Clarka and Tyler

How We Met

Swipe, swipe, swipe. It seems dating apps are truly the most popular way to meet prospective mates for millennials around the globe these days. Well, I must admit that even though I kissed a few frogs via online dating during my time on the hunt, I did indeed finally meet my prince just before I was about to give up hope… Tyler Clary and I met on Bumble in early April 2017, and we have jokingly commented we should send their headquarters a fruit basket as a “Thank You” several times in the past. He was witty in our chat conversations, made me giggle constantly, and was irresistibly cute in his selected profile photos. He was a retired Olympic swimmer and gold medalist, and I was a retired pageant queen who was 2ndRunner-Up to Miss South Carolina…so naturally we would have a lot in common, right?! (I literally still know nothing to this day about swimming, but I must admit that he has started to embrace pageants since I still coach, emcee, and perform occasionally.)

I was enjoying a chill night of trivia with friends in NoDa (a popular arts district of Charlotte, NC) the night we met in person. After wrapping up trivia at Free Range Brewing and realizing NPR trivia probably wasn’t my strong suit, a rumble in my stomach led me to search out some grub when I invited Tyler to join me for dinner (along with a close guy friend of mine – you can never be too safe these days). Tyler graciously accepted my invitation, and met us at Boudreaux’s Louisiana Kitchen, which touts itself as a “casual joint serving up a menu of seafood, gumbo, & Cajun-style fare in a low-key space.”

Thankfully for me, Tyler was just as perfect in person as he seemed to be online. We hit it off immediately, and my guy friend slipped away into the night once we both realized Tyler didn’t seem like a complete psychopath. (Just some of the time… Haha!) At the end of dinner, Tyler was nice enough to drive me back to my apartment complex and dropped me off at the entrance to my high-rise in Uptown. We hugged goodbye, and I asked him to let me know when he made it home – a habit I picked up from my loving, caring parents. Over the next few days, we continued to chat via the app and even graduated to full-text message conversations (a huge step in the online dating process). Our next date was lunch at little spoon Eatery on Selwyn Avenue. I needed to run some errands during my lunch break, and Tyler happily met me at Dean’s Shoe Repair where I was handing over a pair of black leather pumps for some TLC. We walked across the street to littleSpoon Eatery for lunch, a “new American breakfast and lunch spot with an international bent and chic décor with high-top tables.”

I knew halfway through the short lunch break that the time we spent together wasn’t long enough, but he, unfortunately, had to go out of town the next day for a swim clinic he was coaching in Minneapolis. While apart, we continued to blow up each other’s phones and even Skyped (yes, Skyped because he is a dork and prefers his Google phone over an iPhone…) while he was out of town. Upon his return to Charlotte, I urged (well, begged) Tyler to come by my place after landing at CLT airport instead of going home…and we have been inseparable ever since!

How They Asked

Tyler and I both travel a lot for work – up to 40% during extreme situations; however, we rarely travel together and had never actually been on a vacation during the 2.5 years of our relationship – no bed and breakfasts, no beach trips, and certainly nothing overseas. We kept making plans, but something always came up… We were hopeful that things would improve in the future, but it didn’t seem promising given our current schedules and job requirements.

For those that know me, it is no secret that I’m obsessed with Rome, Italy. There is a print of the Colosseum hanging in my bedroom, and I have about 4-5 history and travel books on Rome that I’ve compiled over the years that are in the bookcase in our living room. My obsession began in high school as my Latin teacher ensured all her students fell in love with the city the way she had during her studies of ancient Roman culture and visits to the legendary city. She was definitely one of my favorite teachers, and the heart palpitations she left me feeling in her classroom regarding Rome have stuck with me to this day.

Over a year ago, March 2018 to be exact, Tyler and my mom, Deb, went for an evening boat ride on Lake Keowee, and I stayed behind to cook/watch tv since I wasn’t feeling well. Tyler seized this opportune moment to explain his plans to surprise me with a trip to Rome and ask for permission to marry me – an old-time Southern tradition that he knew was extremely important to me. My father passed away from cancer in May 2008, but he knew it was still important to speak to my mother to ensure her blessing on our union. I still wish I could have been a fly on the wall (or fish in the lake rather) during their conversation to hear what was said between those two, but I guess that secret will always remain something special for them to keep to themselves.

Fast forward about 1.5 years… It was Saturday, August 24th, 2019 when Tyler made me aware of his big secret. He was cooking his famous breakfast tacos while I was completing one of my most dreaded weekly tasks – cleaning my makeup brushes – when he told me breakfast was ready. I came into the living room to devour my food completely unaware of what was about to unfold. Tyler ate rather slowly and watched with anticipation. Unbeknownst to me, he had laid a card under my plate with a letter explaining his secret. Once I finished eating, he told me there was something under my plate that I needed to see…

(Check out the YouTube video with a box of tissues) – https://youtu.be/pccNSIgx-ko

He had worked on this for over a year and was so excited to take me to my favorite city… I was very impressed he had been able to pull this off behind my back (thanks to a lot of friends and family as well). After rearranging some of my appointments for the following week and making a quick stop (well, 3 hours) at Nordstrom Rack for some travel attire, we were on our way to Italy roughly 20 hours later. P.S. Thank you, Brooke, at Copper Willow Salon for bumping up my hair appointment that was set for the following week!

After arriving in Rome, we checked into our hotel, got cleaned up after our long flight, rested a little, and then began touring the ancient city. Since I had to pack in such a hurry, I had 3 small problems upon arrival – my hair straightener had been damaged by the new outlets and was rendered useless, I had forgotten a second razor head, and I had placed my hair serum in a silicone bottle – which had completely ruined both items… Needless to say, after seeing a few of the sites, including the Colosseum, of course, I was pretty desperate to begin solving these impending beauty problems I was facing in the humid Italian summer weather. Tyler has two friends who live in Rome, so he went with his male friend, Kajo, to hang out and do “boy stuff,” and I went with his female friend, Cristina, to try to solve the aforementioned problems… Long story short, I ended up not finding an affordable straightener or serum, and I bought men’s razors at a small grocery store. During my search, I purchased a ridiculously overpriced travel razor set from Sephora that I wanted to return the following day. While I was looking for a needle in a haystack walking all over Rome looking for these beauty/hair items, however, Tyler had fibbed and was actually riding around Rome in a taxi with his friend trying to select the perfect place to ask me to share our future together. He had four locations in mind but finally decided upon the Spanish Steps due to its history and grandeur.

On day two, we visited Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon before coming back to the hotel drenched in sweat to shower and get ready for dinner. Tyler told me to pack one-two nice outfits for our trip just in case we went to a fancy dinner while abroad, and he told me he wanted to take me to a nice dinner our last night in Rome. We decided I would wear my yellow maxi dress as it was the most comfortable, and he rushed me out the door to the event he had been planning for over a year…

We had plans to meet Kajo for drinks prior to dinner near the Spanish Steps. Unbeknownst to me, Tyler had been group messaging my mother and his mother throughout the day as well as Kajo to keep them updated on our timeline. Apparently, we were running 1.5 hours late (which I didn’t know) due to our late start in the morning, thus Tyler was trying to get us to the Spanish Steps as quickly as possible. Once we arrived, I noticed a Sephora almost directly across from the Spanish Steps and urged Tyler to please let me return my obnoxious purchase from the prior day so I could get my refund. He finally caved and joined me in the store to return the razor set while I also searched for a new hair serum… Haha.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, my lovely sister had discovered a live webcam of the Spanish Steps, so she was watching at her work computer along with our mom’s and a few other close friends. They were all waiting for the special moment, and of course, I had just dragged Tyler into Sephora with me further delaying the proposal. (This will forever be a long-running joke in our family…)

Where to Propose in Spanish Steps - Rome, Italy

After we left Sephora (as I had returned my purchase and found a replacement hair product – Yay!), we walked towards the Spanish Steps where the millennial in me decided to take a video of the fountain at the bottom of the steps to post on Instagram. I was in the midst of posting the video to my story when Tyler abruptly (and annoyingly I might add) snatched my phone from my hands and thrust it into his pocket. He urged me to walk up the steps so we could get to the bar where Kajo was waiting, so I grabbed the corner of my maxi dress and proceeded up the stairs.

Our family and close friends watched online while we walked up the stairs. Tyler even took my hand as I climbed the ancient steps in heels – such a gentleman. Luckily, my solid yellow maxi dress was easy to spot in the crowd… Tyler’s friend, Kajo, was indeed nearby, but instead of being at the bar, he was at the bottom corner of the steps hiding with a photographer Tyler had hired to capture the special moment about to happen. They had arrived 1.5 hours prior (closer to the original timeline) and notified the guards on the steps of what was about to unfold so they would ensure no one would walk around us during the proposal.

As we made our way up the stairs, Tyler said…

“How is the trip going so far? Well, it’s about to get a lot better.”

He stopped on the second tier of the steps, placed his black Away bookbag down, unzipped the front pocket, pulled out a red Cartier box, knelt down, and said…

“Clarka, I love you very much, and I think we complement each other in so many different ways. I can’t imagine spending my life without you. Will you spend the rest of your life with me? Will you marry me?”

Clarka and Tyler's Engagement in Spanish Steps - Rome, Italy

As I drew my hands to my face, I was so incredibly moved and couldn’t think of anything else to say other than, “Yes!” The photographer captured the beautiful moment as the crowds began to cheer, and we waved to the webcam at our friends and family after he explained they were watching. It truly was the greatest moment of our lives, and we can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together…and definitely make it a point to create time for more travel!