Fantasy to reality: No ‘rules’ for an engagement

May 17, 2019 | 12 comments |

This week, Tech Guy and I marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of our engagement.

In some ways, that special day seems like yesterday. In others, it’s a lifetime ago and that young(er) couple are like people we used to know, almost strangers to who we’ve since become.

Tech Guy’s proposal was romantic and his words heartfelt.

He’d chosen a beautiful setting, a scenic lookout in a park in the Canadian province of Québec near the city where we then lived.

Knowing my horror of staged and public displays of love (like restaurant or jumbotron proposals), the spot was private and in a sheltered area off a favourite hiking trail. 

Aware that I wasn’t keen on diamond solitaires, he’d picked a sapphire stone and worked with a jeweler to design an engagement ring especially for me.

And yet, much like the man I fell in love with all those years ago, one of the most wonderful and special moments of my life was far from Hollywood scripted.

In addition to spring flowers, May in Eastern Ontario and Québec signals the start of black fly season when these insidious insects are at their worst.

While Tech Guy is immune to black fly bites, I am not, although he didn’t realize that then.

Thus, just as he uttered those words that would link our lives together, I flapped my arms to ward off a swarm of the north country’s finest.

And also at that propitious moment, all I also could think of was I shouldn’t have had that full bottle of water before our hike as I needed a bathroom break—and the nearest toilet (a pit version or, in North American parlance, an outhouse) was a half mile away.

 Even when Tech Guy produced the gorgeous engagement ring that still gives me a happy glow when I see it on my finger, it was several sizes too large. As such, I immediately put it back into its velvet box for safe-keeping so I didn’t lose it in the thick undergrowth.

Although in my romantic fiction I write hard-earned happily-ever-afters, I rarely include a marriage proposal scene—one exception being in The Wishing Tree in Irish Falls, my new book coming out this October.

That’s possibly because when I look back on Tech Guy’s proposal and, although I said yes, it wasn’t the Instagram-ready moment our now selfie-driven world expects.

Yet, when I think about that spring day in 1995, our engagement was, in many ways, good preparation for the ups and down marriage has brought; years of sunshine and shadows, and where “real life” and its associated problems are never far away.

Life is full of black flies, real and metaphorical, and some are more easily brushed off than others. Over the past twenty-four years, though, Tech Guy and I have tried to face challenges together, recognizing that our marriage is, and always will be, a work in progress.

Thanks to regular cleaning, my engagement ring is still almost as sparkly as the day Tech Guy slid it on my finger for the first time. And when I look at it, I remember the promise we made to each other—one that wasn’t about perfection but, like real life, was messy and sometimes uncomfortable.  

As for the proposal scene in The Wishing Tree in Irish Falls? My hero and heroine have their happily ever moment (with nary a black fly in sight), but soon thereafter dark clouds roll in and rain is imminent.

Even in my fiction, it seems I can’t escape some aspects of reality! 


  1. Roz Schindler

    I enjoyed this story. Your narratives are always lovely to read. Thanks for the insight into your engagement story!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Roz. I appreciate you reading my blog and leaving a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it, as well as my writing. Such a nice thing to say!

  2. Kate Field

    This is a lovely post, Jen! (And I particularly enjoyed the phrase about the man I fell in love with…?). I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember the date I got engaged! It was summer 1994 so I just pipped you to the post. I’m looking forward to reading your fictional proposal! x

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Kate. I must confess that I thought of you when writing that phrase about ‘the man I fell in love with!’ Happy 25th engagement anniversary this summer! Thanks for your interest in my upcoming new book too.

  3. Jennifer Wilck

    I think his proposal sounds perfect, black flies and all!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Jennifer. Tech Guy thanks you too!

  4. Susanna Bavin

    What a lovely tale, Jen. I too had a proposal that wasn’t Instagram-ready (I love that expression!), but I think there is definitely a place for off-beat proposals alongside the perfectly choreographed ones. I’ll look forward to reading the proposal scene in your new book.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Susanna. In some ways (at least to me), the offbeat proposals are more interesting than the choreographed ones. Look forward to hearing about your proposal at some point!

  5. Arlene McFarlane

    Such a cute story, Jen. Real life is no Hollywood picture, is it?!?


    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Arlene. And you’re right, real life isn’t what is portrayed in Hollywood films! Hugs to you in return.

  6. Anne Kinch

    Love your engagement story, Jen! And can definitely relate to the black flies as they have now appeared at the cottage. They have the great timing to arrive just when the weather finally warms up and we’re anxious to be outside enjoying the sun after a long winter.
    A great analogy to marriage and life in general and I smiled inwardly at your thoughts as the proposal was in progress! I did don my “insect” netted hat yesterday and worked outside despite the pesty little mites!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Anne. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I’m picturing you in your ‘insect netted hat!’ Although not particularly stylish, they’re necessary at this time of year. Even in town, I could have used such a hat this week when walking the dog. Enjoy your cottage time, despite the black flies!


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