1: The Perfect Proposal

1: The Perfect Proposal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

The Perfect Proposal

You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

~Dr. Seuss

Growing up, I always wished my parents had a more romantic proposal story. Candles, roses, a serenade, an ocean sunset. My dad on bended knee with nervous, hopeful eyes; my mom gazing down at him, surprised and ecstatic, speechlessly nodding yes. But that is not their proposal story.

My parents met in college when my dad was a junior and my mom was a senior. After my mom graduated, she worked at a bookstore in town while my dad finished up school. When summer rolled around, they had a talk about what they would do next. And, as the story goes, my dad looked over at my mom and said, “We could get married.”

And what was my mom’s response? A gasp? Tears of joy? No, nothing like that. My mom burst out laughing. “I thought he was joking!” she would explain later when telling me the story. “You know your father. He’s a kidder.”

“And then what happened?” I would prod.

She would smile. “Then we got married and lived happier ever after.”

It’s true — my parents are amazingly happy, and they will have been married thirty years this September. They are a real-life love story, a guiding example for me of the comfort and joy that comes from building a life with the person you love. And yet, I also grew up on a steady diet of Disney songs and chick flicks. I’d ask my parents to tell the story again and again, hoping to bring out a new angle, discover a previously forgotten detail that might cast the whole thing in a new, more romantic light.

“You mean you didn’t have it planned beforehand?” I would ask my dad.

“No, not specifically.”

“Did you have a ring at least?”

“We picked it out together afterward.”

“You didn’t even get down on one knee?”

My dad would smile, his eyes far away, remembering. “Nope. I just asked her.”

I would sigh, disappointed. How unromantic.

My grandparents were no better. “How did you propose to Grandma Auden?” I asked Gramps one Christmas as we spooned dinner leftovers into plastic containers. I was thinking of the romantic black-and-white movies we’d watched together over the years — Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, Meet Me in St. Louis. Murmured voices, stolen kisses, three-piece suits and fancy dresses, and impassioned declarations of love.

“Oh, I don’t really remember,” Gramps said.

“What?” I paused my mashed-potato scooping and looked at him. “You don’t remember?”

“Well, I didn’t formally propose. We loved each other, and when she graduated college we decided to get married.”

“You just decided?”

He met my eyes and smiled. “You know, I think it was kind of assumed between us from the very first time we met. There’s an old saying, ‘When you know, you know.’ It was certainly true for me, and I think it was true for your grandma, too. When I met her, I just knew.”

When you know, you know. I had to admit, it sounded pretty romantic. It could be a line from one of those black-and-white movies I loved. Still, I knew when it came to my own proposal one day in the hazy future that I wanted the works: an elaborate plan, a diamond ring in a small cushioned box, a man on one knee.

Throughout high school and college, I dated off and on, but never anyone serious. Never anyone I saw myself marrying. In some ways, that made it easier to daydream: I pictured a generic Prince Charming, who would soar into my life, sweep me off my feet, and take my breath away when he asked me to be his wife.

My friends only fueled the flames. We talked for hours about our dreams and hopes for the future. We shared extravagant proposal videos online: an artist painting a mural to pop the question, an amateur filmmaker creating a movie trailer to propose to his girlfriend, a flash mob surprising one woman at what she thought was a routine outing to the mall.

Then, one of my friends got engaged. It was the proposal of her dreams — a surprise in front of a gorgeous fountain in the park where they first met. But that didn’t change the fact that they fought constantly, and she confessed to me at her bridal shower that she often got jealous because she “didn’t really trust him.” I saw that the “perfect” proposal didn’t guarantee happiness or true love. In fact, my idea of “perfect” shifted completely. What makes a proposal truly perfect, I realized, is that it is genuine and filled with love, and built upon a strong foundation of a relationship that is similarly honest, open, and caring.

Flash forward two years to my first year of graduate school. At a luncheon for volunteers at the local senior center, I was seated across the table from Mike, a fellow graduate student in the English department whom I somehow had never met in the hallways at school. He was certainly handsome, with thick dark hair, glasses that framed his green eyes, and a contagious smile. But more than that, he seemed familiar to me in a way that no one had ever felt before. We spent the entire luncheon chatting over pizza and smiling at each other. And even though we were in a huge room with hundreds of other people, it seemed as if we were the only two people there.

We went out for coffee the next day, and dinner the day after that. Within a week, we were spending every waking moment together. I had discovered a new level of happiness, a deep contentment that came from finding the person who truly understands me, supports me, and loves me for exactly who I am — just as I love every part of him.

“I feel like I’ve known you my whole life,” Mike told me. “I never used to believe in love at first sight, but I was in love with you from the moment we met.” I felt the same way. When you know, you know. I finally understood what Gramps meant.

That summer, I went home for a month to visit my family, and Mike came with me. One evening, as we walked along the boardwalk beside the ocean, we stopped for a few minutes to watch the waves crashing onto the beach. Seagulls wheeled overhead. The clouds were tinged with pink, the sun just beginning to set. Mike’s hand squeezed mine.

“Dallas,” he said. I turned and looked into his warm green eyes. “Will you marry me?”

There was no bended knee, no rose petals or marching band or movie cameras. And yet, as tears sprang to my eyes, I no longer wanted any of that.

It was the perfect proposal, more romantic than anything I had envisioned in my years of daydreams. What made it perfect was the man standing there before me, looking at me with love filling his eyes.

“Yes,” I said. And I kissed my future husband, the love of my life, happier and more excited than I ever dreamed possible.

~Dallas Nicole Woodburn

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