The Proposal

Her Version

So to start off with, I should tell you that I had a feeling the proposal could happen on our aquarium day. That isn’t remarkable, though, because I had convinced myself that it was going to happen on a previous date, too. I decided I would dress and primp just in case, but I tried not to get my hopes up. We got there, took our picture, and sat down for the dolphin show. The show was… fascinating. The singing/acting was a little awkward, but the dolphins were adorable!! When we finally got out of there, we were off to explore the aquarium. David was so calm and we just kept walking around… I was sure that it wasn’t going to happen at this point. “Great… I did it again. I got all excited over nothing.”

So I decided to relax and enjoy the day. David mentioned that he had called the aquarium to ask how long the show was and he was told that everyone goes to the 4pm show, meaning that the aquarium would clear out around then. I thought this was an odd tidbit, but I shrugged it off. We continued to go through the aquarium enjoying the atmosphere and each other’s company. We took a little break to sit near the otters. They were awake and energetic!! I was so excited!! It was already shaping up to be a perfect day. We made our way through half of the aquarium, and we skipped over Ocean Voyager to go on to the next section. David said something about the timing… and I was confused on why in the world timing mattered… but once again, I shrugged it off.

As we entered Ocean Voyager, I was already thinking about the planned Coke Museum follow-up visit. As we walked, I saw a man in front of us wearing what I remember to be a green-striped polo (even though it was actually blue). I didn’t think anything of it, but I felt David yank on my hand and pull me to a fish tank. I suddenly felt bad for walking so quickly by the fish, but I didn’t think there was anything all that interesting in this tank… but… ok, I guess David REALLY wanted to see it. We then walked toward the tunnel that I had forgotten was there. I turned and saw the same man from earlier standing in a dark corner facing the wall. That struck me as weird, and I turned to look down the tunnel. I made eye-contact with Jennifer. I thought that was a funny coincidence, but she quickly ran away instead of coming to say hello. David and I stood there a while, and I was beginning to wonder what was going on. We bypassed the moving sidewalk and went into the tunnel.

The first thing I saw was a vase of roses on the ground, and it hadn’t yet occurred to me that they were for me. We got a little further, and I saw the picture board (you’ll hear more about the picture board in David’s version of the story). At this point, it was beginning to come together. I could see that there were words written on the back of the photos, but I had forgotten how to read. My face was numb. David got the hint and started reading them to me, whispering them in my ear. Then he got down on one knee and asked me the question I have been waiting to hear my entire life. My initial response (which, luckily, nobody heard) was, “Yeeahh…” and then I caught myself and replied a second time, “Yes.”

We kissed about a thousand times, hugged, and I tried by best to keep my emotions in check. Everyone that saw the proposal applauded and it was a big, beautiful moment. I turned around and saw Mr. Joyner and Sunira (though, it took me a few seconds to realize who she was), and soon after I saw Mrs. Joyner. I loved standing there enjoying our moment. After pictures and hugs and laughter, we moved on to finish up our aquarium visit. We went around the corner, and I called my parents. This was when the tears refused to be held in. We finished walking through the aquarium and decided to skip the Coke Museum. We made our way to the car through the rain, and met up with Michael later that night. We celebrated together at Fado, the place we went on the night we got reacquainted.


His Version

Needless to say, Caitlin saw about the last 5 minutes of my proposal plan. But in reality, this plan stretched back almost a year, to July 2010.

As cheesy as it sounds, I knew really early on that Caitlin was the girl I wanted to marry. When I think back on it, it only took a couple dates for us to feel like we were a unit that really belonged together. We’d only been officially dating for a couple weeks when I left town for the better part of two weeks, and it was during those trips that I really realized I’d found someone amazingly special. When I came back, we started talking about the future, and I knew for certain I wanted her to be a part of it. That’s when my proposal plan started. It took a year of preparation, a couple weeks of planning, and one day of detailed execution to carry it all out.


Preparation, Part A: The Picture Board

In concept, the plan was simple. I wanted for there to be some way in which she would have the proposal in her possession for months and months before actually realizing she had it. I didn’t want to just hide it in a picture frame or insert random words into emails and Facebook messages; I wanted it to be something she’d see, though it would take months to understand its significance. So, I hatched a plan. That month, I bought a black-framed cork board and started printing photos of many of our particularly memorable dates; her birthday at Berry College and the 4th of July fireworks at Phipps were the first two. On the back of each photo, I wrote a note, either about what we did that day or what I was thinking about us and our futures together at that moment. I gave her the photo board and photos shortly thereafter, and she read the notes.

What made the plan a bit deeper, though, is that before writing any notes, I had already composed the text of a short pre-proposal speech. Nothing long, just a few words about how special she was to me. The trick, however, was that each line of that pre-proposal speech then became the first line on one of these photos. For example, part of the proposal reads, “I’ve never met / anyone else with whom / I click the way / I do with you”; one of the individual photo’s notes, then, reads “Anyone else with whom / I visit the aquarium…” If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry — there’ll be a picture later in the story.

One by one over the next 12 months, I printed pictures of our memorable dates and days: picking pumpkins in Dawsonville, visiting Santa at Callaway Gardens, decorating Christmas trees at both her house and mine, my birthday surprise party, Valentine’s Day, and several others. On each of the 17 photos, I wrote a note that began with one line of the proposal, and one by one, the photos were added to the board.


Preparation, Part B: The Final Picture

That was only Part A, though. Part B came to mind later. I’m not sure what brought the idea to mind, but I decided that in some way, I wanted the final photo for the board to be a photo taken on the day I proposed, without her knowing that I would be proposing later in the day. On that photo, ‘Will you marry me?’ would be written on the back, allowing me to present her with a photo of herself, taken on that very day, mere hours before, while miraculously having something from me written on the back despite me being with her the entire time.

I went through a lot of ideas for that part of the plan. I figured I’d have my friend, Sunira, hiding in the bushes to take a picture of us early on the date, then run off to a photo printer and print the picture onto a sheet of photo paper onto which I’d already written the question. Deciding on a way to get that photo, though, became a key part of Part C.


Preparation, Part C: The Location

Part C, in a nutshell, was the location. I needed a plan with room to set up the photo board, a picturesque and romantic backdrop, and a way there could be space to have a photo taken secretly at the beginning of the date… or, as it turned out, a completely normal excuse to have a photo taken at the beginning of the date. Also important was that it had to be an occasion for which I knew she would dress up; I knew she’d want to be made up and dressed up, and I wanted to make sure whatever we were doing would encourage that. Initially, my plan had been a play in downtown Lawrenceville or another quaint town square area; the picture would be taken before the play as we walked in, and the proposal would be outside afterward. After that, I momentarily pondered proposing at one of the churches she had in mind for the eventual ceremony.

But then one day, about a month before the proposal, the ideal location hit me: the Georgia Aquarium. Caitlin and I had specifically talked about wanting to go back to the aquarium and get a better picture taken, and to take our time wandering through it since we’d been rushed the first time. It would definitely be an event that she would get dressed up for, given that we were going with the specific plan to have a nice picture taken. I was optimistic there’d be a place to set up the photo board somewhere, and surely the Georgia Aquarium could provide a picturesque background somewhere.

I contacted a representative at the Georgia Aquarium to ask for their assistance in choosing a romantic and picturesque spot and somehow quartering it off just for a small period of time; I received a response that they have a program that “allows a diver to enter our Ocean Voyager exhibit with a sign that asks your girlfriend to marry you.” When I mentioned that was not exactly what I had in mind, I was told they would be unable to help with any other plan whatsoever. So, we were on our own to find a nice place.


The Planning

Planning the actual proposal day began in late May. My accomplice, Jennifer, and I went to the aquarium one Thursday afternoon with the express purpose of scouting out potential proposal spots. The requirements: a picturesque area, feasible to clear out for a short period of time, with places for accomplice photographers and videographers to hide. We found two: the back-up plan would be on the balcony above the aquarium, where the line for the 3D theater forms. The 3D theater’s shows start every half hour, so after that, the area is virtually empty.

However, the more ideal plan would be in the tunnel. If you’ve never seen the Georgia Aquarium tunnel, it’s a walkway where the fish aquarium stretches out overhead all around you. It can be seen in this picture:

Needless to say, that was far, far more picturesque. The challenge would be clearing the tunnel, but on the day Jennifer and I visited, the tunnel was nearly empty. I was still a bit skeptical, but Jennifer insisted it could be cleared, and the tunnel would most certainly make the most picturesque location any of us could imagine.

Initially, I had planned to propose the week of June 6th. However, a vicious stomach flu sidelined me the previous week and prevented me from completing the most important part of any proposal (especially in the South!): asking for her father’s blessing. So, the week of June 6th was out, and Jennifer was out of town the week of June 13th, so that was out as well. I tentatively planned on the week of June 20th.

It’s important to note at this point that Caitlin and I have had a date for our wedding in mind for a long time (which is part of the reason I wasn’t exactly worried about her saying yes when I proposed — if we already had a wedding date in mind, chances are she’d said yes at the proposal). That date, as the text above mentions, is November 3rd, 2012. We’ve been counting down to that day for a long time.

It was June 17th when Caitlin texted me celebrating “505!”, meaning 505 days until the wedding. That’s when it clicked: the following Wednesday would be 500 days until the wedding. Even ignoring the fact that 500 Days of Summer is one of our favorite movies, the idea of proposing 500 days early was too romantic to pass up. Plus, fortunately, we both have a history of enjoying celebrating random milestones, and so when I texted suggesting we celebrate hitting 500 days, I’m sure she wasn’t the least bit surprised. “How should we celebrate?” she asked. “How about the aquarium?” I replied. She agreed.

Fortunately, I’d already planned to meet with her father, her mother, and her brothers that Saturday, so in a whirlwind tour of her immediate family I let everyone know my plans, and fortunately no one tried to strangle me. I can only pray I am so understanding when eventually some young hoodlum wants to take my precious baby daughter away from me.

Jennifer, my parents and I met one final time on the night of June 19th to devise final plans. Jennifer would clear the tunnel and set up the picture board, as well as purchase the picture Caitlin and I took at the front stand ad affix to the back of it my hand-written “Will you marry me?”. My parents would take pictures and videos of the event. Sunira would tail us throughout the aquarium and keep them posted on where we were, and also snap some candids whenever possible (and if you’ve checked out the proposal gallery, you know that those candids were amazing). Caitlin and I would see the dolphin show at 2PM, giving everyone else a chance to arrive and get in position while we were inside.

I bought everyone’s tickets in advance the next day and passed them around. Jennifer came by and picked up the photo board, with the pictures already rearranged to show the first line of each note in the right order, as well as an easel. Everything seemed to fall into place: we had an occasion for which dressing up was absolutely expected; we had tickets that were specific to a certain time, ensuring everything had to happen according to schedule; we had a picture to be taken under completely normal circumstances; and, most importantly, Caitlin got the best manicure of her life the day before. A perfect day for a ring.

Now, I was still as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs; I barely slept or ate for a week before the proposal. But finally, the day arrived.


The Proposal

After spending far too much time describing the plan, there’s almost very little I can say about the proposal itself. For the most part, it went according to plan. Caitlin and I arrived shortly before 2PM and went straight to the dolphin show (which I, unfortunately, cannot recommend — about 8 minutes of dolphins intermingled with 22 minutes of bad acting and indecipherable singing). During that time, my parents, Jennifer, and Sunira all arrived. I texted Jennifer the ID number for our photo so she could purchase them, and we both observed that the aquarium was very busy that day — much busier than when we had scouted it out. Initially we planned on the balcony, but a kind employee offered to help her with the tunnel.

Exiting the dolphin show, I saw Sunira, and momentarily worried that Caitlin had seen her, too. Caitlin and Sunira have never met, but they’ve tangentially interacted on Facebook. Fortunately, though, Caitlin didn’t notice her, and Sunira started following us into the Georgia Explorer exhibit. Following us couldn’t have been easy; I was usually aware of where Sunira was, but we moved fairly quickly. She did a great job, though, of pretending to be just any other aquarium-goer, and I’m sure she got some great photos of the fish in the aquarium. And she got some incredible candids, too:


We moved through Georgia Explorer and on to the River Scout exhibit, where we stopped to watch the otters for a good 30 minutes. They’re my favorite, and this was the first time we’d ever actually seen them awake and playing. Sunira, meanwhile, took up shop across the otter exhibit from us and grabbed some shots of us through the crowd. My favorite:

From there, we finally moved on and walked through Coldwater Quest, spending plenty of time with the ocean otters as well. Afterward, I made a terrible excuse to skip Ocean Voyager (home of the tunnel) in favor of Tropical Diver, with the real reason being that Jennifer and my parents were planning on us aiming for shortly after 4PM. We strolled through Tropical Diver, then moved toward Ocean Voyager.

As we approached the tunnel, I suddenly jerked back on Caitlin’s hand — my parents were standing there. Sunira had texted Jennifer that we were en route in plenty of time, but the text got delayed up in the cloud, and it was only about 30 seconds from when she received the text to when we arrived. My parents quickly ducked out of sight, and while Caitlin thought she’d seen someone, she wasn’t quite certain. My sudden stop was far more uncharacteristic. I pretended I really, really, really wanted to see a fish that was swimming by.

I was thrown off by the fact that there was still a large crowd of people in the tunnel. I half-panicked. My biggest worry was that we wouldn’t have any privacy for the proposal, but finally I decided that standing awkwardly at the entrance of the tunnel for 5 minutes waiting for a gap would be worse than the crowd, so finally, we entered. Jennifer didn’t know we were there, but she dashed out of the way real quick — and really, Caitlin was going to know I was proposing 10 seconds later, so it didn’t really matter.

The photo board was set up along the side of the walkway. There were people on the moving walkway that moves through the tunnel, but the walking area was empty. I took Caitlin’s hand and led her to the photo board, and I heard her say, “Oh, this is…” You know that moment when you see something you recognize, but it takes you a moment to process it because of how out-of-place it is? This was that moment. I think that was the moment she realized what was really happening (though of course, she can give her side of the story later :) ). The picture board, sitting in the tunnel, read:

“I think I’ve known for a long time
You’re the only one for me.
Somehow I knew
we’d be great even
before we were together,
Though I never could’ve imagined
we would be this good.

I’ve never met
Anyone else with whom
I click the way
I do with you.

The first night we re-met,
I felt like I’d known you
for my entire life.

I want to spend
the rest of my life
with you.
I love you so much.”


We stared at it for a few moments before I leaned over and whispered the text to her, line by line. When I reached the end, I’d forgotten about the aquarium photo; I got down on one knee, pulled the ring out of my pocket, and proposed. She, needless to say, said yes. The crowd applauded.

The most remarkable thing about the whole proposal, I think, is that it went perfectly: my plan wasn’t perfect, though. But somehow, the things that didn’t go according to plan went better than the plan. I didn’t want an audience, but she loved the applause. I didn’t want people to rush up and congratulate us immediately afterward, but that somehow sealed the moment. 95% of my the plan went exactly as it was laid out, but the 5% that was different actually made the proposal much, much better. She loved it.