Rules of engagement: Friends must answer those late-night calls

If she calls to talk about The Ring, you must sound interested

Real Life


Nothing sends a shiver through me like a phone ringing very late at night. It's the time when people are prone to pass away. It's also, or so I've noticed lately, when they tend to get engaged.

Alas, no one calls in the wee hours to propose to me. I'm merely part of the telephone tree of single women in their mid-20s relaying the good fortunes of others: elementary school chums, former snoring bunkmates, even old and bitter foes. Usually, it's the girl's best friend (henceforth her maid of honor) calling in the happy one's stead, and this is tolerable: you flip open your phone and grunt congratulations, without having to move your head from its downy valley of pillow.

Sometimes, though, the affianced herself is on the other end, and this requires more ceremony.

She has broken free of her beloved's embrace and is stowed away in some romantic bistro's bathroom, bursting with news.

The hand just moments earlier requested in marriage skips over the cell phone keys. Her ring twinkles, and your phone rings:

"I have something to tell you!"

Whatever the hour, you must be ready with squeals and coos and tactful inquiries about diamond cuts. Then you hang up with her and call the next friend in line, taking not a little pleasure in waking her.

Many suitors know about the phone chain; some use it in their proposal schemes.

One sultry evening this spring found me wide awake, eyeing my phone. The plan was this: Eileen -- softened by a sunset harbor tour and sumptuous dinner -- would be propositioned around 9 p.m. Mark knew that she would call her girlfriends within a half an hour of the proposal; at this signal, we would race to his apartment for a surprise party.

As my cell-phone clock ticked passed 10:30, I was on edge. Had Mark lost his nerve? But at last, the ring came, and the little party went off as planned, with champagne and smiles and fancy cheese. I actually ended up having fun, I thought to myself, nodding off on the taxi ride home.

Then -- in the depths of my purse -- my cell phone gurgled.

"Guess what?" said a voice that, so late at night, sounded almost unnaturally awake. It was Sarah, my closest friend from college, the girl with whom I'd shared a dorm room and endless orders of pad Thai, a noodle dish topped with bean sprouts and peanuts, back in the days when phone calls never woke us because we never slept.

Greg had asked her to marry him, Sarah explained.

All I could think was this: Greg is allergic to peanuts. If Sarah eats a peanut and kisses Greg, he could die. We'd never eat pad Thai together again.

"I'm so happy for you," I said.

And in a way, I truly am, just as I am for all of my friends who find people they love. But the midnight calls also make me sad, as do all things that dwindle, or change.

The other evening I called my oldest friend, Emily, and left a voice-mail message about some "exciting news."

When my phone sounded deep, deep into the night, I answered and heard her voice.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"I might get to see you over Thanksgiving," I said through the side of my mouth that wasn't speaking to someone else, in a dream.

"Thank God," she said. "I thought you were engaged."

"Right," I said, and went back to sleep.


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