1. Create Plenty of Decoys, so She Doesn't Suspect
Not all was well in the land of Illich and Alden.
For the past, oh, four months, I had become increasingly annoyed with Illich's inability to plan anything, or even just manage his time. I felt like I was the one making everything happen. For example: Burning Man. I was busy sending emails around, making a to-do list with items for our RV, and repeatedly poking Illich to fill out the forms for camp. But he couldn't seem to get it together. He seemed distracted, and would stay up late on his laptop while I went to bed, working on music instead.
Then there was the fast-approaching romantic weekend he requested I block out for July 17th. It was a sweet gesture, since I had been complaining lately about how I felt like we were always running around to parties and never had time to just relax or take in nature. (I had even written a long stream-of-consciousness email to him about it.) I had dutifully written the weekend down on my calendar, but every time I suggested a nice activity like going to the beach or Spa Castle, he would murmur something about looking into it later, or just ignore my email. I got into a heated text exchange one night when I met a nice girl from Quebec who sold me on a weekend trip to Montreal. "Let's go to Montreal!" I texted him. "Too expensive," he shot back. "No it's not. AirBnB, and there's a Facebook group for people who carpool there from NYC!" "No, we're not going to Canada," he said. "It's only 5 hours away!" I pleaded.
"I want to go to Storm King," he texted back. "Storm King is on the way!" I said. My new Quebecois friend shot down all of his excuses until he finally told me to forget the idea, it wasn't happening. The next day he texted me and said he was booking a Zip Car for Storm King. I confronted him as we made dinner on Wednesday.
"Is there a reason why you booked a Zip Car? We can take the train."
"Oh? You can take the train there?" he said. I took this as yet another sign that he is utterly incapable of planning things. "Um, yes," I said. It will be less expensive and more eco-friendly."
"Let's just take the car," he said. I considered this for a few minutes, then piped up again. "I really wish we would take the train. Honey."
"We're taking the car, OK?" he said. I sulked.
2. Force Her to Agree to Meet You Someplace Romantic But Simple
Meanwhile, I had a full day that Friday. I had a photoshoot going on in the apartment, then I planned to meet up with a blogger friend to take pictures of an outfit, then was going to have a girlfriend over to the apartment for cocktails to catch up. She said she had dinner nearby and would come over after at 9 pm. That morning as I rushed around the apartment cleaning, he asked me if I would watch the sunset with him on the roof. I was distracted. "Sure, honey, I can make it back here after I take photos in Chelsea."
He texted me later that day, saying he was having a hard time because it was his deceased friend's birthday. He really wanted some time with me on the roof. And so the day went, me rushing around. After the apartment photo shoot, I changed into my eco-friendly athletic outfit and ran to Chelsea, took pictures in 20 minutes, then took the train back. The sun was turning orange as I came down the stairs from the elevated Subway platform. Shit, I would be late! I sprinted to the apartment, up the six flights of stairs, through the empty apartment, and up to the roof, hitting my head on the fire escape as I went. There was no one there.
"I'm here," I texted him.
Five minutes later, he finally arrived, toting our bluetooth speaker. He fumbled with it, poking at his iPhone. I regarded him with forced equanimity. The sun was setting, and he was missing it because of technology. He stood up. "Let me go get a cable," he said. He disappeared, then reappeared clutching a cable. "Oh, wrong cable," he said, then disappeared again. I watched the fading colors. Finally he reappeared, poked at his phone some more, then gave up. I leaned my head against his shoulder.
(PS. This is the song he was trying to play.)
3. Prepare a Thoughtful Speech
"I'm sorry about Ricardo," I said. His face was serious. "You wrote me that email a while back," he said. "So I wrote you a response, also stream-of-consciousness." He opened his phone again and began reading.
Today is the anniversary of Ricardo's birthday and I'm not only reminded of the fragility of life but also of how brief our visit to this side of the universe can be. If there could be a concept of soul mate it would be that of the person that defines your visit to this universe and elevates it to its true potential of success, happiness and unconditional love.
Ever since I persistently, (through a funny picture of a cat) [we were standing in a long bathroom line, I was in a I-hate-men mood, and he finally broke through with a cat picture on his phone] came into your life you have given me all that a man could ask for. You believed in me and saw some beauty inside where most women would had though I didn't have my shit together. You had a curious take on our first date about my trip to get away from everything when my life unraveled in 2012. [He went to Hawaii and lived in a cabin and wrote music after his divorce and layoff] I still remember your gorgeous childlike smile and your excitement as you said, "Someone should write about this, this is delicious!" I thought you were delicious right from the beginning. You even allowed me into your life after I wasn't forthcoming regarding my previous marital status. It was such a terrible feeling, to know that I had possibly lost the one person I could potentially be telling these words I will be telling you today...
But in a strange order of events the universe didn't want it that way. In fact it allowed me to show my true self to you through one of my biggest passions in life: DJ'ing and music. [After I told him I didn't want to see him again, he had a huge gig in DC the same weekend I was visiting my family. So I went.]
(I was crying at this point.)
You cheer me on, tap into my biggest potential and remind me where to keep my focus for a better life. The fact that you support me and want me to grow with my music not only shows me that you care but that you will be there no matter what the goal may be. Not only you improve me, but you love me for who I am, a thick layer of black on the outside with a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors on the inside that is ready to disseminate happiness.
The Playa tried to break us. She tested us the hardest anyone could had tested us and we temporarily broke down only to come out of it stronger and re-energized with love. The Embrace sculpture reminded me so much of us, a troubled man on the inside who is ready for love and a woman that is ready to clear his darkness to let love shine through. They both had the strongest structure of any of the burns, and to think that our biggest fight up to today was in front of that symbolic structure in one of the most beautiful starry nights, and we came out of it with much more love than before; all of that speaks volumes to me about how honest, truthful, strong and full of love our relationship is.
You are the woman I have the strongest communication with, ever. We are free to talk about all things, always in the spirit of never hurting each other. No woman has ever publicly written 40 reasons why she knows I love her, or why dating a DJ is the most amazing thing (using me as an example, obviously). No woman has made me desire her day and night and pretty much with an amazing steadiness the way you do. They say time changes this, but so far, 2+ years since that funny cat picture in the bathroom line, I love and desire you almost the same I have since day one.
We are so distant and disparate in height, but so close in hearts.
So here I am, here I find myself at this point where I thought I would not be back to... You made the impossible possible, you make me want to grow and develop with you as a couple. I want to grow old with you, but most importantly I want to get those fucking tax benefits! [Inside joke about the benefits of marriage]
I had no doubt, in my heart since early in our relationship that you were the one for me. So at that point I saved almost every single DJ gig payment towards the goal of unveiling and giving you what I want to give you today. (The gigs I couldn't save was because of truly needing the money, but several hours and DJ performances later filled with headbanging, sweat and some tears, I reached the goal for you and us!!).
Alden, Would you please stand up and be taller than me for a moment... =)
There's no words I could find to describe the depth of my love for you... You transform any shabby Brooklyn rooftop into beauty (or any shabby place or situation for that matter.) So at this point in front of this wonderful skyline, I would like to take it full circle to where we met, at a Brooklyn rooftop, but this time on top of our love nest that we built and designed together. And with hopes that we continue our lives together I'd like to ask you the following...
Then he got down on one knee, opened a small white box, and said, "Alden, will you marry me?"
"It's upside down," I said, still crying.
4. Pick Out a Sustainably-Made, Conflict-Free Ring
He turned the box right side up, and there inside was a perfect diamond ring from Melissa Joy Manning, a custom, one-of-a-kind, 18-karat yellow-gold ring with a .84-carat sawn octahedron diamond. The octahedron diamond, as Illich told me later, grows naturally and is cut only once down the center of the diamond to create two pyramids. The stone, which is from South Africa, is certified Kimberley Process, which ensures that it was purchased and sourced from conflict-free countries. Illich had saved all his money from his DJ gigs and then some for more than a year to buy it.
Of course I said yes, and we hugged and cried. "What about Karen??" I said. "She's on her way over! This will be so weird! Let me cancel," I said.
"No, don't worry about it, darling," he said. "Oh! I have champagne! Let me get it." He left again. I heard him call up. "Alden! Could you help me with the cups?" I went down the fire escape. The bedroom door was closed, and when I opened it, all of our friends yelled, "Surprise!" with Illich standing in the middle. I almost peed my pants. Of course, Karen was there, giggling.
Things moved quickly after that. Hugs and crying and high fives to Illich, then we were off the a party in our honor arranged by our friends at Playdate, a party we love that always plays pretty and uplifting Electronic Music. When we arrived, pictures of us played on the screen, and I found out the lineup was stocked with our best friends.
5. Choose a Farm-to-Table Restaurant to Celebrate
"Don't get too drunk," Illich told me when he saw me with a drink in my hand. "Why not?" I said, head spinning from all the congratulations. "Because I don't want you to be hung over tomorrow," he said, smiling. "We're going to Blue Hill."
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "I love Blue Hill!" Then I paused. "Wait, which one? The one at Stone Barns? NO WAY NO WAY NO WAY." I squealed and jumped around. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is on any conscious foodie's bucket list. It is the pinnacle of farm-to-table.
So the next morning I packed a weekend bag (and quickly painted my nails with Sheswai "for real" for the required engagement ring selfie) and we lit out for the country north of New York City. Illich had booked us a room at a small bed and breakfast, where we dropped our stuff and I changed for dinner.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns isn't just a restaurant, but an experiment in sustainable agriculture. It is part of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, a working four-season farm and educational center. Meals are creatively sourced from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms. Illich had to book our reservation three months in advance. At this point, I told him that I would never doubt his planning abilities ever again.
There is no menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. You put yourself in their hands for an almost constant arrival of small plates and items, all accompanied by a friendly explanation. For us, it started small, with individual raw produce.I tried ice lettuce for the first time, a salty succulent covered in tiny bubbles as if it were bedazzled. Then more elaborate small bites came out, before it culminated in just two small meat dishes, with a denouement of pretty little desserts. We had the first seating at 5 pm, so we overheard other couples getting their plates after us, and they actually sometimes got different food. That made it more special, knowing the kitchen wasn't a factory, turning out identical plates. We decided to do the wine pairings, which turned out to be a great choice. Organic white, biodynamic cava, red, and even Plan Bee beer made from all New York ingredients came out with our food.
Illich sat facing the dining room, so he could take in the fantastic interior architecture (he's an architect) while I faced the window so I could see the fields. When he was in the bathroom, I spied two people in chef coats walking between the fruit arbors, no doubt discussing how the menu could take advantage of the the mid-summer harvest. We teased a waiter when he set down a plate of cow's milk ricotta. "Do you know the name of the cows?" Illich asked, referencing the famous Portlandia skit. "I know some of them," he said with a wry smile. He had taken a trip to see the dairy farm, and had a cow he personally felt attached to, having met her when she was a newly born calf.
I mean, stop, just all of it, so cute.
Ah, and the field trips! All diners get small trips to different parts of the farm and restaurant for a bit of education. Many diners are taken to the kitchen, but we were escorted past the new, beautiful bakery, a heavenly smell wafting out, to a neat shed in the back. There, the hostess explained to us how compost can get so hot, that it will spontaneously combust if it isn't managed and turned. So they use the heat to cook food items. "Oh!" I said, delighted. "This is so great. I make us compost and he's so sweet about helping me take the compost out – it can be such a pain."
"That's how you know he'll be a good husband," she said. And she sat us down at a table for two to try empanadas with egg and lobster mushrooms cooked with compost heat. "I know you do this a hundred times a day," I told the hostess, close to tears, "but this is so special for us, so thank you."
Four hours after we arrived, night had fallen, and we walked out the back of the dining room and watched the fireflies congregate in the garden as we walked to the car. It was a meal I will never forget.
(By the way, Stone Barns also offers a full day of education programming. They gave us a complimentary admission card at dinner, but we didn't have a chance to go back. We intend to!)
6. Plan a Cultural Excursion/Picnic
On Sunday we headed to Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture featuring more than 100 large-scale works by some of the most prominent 20 and 21st century artists. The lovely thing about Storm King is that you can do two things sustainable girls love: pack a picnic, and rent bikes to tour the grounds.
Now, Illich was just a bit stressed in the weeks leading up to the proposal, and when my mother planned a visit at the last minute for just days before the proposal weekend, he was unable to plan this portion as well as he wanted to do. If we were to do it over again, we would have packed reusable picnic supplies, like a cooler, beer opener/corkscrew, our Susty Party cups and napkins, a cheese knife, etc. We might have even brought organic and local items from NYC, since I couldn't find a good place for high-quality picnic food nearby. We stopped at a nearby grocery store and picked up conventional cheese, bread, fruit, prosciutto, cider, a cold bag, and disposable cups and a knife for our picnic, having read that the café was only serviceable, and there are plenty of picnic spots at Storm King.
Things that I'm happy I did bring: an insulated water bottle (we could have used two, it was so hot), Block Island Organics sunscreen, and my vegetable-tanned rucksack for carrying it all.
By the end of the day, we were happily exhausted, and we repaired to the B&B to shower and enjoy some cava.
And that is how you propose to your sustainably-minded girlfriend.