Friday, April 24, 2009

How I Met Ben (with Ben providing addenda in italics)


So, now that news of my engagement has been officially publicized via the family blog, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and people all over the country are practically perishing from curiosity, I thought that I might write up a little post about how this engagement came to be.

Ben and I met via the Internet (I'm told it's very in vogue to do so right now -- one in 8 couples, the story goes!) on eHarmony. Yes, we're an eHarmony success story. I'll probably edit this up to send to eHarmony as well so that they can use us for advertising because, well, of COURSE they'd want to advertise with us.

Anyway. We both set up profiles right around the same time. They were doing a special around New Years where you could get a weekend free and try it out before signing up. Ben was one of the first 15 or so profiles they sent to me. We started talking and just clicked really well. There's a ton we have in common. We are allergic to all the same things (which is to say, almost everything), had a history of blacking out in grade school (me via fainting, Ben via repeated concussions), a love of reading and learning, kind of goofy senses of humor, crazy smart family members (his dad even works for the same company my grandpa did for a while!), born two months apart, attended BYU the same years, similar romantic experience -- and the list goes on and on. As soon as we took it off eHarmony and started talking via e-mail, we either e-mailed, chatted, called on the phone or Skyped basically every day.

Ben: In case you're not familiar with Skype, it's a web-based program that allows two remote users to chat via web camera, and for Sarah and I it's great because we can see one another's expressions and gestures. It's about as close to in-person as you can reasonably get in a long-distance relationship.

Moreover, right after he gave me his e-mail address, I googled around to make sure that Ben was for real (because honestly, some things seemed too good to be true!) and found his YouTube channel. Now, Ben somehow managed to find himself several very unflattering photos in his eHarmony profile, because I'd been just KIND OF interested up to that point. Once I saw his channel and discovered not only how talented and good-looking he was, but also how humble and funny and genuine and self-assured, I was sold, hook, line and sinker. I even showed my parents, because while normally I'd be a bit reluctant to pull them into my dating life, I just HAD to show off some. YEAH, parental units, THIS HOT GUY is interested in ME.

Ben: Were the pictures really THAT unflattering? Haha, maybe that's why people never responded to my ice breakers. I might add here that as soon as I read Sarah's profile answers, my interest was already piqued because of her very fluid, grammatically solid writing style. She focused on important things like family, self-improvement, religion, and she had a very sardonic approach to her dating life (or lack thereof) that I found very refreshing. Also, eHarmony allows you at one point during the Guided Communication phase to send 3 questions, either pre-loaded into the system or custom, and Sarah chose to ask about my music, day job, and family, all of which are top priorities in my mind. Definitely strong start.

So after just a few weeks of e-mailing and talking, we decided that it was expedient that we should actually meet each other. We already knew that we clicked intellectually, conversationally, and to some extent emotionally, but so much depends on being able to handle each other in person.

Ben: To give you a quantifiable idea of exactly how much we had written to each other before we met, from Jan 5 - Feb 14 we had logged 196 typed, single-spaced, 12-pt font pages in Microsoft Word from emails and online chats alone, not to mention hours of phone calls and video chats. Yeah, that much in the space of about 40 days. Thus, we had mutually concluded that what remained in our puzzle was the physical chemistry and the potential in-law dynamics.

Ben actually ended up having a business contact with a woman in my ward -- she's a very good violinist, herself, and so my dad (assuming that all violinists who have ever lived in Utah knew each other) -- asked if they were acquainted, and lo and behold, they were! Sort of. She described herself as a "fan" of him, and told my dad and me how much she was looking forward to working with him on this particular business project. Well, finding that they had an acquaintance in common (me) made it easier for them to get in touch and kind of expedite his visit down to D.C.

I finally met Ben for the first time at the end of February, though by that time I was already calling him my boyfriend. After all, we went through a few weeks there where we did something together for about an hour nearly every night, whether it was playing on yahoo games or just talking, until we realized that it was maybe interfering a little bit with things we really DID need to get done. I already knew more about him than I do about even many of my siblings!

Ben: Since my life tended to be an open book to everyone, I decided to keep my love life more hush-hush so I could focus on Sarah without others telling me what to do or think. It was my way of protecting my best interest as I determined whether Sarah was (finally) the right one or not. At this point in my life, I had become disenchanted with the idea of dating because I had completely failed to find ANY girl who interested me -- I chalk that up to my idiosyncrasies and strange sense of humor :) The black spiky hair may have also been a turn-off for girls, who knows.

It was still a bit nerve-wracking to meet in person, though. The first night, we were both pretty nervous and awkward, but we quickly got used to each other over the course of a date that began on Friday night and didn't really end (though there were interruptions for work and orchestra practice) until Tuesday night. He joined an orchestra here for the weekend and played at the temple visitors center, and I helped show him around D.C. to get some videos for the children's website he works for. Having hit it off thus far, I planned a trip to go visit him at his home five weeks later.

It was one of the longest months of my LIFE, and I have a series of whining/sappy e-mails to prove it, too. We kept up e-mailing every morning and calling for at least 15 minutes every night and skyping every weekend, which helped the time pass, and certainly provided a more thorough record of my life than I've ever had before. As you JUST MIGHT be able to tell from, like, the four blog entries behind this, I'm not very good at journaling. But letter writing in lieu of journaling has been working out great so far! I'm excited to know that when we have kids, they'll have a very thorough record of our courtship.

Ben: What Sarah said :)

In any case, my visit up to see Ben kind of sealed the deal in my mind. His family is full of fun, bright, generally delightful people, and his hometown is just the right size -- not too big and busy, not to small and away from everything. We spent conference weekend together and, even though I came down sick almost as soon as I got there (possibly something on the airplane) had a great time.

Two weeks later (there was no way on this green earth that we were going to go another five weeks again) we met up in New York City so I could see Ben perform at Carnegie Hall with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra! We took some long walks through New York and Central Park, talked about how things we going and our expectations for the future, and generally enjoyed each other's company. A documentary crew quickly noticed that Ben was one of the more engaging characters in the YTSO, so the poor guy had had cameras following him around much of the time. They did an interview the afternoon before the concert with the both of us to talk a little bit about our relationship and our expectations for the concert and so on.

Ben: I posted a few videos on YouTube.com/BenChanViolin detailing my experience that week, and the last one begins with me talking about my anticipation of Sarah's arrival into NYC that day. Sarah's hands are the ones that uncover that ultra greasy grilled cheese sandwich, too.

The concert was AMAZING, but this is already getting really long! So I'll fast forward a bit.

That night after the concert, I had a very vivid dream in which Ben proposed -- but with a hideously ugly ring! There were all these tiny green stones arranged in a square that sloped upward in a way that it was sure to catch on everything, besides being gaudy and bizarre. In the dream, I said yes, but then had a TON of angst about how to tell him that I couldn't stand the ring and that he needed to exchange it for a different one. My mom-in-the-dream thought that I was being really dumb and melodramatic about it, but agreed that the ring was hideous and I required a different one.

I told the story to Ben in the morning as we were walking around New York, and we had a good laugh about it. He did seem mildly concerned that I'd have such a strong reaction to a ring, and quizzed me as to what would constitute a ring I didn't like. I assured him that as long as it was not huge and lime green, I'd be okay with most things.

I'd never been in New York city, so we walked a long ways down Broadway and then cut over and walked back up on 5th Avenue. We must've gone at least 5 miles total in the morning, and all this with Ben carrying his violin over one shoulder and holding my hand on the other side. It probably totally ruined his spine, poor guy. But we enjoyed it, nonetheless. It was a gorgeous day, though quite chilly in the morning. At crosswalks, waiting for the light to turn, we hugged close to keep warm and shield each other from the wind.

As we walked back along 5th so as to be back at the hotel before checkout time, I noticed the Tiffany's store, there. Now, I don't consider myself a HUGELY girly girl, but that store is just iconic! I couldn't walk by it without going inside. I asked Ben if he would mind. I repeatedly assured him that it was no pressure -- no pressure at all -- it didn't mean I expected him to buy a ring that soon and certainly not at Tiffany's in any case. It was just a case of me being a girl and wanting to go look at sparkly things. He hesitated a little but then agreed to go inside just to take a look. We wandered by the display cases (and exclaimed over the prices) and I sought out a saleslady to double-check my ring size. She took the opportunity to unload a little literature on Ben about diamond cuts and qualities and so on, and he just nodded and acted like he was just kind of learning about it for a possible future purchase, but with nothing planned imminently.

The boy had had a ring in his pocket THE WHOLE MORNING. I had no idea.

Ben: For all of you engageds/marrieds out there, I know understand how nerve-wracking it is to carry around a ring in my pocket for an imminent proposal -- particularly walking through TIFFANY'S, of all places, where their rings are way bigger and shinier (and, of course, unrealistically priced). It's dang hard to feign ignorance about diamond cuts and sizes, too.

So after getting back into the hotel, we ran into the documentary people again, who wondered if they could get another interview to follow-up after the show. So I agreed and we chatted a little bit about the music, the whole experience about New York -- and the director started asking some leading questions about how my relationship with Ben had changed and where I thought it would be going in the future. I STILL didn't have a clue until Ben announced, "There's one more thing I need to do here," and pulled out his phone and started calling my home number.

I knew my dad wasn't home -- and neither was Roland, as it was in the middle of a school day -- and right THEN I caught on to what he was doing. I was definitely surprised. After all, it was, technically, the only third visit we've had with each other, but it also has just felt natural and right and easy from the beginning. We fit together. I still look forward every morning to his e-mail and every night to his call -- when something exciting happens in my day, I can hardly wait to tell him; when something bad happens, I look forward to commiserating. I was already planning on moving up there because dating long-distance loses its charm very quickly, which to me was already sort of a quasi-engagement, since I informed him quite seriously that I very much disliked all this moving and traveling, and so if he was going to break up with me ever it had very well better be before I moved.

Ben: I admit I fed Sarah misinformation leading up to the proposal -- I figured it would make for a much bigger shock factor when I proposed :)

So he called my home and left a message asking for my dad for my hand in marriage (my dad was his way to the airport at the time, but his permission was never in doubt. My dad is totally thrilled that I have found a guy as awesome as Ben is) and then got down on one knee and pulled out a classic, beautiful ring (not some gaudy, lime green contraption). I don't think I let him get the question out before answering yes, but it's all kind of a blur from the time he dialed my house until we left the cameras and went over to my hotel to catch my mom and give her the news. Fortunately, it was all caught on video, so I'm sure I'll see exactly how it went some day. (And no, it's not on YouTube. These guys are doing a very legit documentary. So someday you will maybe be able to rent a movie that has my engagement in it, or maybe it'll end up on the cutting room floor. Who knows! In any case, Ben is going to ask them for the footage, for our own records.)

So that's the story of how I met Ben! It's been a week since then, and it's still another week until he flies down here to spend a week here and then drive up with me to New York. It's surreal and fantastic and wonderful and a little bit stressful at times, but I feel incredibly lucky to have found this amazing guy that I click with so well, and am looking forward to the rest of my life with him.

Ben: I might add that Sarah's the best thing that's happened to me and that I'm just as eager to start our life together soon!