• Engagement with a Message in a Bottle

    Engagement with a Message in a Bottle

    This real-life love story is the stuff great rom-coms are made of.


Every year we take an annual vacation to Key West with my husband Ryan’s family, but the trip in February 2009 was quite memorable. Ryan and I were just dating at the time, and that particular trip included a kayaking adventure through the mangroves. The plan was to find a sandbar where everyone could break to have lunch, but there wasn’t a sandbar in sight. So we all stopped, tied our kayaks together and took a break to eat and relax. When lunch was over, the rest of the family paddled along their way, leaving Ryan and me to ourselves.

Eventually, we decided it was time to catch up with everyone. And then I noticed something rather large and shiny floating in the water. I paddled over to it and discovered that it was an actual MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. The bottle started floating away toward the mangrove trees, but I was persistent about retrieving it. Not having a clue what it was, I started screaming to the rest of the family that I had found a message in a bottle and quickly started paddling ahead to get to everyone. Mind you, Ryan’s intention was for me to find the message in a bottle and open it while it was just the two of us.

When all the kayaks were reunited, I opened the bottle to find a letter wrapped in rope, written in calligraphy and burned along the edges. It looked so official, and I still didn’t have a clue what was happening. I read the letter out loud to everyone – while they had tears pouring down their faces, which I failed to notice. The note was very long but it wasn’t addressed to anyone, so I skipped over most of it and said “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” and then got to the bottom where it said, “Honey, will you marry me?” I finally realized what was happening.

Shortly after I absorbed what was going on, everyone paddled away so we could enjoy the moment in private. Ryan is an architect, and he had designed my ring. But given the risk of the ring getting lost in the mangroves, he also made a plastic prototype and hid it in the cork – and then placed it on my finger after popping the question.

At that point, it got a little bit awkward. Ryan and I had a huge family-size cooler between us in the kayak, so I was unable to give him a kiss after saying yes. Fortunately, I was able to kiss him when we got back to shore, and we’ve been rowing the boat of our shared life ever since.

All these years later, Ryan’s family still loves to joke about the fact that I would skip over reading an actual message in a bottle – and they still use “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” to tease me.

– Mary Beth and Ryan, Chicago


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