I wanted to make a blog post about how the proposal went down and the events leading up to it so that in 50-60 years, Christina and I would have it documented and we can look back and remember. You know…“future nostalgia”. Plus, there were just a bunch of little things that happened along the way that I found humorous, but since the proposal was a secret, it’s like I’m the only one in the world that knows about these funny little situations.
Proposing inside Ellsworth Kelly's
I suppose the best place to start this story is the week beforehand. It was Friday, October 2, and I was planning to propose to Christina the next Friday, October 9, while we were in Austin celebrating our 4 year (dating) anniversary. Before I could propose, though, there was one very important task I had yet to complete, and that was to ask her dad for his blessing.
Now for whatever reason, I imagined the conversation with Christina’s dad was going to be a quick, easy, and happy one. Mr. Tran is a jovial person, and he’s always been super warm and welcoming to me. I’ve also seen this man get excited and react to chowder soup from Pappa’s Seafood or steak from Outback Steakhouse like he was eating at a Michelin 3-star restaurant (seriously). Surely he would be happy and excited that I was finally asking his daughter for her hand in marriage, right?
First off, we unfortunately couldn’t have the conversation face-to-face because #COVID. And since I didn’t have his number, I first had to email Mr. Tran explaining my plans to propose. In my email I acknowledged that me asking for his blessing over email wasn’t ideal, and I gave him my number and invited him to call me if he wanted to talk about it some more.
Honestly, though, I thought he was just going to reply to the email and essentially say “Yeah, sure, of course,” or something like that. In my head I’m picturing happy-go-lucky Mr. Tran, giving me his blessing with the same enthusiasm as he ate that steak from Outback.
But when Mr. Tran emails me back, instead of saying “Yes of course,” he writes, “I’ll call you at 11 if that’s ok.”
I’m caught a little off guard. And then this off-guard-ness starts to grow into a little nervousness and anxiety.
11:00am comes around. My phone rings and my heart jumps a bit. I have to tell myself, “Chill fool, Mr. Tran has always welcomed you. You’re gonna be alright.”
I pick up the phone, and Mr. Tran and I have our conversation. I won’t go into the details of what was discussed, but just know that conversation got real. Like, really real. Like really really real. So real that Mr. Tran started to shed tears.
Now as soon as this starts to happen, my first thought was, “Welllllllll this is exactly the opposite of what I thought was going to happen.” And the way my mind works, even though I’m in the middle of this real serious conversation, I also thought about the irony and humor of the expectation versus the reality. This definitely wasn’t an Outback Steakhouse moment.
My next thought to myself was, “Duhhhh...of course Mr. Tran is going to get emotional. How could you not see this coming?”
My third thought needs context to understand. One time a couple years ago I came home, and Christina was on the couch all by herself just crying because she started thinking about how much she missed her late grandparents. At that time Christina commented, “Why am I so emotional?” because it was a sudden and random moment she was having. So to bring it back to this story, my third thought, while Mr. Tran is emotional and shedding tears, I think, “Ah man like father, like daughter.”
Proposal pics taken by Tiffany Tsai at the Austin Proper Hotel
Now don’t get it twisted. Just because all these thoughts were going through my head does NOT mean I didn’t take the situation or Mr. Tran’s words and feelings seriously. What he expressed to me came from a very real place, and I immediately understood what Christina’s marriage to me meant to Mr. Tran.
Through our conversation, I shared with Mr. Tran how Christina and I have cultivated a solid foundation upon which we can build a life together. How we’ve established actual processes and make time to have those difficult conversations, or to just check in with each other before small problems turn into big ones. Because of our foundation and through the processes we’ve established, it’s created a trust and confidence in our relationship that makes us feel like we can get through the inevitable troughs of marriage and life together.
By the end of our conversation, Mr. Tran said he was glad that Christina and I have each other, and to hear those words meant more to me than I can express.
~~~ •• ~~~
So fast forward to the next week. It’s Friday morning in Austin. Early morning - 4am. I wake up, and I can’t go back to sleep.
This was the big day. The plan was for me to propose while at the Blanton Museum on UT’s campus around noon. I (thought) I knew exactly where I wanted to pop the question, and I had already arranged for the photographer that I hired to be waiting there at the exhibit at just the right time.
But at 4 am, I wake up, and start having second thoughts. In the days preceding, I had been looking at pictures online of the Blanton trying to figure out where I should propose. One of the first places that pops up when you Google is the Stacked Waters wall in the main atrium. It’s a beautiful installation and space, but I had my doubts about it being the right space to capture the proposal. The space seemed vast and open, and in order for the pictures to look cool (in my opinion) you would need a wide shot, and that’s not what I was envisioning our proposal/engagement pictures to look like. I can’t lie - even though the priority was to make sure the moment was emotionally special, I was also thinking about how the space would look in pictures. I’m just so used to looking at spaces this way because hashtag #content.
So if not the Stacked Waters wall, where? I saw another picture online of what looked to be a really cool exhibit with dramatic lighting in the Latin American collection. In fact there was one picture specifically of another couple’s engagement by Caroline Robert that I saw and was my main inspiration for originally choosing the “How To Build A Cathedral” installation by Cildo Meireles.
This was the spot I told Tiffany, our photographer, to meet us at. This decision was made the night before (Thursday), while Christina and I were eating dinner at Comedor. I messaged Tiffany the spot, and she replied, “Ok, but just so you know the installation is made of cattle bones.”
At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t really care what the installation was made out of, it just looked cool to me. Also, keep in mind I know next to nothing about art, so at the time I was unaware that the piece represents the “complicit relationship between material power, spiritual power, and tragedy, while the black shroud and overhead lighting evoke ideas of life and death.”
Dude…...can you imagine if I proposed there?
Anyways, back to Friday, 4am. I’m in bed debating if the cattle bones is going to be an issue, and if that’s really the vibe I want in our proposal pics. I think to myself probably not. So then my mind goes back to the Stacked Waters wall. “But is it a vibe, though?” I ask myself. I can’t decide.
I then think about Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” building just outside of Blanton’s main building. At first it wasn’t really in consideration for me because I had seen so many people do their graduation pics in front of it, it seemed trite.
So here I am in bed, my mind going in circles. Cattle Bones? Water wall? Kelly Building? Cattle Bones? Water wall? Kelly Building? Round and round it goes, and I’m still undecided.
All the while, Christina is lying next to me sleeping. Not just sleeping...but passed TF out. The night before we had been drinking like we normally do while we’re on trips. We usually start with cocktails in the afternoon, that lead into pre-dinner drinks, which lead into during-dinner drinks, that then lead into post-dinner drinks.
What’s more (and I’m probably going to get in trouble for this), but after a night of drinking Christina tends to snore. So I’m lying there, trying to think about how to ask this woman to marry me. Meanwhile she has no idea it’s finally about to happen, and she’s passed out snoring. Again, the irony and humor of the situation isn’t lost on me as it’s happening.
Cattle Bones? Water wall? Kelly Building? Cattle Bones? Water wall? Kelly Building? It’s 5am now and I’m still undecided.
I decide to get up and go to the place where so many of my great ideas were born - the toilet. I just sit there, Googling random pictures of the Blanton exhibits, trying to envision how the pictures are going to turn out. I decide to do a little more research on Kelly’s “Austin” building, and upon doing so learn it was envisioned by the artist to be a place of contemplation and joy. I think to myself, “Yeah....‘joy’ seems like a more appropriate vibe than cattle bones.”
Kelly Building it is.
~~~ •• ~~~
It’s about 9:30 - 10:00am, and we’re getting ready for the day. As I’m getting ready I’m thinking to myself, “Yooo in about 2 hours it’s about to go down. Life is about to change forever.”
One of my biggest fears though, was that Christina was going to dress comfortably and be super casual in these proposal pics. When we’re not working or if we don’t have anywhere “nice” to be, both of us often dress down. And lately Christina’s uniform has been biker shorts, an oversized t-shirt, and sneakers. So I’m thinking to myself, “Man if I pop this question and we have pictures, and she’s in biker shorts, she’s not gonna be happy about that.”
I’m also wondering how I should dress. I know the pictures are coming, so of course I want to look a little fresh. But I can’t look clean if Christina looks super casual in her biker shorts. You can’t outshine the lady - that’s not a good look. And she would be upset about not being prepared for the pics. Also, if I get kind of dressed up, she’s probably going to ask why and think I’m acting weird / suspicious.
Luckily, Christina solves the problem for me. Later that evening we had an early 5:30p omakase dinner reservation at Otoko, so she suggests we get dressed up enough for dinner so that we don’t have to come back to the hotel. “Ah yeah, good idea,” I say to her, but in my mind I’m thinking, “Crisis averted.”
The next problem I have to solve is how I’m going to conceal and carry the ring until it’s time to pop the question. Man, ring boxes are such bulky cubes. You can’t put it in your pocket, it sticks out too much. You would think that since proposals are always planned as surprises, they would make engagement ring boxes that are slim and easily concealable in a normal pant pocket [side note: sounds like a business idea].
Photography by Tiffany Tsai
Anyways, when Christina pops into the bathroom I rush to get the ring out of my bag and into my fanny pack. The whole time I’m paranoid she’s gonna want to put her stuff in my fanny pack while we’re at the museum and then see the ring when she reaches to get her stuff back.
~~~ •• ~~~
We get to the museum and park at the Brazos Garage next to the Blanton. As we pull up the nostalgia of being back on campus starts to hit. As we walk to the museum I see the Jester East dormitory, where I lived my freshman year at UT.
I think to myself life is wild. I think back to all the time I spent on those grounds as a student, and never did I imagine I would end up proposing to my girlfriend on campus (much less next to Jester lol).
As we walk up to the Blanton, it’s about 11am, and before we get to the main entrance we pass by the Kelly “Austin” building. Seeing the Kelly installation was probably what Christina looked forward to the most, so as we walk by she goes “Oh look there it is.” I had told Tiffany the photographer we were planning on getting to the spot around 11:45ish, so if we went to the Kelly building first that would’ve messed everything up.
I try to play it off, and say to her, “Let’s check out the main museum first, and then we’ll go see it on the way out.” Fortunately I don’t think Christina thought anything of it.
We enter the Blanton and check out the museum. At one point we eventually get to Meireles’ “How To Build A Cathedral”, the spot where I was originally planning to pop the question. After we both read the placard explaining how the piece is made of cattle bones and meant to evoke life and death, Christina says, “Wow that’s dark.”
I’m thinking to myself, “Brooo….you almost done messed up thinking about proposing to her here.” Good thing I woke up in the middle of the night and changed the plan. Maybe it was divine intervention.
After visiting all the exhibits on the second floor of the main building, we start to make our way back down so that we can head to Kelly’s “Austin” building. The time is 11:33am, so we’re running ahead of schedule. As we walk down the stairs of the main atrium I see Tiffany the photographer in the lobby and we make eye contact for a second. Mind you, I have never ever met Tiffany in real life. I found her from a Google search and checking out her Instagram. So this is the first time I’m seeing her in person. I see her. She sees me. I know what’s about to happen. She knows what’s about to happen. Christina is walking next to me, and she has no idea what’s about to happen.
Christina says she wants to check out the gift shop area in the atrium to see if there are any souvenirs we should pick up. I’m thinking “This is perfect because we need to kill some time so Tiffany can get to the Kelly building.”
I also use this as an opportunity to hop into the bathroom. While I’m in there I open up my fanny pack to make sure the ring is still there. I not only look to see if the case is still there, but I actually open it up to make sure the ring is really there.
The ring is there. Tiffany messages me saying she’s in the Kelly building.
It’s go time.
~~~ •• ~~~
Christina and I make our way out of the main building and walk towards “Austin”. It’s not until we were directly in front of the building did I start to get nervous. And man, when it hit me, it hit me hard. My heart was pounding, and it literally felt like it was going to jump out of my chest.
We take our time before entering though. Christina is taking a few pics on her phone, and I take a selfie of us in front of the building trying to act like everything is normal.
Eventually we enter, and to my surprise no one else was in there besides Tiffany and one Blanton employee. It was really quiet, so much so that I think it made Christina feel awkward. Me, on the other hand, was kind of relieved that we basically had the whole building to ourselves. Again, thinking about the pictures, I was glad I didn’t have to worry about strangers getting in the shot or having to time the proposal to avoid that.
As we’re walking through the building, Christina is taking pics on her phone of the art. She makes her way to eastern part of the structure, directly in front of the circle of square window panes. At this point I’m thinking, “Is it too soon? Should I do it? Should I wait?” We had been in the building for what felt like 2-3 minutes, and we hadn’t observed all the art or really taken in the space yet. But eventually I tell myself, “Eff it man, just do it, she’s standing in the perfect spot.”
Christina and I have this half-joke where we always ask each other, “Should we get married here?” whenever we’re in a beautiful, vibey spot. So I ask her, “Should we get married here?” She replies, “What? No...it’s too small.”
I then say to her, “Should we get engaged here?” as I start to put down the phone tripod I had been carrying around before meeting her in the middle where she’s standing.
Christina asks, “Wait, what?”
(I think) I repeat myself and say, “We’ll get engaged here.”
At this point I’m trying to get the ring out of the fanny pack, but I’m fumbling. I’m nervous, the zipper isn’t opening properly, and I’m having a hard time getting the ring case out of the interior pocket in which I had it.
I finally get the ring case out, so I take off the fanny pack and place it off to the side. Again, I know the pictures are coming, and we can’t have the fanny pack in the shot!
I walk back to meet Christina in the middle. Before saying anything, I start to take off my mask so that I can say the simple speech I had prepared to say. But as soon as I start to take off the mask…
“Sir, please keep your mask on,” says the Blanton employee.
How romantic. Nothing helps keep the vibe right like someone reminding you to keep your mask on. Mind you, no one else was in the building besides the people I mentioned earlier, and no one was within 15 feet of Christina and me. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to make a fuss about it like one of those anti-maskers, so I happily obliged.
“My love,” I continued (with my mask), “I love you forever. I’ll give you love energy** forever…..”
...I get down on one knee, open up the ring case…
“Will you make me the happiest man... will you marry me?”
[**Context: “Love energy” is an inside joke adapted from Gary Keller’s 5 Step Energy Plan that he writes about in his books. Inside of Christina’s ring I had “Love Energy ∞” engraved.]
At this point Christina is freaking out. She’s crying, saying “Oh my God, oh my God.” When she says, “Yes,” I excitedly stand up.
Then she goes, “Are you going to put the ring on?”
I was so nervous and excited and there was much emotion going on, I forgot to put the ring on her finger. So after Christina reminds me to put the ring on, I take it out of the case and my hands are shaking so bad I could barely get it on.
But eventually I get the ring on her finger, and she gives me one of the biggest embraces she’s ever given me.
And just like that...we’re engaged.
~~~ •• ~~~
You know, the way the day played out was literally perfect. And so many little things had to fall in place exactly the right way in order for it to happen the way that it did. When Christina told me it was perfect, it just made me so happy. There’s no other way to put it.
Your boy got himself a fiancee…and I can’t wait until she becomes my wife.
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