A Social Distancing Proposal

It was day seventy-two of the stay-at-home order due to COVID-19, and I’d never been more sure of anything in my entire life. Ron and I got engaged on May 26th, sharing a non-traditional and nerdy proposal with two friends virtually. We’ve been together for almost two years. When we met, marriage was the furthest thing from my mind. I never thought I would want to do it again, but whenever you say ‘never,’ the Universe has a way of saying nothing is for sure, and turning all your plans and good intentions upside down. It turns out I was writing about leaving my ex-husband and standing up for myself when I wrote: “Finding Her Bearing.” I wrote that story long before I was ready to admit that it was my only option to deal with a marriage filled with my ex’s drug addiction and domestic violence. I didn’t want it to end or know how to end it because it’s all I’d known for fourteen years. Thankfully it only took me leaving once while it takes most domestic violence survivors an average of seven tries before it finally sticks.

During the end of my marriage, writing became an outlet that saved me, and what began as a hobby turned into an indie author career and my car payment every month. I’m lucky during all of this because I’m able to work from home. I used to be a software beta tester in Baltimore before relocating to Pennsylvania. I use my tech, design, and writing savvy working for a local marketing firm remotely, and I still have my writing royalties as extra income.

One of my favorite pictures of us since engagement photos are not possible right now.

I never expected to meet Ron. I’m almost forty, and after everything I’ve fought for, my fierce independence, I swore that marriage would be off the table. Ron was an art director in Philly, and his wife used to work for a non-profit that helped women who were incarcerated for murdering their partners when domestic violence almost took their lives instead. He is incredibly talented, owns his own business, and uses his art to create stencils, decals, designs, and aftermarket kits for Warhammer 40K and Gundam. I suppose it’s fitting that we’re both creative and incredibly nerdy. Although, as a teenager, he was always a Goth kid and I gravitated toward grunge and have always been more of a hippie chick with my love for jam bands.

Last year on my thirty-eighth birthday, we were having coffee in bed. I said, looking back, that if I could do it all over again, I’d have finished college and applied to law school. Knowing what I know now about domestic violence, I would have loved being able to work in family law or at a non-profit that helps survivors. Ron told me it’s never too late. I took his encouragement and re-enrolled at the community college I attended over two decades ago to work on finishing an undergrad in Psychology. Then I’ll apply to law school. I’m in two academic honor societies. I planned on transferring my credits to a four-year university this fall. So I applied to several colleges with law schools attached in Philadelphia before the outbreak. I got into every single one and received huge merit scholarships. I was supposed to start Temple University in September, and we were going to buy a house in the Philly burbs. We were even working with a writer friend who’s also a Realtor and looking at houses in the Springfield or Havertown area.

Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly living in a densely populated area didn’t seem like the best idea. I mourned that plan falling apart for a week and got my enrollment deposit back from Temple. We’d planned on living together, but although we’d discussed marriage, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to take that step… Until now. I wasted so many years, and I realize what I hated most about marriage, the patriarchy of it, was only because of my experience. Everything I’d known revolved around marrying into an Italian Catholic family where I was treated subservient. Being a glorified maid and fulfilling gender roles that never fit me wasn’t the partnership of equality that I envisioned. Everything was decided for me, right down to the puffy white dress and a large monstrosity of a wedding with a ton of people that I didn’t know and some I would never see again.

Everything with Ron is built on an equal partnership. Even living together, we’ll always keep our separate bank accounts, and the joint one will be for household bills, or we’ll do what we do now and PayPal each other. He trusts and respects me. We talk about our problems. I realized that even if COVID-19 didn’t happen, we’d still be doing what we do now: finding a way to work through things no matter how hard it can be. Quarantine or not, there’s no one I would rather be with, and I was scared because of my past.

Except I screwed everything up because I listen to people talk about how perfect we have it now because we live next door to one another. I wasn’t ready to move in together a year ago, I like my space, and I didn’t feel good about how it would look until my divorce was final. Besides… Why change anything when I can have my own castle? Ron mentioned a few months ago that he wanted to take me to Ireland someday and propose. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, and my shapeshifter puca series takes place in the Aran Islands. I said jokingly, “I guess we’re never going to Ireland then.” He goes, “You know one of these days you’re going to seriously hurt my feelings.”

This time around, the decision to get married is not about a ring or the fairy-tale dream of a naive young woman. It’s not about staying because of a misguided obligation for the kids. It’s not about “settling.” It’s just about us being happy together. I wasn’t planning on proposing. I’m pretty sure that we’re both non-traditional enough that he wouldn’t care. If anything, he’d know that I’m serious about wanting to spend every day together for the rest of our lives. I’ve had time to reflect, and I realize that I was the one who was afraid of moving forward together with our lives. I was the one who wanted to run because I was afraid of being vulnerable and opening myself to getting hurt again. It took three months of lockdown, an argument that I feel brought us closer together, his mom dying during the outbreak, and my ex being tested for COVID because he was sick to realize that I don’t want to waste another moment. I am choosing him. I’m choosing us. Individually and as a couple, we don’t conform to what other people expect of us anyway. Breaking gender roles and proposing was a way of showing Ron that I’m ready to say ‘yes’ to him.

Thank you, Jake Lauer! You made our special day possible.

We had been talking about marriage and discussing our plans for the future. So during our weekly virtual All Bad Cards game, I popped the question. Since I used to be a video game tester, I reached out to Jake Lauer, the developer, and donated to his Patreon. If this were a trivia night at a local bar, I would spend more in one night. It gave us something to do each week, so it’s more than worth it. His sister helped him come up with the idea. He launched the game during the COVID-19 lockdown to give people a way of playing virtually. Jake loved my proposal idea and made modifications to the game to make it happen. On one of the rounds, when Ron got to judge our answers, I proposed on one of the cards. I wasn’t planning on the 26th. I was going to propose this coming week, but Jake reached out to me and told me he’d fixed the game. I proposed to Ron that night with a Star Wars Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighter engagement ring. It was nerdy enough and simply “fits” us.

COVID-19 changed a lot of things for everyone. We decided that we’re not moving to Philly. We’re buying a house in Clarks Summit instead. Law school isn’t off the table, but it probably won’t be Temple. There’s an ABA-approved hybrid JD program in Syracuse that only requires you to attend in-person classes four days each semester. I imagine that higher education will have even more online options in the future. We’re getting married in a backyard ceremony that practices social distancing. It will be a small, intimate ceremony like I always imagined, and I definitely won’t be wearing white! My best friend of over twenty years will marry us, Simon will take photos, and only our closest friends and children will be in attendance. Once the pandemic is over, and larger events are safe, we’ll renew our vows in Cape May on the beach as we’d initially been talking about and throw one heck of a party/reception for everyone who can’t be there to see us tie the knot! I know that I’m sure about him, and us, and I want to be his wife and commit to him.

By A.C. James

A.C. James resides in northeast Pennsylvania where she entertains her boyfriend who loves her imaginative yarns and quirky sense of humor. She spends her time drinking large vats of coffee while taming two toddlers by day and writing by night. Recovering video game beta tester and tech geek who grew-up going to cons and watching SmackDown. There’s probably some cosplay pictures around somewhere of her dressed up as Bloodberry from Saber Marionette J. Just don’t tell anyone.

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