Chris and Ashley: Proposal Story

By: Chris O’Brien and Ashley Burns

A proposal is a monster to plan.

First comes the ring. I was lucky enough to have Jason Jenkins meet with Ashley, talk about what she wanted in a ring and proceed to build her the perfect creation. All I had to do was keep my Cheetoey fingers away until the big day.

Not that easy. For those who haven’t proposed yet, I advise keeping the time between picking up the ring and proposal date to as few days as possible. Actually, keep it to a few hours. I had two weeks. I think after three I would have lost my mind.

Nothing will bring out the paranoia faster in a man than having an engagement ring hidden in your apartment. I couldn’t hide it in too smart of a spot because then I’d run the risk of forgetting where I put it. I couldn’t use a safe because 2:1 odds I’d forget the combination. I’m the kind of guy who could find a way to lose the ring if it were hidden in my pocket.

The top drawer of my dresser, right by my bed, ended up being the top secret location. Every night I would open up the box, make sure it was still there and go to sleep hoping those hooded horsemen from Lord of the Rings weren’t making a late night appearance.

Then came the actual proposal plan. For those who know Ashley, either now or at Hope, you’ll understand that finding a gap in her schedule is on par with trying to set up a meeting with Barack Obama. She works at Lululemon for 30+ hours, dances for Inaside, teaches dance, teaches dance again, and puts in four or five hours of sleep. She lives in the suburbs. I live in the city. If she comes over, the time it takes to park on the street can range from 10 to 30 minutes.

A time specific plan seemed impossible to pull off. To combat this, I decided I would make a photo slideshow highlighting the top 100 moments of our relationship. I’d put some music to it, show her the movie, propose at the end. Seemed good on paper.

Now it’s time to schedule the event. From what I’ve learned watching movies, the proposal needs to be somewhat of a surprise. Well, surprise and Ashley’s schedule do not mix. What you are about to read will probably be the least romantic paragraph in proposal history.

Ashley knew that the ring had been built. She knew that I would either have to drive to Midland to get the ring or Jenkins would have to come to Chicago. Meaning, it’s safe to say that when I went on a trip to Bowling Green to meet up with all the guys, including Jenkins, she almost certainly knew I had come back with a ring. Which then means she knew that any specific hangouts could be the potential night. Knowing it was coming and knowing how difficult scheduling a night would be for me, Ashley went a step further and gave me the password to her Gmail. With this password, I went in to her calendar and put two blocks of ‘Chris Time.’ This gave enough of a suspense element. The proposal could be Wednesday night. It could be Friday night.

Then came the, “I don’t like this plan anymore” meltdown. Photo slideshow didn’t seem big enough. A proposal is the moment a girl shares for the rest of her life. I started feeling like mine was the, “Hey, I made you a mix CD” proposal plan equivalent. For days I experienced a sort of writer’s block and could not come up with anything.

On a drive to work, the final idea hit me all at once. I would use the photo slideshow, but it would be a decoy. The whole proposal would be a series of built in decoys. Yeah, decoys, alright, good, we’re getting somewhere. I would invite her over and cook a steak dinner. She might think it was coming then, but no, sometime before or after I would have her watch the photo slideshow. At the No. 1 of the Top 100 moments, the text on the screen would be to check the closet. Opens closet, hanging there is a dress, the dress she bought in Kansas City for graduation. Good, sentimental stuff, all sounds good. But think bigger. Bigger. Alright, got it, so taxi shows up shortly after she puts on dress and takes us to a romantic fondue place. She thinks it’s going to happen there, but it doesn’t. We come back and, unbeknownst to her, my roommate will have set up candles and rose pedals in my room. Open door, drop to a knee, pop the question.

I looked up and I had missed my exit by about five miles.

The paranoia of the nightly ring check spills over to the proposal planning. You share the proposal idea to a cousin or Ashley’s best friend and they say, “It sounds great, but what if she hasn’t shaved her legs?” I didn’t even think about that part. How do I address that? “Hey Ashley, can you come over tomorrow night, and this is a normal hang out not like a proposal or anything. Oh by the way, make sure to shave your legs.” I wanted to get real candles, but I have wooden floors. In came the slightly irrational fears of either smoke alarm going off or apartment catching on fire. It’s hard to successfully ask someone to marry you when you have burnt down your place minutes before.

Sure, things could go wrong, but I believed in the plan. I believed in the plan when some random guy outside and I couldn’t figure out how to get the big gas grills to work. I believed in the plan when I rushed upstairs, Googled how to cook steaks in the oven, scrambled, luckily found a broiling pan and popped them in. I believed when I had to try and figure out do I show the slideshow now or after dinner.

Once the steaks were cooking, the slideshow was playing and somewhere the taxi was getting ready to head over, I could relax. Well, not relax, but at least feel like everything was set in motion.

About midway through the slideshow, Ashley was starting to cry.  I had underestimated the power of the slideshow. Inside my head was in panic. I feel like once you get tears you should drop to the knee. But the plan! I couldn’t abandon the plan! Somewhere in my brain the decision was made to just hold her and not reach for the ring.

– From here on out we hop inside Ashley’s head 

This is Ashley finishing up. At the end of the slideshow it read, “Will you….”. I’m thinking, “No way! This is not happening right now! I’m not ready. I can’t read the rest of the sentence with the tears in my eyes anyways.” The sentence finished with, “Dance With Me.” Oh gosh, ok. So I got up and we danced as he held me and I collected myself. I thought this was a nice decoy and now we will have steak dinner. Then he pulls the “Look in the closet” line. I’m like, “No, I don’t want to look in the closet. What’s in the closet?” He repeats for me to look in the closet. It was a dress I wore at graduation and bought in Kansas City. I put it on to play the game.

We have dinner and I’m told a taxi was coming in 20 minutes. I finish getting ready, excited to see where we were going on a Wednesday night. It ended up being the most romantic little place, Geja Cafe on Armitage. It was perfect: quaint, live guitar music right in front of us, cheese flight, wine, and chocolate fondu place. About 10 minutes into being seated I wasn’t engaging in any conversation. I was waiting. Being the patient person that I am, I flat out asked him if there was something in his pocket. He said no as he patted at his pants pocket. I should have known with English Chris I needed to be more specific in my use of words. “Is there anything in your coat pockets?” He replied that if there were something in his pockets he would have probably lost it. Fair. So I gave up thinking it was going to be that night. I had Friday to look forward to and this night to enjoy. It was a great time. For those of you who know I’m allergic to raw fruit and going to a chocolate fondue place, I caved and had half a strawberry and one bite of banana. Thankfully no allergic reaction. Phew.

We took a taxi back to Chris’ place. I asked if he wanted to take a walk or watch a movie to finish off the night. He casually said, “We’d figure it out.” As we walked into his place, to my honest surprise, there were rose petals and (battery-powered) candles with a picture of us from my 21st birthday. There were so many decoys I didn’t know if this was going to actually be it or not until he got down on his knee and grabbed the box. My first response was, “This is real!”, then “Mhmmm”, then “Yes!”. It was a writer’s storybook proposal made a reality complete with suspense, romance, and all.

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