Here in the U.S., we don't talk about marraige with people we are dating. In general, people don't even mention the "M" word for months if not years. Our culture is caught up in doing things at the "right" time, in following the right procedure. Don't kiss to soon or he'll get the wrong idea, don't say I Love You until you're sure she'll say it back, don't mention marraige with the first 6 months (or the 6 years) or he'll freak out.
Let's face it: we all think about it. After a certain age, everyone you date is automatically evaluated for marraige potential (I'm talking girls and guys here) and anyone who doesn't make the grade is basically a waste of time. How soon does marraige cross your mind? The first date? Second date? After a month? I'm willing to bet that in the first few dates you both have thought about it. If you add it up, you've probably spent days of your adult life thinking about the kind of person you want to marry and in the first few dates, you wonder how that person matches up to your qualifications. We can't help it...but we could NEVER EVER tell them about it.
In Guatemala, things are a little different. Like I mentioned before, publicly dating is a really big deal. People sneak around for years and even if everyone knows they are dating, if it isn't public it isn't serious and people pretend they don't notice. In a town of 2,000 people a tall blonde person tends to get noticed a little. By the time I started dating Donal, I was a bit of a local celebrity. People paid attention to what I did, marvelled at it, and speculated about it to all of their neighbors. So, even before we started dating, they were asking: Is Donal your boyfriend? How does he treat you? Have you met his family?
Are you going to marry him and take him back to the United States to live with you forever and have white-skinned babies?
A simple "I haven't really thought about it." or "I'm not sure yet." didn't satisfy the curiousity of 2,000 townspeople and the question was asked over and over and over. It's the same way that people spend hours obsessing over whether two celebrities are really dating each other when a photographer catched a picture of them lunching out in L.A. The magazines speculate, people talk about it, and the reporters will keep asking them about it until they get the answer they want.
So, my point is, marraige was on the table in our relationship from day one. Since everyone around us was asking, it naturally became a part of our conversations. From the very beginning we talked about what we wanted from our future spouses, the possibility of him moving or me staying in Guatemala. We always knew that if at one point we realized we couldn't marry each other, the deal would be off. It wasn't awkward or uncomfortable; it was actually a huge relief. I didn't have to worry about when the appropriate time to bring it up was or if he would react badly. Other people broke the ice for us and we could happily swim in the waters of relationship honesty.
People ask me when I knew that I would marry Donal and it's a hard question to answer. There was no magic moment when I "knew" we would be together forever. In some ways, I always knew I would marry him. After months of letting it be on the table it became a normal part of my plans without me even making a decision. I never found any reason why I shouldn't marry him. Instead, I got to know him better and found a million reasons why I should and it gradually took over my thinking and confirmed the thoughts we had already shared: we would get married. I don't think proposals should be complete surprises or that guys should doubt whether she will say "Yes" or not. We talked about it from day one and when we decided to get engaged it was something we decided together as the logical next step toward the future we both wanted...together.
I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.