I should be planning a wedding right now, but I’m not. Instead, I’m just a guy who proposed to his girlfriend and ended up humiliated and alone.
I’d done everything right. I’d even asked Lauren’s parents for their blessing in advance. They were thrilled when we spoke and excited about me officially becoming a part of their family. All I had to do was pop the question.
Lauren and I were together for nearly five years and living together for two. I had no reason to believe she’d say no. We’d talked about marriage in terms of “when” not “if” for some time, and especially after she finished graduate school earlier this year. Even so, I was nervous and kept putting off my proposal until the right time. I’d considered proposing on her birthday in November but chickened out and decided to wait until New Year’s Eve. What could be more romantic? Right? I didn’t know it at the time but waiting that one month changed everything.
I had a simple plan: A fancy dinner out, propose after the meal and before dessert. Voila! We’d be engaged. We’d get married. We’d live happily ever after.
Before dinner I suddenly got nervous about a public marriage proposal. It had seemed like a good idea at first, but on the way to the restaurant I suddenly felt weird about proposing around a bunch of strangers. So, I decided to wait until we got home to propose. In retrospect, this was probably for the best, because there’s a good chance witnesses could have documented the whole disaster. I can just imagine some well-intentioned diner realizing I was in the middle of a marriage proposal and deciding to capture the moment on their phone for us so we could preserve the memory. After it took the ugly turn that it did, the video instead would have been posted on YouTube and Facebook and gone viral.
So, back at our apartment would have to do. Sure, the setting wasn’t as romantic, but I knew I still wanted to do it that night. We’d get to celebrate a new year and a new chapter of our lives together—the setting didn’t matter one bit.
We were watching the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration on TV and I quickly planned the perfect moment to ask: approximately fifteen seconds before midnight I’d ask, she’d say yes, a few ‘OMGs’ and tears, and then we’d kiss right at the stroke of midnight.
Except when I got on my knee and asked her to marry me she didn’t say anything. As the seconds passed and I wasn’t getting an answer, I started to panic.
Then the countdown started.
“Now would be a good time to say yes or no,” I said.
I tried to force a laugh to take away some of the pressure, but nothing came out.
And still there was no response.
“… 3-2-1… Happy New Year!!!”
She just sat there. 2014 was officially over. 2015 had begun, but my marriage proposal was still in limbo. Something was horribly wrong. Finally, I asked, “Are you okay?”
She shook her head. “Does that mean you’re not okay or does it mean you don’t want to marry me?”
“I want to marry you,” she said finally, but her tone of voice made it clear I shouldn’t celebrate yet. “I want to say yes more than anything, but I need to tell you something first.”
At this point, I couldn’t imagine what it was she wanted to tell me, but knowing she had some epic revelation made me sick to my stomach. My first guess was she was going to tell me she was pregnant, but that didn’t make sense. That’s usually something girls will tell a guy to get them to propose, and I had just done that. Plus, she was on birth control and we were always careful. Always.
“I can’t say yes until you know this because…” She took a deep breath. “I—I slept with someone else.”
She couldn’t look at me when she told me. I had no idea what to say to this, so I just sat there, dumbfounded. The celebratory sounds of people in New York City cheering the new year serving as the worst possible backdrop for this horrible, horrible moment.
“When?” I managed to ask. I’m not sure why this made a difference, or even if I really wanted to know. It was just the first question to pop out.
“A month ago. It only happened once I promise. It was when I was on that business trip in Nashville.”
I was supposed to go on that trip with her, but I’d bought the ring a few weeks before that and was low on cash and couldn’t afford to go. Lauren kept explaining herself as I processed this. “…I was drunk. Otherwise it would have never happened. I know being drunk isn’t an excuse but that’s why I needed to tell you. I’ve been so afraid to tell you the truth, but the moment you asked me to marry you, I knew I couldn’t keep it secret anymore and you deserved to know the truth before I—and it hasn’t happened since.”
“What do you mean it hasn’t happened since?” I asked. “Wait, it’s someone from your office, isn’t it?”
Lauren nodded, her eyes full of tears. “I’m so sorry.”
The whole evening had just blown up in my face. I tried to be calm, to make sense of everything. I just couldn’t. I yelled and said some things I probably shouldn’t have. She apologized endlessly. I couldn’t listen to any of it, though. I left the apartment just to get away from her. Away from the girl who had broken my heart. I just wanted to walk away from what happened and clear my mind.
I never cheated on Lauren. I used to wonder if I had, maybe I would have been okay with her bombshell to say “well, I had mine, she had hers, so we’re even,” or something stupid like that. All sorts of things go through your head when you find out your girlfriend and would-be fiancée cheated on you. Mostly they come in the form of questions:
Who is he?
Do I know him?
Have I met him?
Do I really want to know?
Who’s better in bed?
What does he look like?
Could I kick his ass?
Who’s better in bed?
The usual stuff. As much as you want to ask the questions you don’t necessarily want to hear the answers because in the end, the more you know the more it hurts. The weight of everything just crushed me. I had to come to terms with the fact that my life had significantly changed, and not in the way I had planned it to.
Lauren sent me a bunch of texts while I was out walking. There were sixteen by the time I checked my phone. I couldn’t deal with her texting me all night, so I turned off my phone and crashed at my friend Jay’s place.
The following afternoon I came back to the apartment and she was waiting for me, still upset and hoping there was a way to salvage our relationship. Honestly, part of me wanted to. We’d been together for so long and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I knew she was sorry, but one trip without me and she makes such a huge mistake? With a coworker she would still see all the time? I never for a second worried she’d cheat on me, but now I’d always worry. I’d always have a nagging suspicion. There was no way to fix this. There was nothing she could say or do to make this right. Deep down, she knew it too, and agreed to move out by the end of the week.
Considering how things turned out, I’m glad I never told anyone (except her parents) that I was planning to propose. It was the worst and most humiliating moment of my life. So, when people found out we were no longer together, I said things like, “She wasn’t the one,” and “We just drifted apart,” or “It was no one’s fault really, just one of those things.” It hurt to make such lame excuses and protect Lauren, but I didn’t want people to know or talk about it behind my back. I just had to figure out how to get over it and move on with my life.
It’s been two and a half months since that fateful night, and I’m still trying.