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A Case of the Human Condition: The Day She Popped the Question

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Things were getting serious. My boyfriend had moved his goldfish into my apartment.

I returned from a long weekend with my parents to find that Jon had moved his dimestore pets from his place on Telegraph Hill into mine on Russian Hill.

He was sheepish about having done this; he knew that I would object.

Jon and I the year he didn't pop the question. c 1975 Ruth Newhall

Jon and Barbara the year that he didn’t pop the question. c 1975 Ruth Newhall

I had my reasons. Jon and I had had a perfectly viable relationship up until then. We had fair fights. We shared the housework. We divided expenses – restaurant tabs and grocery bills – right down the middle.

We liked each other’s friends. And, although Jon did not like Ingmar Bergman and I was not keen on baseball, we stayed calm about these differences and took turns picking out our weekend activities.

Above all, Jon and I were honest with each other. Right down to admitting it when one of us went out with someone else – something that Jon did often in the early days of our relationship, now in its fifth year.

I should have seen the goldfish coming.

Jon had begun eating more and more of his meals at my place, doing more and more of the dishes, showing more and more disappointment if I opted for supper with a female co-worker instead of him.

He was spending less time than ever at his own apartment, going there only every other day to feed the goldfish and water his rubber tree plant.

But those short trips gave us both a firm sense of having our own lives, a fall-back position if something went wrong between us.

For me, the trouble with letting the goldfish into my apartment was that I believed in marriage.

As I saw it, if Jon wanted to enjoy the rights and pleasures of marriage (hanging a clean shirt in my closet, eating a cozy, home-cooked meal at my wobbly dinner table, acquired for a few dollars at Goodwill) without even the pretense of maintaining his own apartment, then he could darned well marry me.

I made broad hints to that effect; Jon pretended not to hear.

I allowed the goldfish to stay, but took a hard line where the rubber tree plant was concerned. Jon continued to stop off at his apartment once or twice a week to water it.

Our relationship went along nicely, growing more viable by the day.

Our finances soon became hopelessly entangled: I could no longer remember how much I had spent on groceries. Jon would forget to collect from me for my baseball ticket.

But every now and then, dreary feelings caught up with me. I wanted to be married, but did I want to marry Jon? If I strong-armed him into proposing marriage, would I say yes?

Finally, at the end of a drafty evening at Candlestick Park – I could have been home watching “War and Peace” on TV – I realized that I would go to that wretchedly cold game with Jon all over again. Furthermore, if I had my way, this was going to be my husband.

Armed with that knowledge, I was ready to take action.

It was 1975. A leap year was coming up. If Jon did not propose to me by midnight, Dec. 31, I would propose to him.

It would be more romantic, of course, if he did the proposing. So, I left pictures of diamond rings lying around the apartment. I tried making deals, hinting that as soon as we got engaged, he could move his rubber tree plant in. To no avail.

I threatened to end our relationship. He knew better.

New Year’s Eve came and went. I granted Jon an extension. I would hold out until Feb. 29, Leap Year Day.

On Feb. 28, I gave him one last warning. “How would you feel,” I asked, “going through life, married to someone who had proposed marriage to you?”

“I think it would be charming,” he said.

A sweet reply, one that appeased the romantic in me. The next morning, the 29th, I put my arms around Jon’s neck and whispered in his ear, “Will you marry me?”


Jon moved the rubber tree plant in and gave his landlord notice.

We spent the next months debating wedding plans. Jon wanted to elope.

I wanted a church wedding. I wanted to be married in full view of my family, Jon’s family, our friends, and God himself.

Jon said he would be embarrassed by all that attention.

The issues kept coming up. Would there be dancing? Two rings or one? Should the bride wear white? The details meant a lot to me, and little to Jon.

Finally, he said gently, “You plan it the way you want it. I’ll be there.” He was.

Here’s a Huffington Post story that claims that today’s young women and men still prefer men to pop the question.

This column was first published on May 31, 1987, in the Oakland Tribune



  1. Such a sweet, sweet story. thank you!

  2. Lindsey Newhall says:

    Oh this was a great post. Excellent story. I never knew this about you two! Truly charming, as Jon said. Somehow I feel the same proposal story may happen to me someday.

  3. Caroline Conroy says:

    You have a very special love.

  4. Diane Erwin says:

    I just love this Barb. You truly have a talent.


  1. […] more stories about love and marriage, go to “Man-Bashing at Our House,” “The Day She Popped the Question” Photos by BF Newhall Filed Under: A Case of the Human Condition Tagged With: actor […]

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