James and Olivia

How We Met

It all started nearly 4 years ago. A long-distance relationship started against nearly impossible odds.

Olivia and I lived in the same town for several years, knew a lot of the same people, and yet somehow never crossed each other’s paths. I was busy living the life of a local musician, which doesn’t lend very well to relationships, and she was in a long-term relationship and in college.

I ended up leaving Wilmington, NC to move in with family in Northeastern NC for a year to prepare for a move to Nashville, TN. That’s when we met.

We spent a week on FaceTime getting to know one another and crazily decided that we’d spend New Years together. I drove down to Wilmington, and as soon as I laid eyes on her, it was over.

Fast forward to the following summer – we both moved to different towns: she to NYC, and myself, to Nashville. She’s an actress, I’m a musician. It’s a real “La La Land” situation over here.

After spending 2 years apart in those towns (2.5 years apart altogether), she decided that she would move to Nashville.

The prior holiday season, we were flying together and volunteered our seats for plane vouchers. We decided that we’d go out of the country while finding a pretty cheap flight – it turns out, it’s not that expensive to fly to Toronto. We booked our tickets, and my planning began.

I drove to North Carolina to get my late grandmother’s ring from my mother. A truly special gift. Then, I drove to where her parents live to ask them for their daughter’s hand in marriage because I’m old school.

Once back in Nashville, I began figuring out how this was all going to work. I spent a lot of time researching photographers in Toronto and ended up finding Darren Smith-Alexander. At the time, he was in New York but came to Toronto for work often, so he agreed to do just that. He recommended a few places, and we finally landed on the Distillery District. The stage was set, and the waiting game began.

We set off for Toronto with her having zero ideas about what was about to happen. Me on the other hand, I was acting nervous and weird I’m sure.

How They Asked

On the day of the proposal, we spent most of the afternoon looking for the Carolina Panthers football game *somewhere/anywhere* in Toronto. Unsuccessful in our attempts, we hunkered down at a pub over a pint and my cell phone to watch the game and split some poutine (as you do in Canada).

I had hinted at the idea to go to the location in which we landed on, and she agreed. So while Darren was setting up, we found a little tea shop and sat down for the final minutes of our undeclared relationship.

When Darren was ready, he texted me, and we wrapped up at the shop. It was time.

As we turned the corner to the center of the district where I’d propose, I saw Darren ready to go with his camera. My nerves were shot, I was (for lack of better words) totally freaking out. In about 10 seconds, I would be making the biggest leap of faith I’d ever done. And then Olivia stopped me. I had no idea what was happening. “Does she know?” “Is something wrong?” A million similar thoughts ran through my mind.

She looked at me and said, “let me take your picture here, this looks awesome.”.

Are you kidding me?! The very place I had decided to propose to her stuck out in her eyes. Score.

James Ethan and Olivia's Engagement in Toronto, ON

Where to Propose in Toronto, ON

After that, we took about 20 steps and I stopped her. I said (like I’d done many times before jokingly – so that I’d be able to really throw her off when the real-time came) “Hey! Let’s get married”. She turned and looked at me while laughing and said: “Baby, come on!”. I took her by the arm and said “No, I’m serious. I have my grandmother’s ring”. She looked at me in confusion and said “Wait, what? Are you serious?”.

That’s when I pulled out the box, got down on a knee with my body trembling in every way from nerves and adrenaline, and said “I’m serious. Will you marry me?”.

She, being the person she is, just stared at me nervously giggling/crying/freaking out and yelled at me “ARE YOU SERIOUS!?!?”. Then an elderly woman behind her said: “SAY YES!”. That’s not what I wanted, so I looked at her and laughed, then said: “Hey, are you gonna answer me!?”.

She said yes. It was finally solidified. We beat the odds. I’ll leave out those details, but literally any “odds” you can imagine were thrown at us. But we did it.

Darren grabbed us, gave us a hug, and continued to take photos of us.

After it was all said and done, we walked to a nearby pub and shared a pint… as you do in Canada.

Olivia and I are set to marry on March 21, 2020, here in Nashville at Ravenswood Mansion with our families and dearest friends.

Special Thanks

Darren Smith-Alexander
 | Photographer