Johnny and Gabrielle

Image 1 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

How We Met

Back in January 2012, I skipped my first Biology 101 Lab class to go see Billy Elliot in DC. That next week as I made my way into the science building to go to class, someone was walking down the hallway from the opposite direction, and opened the door to the stairwell for me. I typically kept my head down when I was at college, so I didn’t notice who it was who opened the door for me. But as I walked up the stairs, I remember thinking I could hear the person behind me trying to think up something to say to me. It was a short stairwell, only up one story, and in half that time he finally said “it’s so beautiful out, isn’t it?” I didn’t turn around, but I did stop just in time to look out the big window at that halfway point, to then agree that, yes, it was beautiful out. When I got to the top, I opened the door for whoever it was behind me and turned to see who it was. When I saw who was walking through the doorway, I couldn’t believe someone so beautiful would try to come up with something, anything, to say to me. Just so happened he went into the same Bio Lab as mine and sat in the seat in front of me. At this time I had a boyfriend, and was in a relationship I had considered serious.

A week or two later, after going to class, I realized I had lost my keys. So I wandered back and forth between my car and the science building and my class trying to retrace my steps to find my keys. Every time I passed the large sitting area with laptops, I noticed this guy from my class was looking at me, and I realized I was looking back. So back and forth I went trying to find my keys, when I finally decided I’d stop and ask for help. So I stood there looking at him, he was looking back, and when he realized that I was looking at him he also realized he had homework he was supposed to be looking at. So I walked right up, all of a sudden having more courage than I’d ever had in my life, and without introducing myself I told him I lost my keys. In about a split second he had his homework packed up and was ready to help me with my search. We wandered around in a field for about an hour “looking” (but really, I lived up to my name Gabby). I finally told him my name was Gabrielle, and found out his name was Johnny. For the rest of the semester I’d meet with him before class to get some help with my homework, and near the end when I realized we may have been developing feelings for each other, I knew I’d have to distance myself because I was in a relationship.

We stopped talking for the last few weeks and the semester ended, about a month later my boyfriend and I broke up and I moved to Germany to live with my sister for a few months. During that time Johnny messaged me a couple times, and when I moved back that fall, Johnny and I went out for tea. A couple months later we went for a hike, and then didn’t see each other for a couple months after. Summer 2013 we somehow reconnected and decided to go to a local Fair/Festival. I had gone through a lot in the last year since Biology class & that night as we wandered around the fair, we found ourselves looking at the stars from the top of an empty parking garage, which was where we kissed for the first time. While there was definitely a spark, I realized after that I wasn’t ready for a relationship and cut off communication again. At this point you can go ahead and say all the mean things you’d like, because I deserve it. Months later I finally told him everything I’d been through in the previous year, which was a lot to share, and which he took better than I could ever have imagined.

Shortly after, I went off to Scotland & a month long trip in Europe and realized I was wishing he was there with me, which seemed like a strange thing to wish when I hadn’t spoken to him in months and figured he probably hated me for being so wishy washy. I messaged him New Years’ Eve from Germany, and could tell he was a little wary. I told him when I got back the next week that I’d let him know. When I got back, it was back to school for me and I was back in Biology – the 102 Lab. I messaged him from there, telling him it was no good without him there. The flirting continued and by the end of January we had set up a date. We spoke every single day leading up to that date in January 2014, after 2 years of me being scared and him being certain, and we’ve spoken every single day since. He told me shortly after we started dating that the day I asked him for help with my keys, in January 2012, he went to his car and called his cousin telling her he had met the girl he was going to marry. For those two years he held out, he thought of Jim & Pam from the Office, and he knew some day I’d figure things out.

Image 2 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

how they asked – His Side

I knew that Gabrielle would be the girl I would marry the day I met her, I just didn’t know when that would be. When we booked our trip overseas to visit her sister Mary and her family, we made sure that we had a layover in Iceland. Gabby had visited many different countries but never Iceland. I had never traveled further than VA – FL. At that point we had been dating for 2 years and I knew that this trip would be the perfect opportunity to ask her to be my wife.

I knew that before we left I would need to ask for her father’s permission. I bought a bottle of nice whiskey and waited for Gabby to leave for work and snuck back around to the house to ask her dad. Gabby is the youngest of 8 siblings, so when her parents talk to any of their children on the phone, they both have a separate cordless phone. I was in the kitchen with two glasses poured waiting for them to finish their phone conversation when her mother walks in and says into the phone to one of Gabby’s brothers, “Here’s Johnny in the kitchen with 2 glasses of whiskey…”. I immediately started laughing and shushing her and she began to realize what was about to happen and that she may have blew my cover. She didn’t! She was able to change the subject and hurry the conversation along. Her father said yes (and so did her mother).

5 days later, we drove from Virginia to New Jersey, flew out at 9:00 PM and landed in Iceland at 6:00 AM. I didn’t sleep on the flight, too excited. Once we landed, I withdrew what I thought was $40 in Icelandic Krona (was actually $400 in USD)((didn’t realize it until the day was already over)) (((in the video of me eating a croissant I am incorrectly applauding the “cheap cost of living”)))and we were on our way! We picked up our rental car, checked into our hostel and started on our way to Vik, where I planned on proposing. It had been my plan to set up Gabby’s camera and use her remote to capture a picture of me proposing but then I realized that I could record the proposal and she could capture a still image from the video. Guys, if your hopefully soon-to-be fiancée is a photographer, I think this is a great way to surprise her. She will get so into the shoot and positioning you that she won’t think of you pulling a stunt like that.

For whatever reason I chose to propose at the end of the day. After being awake for 31 hours, we were both delirious but still amazed by every new spot we visited. I took a right turn onto the road which I thought would take us down on the beach. Instead we ended up on cliffs overlooking the black sand beaches. After making sure this spot would still be suitable “So do you like it up here?”, I decided it was time! I asked if she wanted to change into the outfit that she had packed for our photoshoot. While she was changing, I sneakily grabbed the ring that was hidden in my backpack. We hiked up to a spot that she chose and began filming. After a minute or two of posing, I got down on one knee and asked her to be my wife. She said yes and my wait was over!

Image 3 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

Image 4 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

how they asked – Her Side

Since it was in Scotland that I knew I wanted to be in touch with Johnny again, I was always talking about traveling with him, and one of the main places I wanted to go was Iceland. I have a sister who was living in Germany and knew she’d be moving back to the States soon, so I wanted to fit in a trip as soon as possible. It happened to work out that we had a full day/night layover in Iceland on our way to London and back, so we booked pretty far in advance. My sister planned the whole trip for when we finally made it to Germany (which I was so thankful for – 10 days was getting tough for me to plan as many countries as we visited!), she was able to fit in Switzerland & France as well. Johnny had never travelled, so we had to get his passport for this trip, we made an adventure jar and he was all into putting extra change and cash in there. Leading up to our trip, I had people asking me if I thought he’d propose, people who were convinced it would happen, and I’ll admit the idea of it was ridiculously awesome. But Johnny kept talking about how he wanted to save up more money, that he wanted to be sure we were in a good position to get married, and how he wasn’t sure he’d be able to support that yet.

So a few weeks before the trip I realized that if I was upset or let down on a flight from Iceland to England because he didn’t propose, I didn’t deserve to go on a trip at all – seriously how could I possibly be upset on a flight like that? So I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, I let him keep telling me that a wedding may not be possible in the next year, even though he had just landed himself a career job, and when I looked at it too, it really did seem tough. A couple weeks before, my friend and I were talking and she told me she had a dream that Johnny proposed to me on that famous deserted plane in Iceland, but that he had proposed with a ring he had made of screws and bolts and nails and random stuff. So we laughed about that, me being COMPLETELY clueless. She then said she’d been talking the night before with all her friends about rings and that must be why she had the dream, so she sent me pictures of different rings that she liked and her friends liked, so I sent her a picture of a ring I liked, then I asked HER what ring size she was, and she asked me mine.

Image 5 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

She told me later she couldn’t believe her luck, because Johnny had asked her to somehow get my ring size, so when I asked her ring size it wasn’t obvious at all to me when she asked what size I was. It didn’t even click! It was a normal conversation that we had since we were 16. When we got to Iceland Johnny wanted to get right on the road after I suggested a nap, but then again, that wasn’t suspicious either because that’s how he always was. I even asked if I could grab something from his bag, and when he said I could I knew there couldn’t possibly be a ring in there, so early that morning I decided it wouldn’t happen, and completely forgot the rest of the day because Iceland is freaking incredible and I was going gaga over taking pictures and videos. I had told him weeks ago I wanted an awesome photoshoot since we’d be in Iceland and that I’d bring my tripod so I could make a video of our trip.

We got into Iceland at 6 in the morning, got a rental car, stopped at our hostel, found some food somewhere, and figured out how to get gas in the car. The rest of the day was driving along the coast and stopping whenever I screamed we needed to stop and his “what is this? where are we? this is crazy!” Near the end of the day we went swimming at a hot outdoor swimming pool in the middle of nowhere, and after feeling a pretty hefty crash in energy before, Johnny had suddenly gotten incredibly hyper (I thought maybe it was because of getting down to our bathing suits in 35 degrees). He said we had to go to the Black Sand Beaches (over and over and over “THE BLACK SAND BEACH”) so as we are driving along he realizes he took a wrong turn and we wound up on a cliff overlooking THE BLACK SAND BEACH (!!!). So he was super mopey and I convinced him this was even better than I could have ever imagined. The sun was setting, it was windy, we were on a cliff – seriously, if you know me, you know this is the best thing to ever happen to me ever. So I get all dressed up and we sneak to a spot with no people. Looking at the pictures now that I took to find the right spot and lighting, I can actually see him holding the ring box in his pocket!

Image 6 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

I set up my camera and set it on timer and start taking pictures, and he’s all nervous and says hesitantly “I thought we were going to take a video?” so I run off and set the camera on video and I keep posing throughout the beginning of the video and the wind is insane and he keeps saying “I want to keep coming back here. Can we keep coming back? Can we do this forever? Can this be our life?” I was like, “Absolutely. If we can afford to keep traveling like this, absolutely. But first I want laser hair removal” – so, yeah, he was trying to propose, I had no idea, and started joking about laser hair removal. So finally he’s like “No, I mean. I want to keep doing this, everything, with you,” and then he reached for the ring and said “Will you be my wife?”

Image 7 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

Image 8 of Gabrielle and Johnny Van

That’s exactly what I’d always wanted to hear and I got so crazy to my stomach and I looked all around, I looked at everything around us and took in the view, I saw the camera all set up and realized we were recording and I kept looking at him and laughing and just unable to say anything for a good minute, so finally I just hugged him and he stood up and asked if that was a yes? I said yes, and he asked if the ring fit, which he still hadn’t put on my finger (can you tell we were absolutely sleep deprived?) and as he was putting it on I asked “is this a proposal?” which was something I would ask for the past two years anytime he said anything at all that hinted at forever, that always just ended in us laughing, which is what happened again. Except it was pretty exhausted, hysterical laughing. I completely forgot to take anymore pictures, but dear Johnny took some while I was in shock. They’re a little blurry, but I’m so glad he did. You get a nice view of the background. Then we drove a few hours (poor Johnny’s eyes were glassy & red from exhaustion) back to where we were staying before we continued our crazy adventure.

Our Video

Special Thanks

White Sails Creative
 | photos and video