Aug 012012

If your boyfriend told you he had a Groupon for dinner on Saturday night, you’d probably believe him, right? So did Bita, not suspecting that instead, her boyfriend Emad had planned an elaborate scheme to propose to her during a private, multi-course dinner that included her favorite dishes, favorite music and even a serving tray that was custom made with photos of their close family and friends.

I heard about this engagement from a colleague at a summer gathering in Manhattan. As usual, I was curious and wanted to know more. I interviewed the couple and the proposal planner who helped orchestrate the event, and now I bring you all the juicy details.

Read on, and enjoy!

Emad saw Bita in her scrubs, and thought she was absolutely beautiful. They were completing medical rotations at a hospital on Long Island when they ran into each other near the operating room. Emad was with a friend, and suggested they all meet for lunch the following day. “I really wanted to get to know her,” Emad said. “I was interested for sure.”

At lunch, Emad was annoyed with his friend for peppering Bita with questions. For their first real date, Emad took her to a Persian restaurant on Long Island. They didn’t call it a date. Emad was shy, and he didn’t want to seem pushy. He ate a Barg – Persian style barbecue – and answered Bita’s questions about his life in Iran and Canada, and about moving to the United States. Emad, who was one year ahead of her, gave Bita tips about working at the hospital. He told jokes, and made her laugh. “I knew she enjoyed my company, I could tell from her face she wasn’t faking it,” Emad said. That was in September 2009. For the next seven months, Emad and Bita continued to spend time together, sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends.

That entire time, Emad knew he loved her, but he wasn’t sure if Bita was interested in him romantically. One day he’d think she was, but the next day he’d change his mind. Their friendship took a big step forward the day Bita went to Emad’s apartment to watch a movie. From then on they began opening up more about their personal lives, and Emad thought it was a good sign that she was even willing to watch a movie she hated (Inglorious Bastards) with him.

In March 2010, they spent the Persian New Year together with Bita’s family. Her grandmother fell in love with Emad. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

But later that month, Emad was matched with a residency program in Buffalo. “All I was thinking was, I’ve worked so hard to be with Bita and we’re not even dating yet. It’s not going to work long distance.” When Bita congratulated him on his match, Emad took it badly and brushed her off. He didn’t want her to be happy that he was moving away, but later he realized that he had been rude and hurt her feelings. When he went over to apologize, he had a hard time expressing himself. Afraid of being rejected, all he could muster was, “I used to really like you, and I really wanted us to be together.” He was happy when she replied, “Do you still?” He knew then that the feelings were mutual. That evening they opened up about their feelings, discussed a long-distance relationship, and shared their first kiss.

After he moved to Buffalo, Emad and Bita saw each other about every six weeks, driving the seven hours that separated them. A year later, Bita started a one-year program in Buffalo, and they were together again. Not long after she arrived, Emad started planning the proposal.

Perhaps a restaurant close to Central Park, with a skyline view, would be a good option, he thought. After all, they both loved good food. But he didn’t want it to be cheesy, and he didn’t want to do something that would draw too much attention to them in a crowded restaurant. Emad spent countless hours doing Internet research. He read about proposals in Los Angeles. He considered taking her to Mexico. Or perhaps having a picnic. He discovered that some people hired proposal planners.

Eventually, Emad called Sarah Pease, The Proposal Planner™ from Brilliant Event Planning in New York City. He told her their love story, and the planning began. “He wanted it to be perfect,” Ms. Pease said. “It had to be thoughtful and meaningful, and he really wanted to make it about their love story.” Ms. Pease quickly noticed that food played an important part in their lives. “He could recall the meal they had when they first met,” she said.

On March 24, 2012, Emad and Bita drove into Manhattan for dinner. It was a Groupon deal, Emad had told her. They used Groupon frequently, so Bita thought it sounded plausible, even when Emad said this was a catering service trying out different dishes and soliciting feedback. There’d be photographers, because they were shooting promotional materials.

They were looking for parking when Emad got pulled over by the police. They had 10 minutes till start time. Emad’s heart sunk. “Your left stop light is not working,” the officer told him. Emad couldn’t find the car’s registration. They had just returned from a road trip and he figured he had probably misplaced it along the way. Emad got out of the car to search for the documents in the trunk. When he was safely out of Bita’s earshot, he asked the officer to look in his pocket. Emad hoped he’d see the ring and let them go. “Though I thought he might kill me,” he said. He was almost crying. But the officer chuckled and said, “You’re about to make a bigger mistake than this, so I’ll let you go.”

As they walked into Olivier Cheng Catering, the live music began. Bita was surprised they were the only couple there, but the waiter, playing along, welcomed them to the Groupon event. The photographer told Bita she could decline to appear in the promotional materials.

The musicians played some of her favorite songs (Emad had compiled a list of 60 of her favorites) and the main course was a Persian dish. “At that point, I was sure it was more than a Groupon,” Bita said. But she had just spent two weeks thinking Emad would propose during their vacation, and he never did, so this time she was trying to keep her expectations low. Even though there were signs throughout the dinner, she brushed the notion aside. “I kind of had given up on that,” Bita said. She had just had a birthday, so she figured this was a really nice birthday gift.

Yet every food and drink item had a personal connection to their love story. Drinks were inspired by their travels. French and Italian dishes resembled some of Bita’s favorites, from restaurants they’d been to together. And the Persian main course – he grandmother’s favorite dish – honored the woman who had been instrumental to their getting together. She had passed away shortly before the proposal, and had been a close friend to Bita. “This is a Groupon?” Bita insisted. Emad said he’d especially requested that dish ahead of time. When she went to the washroom she privately asked the waiter. He assured her it was a Groupon.

Yet Bita was certain there’d be in ring inside Emad’s chocolate dome dessert when the waiter poured a hot chocolate sauce over it to make it melt. Emad asked her why she was crying. When Bita saw there were raspberries, not a ring, she quickly dried her eyes. Next the waiter brought her a tray of macarons. It was no ordinary tray. It was lined with photographs Emad had assembled, and Bita was presented with the friends and family she loved most. She teared up again. “I was so overwhelmed with emotions, in a good way. I started crying, because I thought it was so beautiful,” she said. She was so fixated on the tray that she didn’t notice that her chocolate dessert had arrived. As this one melted, the ring was visible, but she missed it. Emad plucked out the ring and knelt next to her, his fingers stained with chocolate. That was when Bita noticed.

By Denise Oliveira of

This story was originally published in The Huffington Post.

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