Monday, February 14, 2005

The Rules of Engagement

Well, (not) alone at last. ;-)

I know that I have a million people to whom I owe all the details of my recent engagement (well, maybe not a MILLION, but certainly a few hundred). And I did post some pictures that illustrate the story presented here.

Bethany Kay Hawkins agreed to marry me around 9 p.m. on February 12, 2005. As of that evening, we had been together for 1 year, 1 month and 13 days.

I had been waffling back and forth for many months about if and when I should propose, and around Christmas I came very close. I decided then that I would wait for Valentine’s weekend, since it would be the last occasion Bethany would have been expecting.

Bethany and I are both pretty jaded when it comes to celebrating over-commercialized holidays. We do celebrate them, but we often do so by making fun of the cultural conventions and the pathetic emotional manipulation used to drive our holiday economy.

Last year, we had celebrated Valentine’s Day by eating dinner at
Starlite Café, a wonderful little restaurant tucked away between the University area and the Central Park area of Austin.

I called Bethany the week before and told her I wanted to come down to Austin so we could eat dinner at “our old place,” and she readily agreed. I had many lengthy conversations with my friends, debating strategy, etiquette and even logistics for keeping things quiet. (My cell phone bill was quite horrible this month, but worth every penny). I then called Judy Hocott, an old family friend, and told her my plans and asked if she wanted to play a part in the weekend. She agreed.

As I arrived in Austin, I drove straight to Judy’s house and showed her the ring and told her how I was planning on proposing. I left both the ring and the Book of Choices (more about that in a moment) at her house and then proceeded to go meet up with Bethany.

The toughest part of the weekend was playing it cool. I made myself absolutely sick with the stress of planning and keeping secrets from my girlfriend (something I’m not very good at). My stomach was churning up incredible amounts of stomach acid and I hadn’t slept more than a few hours in weeks.

And poor Bethany. My strategy was to surround us with friends, so that I would have less opportunity to blow the surprise. However, she had been waiting all week to see me and as she realized our schedule was keeping us from spending any alone time, she began to become increasingly upset, even breaking into tears at one point. It just tore at me to keep from telling her why our weekend was so artificially busy.

The morning of February 12, Bethany, I and Glenn Griffin met for coffee at Starbucks. But not just any Starbucks: we met at the 45th and Lamar Starbucks, very Starbucks Bethany and I had met at in December 2003. She had been delayed by construction, and was already a bit flustered by the time she arrived. We ate breakfast and then set out on a shopping tour to find Judy a Valentine’s gift.

After four hours of shopping, we returned to the Starbucks parking lot and Bethany and I parted ways to change clothes and get ready for dinner.

I picked her up around 5:30 and we went back to our Starbucks to talk. We left in time to make our 7:00 reservations (there are funny stories about both the trip and dinner, but they will have to wait for a later time). During dinner, Bethany kept telling me that she was worried about me and asking if I was ok. I told her that I hadn’t been feeling well, but was mainly just tired. The truth was that I could not stand the anticipation and almost blurted out my plans several times.

I had told Bethany that I had left her gift at Judy’s and said that we would be dropping by there for desert. She gave me a little red book called Guess How much I Love You. On the dedication page, she wrote “I hope that our game of ‘out-loving’ each other will be a restless part of our desire to serve each other for the rest of our days.”

Little did she know that I was about to give her the chance to ensure it would.

We left Starlite around 8:30 and drove over to Judy’s for dessert. Judy had, of course, gone all out, decorating her house with Valentine’s hearts, buying Bethany roses and even making a delicious chocolate desert (part brownie, part liquid fudge).

When we arrived, I told Judy and Bethany that I needed to give Bethany her Valentine’s present. She sat on the couch, surrounded by roses and decorations, while I retrieved the Book of Choices.

The Book of Choices is a book that Bethany and I pass back and forth on an annual basis. The writer fills the pages in the book with the choices that have defined our relationship in the previous year and the recipient then reads the choices aloud so that we can share in the emotion and sentiment of the past year’s choices.

As she read the book, we both became very emotional. Recorded in those pages were the thoughts, considerations and judgments that had led to the 10 choices I thought defined us the past year, and the feelings they stirred in both of us were very powerful and complex.

I decided to put a PDF version (6.2 MB) of the book on my Web site.

The last pages of the book summed up our present questions and choices and stated that I felt we were at a crossroads in our relationship. The following page had a simple marriage proposal. Beside the proposal, affixed to the satin bookmark of the book, was the engagement ring.

Bethany stared at the proposal for several seconds. Then she looked at me and asked “Is this real?” I nodded.

Suddenly, she threw the book over her shoulder and threw her arms around my neck. She trembled as she somehow giggled and sobbed at the same time. I held her for several minutes, waiting for her to stop shaking, but she didn’t.

I tried to lower myself to a knee, but she kept holding me tighter and tighter. I finally pulled back and looked at her, both of us in tears.

Haltingly, I tried to find my words. I said “Bethany, you are a treasure from God and I would love the honor of treasuring you as my wife.”

This sent her into another fit of tears and giggles, and I held her for several minutes. Then I pulled back and asked her if she had an answer.

She said, “Do I have to say it?”

I responded, “Well, YES, in fact you do.”

Bethany composed herself, looked at me and finally answered, “More than I’ve wanted anything else in my life.”

I retrieved the book, removed the ring and managed to slip it on her finger as we both wept.

After a few moments, Bethany bolted upright and ran for the kitchen. “JUDY! I’m GETTING MARRIED! I have to tell SOMEONE!”

Judy, Bethany and I embraced in the kitchen. Then Judy offered Bethany her phone and the long night of calling her family members and talking had begun.

We stayed for a few hours longer at Judy’s house and finally left around 11 p.m.

We announced our plans to get married this summer in Austin at church the next morning. We have so much to do, and so little time, but we both feeel like we’ve waited long enough.

Here are the photos taken from the night we got engaged.


Blogger L. E. Howard, Jr. said...

Congratulations! Best wishes to you and your fiance.

I responded to the article you posted on my blog:


11:03 AM  
Blogger Regan Cumming said...

Professor Stevens,

Congratulations on your engagement! Your story was so sweet!


12:28 PM  

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