I have a new appreciation for guys who have to plan a proposal, especially when they are trying to coordinate a surprise for an inconveniently aware woman.
My opportunity to assist with such a proposal came last week when I flew out to Atlanta to visit my cousin and her boyfriend. Little did Alli know I was really coming to help John with the big event, distract her, and provide him with moral support. Oh, and also to be the one to secretly video and photograph the exciting moment.
Let’s start with a quick preface. Alli is a year older than me and she is much more like a sister than a cousin. She and John began dating when she was a senior in high school and he was a freshman in college. I’ve grown to know John very well through their annual Colorado snowboarding trips. In fact, I call the couple my “cousins,” which they discourage because they think it makes them sound like they’re related and, as they say, they aren’t that southern.
Brainstorming and Planning
Their 8-year anniversary was quickly approaching and Alli was, to say the least, getting antsy about when they were going to get engaged. John and I have been brainstorming ideas since last year’s Colorado visit, but figuring out an extra spectacular proposal is rather intimidating. Especially for the queen of planning amazing proposals for her friends and family. (Hint to my future husband: talk to Alli!)
He knows her well enough to understand there were a few straightforward rules to the proposal. 1) Nowhere public; 2) Thought and effort put into it; and 3) Nothing anyone they know has already done. Seems fairly easy, right?
Eh, you’d think so. I will fast forward through all the phone conversations, text messaging, and emails exchanged between the two of us as we brainstormed. John was going to go with another proposal idea revolved around hiking, but there were too many unresolved aspects where we said, “We’ll figure it out later.” A few days before my arrival, he asked me if it would be lame to do an at-home proposal. I answered, “It depends.” They are fortunate enough to live at a house with a beautiful deck and backyard, and if he used the scenery to his advantage then it could be perfect. If he used the location as a way to half-ass it (which I understood he knew better, but still), then he was at risk of her being disappointed.
He. Nailed. It. I cannot imagine a better set-up, and the best part is that it was his proposal composed of his ideas uniquely designed for their special relationship.
Which brings me to a tip for the ladies out there helping with proposals. Guide him through the finalizing details of the proposal instead of telling him what to do. This is ultimately his and her experience, you are simply there to make sure it goes smoothly and the details contribute to the overall romanticism. For instance, I suggested rose petals on the deck, but John vetoed that because her brother’s proposal included them and they were too cheesy, too unlike her. I suggested cutting the rose stems off and setting the blossoms around the deck’s ledges. He then told me how sometimes he likes to surprise her by setting mason jars with rose blossoms floating in water around the house. Boom! Suddenly the proposal included flowers uniquely displayed in a way that is meaningful to their relationship.
Another tip: Encourage the poor guy. Even if she’s obviously not going to say no, this is a scary and anxious experience for him. Whoever the man is, he needs validation because he is probably second-guessing each and every idea that goes through his mind. When he has a good idea, let him know and run with it! The idea might not end up a main component in the proposal, yet it gets the ball rolling and the creativity flowing. If he comes up with something that makes you think, “No, no, no, no, no,” then be nice about excusing the idea and encourage another which involves an element of the direction he’d been going.
Prepare ahead of time. Of course, this can involve the actual preparation itself, such as when John inserted the eyelets on the house while Alli and I were grocery shopping the day before the proposal. More importantly for the surprise, however, was the mental preparation that he was going to be absent for considerably long periods and not raise suspicion. For example, John had been reminding Alli that he was very busy with work and had a safety inspection early Monday morning. Soooo when Sunday came along and he left during the football games unable to return before we’d be done with dinner, it did not seem suspicious.
It was Sunday afternoon, which meant football. John had to “go into work” and left around 4:30pm. He was actually going to Costco to pick up the roses and mason jars (he already purchased the Edison lights she had recently been obsessed with), then head over to their mutual best friend’s house to begin prepping the rose displays. Once Alli and I left for a sports tavern around 6:30pm, I texted him that it was safe to come back to the house and get to work on the Edison lights. He and Michelle hurried over and, it is my understanding, started screwing the lights together and hooking up the cable at super fast speed.
Note: If you are the individual to distract the girlfriend, go somewhere you are 100% positive is a place she will like and want to stay. We made the mistake of trying out a new sports tavern, and while it was fine… we had hardly ordered an appetizer when she stated the obvious (“This place is weird”) and suggested for us to go back home, wait for John to get off work, and then all go to their favorite grill. Well, that certainly wasn’t an option, so I dismissed it by being a brat and saying I didn’t want to bounce around places. Instead, we endured the strange atmosphere of a questionable poker tournament next to our table and a not-so-pleasant waitress.
Here’s another suggestion: If the couple has a Dropcam (for the dogs) or any type of security system, turn off the notifications on her phone! John was smart enough to disable the Dropcam so if she tried to look at it from her phone, she would not see two people running around the house and the dogs going crazy. However, we were unaware a notification is sent to your phone when it is disabled—this raised the alarm and was, ultimately, what ruined the big surprise. She repeatedly expressed her concern the camera was disabled and wondered what was wrong; I couldn’t suggest we go home to check, so I brushed it off. Meanwhile, I was texting John that time was running out, but he insisted he needed more.
Solution? I ate my three appetizer buffalo wings really, really, really slowly. Really slowly. I expressed an exaggerated desire to watch the rest of the Seahawks game, then the Packers game. While Alli was in the restroom, I asked our waitress to stall when I handed her the credit card. Finally, it was time and John’s text “Okay cool” indicated it was safe to come back.
John had told her he just came home from work and Michelle was over to watch Sunday Night Football. Neither my cousin or I mentioned it, but she knew as we were driving home. The Dropcam notification was the first red flag and my excuses to remain at the restaurant did not help the matter. We arrived at their house after a long 10-minute ride of small talk. As she walked into the kitchen, there was a candle in a lantern and a rose blossom in a mason jar placed on the counter right at the entrance. She walked right past it, did not glance in the direction of the pitch-black deck (where John was standing in confusion), and again moved past the living room where Michelle was innocently watching TV. She mumbled, “Where’s John?” and Michelle casually informed her he was outside looking for something.
As Alli explained later, she went into their bedroom and tried to calm herself. She also changed out of her Seahawks shirt (“I couldn’t get engaged representing the Seahawks!”). Eventually, she came back out and asked where John was again. Michelle told her, again, that he was outside and maybe she could help him find whatever he was looking for. I was about to yell at her to just get her butt outside.
So, she stepped outside onto the deck. That’s when he switched the remote control on (important touch and the biggest “surprise!” element) and the deck was suddenly lit with Edison lights, roses floating in mason jars lined along the ledges, with John standing in the middle. Alli burst into tears and ran up to him, and they held one another for a long time as he whispered things no one but them will ever know. After a while, he got down on one knee and presented her with a ring he designed himself, which included a diamond that previously belonged to her great aunt her mother had given him a year and a half ago.
It was not extravagant or expensive, yet it was personable and romantic. It might not have been the gigantic surprise we hoped for, but all the same she had no idea what she walking out to. Alli repeated again and again that it was perfect–and John made that happen through knowing and understanding her and their relationship. In my mind, that was the most important part of the entire production, which was what created the perfection.
(((How to set up the cable for the Edison lights: I got completely lost when John was describing this to me, so this is in its most basic form… He used a 50-foot spool of ⅛ inch cable with plastic around it, along with saddles and ties. Additionally, he needed approximately 10 small quick links. He screwed in 6 eyelets on the house and ran the cable between two trees on the opposite end. The quick links fitted into the top of the light housing and hooked to the eyelets or the cable. He used the quick links on both the cable and the eyelets so there would be a light at every place that the strand changed direction.)))