A Man’s 3 Rules of Engagement

Rules of engagement for impending marriage that is, not rules of war.  Marriage isn’t supposed to be a battlefield.  Life is the battlefield.  You’re both in the foxhole together; don’t turn your rifles on each other.

I last wrote in this series about falling in love, leaving my past self ready to propose to Dona.  Let’s proceed to engagement and my rules.  These are good rules, not rules for no fun but rules meant for ecstatic happiness.

By the way, didn’t we look young?



1.  Don’t Say “I Love You” Until You’re Ready to Say “Will You Marry Me?”

These days ‘love’ as a word is trashed about like an old washrag.  I’m talking about romantic love.  I’m not discussing loving chocolate or loving science fiction or loving roller coasters.  The use of ‘love’ is corrupted enough in the romance department.  Someone who casually says, “I love you, baby,” and doesn’t follow the statement with a commitment is probably looking for something.  And we mostly know what that something is, especially from a male.

O, come on.  Don’t act shocked.  You know it’s true.

When I was but a lad, I had determined to only say, “I love you,” when with my next breath I’d say, “Will you marry me?”

I also had decided not to talk and talk on about marriage and delay the proposal.  How romantic is all that talking?  It’s not.  I sprang the proposal on Dona without discussion.  We hadn’t spoken a word about ‘marriage.’  Once you start talking marriage, you might as well have proposed.

But due to this surprise on my part, Charlie Ann predicted Dona would say, “Let me think about it.”


Here’s how it happened:

Dona was attending some sort of weekend conference there in Norman which started on Friday night and ended Saturday noon.  I came late that morning to pick her up.  Charlie Ann was running sound.  She gave me a knowing smile, a mischievous glimmer.  I smiled back.  I wasn’t going to spill yet.

We went to Dona’s apartment.  Her roommates were gone, thankfully.

We sat on the couch.  My stomach was in my chest.  I started.

“Dona,” I said looking at her.  (No, I wasn’t down on knee.)  “I love you.”

She started crying.  I hadn’t expected this and wasn’t prepared for it.  Now what to do?

“I love you, too,” she replied.

That was nice.  I could have sat in that moment for a lifetime, the moment when another tells you they’ve chosen you to love.  That’s a good moment.


I’ll Give You All I Can photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren via photopin cc

Snap out of it!  This engagement business wasn’t going as planned.

“I love you,” I started again.  “Will you marry me?”

She cried harder.  If any woman had been privy to the scene, she would have known this weeping was a ‘yes.’  But a man needs a verbal sign one way or another.

The phone rang.

For crying out loud!  It was her mother.  Dona kept the conversation mercifully short.  “Let me call you back later, Mom.”  I mean, I hadn’t even gotten an answer yet.

Dona sat back down on the couch.

Again, “Will you marry me?”


That’s the answer I was praying for.  Charlie Ann had been wrong.

2.  Gauge Physical Involvement by Commitment

Did Dona and I go to lunch that day?  Must have, I don’t remember.  I went shopping with her.  She bought a maroon dress and called it her engagement dress.  We went into Oklahoma City and told my parents.


Dona at Engagement

Wade didn’t know I was going to pop the question so quickly.  But it was Dona’s birthday.  I had bought her a little necklace with a treble clef surrounding a tiny pearl.  We both liked music – most people do – and we could both play the piano.  The necklace wasn’t expensive, but I thought it might reflect her personality a bit.  It became a token of our engagement day, and when she wore it, I’d have to remind myself it had been a birthday present.

Rings came the next weekend.

She did call her mother back.  Dona and I had visited her parents in far eastern Oklahoma a few weeks previously.  I found out later they had expected an announcement then because Dona had never brought a boy home before.  But it was not to be.  I wasn’t ready at the time.  Men sometimes prove slow at this.

Dona and I went out to eat at a steakhouse the evening of our engagement.  Then I took her to her apartment and I went to the dorm.

No sex.

This story introduces the second rule.

I had determined as a teenager I was saving sex for my wedding night.  Dona had separately decided the same.  I wanted a woman like that.  Frankly, she wanted a man like that.

I know ‘waiting’ is not a popular option.  Wasn’t then, isn’t now.

So this rule gets trounced but good these days.  Probably always has.  But don’t you throw it out.  It’s for your long term – and short term – happiness.  Why?  I’ll start with the marriage vows and work backward.

Once a couple has actually pledged their lives to each other before God and witnesses, then it’s time for the richest but emotionally most vulnerable physical act:  sex.  Before that, no.

I’m not one to advocate you shouldn’t hold hands or kiss before marriage.  But during this day and age, a little less speed won’t kill you.  You may call me timid – I don’t care, remember I was the man who married Dona.  I didn’t kiss Dona until after quite a few dates.  Why, I think it wasn’t until the fifth date that I shook her hand.

Laugh if you want.  It doesn’t matter to me.  Knitting two hearts together for life takes time and patience.

A woman shouldn’t be guilted or coaxed into sex.  A true man doesn’t ask for it.  He has nothing to prove about his manhood except to himself and Jesus.  A man protects a lady’s heart.

Bring the physical in slowly.  Doing things in the correct order at the correct time protects the heart of both.  The sex organs are intrinsically linked to the innermost parts of personality and character.  Guard your heart, because that’s what you’re going have to live with for a long time.  Do you have errors in your past?  Ask forgiveness and forge ahead in your new, chosen direction.

Once sex starts, you already want a foundation to last a lifetime.  Engagement is not enough of a commitment for sex.

This leads to the third rule.

3.  Don’t Have a Long Engagement, for Purity’s Sake

I’m not a believer in long engagements.  Just long enough to plan a wedding.  Why?  Because if you’re keeping yourself pure, that is, waiting for the wedding night, then the male needs to not wait too long.  You play with fire, you get burned.

Even a timid man is still a man.  Even a determinedly pure man is still a man, probably more so.  Get the wedding planned and finished.


Swans photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc

Dona and I had a great honeymoon, a great marriage of 28 years, and four great kids.  I think we quite proved ourselves without jumping the starting gate.

Did we do everything right?  Good grief, no!  But I don’t regret waging life’s battle with her by my side.

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  1. Lucy June 4, 2014 #

    Love it! Great advice. People don’t realize that these rules actually work! Did them myself and don’t regret it for a min!

    • Drew Ellenwood June 5, 2014 #

      Rules mostly are counterintuitive to happiness but end up right on target. Thanks, Lucy.

  2. Brian June 4, 2014 #

    That was beautiful Drew. I cried while reading it.
    We can all hope to find that special person to share (and wait for the wedding ) the rest of our lives with.

    • Drew Ellenwood June 5, 2014 #

      Hope and wait – Jesus teaches this to us humans over and over. Thanks for reading, Brian.

  3. Matt June 5, 2014 #

    These are all great. If I had a nickel for every instance I’ve heard of regarding a guy telling a girl he loved her but not committing himself to her, Lucy and I wouldn’t need to raise support.

    It is such a dangerous phrase when uttered carelessly. Sometimes a man thinks he means it, but is actually confusing the feeling of infatuation with romantic love. There is a BIG difference. Infatuation has a short shelf life, but love abides.

    • Lucy June 5, 2014 #

      So true

    • Drew Ellenwood June 5, 2014 #

      ‘Short shelf life’ – an insightful thought. Meteors shine bright for an instant but marriage needs to endure like a star. Thank you for your comment, Matt.


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