Fortunately, she said YES.
We're engaged! After five years and our share of ups and downs, we are finally going to get married!
(Yes, I know the first question you probably have now is, "When!?" The answer is we're looking at February or July 2011. Possibly May, but not likely. We'll keep you posted, trust me.)
I'm guessing the second question is, "How did you propose???"
Well, here's the story. For your reading pleasure, and our future kiddos, I give you: The Great Engagement Caper
Stephanie thought I couldn't surprise her. She knows I'm a terrible liar and believed as a result that I was incapable of keeping a secret from her.
I took that as a personal challenge to prove her wrong. And with help from her best friend, Annie, along with Steph's parents and a few other close friends, we conducted the ultimate shock and awe campaign.
First, the set-up. Our first date was near Laguna Beach, at a restaurant called The Beach House. Our first kiss was on Forest Street, just a couple blocks away. As a result, I wanted to propose where it all started. To do that though, I needed an excuse to get Stephanie down to Orange County without her suspecting anything. Fortunately, she had family in town from Fresno and Hawaii, so that made yesterday an ideal opportunity.
Since Steph had a feeling I'd pick Orange County as the proposal site, I needed a secondary story to keep her guessing. That's where Annie came in. She and her husband of five months, David, married at the St. Regis Hotel in Lagnua Niguel. So Annie and I made up a story that she and David were commemorating their marriage vows a little early at the hotel, and since we were down in the OC that she'd love to meet us for a celebratory drink.
Steph bought it without any hesitation.
The trap had been sprung.
The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel is across the street from the St. Regis on Pacific Coast Highway. The St. Regis is on the left side of the road, and Ritz is on the right. Instead of turning left into the St. Regis to meet Annie and David, we'd veer right, check in, and arrive to an ocean-view room decorated with rose petals, chilled champagne (thanks TJ!), and chocolate-covered strawberries. Then, I'd pull the pouch out of my pocket with the ring, and propose.
The tertiary story was the ring itself. I bought it on March 14, and the jeweler told Steph and I it would be ready in a few weeks. I tried to confuse Steph about the exact pick-up date so she wouldn't be expecting a proposal within a certain timeframe. She didn't really accept that premise but it clouded the situation enough to help me distract her a bit. All that mattered was that Steph wasn't expecting a proposal last night.
The truth is that I've had the ring since this past Monday, but it was ready three days after I bought it (thank you, Mr. Gabay!). This is notable since Steph kept warning me not to keep the ring anywhere near my home since she would sniff it out. Of course, I knew she wouldn't sniff in my gym bag at the foot of my bed, which is exactly where the ring and the wedding band hid for an entire week, including days where Steph stayed home from work since she got sick.
Guess her nose was clogged.
Anyways, back to the Great Engagement Caper story. Yesterday's events started perfectly. Annie, with the help of Steph's roommate Lucy, packed an overnight bag for Steph and gave it to me at 11:30 a.m., on my way to a conveniently scheduled haircut. After a few hours apart to run errands, I picked Steph up at 4 p.m. from her apartment, complete with my overnight bag to stay at Steph's in Los Angeles. See, she thought we were coming back to LA after the family outing, her friend Lauren's housewarming party and we were supposed to have drinks at a new rum bar in downtown LA after that. Annie threw her the St. Regis curveball though. Still, to keep the ruse in place, I had to bring a dinner jacket for the rum bar we weren't going to check out and hiking clothes for the Sunday hike we weren't going to embark upon.
Lots of bases to cover!
We made it to Steph's grandmother's home ("Oma" in Dutch, which along with Indonesian is Steph's family background) on time for a fantastic afternoon barbecue. There were several members of Steph's family present, including Emily, perhaps the most adorable little 4 3/4-year-old girl I've ever met. And she plays one mean game of Rock Band on her own iPod Touch, no less. Emily shredded on a 42-note streak to a Foo Fighters song.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of gaming.
The hours quickly melted away at Oma's and I realized there was no way we were going to leave by 7:45 to make Lauren's housewarming party. I whispered in Steph's ear that she should tell Lauren she can't make it and to reschedule her visit if we wanted to meet up with Annie and David still. Reluctantly, Steph agreed.
Eventually, we left Oma's around 9:10 p.m. after another 30-minute extension. Considering I had the hotel booked five hours prior and the ice and chocolate were being set-up in the room at 9, I was getting antsy. As we sped towards Laguna, Steph still had no idea what was about to transpire. This was confirmed by her attitude when I exited the 73 Toll Road at El Toro Road instead of taking the tollway longer to make up time.
"You're going the wrong way! We're going to be another 25 minutes late now. I can't believe you're going this way. This is so far out of the way"
Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy!
Of course, there was a method to my madness. I wanted to take the long way so we could drive by The Beach House, drive by the site of our first kiss and generally stroll down memory lane.
Steph texted Annie that we were going to be late and huffed. Of course, Annie immediately texted back telling Steph not to worry, that David and her were having a fabulous time and not to rush. What a surprise.
Then, momentum turned in my favor. We drove by our special sites, Steph relaxed and we cruised towards two separate destinations: The one in Steph's head and the actual goal. As we approached both hotels, I switched my iPod from shuffle mode to a special mix of our favorite songs (see, '80s style tape mixes aren't dead after all!). I knew I had two songs before she'd catch on that it was a music mix and not just a coincidental quirk. The first song was "Married Life", the signature song from Pixar's UP, and the second was "The Luckiest," by Ben Folds. Steph lightly protested when the second song came on, calling b.s. that the iPod could possibly match both songs back-to-back. I kept my cool though, promising I had nothing to do with the anomoly and to just enjoy it. She relented.
Before the song even ended though, we had arrived at our destination(s). As we approached, I slowly veered right.
Steph: "Honey, the St. Regis is to the left." "Babe, you're going the wrong way." "Babe! The left!"
I turned gently on to Ritz Carlton Drive.
Ryan: "Change of plans, babe."
What ensued for the next 10-15 minutes was a jubilee of shock, denial, joy and shouting.
We glided in to the Ritz valet and Steph simply couldn't believe we were checking in. "I don't even have an overnight bag!" she exclaimed.
My favorite line of the night, what I had been waiting to utter more than any other besides, "Marry me":
"Gotcha covered. And you thought I couldn't surprise you, eh?"
Steph staggered behind me as she followed to our room, Number 4514. I think she was murmuring something about not believing I could pull off such an act for so long, but it was jumbled by her own shrieks of joy and excitement. We opened the door to the room. She saw the elaborate set-up.
I pulled the pouch from my pants pocket, no longer having to feel like Frodo.
Hands shaking, I produced the ring, reminded myself to get on one knee and said:
"I love you. Be my wife. Marry me."
I always figured Steph would cry and not even be able to get a "Yes" out of her mouth. That was kind of true, but it was because of shock, not just the emotion of the situation.
Of course, Steph managed to find a way to say yes. We spent an hour talking about all the details of the Great Engagement Caper, including how I raced down to Irvine this past Tuesday evening to meet with her parents to formally ask their permission. I had told her that I was attending a Fortius team yoga session and belated birthday dinner for Coach Gerardo. She bought that too, though Steph today admitted she had a fleeting feeling on Thursday that I was indeed with her family. She quickly put it out of her head though after remembering that I brought my yoga mat and clothes into the house.
We've been celebrating ever since. Twenty-four hours of celebrating, literally. Breakfast in the hotel room on the balcony overlooking the Pacific. Enjoying the hotel pool. Brunch at The Beach House. Hunting for the exact spot of our first kiss (and debating about it). Dining with Steph's parents at their favorite family restaurant.
And now, 24 hours later, home.
As an engaged couple. The first day of a new life together. With all new adventures to come.
I can't wait.
And tomorrow begins my re-emergence into Ironman training. I can't wait for that either.
In some ways all this feels like a triathlon on its own. I'm transitioning from one big phase of my life to another. It's exciting, a little hectic and really just a big blur. You can plan all you want, but come race day, you just have to go with the flow a little and hope for the best. And, if you're lucky, everything works out perfectly, like it did last night.
I completed a massive sprint after a long marathon, and am now looking ahead to the next big event.
Marriage. The ultimate Ironman.
240 days and counting.