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By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Tuesday, Sep. 08, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

Read more "Getting to 'I do.'"

The proposal came on a sweltering late-June evening with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a whirlwind of phone calls and hugs – and dangling my left hand in front of everyone we knew.

My journey to the aisle started long before that, though. I met my fiancé, Reese, about three years ago, shortly after I moved to Charlotte for a job at the Observer. It was a chilly Friday the 13th of October. A mutual friend introduced us as we boarded a bus for – wait for it – a ghost tour of uptown Charlotte. Clearly, the stuff romance is made of.

Reese and I became friends, bonding at first over the cheesiness of Charlotte’s “ghosts,” and eventually, over more meaningful things. We started dating the next summer. Over the last two years, we’ve shared date nights and Sunday drives, trips to an endless parade of friends’ weddings and hours on the couch, cracking each other up over nothing at all.

I learned that he could quote full scenes from the movie “Jurassic Park,” and that nine times out of 10, he would order a quesadilla over a filet mignon. He’s learned plenty of my nerdier qualities, too, though I won’t bore you with those. We love each other in spite of, or maybe because of, all of those things.

Which brings us back to that sweltering June evening. The day started out as normal as could be. We went on a run. We ate sandwiches for lunch. We made plans to dress up and go to dinner, and he suggested stopping by Freedom Park first to share a bottle of wine. I agreed.

In many ways, it wasn’t at all romantic. We were sweating. The park was crowded. And soon after we set up our blanket under a weeping willow at the edge of the pond, a man settled in a few feet away, snacking from a crinkling bag of fast food. A duck hopped up inches from our feet, from the algae-slicked pond, waiting to be fed. It stayed awkwardly long, quacking occasionally, and we laughed.

In other ways, though, it was everything I imagined it should be. We stayed for a few hours, and talked about our favorite memories as a couple. We finished our wine, and as we stood to leave, right there in front of the duck and the man and everyone else in the park, Reese pulled a ring from his pocket and slid it on my finger.

We called our families and friends – have we always known this many people? – and somehow made it to our dinner date, though we could hardly eat. Instead, we boxed up our food and headed home to be with our closest friends.

The next night turned into an impromptu family celebration, complete with toasts and tears. That night, after the champagne was gone and I’d finally gotten over the weirdness of the word “fiancé” coming out of my mouth, I lay in bed with one thought: What in the world do I do next?

Reese and I are getting married on July 10, 2010. I hope you’ll join me, every Tuesday, as I detail the challenges and joys, the missteps and marvels, the drama, the relief, the laughter and the tears that go into planning a wedding.

I hope I can also offer a few tips for anyone who’s newer at this than me. I’ll start with a few things I’ve learned already: Sometimes, you have to decide and move on. You’ll rarely please everyone. It won’t always be fun. But at the end of the day, if you’re lucky, you can sit back, share a laugh with your fiancé and be completely happy nonetheless.

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