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 $$$.  
The ideal first date should be fun, memorable, and just long enough to leave that person wanting more. 

For my first date with Alena, on October 25, 2012, I took her to do wine tasting at an Italian restaurant, Lavagna, at Barracks Row in DC.  We connected on our experiences with teaching, our travels abroad, and our food and fitness interests.  Alena made it clear to me upfront that she didn't like mayonnaise and mustard (which I don't care for anyway), and I told her about my allergy to soybeans and cats (which probably disappointed Alena a little bit, but thankfully wasn't a dealbreaker). 
After that, I took her to one of my favorite spots, Banana Café, where I was planning for us to enjoy live music at their Piano Bar in the upper floor.  By the end of the date, I sensed good vibes, made my move to sit next to her, and eventually went in for an amazing first kiss.  It turns out that the music playing in the background during our kiss was Justin Bieber's Baby, which wasn't my top pick for 'First Kiss Song to Remember for Life,' but we had a good laugh about it.

Tips for a Successful First Date

1.  Leave a really good impression on the first date.  If the person you’re with is a catch, they may also have another date later in the week, so you want yours to be memorable.  Ask lighthearted and easy questions, listen actively, and talk about things that you both have in common.  Remember to smile.  Laugh if he or she says something funny.  You want that person to leave thinking, “Wow, we have a lot in common, and I can’t wait to find out what else there is.”

2.  Have the first date on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening.  Friday and Saturday are big date nights for date two or beyond. Many people dread going back to work or have chores to do on Sunday.  Many people are tired on Monday evenings after going back to work.  I picked a weeknight, and kept the date to around 2 hours.  

3.  Two things that a person likes to hear on a first date are: “Like you, I also…” or “One of the things I really like about you is….”  People like to be validated.  People like to be liked.  I would pick a couple of things (don’t go overboard) that are really great about or that you have in common with that person and be sure to let them know.

Five Things for the Fellas:

1.  Wear a nice shirt (button down or polo), with pants/jeans and shoes that match.  You only get one shot at making a solid first impression, and you will be judged by your clothes.  Dress in clothes that make you feel confident.  Don’t wear something ridiculous that will distract your date or make them question your taste. 

2.  Take your date to a place that you know well.  Have some idea of what dishes are good so you don’t spend awkward moments being indecisive.  Pick a place that's not too noisy. For many people, the first date inherently comes with some pressure and anxiety, and you want to minimize as many distractions and unknowns as possible.

3.  Be a gentleman.  Hold the door for her, look at her face when she’s talking, nod when she’s making a good point, and please, pick up the check.   

4.  Ask questions and listen more than talk in the first date.  You want to leave that person curious about you.

5.  If the date is going well, you need to make a move.  If you just establish common interests with no romance, you’ll be in the friend zone (trust me guys, this has happened to me before).  I recommend finding a first date spot where you can both sit side by side, so you can flirt with each other and lean in for a kiss if the vibes are right.