Friday, January 3, 2020

9:32 AM
“Hey babe you can head over to my house at 2:30 and we’ll go from here!”


I arrived at the cozy Gibson-Aarnio home right around 2:30 PM, as requested. Bryan and I chatted about how he’d recently gifted one of his string guitars to Nathan. We made small talk while Niko was on the phone in another room, speaking Finnish to either his mom or Carina.

The plan was to head to the land for a small surprise party for Nathan’s birthday, arranged by Carina. Nathan’s birthday was the next day, January 4, and he and Carina were leaving for the mountains that morning.

I asked whether I should drive separately since I had plans to go bowling that evening with some friends from high school. Niko shook his head, no, we wouldn’t stay too long. We hopped in his parents’ new Camry and headed to the land. I did most of the talking on the way there, sharing stories from my recent Washington DC trip and asking questions about the surprise party along the way. Who all is coming? What time will Nathan arrive? Should we hide our car somewhere?

Niko fielded questions seamlessly. We parked the car and walked hand-in-hand to the cabin. Along the way, he made a mention of us having a family one day and growing old together. I smiled, nodding along.

We approached the cabin, and I pulled out my phone to take a quick video clip. I slowly strolled up to the cabin, panning the surrounding area with my iPhone. Niko threw up his arms for a quick pose, and I stepped onto the porch, still filming.

“Well, I don’t think she’s here…” Niko mumbled, scanning the cabin for Carina, presumably. As I reached for the cabin door, Niko paused me.

“That’s actually not why we came,” he said softly, smiling.

And with that, he dropped down on one knee, pulling a black velvet ring box from his green Hurley jacket I had given him for Christmas.

His arm extended, ring box open in hand.

“Alexa Phillips, will you marry me?”




This was a moment I had thought about countless times in the 5.5 years I’d been with Niko. I knew from our first date at Elmo’s Diner that he was someone special. Someone I would go on to fall in love with very quickly. Someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

This was a moment in which I had considered various scenarios. Maybe it would happen during our 2017 Eurotrip? On a hike in Portland? On the beach in Bali? During a sauna sesh in Finland?! People had even placed bets on the various occasions when it *might* happen. We had been together since 2014, and lived together for over two years, so many people — myself included! — knew it was possible at any moment.

A few days before we flew from Oregon to North Carolina, Niko semi-casually pointed to a ring I was sliding onto my finger. “Is that the type of thin band you said you wanted for an engagement ring?” I shook my head, the band was too flimsy and pliable. He then inquired about my ring size. I told him I wasn’t sure of my exact size, but that I’d try to find out (I immediately texted my mom about this conversation and we agreed to visit a jeweler as soon as I arrived in NC, which we did).

That interaction with Niko actually threw me off his tracks. I thought to myself, “Oh good! Engagement is on his radar!” But I knew there was no way he could turn a ring around in the two weeks we would be in Chapel Hill. Maybe my upcoming golden year birthday (#25 on the 25th) would be the moment!

Little did I know, when Niko flew to Chapel Hill a few days before me, he showed up at my family’s doorstep to ask a very important question.



My hand flew over my mouth. Pure shock, excitement and joy rushed over me from head to toe. I couldn’t form sentences, or even words other than OHMYGOODNESS! I took two slow steps back, eyes wide, smile even wider, hand still covering my open mouth. So many emotions were running through my head, it felt like an emotional blackout!

A few seconds passed (felt like an eternity for Niko, I’m sure), before I exclaimed, “Of course I will!” and threw my arms around him. “I’m so shocked right now!”

Sweet, soft sound came from around the left side of the cabin. Carina and Nathan appeared, string guitar from Bryan in hand. Their voices harmonized “Hold on, we’re going home” by Drake — a song that Niko and I sang to each other the first night we met on June 24, 2014. I had been perched in his lap on the covered patio of La Residence in Chapel Hill, engaged in a night of revelry and a shared love of Drake.

Still floating in and out of my emotional blackout, it took a minute for me to even register the song selection. Oh yeah, this is our song!! The acoustic version!!


Tears sprung to my eyes as I gripped Niko tighter and tighter and listened to Carina and Nathan’s beautiful performance. Niko pulled out the ring box, sliding the Celtic knot onto my finger and showing me the jewels from my great grandma, Nana, that we would use to design my engagement ring. Together.

The music ended and I was led into the cabin. Rose petals were sprinkled on the floor and the bed, floral arrangements covered every surface, printed photos of us adorned the walls, candles illuminated the 12×12 space, and a bottle of champagne with four drinking flutes stood ready to pop.


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I was finally starting to process the best day of my life thus far. It really hit me. Tears started flowing, and in that very moment, the rain went from a drizzle to an all-out pour, thumping against the cabin.

My boyfriend and best friend of 5.5 years had asked me to marry him! I get to spend the rest of my life with my favorite person on the planet! The person with whom I’ve…traveled to 20 countries on three continents. Moved across the US and witnessed totality on our first day living in Oregon. Run hundreds of miles and hiked dozens of trails. Discovered new recipes and a knack for cooking and meal prepping. Bought a home…and an RV…and multiple cars.

We’ve also missed flights, gotten lost, navigated the bumpy start of adulthood, faced house problems like mice and water leaks, and dealt with the random curve balls life throws at us. Through it all we’ve shown unwavering support for one another — listening, comforting, offering advice, being a shoulder to cry on, and telling each other that no matter what, it’s going to be okay, because we’ll always have each other.


I get to marry a man who sings Christmas songs year-round, douses everything in hot sauce, never makes a decision without proper research, can fix just about anything with his two hands, and has the most infectious positive outlook and attitude. He’s supportive, compassionate, ambitious, brilliant, honest, open-minded and incredibly loving. He’s my rock, he’s my world, he’s my forever.

September 26, 2020 — we’re ready for you.


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