1. He experiences one alarmingly heartfelt moment of appreciation for the woman he’s dating.
It could be the way her hair falls across her face as she leans forward while laughing across the dinner table. Or the thoughtful way her brow furrows as she listens intently to a friend in need vent over the phone. Or the realization that the very sight of her smile soothes him immediately upon returning from an arduous day. In one overwhelmingly heartfelt moment, when he least expects it, usually, a man stops looking at his girlfriend as the woman he’s dating, and begins to think of her as his future wife. It’s not an unwelcome transformations, but it’s scary as hell.
2. He feels overwhelmingly relieved—except for the lifetime fidelity part.
It’s a relief for a man to realize that he’s found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. The search is over—finally. A man who’s recently decided to propose to his girlfriend tends to walk around smiling. He’s happy, knowing that he doesn’t have to suffer through any more first dates and the awkward pauses that mark them, or create any more online dating profiles. He considers himself truly lucky. Except that he’s positioning himself for a lifetime of fidelity. Fuck!
3. He’s tormented by the secret keeping, too.
As wonderful as it is to be madly in love and to start imagining the rest of your life with the woman of your dreams (without letting yourself fixate on the monogamy part), it’s tough not to share the joy you’re feeling with another human. And since no one can actually keep a secret—especially such a juicy piece of gossip—the wise man knows he better not say a peep, even to his best friends (and especially hers), let he massacre his own plans.
4. He entertains some inevitable doubts.
Maybe he gets into a raging fight with his girlfriend, or she acts a little bitchy because she’s had a tough day. We’re all human, and the less awesome aspects of our personalities are bound to shine through now and again, so we argue. For a moment, he doubts his decision. Maybe he shouldn’t go through with it after all. Since no one even knows about his intentions, it’s not as if any harm would be done. He’s still in the safe zone—when he’s made no promises aloud nor any financial commitments—so bailing is totally acceptable.
5. He realizes (again) that she’s the one.
If the dust settles quickly from the first relationship storm that occurs once a man’s decided to propose, he’s likely to feel reassured. A rapid resolution only proves that the relationship is strong—that they can make it, through good times and bad, sickness and health, etc. Right? He loves his soon to be fiancée more than ever before, but the emotional ups and downs of the propose-or-not-to-propose game are definitely weighing on him.
6. He researches diamond rings online.
To convince himself that he’s serious about proposing, he opens a browser tab on the sly at work and Googles “engagement rings.” It’s time to do some research—to learn what a diamond carat actually is, and to understand the subtle differences between round, square, and princess cut rings. Once he start researching, he’s in it for real.
7. He freaks out about the money.
Try as he might, he can’t stop himself from freaking out about how expensive the ring is going to be, on top of all the other potential wedding related costs. Traditionally, he knows he’s supposed to spend the equivalent of what he makes in three months on the rock. But why does it actually matter? Is his girlfriend superficial, or is it society’s fault that he has to go bankrupt to finance this whole thing? Maybe he can promise her an upgrade on their tenth anniversary. Maybe he should just hold off a year so he can save some money…
8. He visits an actual jewelry store.
Armed with the minimal knowledge he’s picked up through online research, he visits an actual jewelry store and speaks to a sales representative. Tentatively, he handles a series of shiny gem candidates, each of which cost more than anything else he’s ever purchased. The price doesn’t matter, he coaches himself. She’s worth it. Mostly, though, he’s just eager to get on with it.
9. He struggles to keep his secret.
Once the ring is purchased, a serious (financial) commitment has been made, and the secret of the forthcoming proposal becomes yet harder to keep. He wrestles over whether he should tuck the ring away on the top shelf of a closet at home, or lock it up in a desk drawer at the office. One day he’s desperate to confide in a friend about everything. The next, he’s certain that he should keep every detail of his precious plan to himself, thereby preserving the specialness of this milestone for his future wife.
10. He tells a buddy or a relative.
Unable to contain himself after months of holding everything in, he tells a friend or a family member about his plan. It brings him relief to see that his buddy or sister or mother is unbelievably happy for him. He’s almost sure that he’s probably made the right choice. Onward!
11. He frets over every detail of the proposal.
The timing, the place, and the approach all have to be just right. He only gets one shot. Plus, he knows that the proposal story will be shared over and over and over again. No one wants a botched engagement narrative. Every happy couple needs a meaningful, thoughtfully produced anecdote to share with friends, and, of course, their children.
12. He actually pops the question.
The night he actually proposes, he will sweat more than usual. He will stress over every single detail of his plan, and shake with anxiety as he bends down on one knee. No matter how confident he is, he will worry about how his girlfriend will answer, studying every inch of her face for clues as to how she feels as she registers what’s happening. He will tense up as he delivers his lines—until he hears that magical “yes!” and he can breathe again, holding her in his arms.