Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Proposal

One day.

The countdown is down to ONE DAY.

Tomorrow is our wedding day. What in the world. If it feels like it came up fast, that's because it really has. We only found out the whole Vegas wedding situation was going to work out a few months ago -- just before the summer. It's been a whirlwind ever since.

Once we knew it was going to happen, we figured we should get engaged. Emily and I have been together for three years and lived together for two of them. We'd discussed the topic in general terms, saying things like, "Well of course we're going to get married eventually." But we never got into specifics.

But when the possibility of Vegas came up, we were kind of pushed into a higher gear, and we said, "If we're going to get married, we might as well get engaged first!"

Emily is a Craigslist addict. Even when she's not actively shopping for something, she'll check in daily to see if there's anything that looks good.

When we decided it was time to ring shop, she started glancing around the jewelry section. After a couple of days of browsing, she found a beautiful pear-shaped stone.

Some concerns, obviously:
  • Karma -- It's hard to feel good about buying someone else's engagement diamond. Why is it being sold? Did they get divorced and now they don't want the ring anymore? What's going on here?
  • Being ripped off -- Is it actually a diamond? Is it as good as they claim it is?
We met with the woman selling the stone and learned she's been married to her high school sweetheart for more than 30 years (she just wanted to upgrade her ring). Then we took the stone to a few different jewelers, who all verified the quality. Good to go!

We used a jeweler downtown called Boone & Sons to build the setting. Here's the challenge: how do you make the proposal a surprise when you shop for the ring together and know the delivery date?

Well, you enlist the help of the jeweler from the start. 

God love Kay, who was in to help out as soon as I gave her the idea. Here was the plan:
  • Since they were building us a setting from scratch, we were going to have the opportunity to approve the rough build to make sure it was going in the right direction.
  • Kay and I were emailing to exchange information about the GIA certification for the ring appraisal, so I mentioned the idea of telling Emily the ring would take a week or two longer than it actually would. 
  • When we went to approve the rough setting, Kay told Emily three weeks. Emily went to the restroom while we were there, and Kay confirmed it would be ready in 10 days. 
  • Kay added an extra layer about the actual jeweler being out of town to take his daughter to college, so he wouldn't have a chance to work on it for a while. That wrinkle was the brilliance in the plan. If she had said he was just really busy, Emily could have been tempted to ask me to call and check on it. But now, what could I do? He's out of town!
I successfully picked up the ring without Emily realizing and, even better, she thought it wouldn't be done for another two weeks. I had a two-week window where the proposal would be a surprise.

With the two of us knowing the engagement was coming, I brought up the idea of going out on a date as a non-engaged couple one more time. I suggested going back to The Front Page, the site of our very first date. 

The day arrived and Emily was feeling sick because of course she was. We needed to go out because the date was approaching when Emily would know I had the ring. She didn't yet. 

I pushed and pushed and eventually, she decided to go to the doctor to check on things. Naturally, I said I'd go along and we could just go to dinner afterward. I cannot imagine why she agreed.

We had dinner and a few drinks and walked a few blocks south to get frozen yogurt. Throughout the entire date, I had the engagement ring in my shirt pocket. 

As we sat outside the yogurt store, Emily turned to me and said, "You know, I'm really excited about the whole Vegas thing, and I don't regret a minute of it. But I'm kind of sad we won't have a proposal story because we had to shop for the ring together, and I know we're picking it up next week."

All I could say was, "Well there's still time; you never know what I might pull off."

All the while I was thinking, "I have a ring in my pocket. I have a ring in my pocket. I have a ring in my pocket."

It was a cool night for mid-June, so we walked a few blocks north to get back to Dupont Circle, where I thought we could just sit around the fountain and enjoy the night. I figured the Circle would make for a good proposal location.

As we walked up, I noticed a few hundred of my closest friends crowding around several large screens that had been set up. Ah ha. Of course. The Women's World Cup. A giant watch party set up right in the middle of where I'd hoped to propose. 

OK. Time to adapt!

We found a quiet spot around the outer ring of the Circle and sat for a while, just talking about the upcoming planning and engagement. Knowing the impending storm of wedding planning that was upon us, it was nice to sit and enjoy each other's company for a few quiet moments.

That's when I slid the ring from my pocket and got down on one knee to ask Emily to marry me. Spoiler alert: she said yes. 

As we pulled out our phones to take photos of the moment, a family walked by and saw us. The woman immediately stopped and shouted, "Oh my god, did you just get engaged?!"

She then grabbed my phone to take a picture for us, while demanding I get back on my knee to reenact the moment. Obviously I did. 

And now, just one day to go before the wedding. 

What a ride! 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dating Espionage

Timing is everything – whether it's delivering the perfect joke or having two people's priorities line up to join together.

The timing wasn't right for Emily and me then, and we temporarily went our separate ways. But over the course of the next five months, I couldn't shake her from my mind.

I found myself paying extra close attention when my Metro train stopped at her station. I'd drive a couple miles per hour slower if I happened to be driving through the neighborhood where she lived. My heart would skip a beat when I saw her name pop up on my Facebook timeline or my Gchat buddy list.

I never reached out though.

After a while, I realized how silly that was. Several months had passed, and we always had a good time together. I knew if I didn't try it again, I'd always wonder what could have been. After close consultation with Jon and Mike, two of my closest friends, we collectively decided to go for it. If nothing else, I wanted to leave a Brian-sized hole in the wall, and I'd know where things stood.

Emily had recently returned from a long trip to India, and I figured I could use that as an icebreaker. I then sent the following text:

"Typhoid Mary! You've been popping up on my FB news feed lately. What would you think about meeting for a drink to catch up? I'd love to hear about the trip! :-)"

I'd done my part. I put it out into the universe, and it was time to wait. Every time my phone buzzed, my heart stopped. Work emails, man. Hated 'em.

Luckily, a few hours later, my phone buzzed, and this time, it was her. She responded. And what's more, she said it would be nice to catch up. We were back in business!

Our second first date took place at a bar called Buffalo Billiards, just across the street from Front Page, the site of our first first date.

We had a few drinks, we played skeeball and shuffleboard and we danced. As I walked her home, I knew I had to do whatever it took to make it work at whatever pace it needed to work.

So when Emily turned to me and said, "I had a really great time, but I have to be honest with you. I don't want a boyfriend, and I'm not ready to date anyone," I did what anyone would do.

I lied. Happily.

"Oh absolutely. I don't want to date anyone either. Did you have fun? Because I had fun."
"I did have fun," she replied. "I had a lot of fun."
"OK then. What more do you need to know? If you had fun, and I had fun, then we'll just hang out and have fun."

And so we did.

When her friends had to break the news to her two months later that she and I were dating, she didn't want to believe them.

"That's ridiculous," Emily said. "We're not dating. I told him I didn't want to date anyone, and he agreed."

"OK," her friends replied. "But you're doing fun things together often? And you plan them together? Yeah, you're dating."

And a few weeks after that, Emily asked me if I wanted to be exclusive. It was the most masterful piece of dating espionage strategy I could have imagined.

Three years later, it's paid off well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Unconventional Internet Research

Our first date was a bar at Dupont Circle in downtown D.C. called The Front Page. It's not the classiest of locales, but it's right next to a Metro station, it's well-lit and very public and they have good Manhattans.

The well-lit and very public is the key to any good first date. Nonthreatening and unpretentious – that's all I wanted. Get her to feel safe enough to show up, and I think I can take it from there.

I was late, but it wasn't my fault. At the time, I lived in a suburb of D.C. called Gaithersburg, Md. It's the last stop on Metro's red line. I raced home from work to take care of the dog and jetted over to the station to head downtown.

Midway through the trip, the train stopped moving – and stayed stationary for several minutes. That's when the police boarded the train car in front of me.

The texts started flying.

"I'm so sorry I'm running late. You literally won't believe this, but there is police activity on the car in front of mine. The train is stopped. Someone is being led off the train in handcuffs."

"It's no problem!" she said. Though she surely thought, At least his excuses are creative.

I raced up the escalator to where she was waiting, and she smiled and hugged me. The date went well.

As we started planning a second date, we decided it would be a good idea to make a dinner reservation at a restaurant near her office. Then, I could swing by and pick her up after work and head straight to dinner.

She told me she worked at Freed Photography in Bethesda. What she didn't know then was I already knew that.

With online dating, there's always a risk. When you "meet" someone new online, you just want some verification she's a real person. What better way than through social media? As I've mentioned before, Emily fancies herself a woman of mystery. She didn't want to be found on Facebook. Previously, I only knew her first name and where she went to school. Normally that's enough. Even when I knew her full name, she was unsearchable.

Although I knew by now she was who she said she was, and I didn't need to verify her identify on Facebook, it was a matter of pride. No one was unsearchable for me. I could find anyone. Except her.

It was time to get creative.

I recalled a conversation where she said she worked at a photography studio in Bethesda. OK. That's something.

I google-mapped Bethesda and searched for photography studios. Luckily, there were only a couple of options in the portion of the map I had open. Armed with the names of a couple of studios, I headed to their websites to see if they listed a staff directory.

My first search? Freed Photography.

Sure enough, listed on the staff page, was a pretty girl named Emily Lampe.

My luck continued when I searched for Freed on Facebook. Lots of photos. People tagged in nearly all of them. And then, boom. A staff party. Hey, she looks familiar. Tagged in the photo: Emily Lampe.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Whole Meal of Food

In the brisk autumn air of October 2011, I was planning yet another trip to Raleigh to engage in varying degrees of idiocy with Mike, Nick and many, many others. We were planning an extensive agenda of football on TV, football in person, tailgating, Bojangles, drinking and dancing.

As the Raleigh excursion drew closer, I'd begun exchanging messages on eHarmony with a delightful young woman named Emily. Our messages were fun and witty, and I hadn't been that excited about meeting someone in quite some time.

By the time I got to Raleigh, we'd exchanged phone numbers so we could text. She fancies herself a woman of mystery and had made her Facebook profile unsearchable by conventional means. But I'm anything but a conventional researcher.

With any budding eHarmony relationship, very little is typically shared in the way of personal information. I knew she lived in Washington, D.C., but I didn't know where she was from, I didn't know where she worked, I didn't know where she went to school and I didn't know her last name.

On the Saturday night of my Raleigh trip, we were texting as I watched football with my friends, and she mentioned she was at a bar to watch a football game with her friend Holly. I asked her how it was going, and she told the score of her game and that her team was winning. Armed with the score of the game and the clue that her team was winning, Mike and I immediately began scouring the college football scoreboard to figure out what game she was watching.

That's how I learned she went to Oklahoma State.

The drive from Raleigh to D.C. can be tedious – especially as you get closer and the traffic picks up. Emily and I had continued to text throughout the weekend, and I felt like it had gone well. I then made the stunningly poor decision not to prepare my thoughts before I called her.

I can do this, I thought. I've been witty so far; I'll just keep it up and be funny again! Oh okay.

The phone rang and rang. OK, I said to myself. Voicemail isn't a bad outcome. I can leave a funny voicemail. She'll play it over and over again and giggle and marvel!

Voicemail picks up, "Hi, you've reached Emily Lampe..." (LAMPE! I now know her last name!)

Here's my chance, I said to myself. Make it count!

"Hi Emily, it's Brian. Grossman. So I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go out sometime. For like some frozen yogurt. Or maybe even a whole meal of food..."

It's a rocky start, but we're still in the game. Going with the 10-year-old movie reference was a bold choice. I did not, however, stick the landing.

"Ha…you know, from Old School? Jokes? Oh God. Anyway, call me back!"

The "Oh God" is the highlight for me.

As I sat in the car for the remainder of the drive home, I gave myself as much of a pep talk as I could, telling myself she'd find it charming. We'll see!

A few hours later, my phone started to ring. Oh boy. It's Emily. Here we go!


And then I heard nothing but laughter on the other end, and I knew it would work out.