There are a few milestones that mark the journey of a couple - the first time meeting, the first date, the wedding (although it's a blur), their baby being born, and of course, the proposal.  I found the one with Alena, and I was ready to pop the question.  Having seen enough proposals in movies and TV shows, and hearing from my married friends that the proposal is one of the things that their spouses remember forever, I knew that I had to hit it out of the park.  No pressure. :-)

The Plan

Some people propose with beautiful scenery in the background.  Some people propose spontaneously at home.  As we were getting closer to our two year anniversary, I decided to propose on the day of our two year anniversary (October 25, 2014) at our first date spot at Banana Café and Lounge A week before the proposal, I gave the Manager at Banana Cafe a heads up that I would be proposing there and asked him when would be a good, quiet time on a Saturday.  He said to come around 5:30pm. 

She Almost Saw the Ring Before the Proposal

I hid the ring in my wardrobe, and it so happens that the day of the proposal, Alena was cleaning it out.  She was a second away from reaching in the drawer where the ring was hidden.  Luckily I caught her, rushed over, and quickly said, "Let me take care of that for you!!"

The Unexpected Bachelorette Party

Alena and I went for dinner at Banana Café around 5;30, and before paying for the check, I took a ‘bathroom break’ to check the upstairs lounge where I was planning to propose.  It turned out there was a huge bachelorette party going on at the same time with at least 30 girls, and the place was really loud.  I was thinking, there goes the quiet, romantic proposal!  I talked with the bartender about filming the proposal and ended up telling the group of girls that I was planning to propose.  When I went to get Alena and brought her up, the lounge surprisingly got really quiet.  We sat at a table, and Alena went to the restroom.  I then gave the camera to the bartender to film the proposal, and when I got down on one knee, the place suddenly erupted like a One Direction concert with the girls screaming, “Say yes!  Say yes!”  It was wild!

When we went home that night, I made an album on Facebook with this description:
“Exactly two years ago today, Alena Vauter and I went on an amazing first date at Banana Cafe and Piano Bar. Tonight, I took Alena back there to celebrate our two year anniversary and this time, I popped the question. I made a photobook for her with pictures from our first year dating, and the last page simply said, 'Marry Me.' And this wonderful woman said yes :-)”

Takeaways for the Proposer

- It’s always appreciated and memorable when you do something personal.  We talked about that first date and how good Banana Café was many times in our first two years together, and Banana Café is a very special place to us. 

- Just go with the flow, even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned.  I definitely didn’t expect a large, rowdy bachelorette party to be there during my proposal, but instead of the party being too loud, they ended up making the proposal more memorable and exciting.

- Propose only if you are confident that you'll get a yes.  Doing a grand romantic public proposal when the relationship is shaky and getting a yes happens in the movies.  It rarely happens in real life.  If you have serious doubts about it, I wouldn't go out and get a ring that cost $$$.  
 
 
After dating Alena for almost two years, and living with her for a year, we got to know each other in all seasons.  After a while – like most couples – we were thinking about our future together.  I was thinking about whether she was the one to marry.  For couples who are considering a long-term commitment, here are some ways to tell if you’ve found the one:

- He or she has all the qualities that you must have in a partner, and their negative qualities are ones you can live with.  Nobody’s perfect.  Everyone has good qualities and some flaws.  Think through what you must have in a partner, and what you’re flexible with.  If you and your partner are a match with the important things that make a relationship work – such as lifestyle, values, and long term goals – then that person is likely a keeper.  With Alena, it took me years to find someone who is attractive, healthy, open minded, loyal, generous, and looking for a relationship and family, and I knew it would be difficult for me to find someone like her again.  She is a bit messier than me, but I can live with it because her great qualities far outweigh that minor issue.

- You can be yourself around him/her.  If you’re constantly walking on eggshells and have to be someone you’re not around your partner, you should think twice about whether you should stay in the relationship.  Even if you have differences, a good partner respects and accepts who you are, and doesn’t try to control or criticize you for being you. With Alena, she likes the real me, with all my goofy jokes and flaws.  She's not as extroverted as I am, but has never said that I couldn’t hang out with my friends.  And knowing that she enjoys art and fitness, I’ve never stopped her from doing the things she loves.  People rarely change – they are who they are – so if you’re not comfortable with their true self or can’t be yourself with them, it’s time to move on.

- You become a better version of yourself.  When I was single, I felt complete as a person.  I led a healthy lifestyle, dressed well, was smart about finances, and had a solid career.  I was happy and didn’t need a partner to complete me, but being with Alena, I was a better version of myself than I would have been on my own.  With Alena, I ate healthier, drank less (it was great to find someone who didn’t drink much either), dressed better, and spent less money ($7,000/year less to be exact at bars and restaurants since we were cooking more at home).  With a family on our minds, I was more motivated than ever to advance in my career and land a promotion. If you’re in a relationship where you’re feeling disrespected, less confident, and less secure, it’s time to get out, because good partners build each other up, and don’t tear each other down. 

Takeaway

- Take your time.  All new couples should take the time to get to know their partner.  Most people are typically in their best behavior when you meet them for the first time and in the first few dates, but eventually their true side comes out.  All the quirky, “cute” habits from the first few dates (like being clumsy, messy, goofy, etc.) will either become traits that you grow to love, come to accept, or get annoyed with.  All couples are different, but we recommend that couples should be together for at least one year to see each other in all seasons and moods, each other’s best and worst behavior, and how they treat other people, especially your close friends and family.
 
 
Before meeting Alena, I had my fair share of dates.  Many were fun, awesome, and led to good relationships.  And some…were bizarre.  Below are the ten craziest dates that I’ve had:

1.  The Wedding Ring
How we met: At a friend’s Ugly Sweater holiday party.  Just for fun, my wingman and close friend Eric (who looks nothing like me) and I told all the girls there that were stepbrothers.  Eric knew how to play the part since he actually had a stepbrother.  We improvised a story about how our parents met when we were in soccer practice.  There were two girls there that were fascinated with our story, and we ended going on a double date together.  

The date:  It was awkward, but awesome.  My ‘stepbrother’ Eric and I took the girls for sushi at KAZ Sushi Bistro.  In the middle of dinner, we broke the news that we actually weren’t stepbrothers, just good friends, and suddenly, there was an awkward silence, followed by nervous laughter.  Eric’s date was in the middle of a bite of sushi when we broke the news, and she couldn’t finish chewing it for at least two minutes after we told them.  We thought the date was going to be over soon, but it turns out that they didn’t care.  We ended up making out with them at the indie bar, Science Club, later that night.  Eric didn’t want the night to end, and actually said "I don't want this night to end" to his date (Tip: this line never works, gents. I’ve tried it.).  The bizarre thing was not so much the date, but what happened the next day.  My date was completely enamored.  She texted me 30 times and kept talking about her sister’s wedding rings and was hinting at the wedding ring she wanted - after the first date. It was all flattering but a bit too intense, and I had to let her down gently.
2. The ‘So Innocent I felt Guilty’ Girl
How we met: eHarmony
The date:  It was Spring.  We met up at the Smithsonian Castle, checked out the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin, and then went to the famous rooftop bar at the W hotel.  It was a great plan for a first date, but it turned out that the girl was just too innocent.  She worked at the Franciscan monastery.  I was the first person she ever had a date with, held hands with, and kissed.  She was 23.  She was a very nice girl, but we just had too many differences.  She didn’t like gay people and was a huge supporter of Rick Santorum.  I thought she was kidding.  I just couldn’t date her again. 
 
Right after I dated the world’s most innocent girl….I dated…


3. The Red Flag
How we met: A house party

The date: She ran marathons and did charitable work, so I thought that there would be potential.  After a few dates, she crossed off almost all the items in my dealbreaker list.  She smoked and drank often, ate fast food and McDonalds almost daily, slept with another guy while we were dating and told me about it, and had wild moodswings.  We went out for a weekday happy hour and she ordered 9 glasses of wine, costing $70.  I gave it a couple of months, thinking that perhaps things would change, but after I ran up the limit of my credit card, they didn’t.  Tip: You can’t change people. Take them as they are or move on.

4. The Free Meal
How we met: Speed dating
The date:  We decided to meet for coffee at 4pm at popular brunch spot, Founding Farmers, in DC.  I thought 3pm was a good time to meet to avoid a long awkward meal at a first date – most people have had lunch by 3pm, and it’s well before dinner.  It turns out that the second we sat down, she told me that she didn’t eat all day, and she ended up ordering 2 appetizers, one entrée, one dessert, 3 mimosas and a bloody mary.  I was shocked.  I ordered a cup of tea.  The total bill: $75.  She did not offer to pay.  After the date was over, she rushed out of there and hopped into a cab, never to be seen again.  That was the first and last time I was on a date with someone who was in it just for the meal.

5. The Furniture Snob
How we met: Speed dating
The date: We went on a few dates that went well, and eventually she visited my apartment.  A few days after she visited, she broke things off because she said that she didn’t like my furniture.  At the time, I was barely into my mid-20s.  All I could afford was IKEA furniture and a few hand me downs.

6. The Awkward Biter
How we met: eHarmony
The date: We met at the National Portrait Gallery and then I took her to a fancy chocolate restaurant in DC called Co Co Sala.  The conversation was a bit awkward from the start.  At the museum, when people were talking quietly out of respect, she kept talking very loudly about how much she wanted to marry someone rich so she could stop working and how much she hated religious people.  When we got to Co Co Sala, and I went in for a kiss, she went for a strong bite on my lip, causing it to bleed.  Worst kisser ever.  Needless to say, the date ended quickly after that.    


7. The Value-Add Girl
How we met: Speed dating
The date:  We went for coffee at Starbucks.  Off the bat, she told me sternly that she was a business operations consultant and is only interested in having dates that add value to her life.  I felt like I was in a meeting to discuss project management principles.  She didn’t smile at all.  Very un-sexy.  One and done.

8. The Narcissist
How we met
: At a meetup at Ultrabar DC

The date: My date was recovering from a bad breakup where she was dumped right before the wedding, and she was very anti-men when I met her.  She felt like other guys didn’t pay attention to her in the past, so she dominated the conversation.  She talked about herself, her career, her grad degree applications, her love of tarot cards and reiki, and her running all the time.  She barely asked me anything.  She was constantly fishing for compliments, and was way too self-centered.

9. The Runaway
How we met: At the Smithsonian American History museum.  We exchanged contact info but didn’t go out on a date until years later.
The date: She invited me to go for dim sum at Oriental East in Silver Spring, MD.  During the date, she was telling me how unhappy she was in DC (while I really loved it) and she was trying to move to Chicago as soon as possible.  Did she seriously expect me to just pack my bags and leave the city after a date? 


10. The Exhibitionist
How we met: Speed dating

The date: We went for Jazz in the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden, followed by drinks at Bar Louie. I asked her what she enjoys doing outside of work, and she tells me that “I enjoy being an exhibitionist and going to my BDSM club.  My ex-boyfriends would drive me to the highway. We would park on the side of the road, and I would get a thrill posing naked for pictures.”  I found it at first very intriguing, but as the date progressed, the mood was quickly killed when she freaked out when she couldn’t remember where she parked her car.  We walked around for two long hours looking for her car, and after we found it, she drove off.

Honorable Mention

11. The Cheater
How we met:
a few different girls I’ve met through speed dating, meetup, and eHarmony

The date: The dates I had with these girls weren’t bizarre.  It was the ending.  After one or two dates, I found out later that the girl I dated was still with their guy, had a recent fight, and are now getting back together with their guy.   


Final thoughts...
Everyone comes across a crazy date if they date long enough.  It’s part of the game.  And even though it can be a disaster at the moment, not everything is a loss.  It’s the disasters that make you recognize, appreciate, and hold onto the good one’s when they come along.  Six months after The Red Flag, I met my wife Alena at Ultrabar, and everything worked out.  Looking back now, we get a good laugh when we think of these dates.
 
 
There are many blogs out there written by interracial couples that focus on the challenges of a culture clash in their family, or one person in the relationship adjusting to customs and the language of living in a new country.

For anyone reading this thinking that this blog will be about the cultural challenges that Alena and I face as an interracial couple: I’m sorry to disappoint you. :-)

This blog is and always will be an honest representation of our relationship, and the truth is, we fortunately haven’t had many challenges.  Of course, our generally positive situation is just a sample of one, and I’m sure other interracial couples have different experiences, depending on what kind of racial pairing they are, where they live, whether there is a language barrier, and whether they are immigrants or are 2nd or 3rd generation.  

In sharing our experience, and showing that it’s been mostly positive, we hope that it encourages singles to expand their dating circles and look to date and be in a relationship with someone based on who they are, and not reject someone based on their race.  The friends that we hang out with and people we know are open minded with dating interracially, but I'm still surprised when I read about how prevalent discrimination is by race when it comes to online dating. 

Our Background as an Interracial Couple

Alena grew up in a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania, and her family is originally from Slovenia, a Central European country with only two million people.  But she also lived in Asia for a year and appreciates Asian culture.   My family is originally from China, a country with over a billion people, and I was born and raised in the diverse city of Brooklyn, NY, where I made friends with people from all backgrounds.

We haven't had a language issue, as we both grew up speaking fluent English.  We haven't had a culture clash, as both of our families have been in the U.S. for over four decades.  We both grew up in American culture and appreciate each other’s ethnic background.  We’re an American couple who share many values and interests outside of race.  Fortunately, Alena and I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences and only a few negative experiences as an interracial couple.

The Positives Being from Different Ethnic Backgrounds

Here are some of the positives:  

• The food!  We’ve introduced each other to new favorite foods.  Alena had dim sum for the first time with me, and loves it.  Alena introduced me to Potica, a nut roll from Slovenia, and I love it.  Our family get togethers come with a mix of homemade ethnic dishes from both of our families, and it makes for a delicious meal. 
• A chance to break stereotypes.  As a rare combo of being an Asian male, White female (AMWF) couple and sharing a blog like this, we feel like we’re playing our very small part in breaking stereotypes of Asian guys not being good romantic partners or Caucasian girls not being interested in Asian guys.  Every time we go somewhere or meet new people together, we make it a little less uncommon to see AMWF couples.

• Children who have a chance to learn a second language at home.  Kids of any background can learn a second language, but if one or both parents speak a second language, there is an opportunity for the kid to grow up bilingual and get practice speaking at home.  I grew up speaking Chinese at home with my mom, and I’ll try to continue teaching our son Chinese as well.

The Only Negative We’ve Encountered Being from Different Ethnic Backgrounds

• Stares on occasion in the street.  On a rare occasion, there would be some people that would give us a surprised look on the street or do a double take – perhaps because it is uncommon to see an Asian male, White female pairing,  If that’s the case, let them stare and get use to it.

Fortunately, these reactions don't happen often in our daily lives, as we live in the Washington, DC metro area, an area where interracial couples generally have had positive experiences.  We also felt very comfortable in our travels to major American cities like New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and Philadelphia.  The only city in our travels that we didn’t feel as comfortable was in Athens, Greece, where we got stares from a good number of people who saw us in the street –and even encountered some crazy guy in passing yelling at me in Greek – but it’s likely due to the fact that there were barely any interracial couples in Athens, and we just stood out amongst the crowd.