that only you or I would understand. It makes sense that us proposing to each other wouldn’t look like most people’s proposals. We tend to do things our own way.
Tanya: As I mentioned, I’m Hindu, and I come from a culture where arranged marriages are common and proposals aren’t really a thing. I’ve always been fairly aromantic, and I was never interested in marriage or partnership to begin with. I never envisioned myself in a relationship before I met you, so it’s not like I was sitting around dreaming of classic American proposals to begin with.
I’m also sort of uninterested in the gender roles of those proposals. I feel like there’s this assumption that things “happen to” women, as opposed to them making things happen themselves. That didn’t appeal to me, my “perfect proposal” was never a guy getting down on one knee, handing me a diamond. That whole concept was just so foreign me that it never felt real. And for you, a “proposal” could have been anything you felt was sincere from a partner.
Thomas: Right. I was never interested in doing things the traditional way either, which is why this all felt special.
Tanya: And for a long time, there was nothing I’d have done differently about it. I loved that things happened our way. We both got the result we wanted, after all.
But I started to feel differently in February of 2023, when my mom passed away. She always wanted a big, traditional wedding for me because she never got to have one herself. She and my dad had a love marriage, and most of their family didn’t support it. She didn’t have a grand ceremony. There were no rings. There weren’t many bridal gifts. Her in-laws didn’t accept her. So when she heard you and I were getting married and she saw how good our relationship was, she felt incredibly proud. She really wanted a wedding that showed people how important I was to others, because she never felt that way. She wanted to show people my ring, and she wanted me to have an engagement moment.
Of course, that’s not quite what happened. You and I just just went around for a while with you thinking we were engaged and me thinking we weren’t. I was just like, “Oh, we’re planning to get married.” And we did start to plan—we just did so with different ideas about how we got there.
Ultimately, I think I ended up with an incredible engagement moment. I wish I could have shared the podcast episode with my mom.
Thomas: It’s sort of a strange story, but it’s our story. Neither you or I really care what people think of us, and we’re not particular about traditions or conventions. We were both happy being solo before we met. Neither of us had any grand ideations about marriage or proposals to begin with, so we’re thrilled to have done things our way.
Tanya: We had a friend sum it up best: “This would never happen to anyone other than you guys.”