“Meet me outside of the St. Regis Hotel.”
Ryan and I had started a new ritual this past month. We selected three date nights: One would be cheap, the second meal an average price, and the last date more expensive than a typical night out. He would pay for the first set of three, and I the next. For added effect, Ryan never told me where we were going ahead of time. It had been enjoyable to both plan and attend these well-researched New York City dates.
May 13th was the last meal in his round. I’d worn a dress and heels—he, a gray suit to comply with the restaurant’s dress code. Both of us carried umbrellas as we walked down Park Avenue in the remnants of a light mist.
Ryan led us toward the entrance of Aquavit, a Scandinavian eatery with two Michelin Stars and a respected chef’s tasting menu. The three-hour dining experience had us sampling nine courses of delights like king crab, black bass, venison tartar, and buttery caviar. While it’s true that some of my most beloved dishes still come from Taco Bell, this was indeed a culinary treat.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, a dinner of a different sort was taking place. It was undoubtedly much louder and filled with excited, jittery conversation. I can only hypothesize what it was like waiting, waiting, waiting.
Flashback to Manhattan.
“Shall we subway, or cab?” I ask Ryan as he walked out of the restroom.
“Let’s take a cab. I don’t want to get on the subway after a meal like this,” he said with a grin.
Before our date, Ryan had told me he wanted to give me a “dorky” gift. “Oh. Should I get you one?” was my first response. He laughed a "no," and assured me he'd just found something sentimental while cleaning his apartment. When we exited the taxi he reminded me of said “dorky” gift.
“Don’t open it yet!” He briskly walked into the bathroom. It seemed he needed to use the facilities one more time. I giggled and eyed the tower of three red boxes sitting on his kitchen table. Ryan’s elegant dinner had already exceeded my expectations for the evening. Perhaps, I needed to reevaluate my three date selections…
“OK, you can open them now,” he said, standing beside me as I popped the first lid. He began to explain what the gift was, but I already knew. The cork from our first bottle of wine lay resting in the box—I couldn’t believe he’d kept it for two and a half years. Ryan loses his keys seasonally, but he’d never misplaced this small token from our early days together.
I thought back to the night we opened that bottle of wine. It was his birthday, but he’d just moved from Chicago and hadn’t made any plans. For some reason when he texted me this, I felt unreasonably sad about not being with him. We’d only gone on one date, but shouldn’t every novice New Yorker have someone to celebrate life with? The answer is yes, always yes. So I left my work event early, grabbed a bottle of wine, and hopped a train to Brooklyn. When the subway car crossed over the Manhattan Bridge, I could see all the twinkling lights of our city and for a moment I considered if I was being too brash. But then I smiled to myself, and decided I was simply being adventurous.
I opened the next box.
It was a paper fortune from our first date at the Mermaid Inn. I remembered that evening well: Ryan asked if I wanted to split one of the specials. Of course, I said. I’d been so nervous before our rendezvous I hadn’t eaten a thing. So, assuming it was the main meal that we were sharing, I hungrily consumed 70%* of the dish and then stared at him, wide-eyed, when he asked me what I wanted for my main entrée. I explained the confusion—boys never ordered me appetizers!—and somewhat sheepishly boxed up most of my dinner. Which, I then ate on the subway platform, like the classy broad that I am.
It’s worth noting that the fortune predicted I was in love.
In the last box, there was a receipt from the night Ryan asked me out. We had been on a margarita crawl for a friend’s birthday. The final stop was El Camion, our crew’s Mexican home base and all around favorite hang during those East Village years. At one point in the evening, Betsy and I were talking to Ryan. He was explaining how he liked to cook, doesn’t mind laundry, and would make a great stay-at-home dad. I leaned over and said, “Marry me!” in jest.
“What?” he said.
“Ha, nothing,” I responded, now slightly embarrassed. Betsy was giving me a perplexed face and nervously stirring her drink with a straw.
“No, I couldn’t hear you over the music,” Ryan pressed.
“Er... I said ‘marry me!’”
Let if be known, he asked me out on our first date within 10 minutes of my margarita-infused outburst.
“Thank you for these gifts, Ryan!” I said, hugging him from my seat. I held the little wine cork between my fingers, adoring the tangible relics of our past. It was now difficult to think of a New York without him in it.
“I have on more present,” he said, pulling out a small black box.
“Oh my gosh,” I pressed both hands to my cheeks like the kid from “Home Alone.”
He got down on one knee.
“Is this happening?!” I asked.
“Yes. Britney, you’re my best friend…”
“Is this HAPPENING?!”
“Yes,” he smiled. “You’re my best friend and I love you.”
Then I dropped to my knees, too. Both of us sat on the floor of his apartment while he slipped a family heirloom ring on my finger. As Ryan describes it, “We laughed, we cried, we prayed, we danced.”
After 10 minutes of giddy rejoicing, it was time to call our parents. I hit the Facetime button on my phone and hoped Mom would pick up. While we waited, the doorknob to Ryan’s apartment began to turn. I remember being briefly frustrated that someone was attempting to rob us—it seemed like exceedingly inconvenient timing.
Instead of a burglar, my sisters Kathryn and Grace burst through the door, followed by both sets of our parents. Screams! We were all screaming. And then everything clicked: Ryan’s multiple bathroom trips this evening were to text our families. The three scheduled dates would keep me unaware. His mom’s random NYC visit this April was to drop off the ring…
I can’t recall a time I’ve ever been more surprised. That word doesn’t even describe what I felt—it’s too overused. “Surprise!” is what you say to your coworker at an office birthday party. I was what you call awestruck.
And, it turns out, when I am awestruck I shout like my mother while she’s watching a football game and inexplicably feel the need to jump on whomever I can grab first. See below.
Thank you to Ryan’s parents for making the trip from Chicago to NYC for this special event. I can’t wait to join your family. Thank you to my parents, sisters, and brother for making me feel so loved—always. I can’t wait to grow our family. And of course, think you to my soon-to-be husband for planning every painstaking detail of our engagement, from a mandatory social media ban for our families, to the sentimental gifts that define our first days together.
I have found my person.
I’m going to be Ryan Nugent’s wife.
And he will be my husband.
And oh, what a story we will share.
*This number was changed from 60% to 70% after the careful review of Mr. Ryan Nugent. All other views in the post were deemed satisfactory and truthful.