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That time I ruined my boyfriend's marriage proposal

That time I ruined my boyfriend's marriage proposal
“You’ve had 8,000 chances. Why don’t you want to marry me?” (Daniel Zalkus / For The Times)

I knew that Daniel was going to propose to me that weekend in Yosemite the same way that he knew I got him a helicopter tour of Los Angeles for his birthday.

Even though neither of us dropped a single hint, we knew because there are no surprises anymore. When you've lived with someone for half a decade, you learn to navigate and anticipate the conversations, thoughts and needs of the other. It hadn't been just familiarity or telepathy, of course. There had been clues.

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For starters, Daniel began intricately planning the details of our Yosemite National Park getaway two months in advance. Over the last five years, I've learned that Daniel sort of takes life as it comes at him — he's terrible at making decisions. So his planning gave me pause. To top this, while Daniel was entering his credit card credentials into the reservation checkout section of an overpriced inn outside Yosemite, my sister texted me and casually asked for my ring size. Daniel was obviously soliciting information through her.

I found myself wondering whether we should have a buffet- or family-style dinner at our wedding reception.

The day we drove to Yosemite, we approached the park's entrance about two hours before sunset. The countdown had started.

"What's first?" I asked, awaiting his recited list of preplanned activities.

"I don't really have anything planned," he said, obviously playing coy.

Oh, he is GOOD.

We wound through the curves and roads that led to what was probably going to be the only hike we had time for that day. We pulled over and parked, and I gave Daniel space to collect all of the gear and any "extra" items he might need for our trek. I freshened up my makeup in the mirror.

It was a mile hike to Taft Point. Once we arrived and I stopped for the view, I heard Daniel set the interval timer on the camera that was pointed right at me. He ran into frame as it started firing off a series of shots. He wasn't taking photos of the view — he was taking portraits of us.

The temperature inside my body cranked to fever levels. This is it.

Daniel put his hands around my waist, pulled me close, looked into my eyes, and when the camera finished its round of fired shots, he started back toward it.

"It looks great!" he yelled across the cliff from where his camera was set up. He shot up a sturdy thumb, and I felt my eyebrows furrow. This was not the proposal night.

The next day I asked Daniel what our plans were, looking for a hint that his proposal was still on its way. "Whatever you want," was his answer. I felt my heart slump.

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That evening at the park, after a full day of hikes and photo ops, we watched the last light of day sink behind Half Dome. Along with it, sank any chance of a proposal.

"Do you think we'll be back tomorrow?" I asked Daniel as he started setting up his tripod for night photos.

"I think I'd like to head back to L.A. early tomorrow morning," he explained, hunched over his rig, fidgeting with the tripod plate.

I blinked a tear out of my eye and felt it roll down my cheek and under my chin. "Yeah, that works for me," I answered, not really listening to my own response. As Daniel spun the dials on his camera, it dawned on me: This was a work trip. The reason why he planned, paid and brought me here was to take photos for work.

I slept on the car ride back to our inn. When we arrived for the night, I locked myself in the bathroom and let a hot shower wash away the day's disappointment. As water and steam slid off my back, I reworked my proposal plan calculations and wondered where my math had gone bad. How could I have been so wrong?

When I thought about the perfect timing and opportunities Daniel missed, my confusion spun into anger. If he hadn't proposed by now — under these perfect conditions — he was never going to do it.

Admitting that to myself was painful. It was a personal attack on me, the five years I'd poured into this relationship, and my ability to read and interpret my partner. I felt defeated and embarrassed. I'd dreamed about the perfect proposal for so long and I realized that like so many other decisions, this was another one that Daniel would never make.

When I pulled back the shower curtain, I wanted to bring Daniel into the one-sided conversation I'd been having with myself. I had felt like this weekend was Daniel's last fleeting chance to propose to me. Now it was time to talk about the fate of our long-term relationship.

By this time, it was 2 a.m., and Daniel was sleeping comfortably with his legs sprawled across the bed like a runner mid-stride, and his mouth was wide open. His complete ignorance of my tumultuous inner conflict gave me the confidence I needed to confront him.

I jumped right in.

"You've had so many chances!" I began as I sat down on the bed, watching him squeeze his eyes together tightly before slowly peeling them open.

"Wha—" he tried to ask.

"You've had 8,000 chances. Why don't you want to marry me?"

"Are you serious?" I heard him mumble.

"Can you please wake up for five minutes and have this conversation with me?" I demanded. He owed me that much.

"I want to marry you," he said into his pillow.

"No, you don't. You could've … you would've done it already."

"I couldn't," he said, muffled again.

"Why?" I begged in utter frustration.

Daniel didn't move. With his back to me and face still pressed into his pillow, he muttered, "The ring just didn't get here in time."

My hair dripped cold shower water down my back and soaked the side of the bed where I was sitting. The hotel air conditioner was blasting frigid, stale air into the room, but I felt an internal heat circulate and press through my face and body. The embarrassment I had felt from rejection quickly turned into the embarrassment I felt from saying something really stupid out loud.

I laid down on top of the fresh puddle I'd created. Daniel rolled over. He put his arm around my waist, squeezed me tightly as he shifted closer, and pressed his nose into the back of my neck.

I'd spent the last several years of my life wondering and dreaming about my future proposal. I'd spent the last two months anticipating Daniel's plans for it. But, in a musty, overpriced inn — at 2 a.m. — I had just forced the world's lamest one ever.

Daniel didn't seem to mind, though. When you've lived with someone for half a decade, there are no surprises anymore.

The author is a photographer and writer based in Los Angeles. Don't tell anyone, but she's eloping on June 21. Her website is rachelgulotta.com.

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.

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