Kirsten and Maria, Central Park, Feb. 29, 2008

Maria knew from the beginning of our blossoming love affair that I wanted to be engaged before I was 30. We’d been together for 4 years when that birthday was suddenly approaching like a fast-moving train.

It was a Leap Year in 2008, and I had heard for the first time how it was an old tradition for women to propose to men on Leap Year, and my 30th birthday was only a day after. I couldn’t wait to be Maria’s wife, and as much as I wanted her to propose to me, I joked with her that she better watch out on Feb. 29, because I just might be turning the tables.

I wasn’t serious, of course. I knew Maria wanted to be the one to pop the question, and I wouldn’t dream of taking it away from her. 

But I must admit I was getting a little nervous that she still hadn’t put a ring on it a la Beyonce. We owned a home together. We were planning our future together, joking about all the little Palladinis we’d be having once we’d gotten hitched. But I was quizzical as to what the holdup was and, as most women do, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something wrong with me that was causing her to contemplate not committing to a lifetime with me. I eased my mind with the fact that Maria takes her time with everything she does in life, waiting until she can do something so perfect and so right that it all makes sense when she’s completed. An artist with quite a few romantic masterpieces under her belt, Maria had courted me from Day 1. I had no doubts that she would come through with a proposal and I finally put it out of my mind of wondering when it would happen.

On Feb. 27, Maria surprised me with tickets to New York, one of our favorite cities to travel to for both fun and business, as a birthday present for the big 3-0. We’d be flying out the next day after I wrapped the issue of the newspaper I was editing for. I was elated—albeit she might not have noticed my true joy as I was ranting about needing a shopping trip prior to the flight and how did she expect me to pack for such a trip in just one evening. She just shook her head at me, knowing I would soon not care so much about a few new clothes.

We got in late on a Thursday night, staying in the hustle and bustle of Times Square and meeting up with Maria’s best friend for drinks. The next morning we slept in and then outfitted ourselves in heavy winter artillery. We headed out for an early lunch and a walk. After a dose of New York-style pasta, we meandered up to Central Park, where we stumbled across the visitor’s center. A history buff, I was enamored with the story of how the park came to be—as a place for New Yorkers to come out and enjoy some grass, trees and sunshine, not the concrete jungle most people think of when they imagine the Big Apple. One of the buildings we read about was the Chess and Checkers Building, which was built for children to come and play games on the permanent chess and checkerboard tables. Maria and I wandered back out into the chilly air and randomly ended up at the Chess and Checkers Building. Maria wanted to go up, but I didn’t feel like it. She pushed, saying let’s just check it out. So we went up.

We circled around the building, eyeing all the cement seats attached to tables featuring painted-on boards for the classic games. Maria led us over to the railing, where we could see ice skaters circling and stumbling in a rink. She wanted to sit down, so we got cozy. She took my hands and started to speak about how much I meant to her. For a brief moment, I thought “Is she going to propose?” but I shushed that little part of me and focused on the love of my life and the tears brimming in her eyes. Her poetic speech brought me to tears, too—though it felt like they were quickly drying up in the bitterly cold winds. We were both shaking when she slid the sparkling princess-cut diamond ring on my finger.

The ecstasy of my happiness had reached a new level I’d never hit before. I had felt so much joy and love in my heart from the moment we planned our first date to this moment, but now I was enveloped in a security of being able to take that next step with the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. In a word, I was thrilled.

I later found out that Maria had been working on the proposal and having my ring designed for more than six months. I think she just wanted to make me sweat it out waiting for a proposal literally just hours before I turned 30. It’s all about the element of surprise though, and I was completely swept off my feet.

Happy engagement anniversary to my wife, and happy Leap Year to all of you!