All aspects of the proposal had finally lined up.
The leaves were changing color. The romantic reading had just been finished. A photographer was available just before their previously planned dinner date.
At their spot in the Taylor Woods, senior Paige McNinch dropped to one knee and proposed to her boyfriend on Oct. 4.
From the very beginning, nothing about McNinch and senior Tucker White’s relationship had been traditional, so when they decided she would propose to him, it only seemed natural.
McNinch met her fiance during their sophomore year at Taylor. Both had come to college expecting to stay single, so neither suspected anything romantic would develop when they instantly clicked as friends.
However, one fateful evening, White and McNinch were joking around with their friends at the Breuninger Hall front desk. Casually, McNinch suggested she and White work together over the summer. White jokingly responded, “Is that you asking me on a date?”
White was instantly flustered by his joke but was relieved when it looked like McNinch had not heard him. However, her friend had heard him, McNinch found out later.
“As soon as he left, people were all onto me like, ‘You should date him,’” McNinch said. “After that point, every time I saw him that was all I could think of since people were telling me that. I was analyzing every time I interacted with him.”
From there, the friendship snowballed into something more. McNinch wondered if she could have feelings for a weird guy like White, while White also wondered if McNinch could have feelings for a weird guy like White.
They continued to get to know each other, texting each other about things in their shared major — professional writing. In the end, it was something rather obscure that sealed the deal for McNinch.
“When I decided (I liked him), my roommate at the time and her boyfriend at the time were downstairs playing Super Smash Bros, and I agreed to play,” McNinch said. “(White) passed by and saw we were playing and wanted to join, so he crammed himself between me and the arm of the couch and played the entire open house — like five hours.”
From there, McNinch purposefully asked White on a pick-a-date when she knew he would not be able to make it, spinning it into a coffee date. Still confused whether or not McNinch could have feelings for him, White assumed it was a casual thing.
In fact, he thought it was so casual that he began reciting love poetry during the date.
“What is the world coming to that a guy and a girl can’t get together and read a friendly love poem?” White said.
After the date, both were confused about where they were at. However, clarity came for White while watching “Beauty and the Briefcase” at 2 a.m. with his friend, Mark Allsman (’18).
At the end of the movie, Allsman asked White if he thought he could be so oblivious to a girl being interested in him as shown in the movie. When White said no, Allsman helped him connect the dots about McNinch.
“At this time, I had told multiple people that I liked him,” McNinch said. “I assumed it was mutual because he did very flirtatious things . . . including reading me a love poem.”
Following White’s revelation, he and McNinch came together for a classic walk around the loop. In nervousness, White quickly pointed out a tree to distract McNinch, then expressed his feelings for her.
The rest was history.
They knew almost from the beginning of their relationship that they desired to get married to each other. However, they came from different backgrounds that resulted in different perspectives and anxieties.
McNinch struggled with the ultra-conservatism of her hometown and family, which she found constricting and frustrating. She also was exasperated by some of the stigmas in Taylor’s dating culture that had made her feel judged both in singleness and her relationship.
While contently single, she felt pushed by the Taylor people around her to be in a relationship and strive toward marriage while in college. Then, when she started dating White, the coin flipped. The same people pushing for her to be in a relationship began criticizing the amount of time she spent with White or the way she was spending time with him.
“I feel like it is harder on women at Taylor than on men, except for that guy on Barstool Taylor who was like climbing into his girlfriend's window,” White said. “Women and that guy have the short end.”
On the other hand, White wanted to get married but was anxious about taking the next step so young and quickly. His misgivings were based on his family’s experiences.
With both of these perspectives, the couple was left wanting something different for their proposal and marriage. As a self-described quiet rebel, McNinch desired to break the mold of what is socially expected and taught.
Consequently, when McNinch heard about women proposing, she was instantly intrigued. In their relationship, they had always sought balance and this seemed like another expression of balance. White was supportive of the idea as well.
“It’s kind of a way for me to explore that aspect of my faith and just realizing that me proposing doesn’t mean I hate God or don’t believe in the Bible,” McNinch said.
McNinch reflected on Bible passages about husbands and wives but did not believe that makes it applicable to gender relations or dating. Within those passages, she was also left with questions about pursuit and submission. If a wife is supposed to submit, what does it look like for a husband to live his life laid down for his wife? Does a proposal even involve taking leadership if it is something that has been discussed in detail beforehand?
The more they pondered on the aspect of proposing, the more they considered if the mold they were breaking was constructed by man, not instructed by God.
“But we all remember the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, ‘The man must propose,’” White quipped. “It’s a classic passage.”
Ultimately, it became less of a question of whether or not to do it, but when and where.
At the beginning of the semester, White and McNinch decided that by the time the leaves changed, they would be engaged.
McNinch purchased a men’s engagement ring on Etsy, then proceeded to try to keep it a secret from White. However, her secrecy quickly dissolved. Both the days she ordered the ring and when it came in, she ended up updating him. They were so close and communicative that it felt unnatural to hide it.
“It fits into the foundation of our relationship,” White said. “The day that we walked the loop . . . past the Nussbaum parking lot, there’s a manhole (cover) that just says ‘COMMUNICATION’ on it. The foundation of any relationship is communication.”
With that foundation in mind, McNinch’s proposal plotting began. She worked together with her roommate, senior Paula Todhunter, to schedule a special photoshoot, under the guise of a psychology project capturing people relating to each other through a script.
The photoshoot’s location, the Taylor woods, was where they would frequently walk and talk together.
The script for the proposal was adapted from a scene in “Lila” by Marilyn Robinson, one of White’s favorite novels. Specifically, the script was the scene where a woman proposes to a man.
“I knew the scene, then it was when I turned the page where she actually proposes to him that I realized (McNinch was proposing),” White said. “I was just speechless . . . and yeah, I suddenly got very excited to be there.”
White happily said yes to McNinch’s proposal.
From there, the couple was met with an overwhelming amount of support. Rather than questions about why McNinch had proposed, many people were just happy to see them engaged. McNinch even had a ring down on her wing, just without a ring.
However, in the spirit of balance in their relationship, White will soon propose to McNinch as well. They just need to figure out her ring size first.
Throughout the whole experience, their only complaint has been that White was under the impression that First Breu’s tradition was to throw newly engaged men in Taylor lake. However, White jokingly added that he has yet to be tossed in and is a little bitter about it.
Now, while considering options for their wedding and future, McNinch and White are looking forward to spending life together outside of dorm open hours, maybe even without the door propped.
“We might have to ease into it first,” McNinch. “Maybe start with the door propped four inches instead of six inches and work our way back.”