Monthly Archives: June 2007

Shock and Awe in Love

I’d always wondered how someone is caught by surprise by a marriage proposal in this day and age. I mean, if you’re in a solid relationship, you’re both good communicators, it feels right, it feels easy… surely you’d have some idea if one party in that equation were scheming to pop the question, right? I mean, how dumb are people?

So, yeah, apparently I’m dumb.

Well, it’s one possibility. Another possibility is that Mike is crazy.

Or Mike could be both dumb and crazy. Or I could be. Or maybe we both are.

I’m still undecided and after the last week they’re all plausible options as far as I can see.

So let’s set the scene here – because setting the scene is a valuable life skill that should be exercised during the shaping of all excellent stories and, the last week suggests, quite possibly in advance of all major life-altering decisions.

I’ll bypass how Mike and I met. That’s another story for another day. Suffice to say we met in January in Brisbane airport for the first time after several months of emails bouncing back and forth between Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Los Angeles, Kenya, Ghana and Washington DC. He walked out of immigration. We smiled nervously at each other as we exchanged our first words. And then I promptly took him home and dropped him into the middle of “McKay family holiday” – which meant parents, siblings, eight month old niece, brother’s new fiancée, and approximately ten friends who cycled in and out of the house while we were there. And what were Mike and I doing in the midst of that, you might ask? Well, chatting lots and figuring out if we were going to take a chance on an against-the-odds long distance relationship, clearly.

Two weeks later we parted company in Melbourne airport. Mike headed back to PNG, I headed back to LA, and we set about figuring out a relationship across an 18-hour time zone difference when one of us lived in a town where there’s only one, unreliable, high-speed internet connection point. Despite some communication challenges that were exacerbated by intermittent electricity in PNG and Mike’s propensity to spend weeks at a time in the bush with no cell phone reception at all, we persevered. By April we’d begun discussing when between August and December Mike would leave the field and move to LA.

Fast forward to May. Mike was coming back to the US for a month and I was thinking something along the lines of… We’ve decided to put off talking about when Mike’s going to leave PNG until the end of May, so we’re all set to have a lovely, relaxed, fun month. A month full of plenty of talking, and all those normal date things that are pretty hard to replicate over skype –movies, candlelit dinners, picnic blankets, strawberries, wine, hand holding…

Meanwhile – from what I’ve managed to piece together in the midst of all the discombobulation of the last couple of days – Mike was thinking something along the lines of… We’re going to talk about when I’m leaving the field at the end of May. Big decision, that one. Major life implications. Lisa might like some assurance of where we’re heading before then, and I’ve been sure for a while of where we’re headed, so looks like May’s the time to pop the question…

Fast forward to Saturday night, the end of Mike’s first week in LA. Picture a picnic blanket, a grassy quiet hill, my favorite white wine, macadamia nuts, cheese and crackers, sunset and the Pacific Ocean.

“Ah, Australia,” we said as we toasted the Pacific, looking out to sea.

“It’s just over there,” I said fondly, pointing.

“Well,” Mike said diplomatically, “you could get to Australia that way… if you wanted to go through Ecuador first.”

He handed me a strawberry. “So,” he teased, “we have this whole list of topics to talk about that we haven’t tackled over skype. What weighty topic do you want to discuss tonight?”

Somewhat tired, I opted for the easy option. “You pick,” I said, smiling magnanimously.

“I don’t want to talk about anything on the list tonight,” Mike said.

“Oh, okay,” I said, thinking that Mike must have finally had his fill of intensity and was after light and fluffy conversation. “Pick something else then, any topic.”

“Any topic? Any topic it all? Do you realize the power you’ve given me?”

“Use it wisely,” I said, lazily wondering where he was going to go with it.

And that was when he got on his knees in front of me and asked whether I would marry him.

As best as I can remember, before total shock set in three seconds later, I thought, WHAT???? Lisa, focus! You’ve just been asked a yes or no question. The answer is absolutely, categorically, not a no. So, uh, it must be… yes?

So that’s what I said. Or, probably more accurately, squeaked.

There are a couple of things I do remember clearly about the rest of the evening. The restaurant where Mike and I met my parents later was gorgeous, and the food incredible. I took the fact that I was actually able to eat as a good sign (although worryingly, and completely out of character, I wasn’t able to finish desert). But as they filled me in on the backstory – Mike’s weeks of planning and data gathering via email, and how he and Mum and Dad talked all morning on Friday while I was at work getting mock-kidnapped by drunken militia at a checkpoint in Uzbekistan during a security training exercise… I started to get progressively more overwhelmed.

“What did you talk about on Friday?” I remember asking them.

“I asked for their blessing, and their concerns,” Mike said. “It was all very natural, comfortable. It was great.”

“I did ask whether he thought you’d say yes,” Dad said.

That counted as “comfortable” and “great”? I sneaked a look at Mike. He seemed unfazed.

“I said absolutely,” Mike said.

“I said I wasn’t so sure,” Dad said.

“Then your parents spent the rest of the morning telling me my proposal plan wasn’t credible enough and we needed to tweak it to come up with something that was absolutely credible,” Mike said. “You’re plenty smart and I really didn’t want you to figure it out and ruin the story. Because I know that you need stories.”

I bit my lip.

“Mike, you just proposed to me after we’ve spent three weeks, total, in the same country. I really don’t think story was ever going to be our biggest problem.”

After dinner Mike and I talked until almost 2am. By then a somewhat sobered Mike had begun to realize how far off our respective timelines had been, and I’d regrouped enough to say I wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet and that I needed some time. The answer, I said, was both “yes and wait”. I didn’t know whether that meant for two days, two weeks, two months, or two years. But one thing I did know in the midst of this out-of-body-experience was that I didn’t want to start on a long list of “people to tell” and risk repeated conversations along the lines of…

Lisa: “Mike and I are engaged.”

Good friend #23 (looking totally stunned): “Oh my WORD! Isn’t that a bit fast?”

Lisa: “Uh, yeah, I’m a bit thrown by that myself. I didn’t think we’d be addressing this question QUITE yet.”

Good friend #23 (delicately): “Are you sure you know what you doing?”

Lisa (edging towards hysteria): “Yeah, I think so. I really think I do. All my instincts say yes. But then I came home this afternoon and he was cleaning my kitchen and playing Shakira and I realized that I didn’t know he likes Shakira and I don’t know what music is on his iPod and is it safe to agree to marry someone when you don’t know what music is on someone’s iPod? Is it?? Huh???? HUH????”

Good friend #23: “Um…”

So at 2 AM after a rather exhausting conversation – the kind of conversation that anyone would want to have on the night they get engaged – I did something I’ve never done before.

I took a valium.

Well it didn’t take me two years, two months, or two weeks to regroup – at least partially – and when Mike asked me that question all over again on Tuesday night this week I was able to hang onto coherence and say yes without squeaking (and without the need to resort to valium afterwards). We’re celebrating this as progress.

Oh, and we’re also celebrating the fact that we’re engaged.

And that I am now able to anticipate conversations along the lines of…

Lisa: “Mike and I are engaged.”

Good friend #23 (looking totally stunned): “Oh my WORD! Isn’t that a bit fast?”

Lisa: “Don’t forget we’ve been getting to know each other since October last year. And, anyway, fast is all relative according to Einstein.”

Good friend #23 (delicately): “Are you sure you know what you doing?”

Lisa: “I never get 100% sure about anything in life; I don’t think it’s in my nature. But I’m more sure of this than any other major decision I’ve made. Definitely a statistically significant result on the surety scale.”

So as for crazy, dumb, or some combination of and/or in relation to Mike and me… I’m pretty sure neither of us is actually dumb even though I regularly do a vintage imitation. Crazy, however, is not as easy to dismiss, so I’ll just completely blame-shift on this front and posit a classical and elegant formula that goes: Mike is crazy.

But then again, life would be very sad, lonely, and boring without some crazy now and then, right?

I think so.


I do.