Love Looks Like This: I Proposed to My Husband 30 Years Ago

"I bared my soul and asked him to marry me."

Michelle Winner and husband wedding photo

Courtesy of Michelle Winner

Brides is committed to guiding ALL couples through not only their wedding planning journey, but through relationship milestones and ups and downs. Every love story is beautiful, has its own distinct history, and its own trials—there's no relationship that looks the same. To celebrate that uniqueness, we're asking couples to open up about their love story, for our latest column, "Love Looks Like This." Below, writer Michelle M. Winner tells her story.

“What are you doing with your life? You’re not getting any younger, you know.” My dad chooses to drop this wisdom bomb at the Sunday breakfast table. I was 36 and had wasted another Saturday night on the dating merry-go-round. “You should find a nice guy and get married.” Dad’s idea of the secret to happiness was a beautiful marriage like his. I washed down my papaya with Kona coffee. “OK, Dad, I’ll get working on it,” I said unenthusiastically, accepting his challenge.

Most datable men in my age group were either socially, financially, or mentally unbalanced here on Oahu. I wouldn’t even consider a man with multiple-divorce baggage, another spoiled bachelor “trust-a-farian” with zero drive, or an excessively laid-back guy who surfed the pakalolo wave.   

Staring into the ocean is a meditative process that always offers me insight. After watching Maunalua Bay from my parents’ home high on a mountain ridge, I noticed concentric circles of wake on the water. I went over to my dad’s telescope, focusing on a small-craft and a group of guys on the beach. Based on percentages, I figured that there must be at least one unmarried guy I could talk to, but I quickly needed a plan. I wiggled into hot pink and purple spandex workout wear, adding sparkly lip-gloss and mascara. I was an outrigger canoe paddler. I never wore makeup in the ocean, but I was on a mission to attract attention—beach-babe style. I hopped in the car for the short drive to the bay.

I parked away from the jet ski group and jogged down the sand. I walked up to one guy looking at me intently and asked, “What’s the point?” He looked perplexed. “Can’t you enjoy the ocean without the noise and fumes? Have you ever paddled a kayak or surfed an outrigger canoe?," I said. He offered me his binoculars to see the action from his perspective. After staring out at multiple rotations of noisy watercraft, I handed him back his glasses, and he handed me his business card. His last name was Winner. Is this a joke, I thought?

But, I was curious. I invited him to my club for drinks later. He showed up perplexed. “Honestly, I thought you were inviting me to a strip club where you worked,” he said.  So much for finding a quality husband as per my father’s instructions. We sipped cocktails on the lanai at the Outrigger Canoe Club and watched the fiery orange sun slowly disappear into the ocean.

Fast forward, but not too quickly. I stretched things out a bit, wanting to know Mr. Winner better. He had impeccable manners, was kind, attentive, generous, a fabulous cook, and appreciated being with me. He was from the East Coast, and I was from Hawaii. But, we shared a similar upbringing and values.

On Christmas Eve, he reserved dinner for two at my father and mother’s favorite restaurant, the Maile Room at the Kahala Hilton. He had secretly asked my dad where to take me. I asked him to pick me up at my parents’ house while I dressed to give him some alone time with my parents. He had other ideas. My dad answered the door to a well-dressed man carrying beautifully wrapped gifts. “Hello, Mr. Moranha, would you please give these to Michelle?” Mom came into the dressing room smiling. “He’s charming,” she said as we gently unwrapped a chic red dress and red leather high heels.

The cocktail dress fit perfectly. But, I felt like Cinderella’s ugly sister trying to push my swim fin-sized feet into a demure six. Of course, I would have felt mortified if they were my actual size ten. Was he this smart about women?  When he saw me for the first time, he handed me one more present. The jeweler’s box revealed a gold choker with a ruby and diamond center which he shyly fastened around my neck. Over our exquisite dessert of Grand Marnier soufflé, I told him that I was overwhelmed and felt like a princess. He only smiled.    

While that odd let-down week after Christmas blew through, I was still off doing my own thing. He’d call. I wouldn’t answer. He’d invite me to an elegant event. I’d accept, only to turn him away at my door dressed in a bathrobe when he came to pick me up. I was cruel and disrespectful. I didn’t care about anything or anyone, a bystander in my own life. I couldn’t help myself, and I was suffering. He never gave up on me. He just gave me space, checking in to see if I was hungry or broke. I think he was in love.

I celebrated the last night of the year alone in my apartment, enduring hours of self-loathing. Just after midnight, I called him. He had one of those '90s mobile phones that looked like a brick. “Where are you?” I asked. “On the North Shore waiting for the sun to rise.” “Well,” I told him, “Come and pick me up when it does.” He was there in an hour. I moved into his house with my cat, and it felt natural.

Months later, after a day of jet skiing on Maunalua Bay—yes, an eye roll here would be appropriate—we stopped at the club for pupus and sunset. I watched him interact with my friends in his easy, open way. We walked hand-in-hand to the top parking deck as the moonrise dripped light on the ridges of Diamond Head. He turned and kissed me slowly and with the depth of feeling only those in love know.  This time lightning and rockets went off in my head; I floated away somewhere else. We went home and made love. It felt so right. I bared my soul and asked him to marry me.

Michelle Winner wedding photos

Courtesy of Michelle Winner

We were married at the Kahala Hilton in a simple beachside ceremony a few months later. My dad’s opera glasses subbed in for the binoculars and telescope on the top of our cake. “I like this one,” my dad said as we started down the aisle together toward my groom. It was his way of reminding me that I had followed his advice. “Thanks, Dad,” I smiled. Next year, Mr. Winner and I joyously celebrate 30 years of personal growth, our crazy-wonderful family, fabulous adventures, deepening love, and my marriage proposal. We wouldn’t change a thing.

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