The Engagement Shower: An Unusual LGBT Marriage Proposal

A couple in a relatively conservative Austin suburb navigates the ups and downs of planning a same-sex wedding.

When Tammy Stanley and Misty Hillin exchange vows later this year as the sun slips beneath the Texas Hill Country horizon, their guests may be completely unaware that the celebration they’re witnessing began with a proposal in the shower.

It actually wasn’t the first time that Stanley, 51, an artist, had proposed to Hillin, 43, a physical therapist. The two, who live in the Austin suburb of Lakeway, have known each other for 20 years and been a couple for four. Stanley first proposed at Hillin’s birthday party, about a year into their relationship. This was before nationwide marriage equality, “so when I got down on one knee, I didn’t ask Misty to marry me, because I didn’t think Texas would ever legalize same-sex marriage,” she recalls. “Instead, I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me.”

“When she got down on her knee, that was a surprise to me,” Hillin says. “I didn’t know that was going to happen. I said, ‘I don’t care what the question is, the answer is yes!’”

“From that moment forward it seemed to us like we were married,” Stanley adds. In fact, her plan at the time was to propose life partnership to Hillin every few years and give her a new ring each time. That jewelry-intensive strategy changed with last year’s Supreme Court ruling. “At first it was: oh my God, oh my God, oh my God—we can get married now,” Stanley says. “A rush of gay happiness surged through me.

And then I was terrified, and I thought: oh my God, oh my God, oh my God—I’m going to have to follow through and do this.

We want the wedding to reflect who we are as people.

The formal marriage proposal occurred on Christmas Eve. Hillin was lathering up in the couple’s large master shower. “I was just gross. We’d been doing Christmas stuff all day—getting all the presents and the tree and the lights,” she recalls. “And then Tammy comes into the shower, fully clothed. She took the shampoo bottle out of my hand. I’m like, what are you doing? Although I wasn’t completely shocked, because she does weird stuff like that all the time. Then I saw the black jewelry box. I started bawling.”

From the moment they dried off, the planning began—as did the challenges. After Stanley left messages with a half dozen event venues, explaining that they were two women in search of a wedding site, all of the calls within her conservative enclave went unreturned—except for one. Staffers at nearby Antebellum Oaks said they’d be thrilled to host the happy couple’s December 3 wedding.

For Hillin and Stanley, it was a sobering realization—not that such attitudes exist in the area, but the extent to which the wedding would force them to face these attitudes. Neither wanted their wedding planning, much less the event itself, to become an exercise in political consciousness-raising, but “I wouldn’t want food served at our wedding by a caterer who is against gay marriage but pretends to approve of it in order to get the business,” Stanley says.

“I just don’t want to waste my time on anyone who doesn’t immediately want our business,”  Hillin adds. Still, the thought of interrogating potential vendors about their same-sex marriage views was daunting, so the couple hired Austin-based Electric Purple Events, owned by wedding planner Solrun Erlingsdottir. “She knows the scene,” Hillin says. “She tells us which vendors to work with and which to avoid.”

We’re very blessed. We have a good life, there’s a lot of love and a lot of laughter in our home—and we want our wedding to be like us.

With this peace of mind, the two now feel better able to focus on the details of their special day, for which they expect about 80 guests. They’ve been surprised by how many traditional-seeming wedding customs have made it into their plans. For instance, Hillin isn’t letting Stanley see her in her dress before the ceremony, and they’re doing a traditional walk down the aisle—Stanley escorted by her 11-year-old daughter, Hillin by her teenage niece and nephews. Both will release doves before the ceremony to honor their late fathers. “We were trying to go completely outside of the box, but it turns out that the box is really complicated,” Hillin observes. 

Not every detail will be so traditional, however. “We’re all about the element of surprise and shock. It’s fun for us to mess with people sometimes,” Hillin says. To wit, their first dance will involve professional performers from a local studio secretly planted among the guests.

The couple is also developing custom cocktails, including one named “Tasty” (an amalgam of their first names). Their colors are silver and red (silver taking the place of white). They’re also planning to streamline the concept of a sit-down meal, replacing it with appetizers. 

The scripting of the meal is an example of something the couple didn’t immediately agree upon. Stanley thinks meals at weddings are boring, but “at every wedding I’d ever been to you have a meal,” Hillin says. Other areas of disagreement have included the decision to hire a wedding planner and the choice of photographer. “Tammy is pretty set in her beliefs and opinions, and she has tons of them. To be fair I do, too,” Hillin says. They’ve learned not to get too worked up about any of it. “We really do want to have fun, not just at the wedding, but while we’re planning it. Just listening and hearing each other out makes a big difference.”

 “We don’t want to be stressing about stuff,” Stanley adds. “We want the wedding to reflect who we are as people. I don’t want to look like every butch lesbian at her wedding. I just want to look like me. We’re very blessed. We have a good life, there’s a lot of love and a lot of laughter in our home—and we want our wedding to be like us.”