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A Valentine’s Day tale

heart pictureAnd now, for something completely different, although it is somewhat technology related. I've known my wife Marian for close to 30 years. We've only been married for six, though, as we somehow never connected as 20 some-odd years passed. We wound up on different coasts, leading different lives, until fate figured it was time for us to get together.

When we finally did start dating, things moved rapidly, given that we already knew everything about each other--we were married less than six months after our 'first date.' We knew early on that we were going to get married, so that left me with a huge challenge: how do you surprise someone who's 100% certain they'll be getting an engagement ring? To add to the complexities, our relationship was also being carried out via United and Southwest Airlines--she lived in Arizona, and I in Oregon. So I couldn't really just show up on her doorstep with a ring, hoping she'd happen to be home. Or could I?

Read on for the details on how I used my Mac, an instant messaging client, a cell phone, and a good bit of deception to surprise Marian with her engagement ring. Caution, some syrupy romantic stuff will be included. It is, after all, Valentine's Day!


Keep in mind that this all occurred in early 1999, when technology wasn't anything near what it was today--no widespread wireless, no net-enabled cell phones, and 'roaming' cell phone usage was still very expensive and fraught with technical challenges. It was March or so of 1999, and Marian and I had decided to spend a week together on vacation in April, I believe. (I'd fly to Arizona, and we'd go from there.) We had also discussed the engagement ring, and I had told her something like "oh, I'll pick something out and bring it down to Arizona the weekend we leave for vacation." She agreed, and probably thought that was the end of that. Little did she know...

Given the distance between us, we spent a lot of time on the phone and using AIM. Back then, long distance phone calls were still relatively expensive, so much of our talking was on AIM (iChat, much less OS X, hadn't yet seen the light of day). At one point, we got to talking about music, and I mentioned a tune called Anniversary Song (lyrics), by the Cowboy Junkies. I've always like Margo Timmins' voice, and found her brother Michael's lyrics particularly fitting to my situation. I especially related to one stanza:

And I don't know how I survived those days
before I held your hand
Well I never thought that I would be the one
to admit that the moon and the sun
shine so much more brighter when
seen through two pairs of eyes than
when seen through just one

After 20+ years of searching, I had finally found my soulmate--and it was someone I'd known for seemingly forever. Amazing.

The Setup and The Plan

As I was telling her about this song, it struck me that I could use it as the perfect 'wrapper' for a surprise delivery of her ring. So I told her that I'd like to send her a copy of the song (ahoy pirate!) via AIM, the following Saturday morning--this was exactly a week before I was supposed to go to Arizona for the vacation trip. I told her she'd need to be at her computer around 11:30am, and that I'd call her beforehand to make sure everything was set up on her end. Given that it was presently Wednesday, I now had a lot of work to do in a relatively short amount of time. I had, however, already purchased the ring, so at least that wasn't a concern.

I called the airline and booked a flight to Arizona, scheduled to arrive a couple hours ahead of my self-imposed deadline. Thankfully, Arizona is only about a two hour flight from Oregon, so I didn't have to get an outrageously early start. I then called my friend Jason here in Oregon, and asked for his help in the conspiracy. He and I planned out the details, and even practiced a couple times to make sure things would go smoothly.

The Plan in Action!

Finally, Saturday morning rolled around, and the deception plan was launched. Things were definitely going my way, as a very rare spring snowstorm was occurring in Oregon. I grabbed the digital camera and snapped a few pictures of the snowfall, and then sent them off in an email to Marian. She now had solid proof that I was in Oregon on Saturday morning.

Double-checking that I had the ring and my cell phone, I headed for the airport. Two hours later, I was on the ground in Arizona, and called Jason to make sure he was ready to go on his end. He was, so I hopped a cab for Marian's neighborhood. I must have looked somewhat odd, getting out in the middle of a block, about a half-mile from Marian's house, with my weekend duffle and cell phone in hand.

As 11:30am approached, I called Marian's house and said something like, "OK, are you ready to receive your song?" She said she was, and that she was just logging into AIM. I told her "OK, see you in AIM!" and hung up. I then called Jason back in Oregon. As we had planned, Jason then logged into AIM using my username and password, and started a chat with Marian. Jason read me every line that Marian wrote, and I told him what to type back, including punctuation, smileys, etc., so that she'd have no clue it wasn't me on the other end of the talk. As we were talking, I was making my way to Marian's front door.

We bantered for a bit about the weather, work, and other stuff, then I asked her if she was ready for Anniversary Song. She said she was, so I had Jason type "OK, it should be there any second now," and then I hung up the phone and rang the doorbell.

The Delivery

Marian came to the door a few seconds later. When it opened, I was treated to one of the most surprised looks I've ever seen on anyone's face. She looked at me, clearly confused, then looked to the right, back at her computer room, then back at me, then at the computer room. Several times she did this, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Finally she said something like, "Umm, you can't be here, you're on the computer in Oregon!"

At that point, I held out the CD with the song on it, and said "As promised, here's Anniversary Song for you. Can we go in and listen to it?" While it was playing, and she was reading the lyric sheet I'd prepared, I slipped the ring out of my pocket and asked her The Question (to which we both already knew the answer, of course). Needless to say, she was completely surprised by my well-planned and executed deception. We had a great weekend together, then I flew back home to Oregon for the week. I returned the next weekend for our previously-planned vacation. Five months later, we were married and she moved up to Oregon. And the rest, as they say, is history!

The Postscript

Clearly, my deception would be much easier to pull off today than it was six years ago. Heck, I could easily do the whole thing on my phone, without the need for a friend to act as my chat stand-in. Of course, the iTunes Music Store means I could've just given her a gift card and had her download it herself, which would have negated my whole cover story! So in many ways, I'm glad we weren't as technically advanced back then--I might never have gotten the opportunity to surprise her with the ring.


  1. Heh, I loved your comment about how "dated" technology was in 1999. My wife and I did a long-distance relationship between Boston and China for a year when she was doing research over there. For her to send e-mail involved her biking from her dorm to a Sheraton and using their RJ-45 phone jack to dial into an ISP there and then send/receive e-mail. There were some weird things going on with e-mail routing, so sometimes I had to send e-mail explicitly routed via a major node that the Chinese ISP could deal with -- yep, that's right, I was using "bang syntax" to route the message.

    USA? 1999? That's not "dated" technology at all... ;-)

    Cool story...

  2. Really nice and touching story. Shows the devil in you as well as the love, which are probably two good components in remaining together in the years to come. Thank you. KK

  3. Great story! My girlfriend and I are in an amazingly similar situation to yours. She’s in Tempe, AZ as a graduate student, and I’m in Portland, OR also as a graduate student. We just celebrated our 4 year anniversary, and 3.5 have been long distance. It looks like we’ll have at least another year before we’ll be able to live together. We’re also unofficially engaged, meaning although we know we’re going to get married, no ring has been exchanged (how could we on our grad school budgets?), and no official date has been set (besides, it will be at least a couple years down the line).

    As tough as it’s been to maintain the relationship, technology has definitely helped out. Affordable long distance calling with our cell phone plans, email for easy communication, regular visual contact w/ webcams, gift-giving and gift-creation made easy with online shopping and various creative software packages, etc.

    Although we’ve planned that a ring exchange won’t happen until we’re actually living together and have our careers rolling, I hope I’ll be able to find a creative and surprising way to present her with the ring like yours. :-)

  4. Hehe .. that was well planned and executed. But what happened to Jason ? I would guess he ended up being the best man at the wedding :)

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