Justin Johnson, creative services lead at Next New Networks and one of the original writers for College Humor, was sitting at home yesterday with his girlfriend of six years, Marissa Nystrom. It was about 6:30 p.m. EST, their sixth anniversary as a couple, and a quiet night. They were making spaghetti for dinner, Nystrom was checking her Facebook and Tumblr accounts, and Johnson was nervous as hell.
About a month prior, Johnson had begun working with the team at Tumblr to create a wedding proposal that suited them as a couple — a big, splashy takeover of every Tumblr user’s dashboard, in which he’d pop the question in a post only Nystrom could respond to. That night, Johnson had just used a “secret link” to activate the proposal post, meaning that soon the entire Tumblr universe would be able to see it…except that his first attempt to activate it didn’t work.
Meanwhile, the ring box was on his desk, the accompanying proposal video was now live on Vimeo, and he was growing increasingly worried that the surprise was about to be blown. Finally, some urgent IMs to the Tumblr team got the proposal post working — just as Nystrom left the room to go check on the spaghetti. “There was no not-obvious way to be like, ‘HEY, WHY DONT YOU COME OVER AND CHECK TUMBLR!'” Johnson said via IM. “I was thinking of saying, ‘Oh man, so-and-so just put up this hilarious post,’ but that seemed sort of lame.”
Finally she returned to their office and refreshed her Tumblr page — giving Johnson just enough time to get down on one knee and get the ring ready. She said yes to him in person before typing her reply into Tumblr (screenshot here, if you don’t have a Tumblr account), and the two of them left their computers to pop some champagne and eat their dinner. When they returned online, they discovered that Nystrom’s reply hadn’t worked, and that she’d received over 100 Facebook messages telling her to “go check Tumblr and SAY YES!”
With technical glitches conquered, Johnson and Nystrom’s engagement dominated Tumblr for the rest of the day, the happy couple receiving congratulations and meme mash-ups from friends and strangers alike. The entire experience was extremely appropriate for a couple who originally met online via social-networking site Campus Hook — they mark their first phone conversation as their official anniversary, though didn’t meet in person until January 2004, when Johnson flew from San Francisco to Florida for a week. Footage he shot from that trip played a heavy role in the proposal video, a 1:38-minute look back at their relationship that features many candid moments of Nystrom, shot clearly through the eyes of someone who already loves her.
As one commenter on Gawker observed, it was lucky that Johnson had found a girl who was comfortable being filmed so much, “because I would punch my husband in the throat if he did that to me.” But for Johnson, constantly filming Nystrom was just an extension of his ongoing passion for video blogging, especially during the early days of their relationship, where they were separated by thousands of miles. “It was awesome to watch back when I really missed her, in those months apart, and I know she felt the same way. Remembering when we were together made it more than just a week-long fling, and then, as the years passed, it was so fun to go back and see the first days,” he said.
The two have rewatched a video Johnson made of their first week together “a zillion times,” because, in Johnson’s words, “A big reason I think we have a strong relationship, is that was can ‘time travel’ and go back to those moments when we first met, when it was so fresh and so new. This is stuff that we’ll show our grandchildren someday, and they’ll be able to see us as relatable young people.”
The decision to use Tumblr to propose, Johnson said, was a simple one: “Marissa LOVES Tumblr and is constantly, obsessively refreshing her dashboard,” he said, “So it was a mix of [Tumblr founder] David Karp being a friend, and it being something she was really into. Like if she was a huge Yankees fan and I happened to know Steinbrenner.” Of course, not everyone is a fan of the public proposal — definitely not Gabe at Videogum, for example.
But for Johnson, it worked: “All of our friends and contacts are on Tumblr, and I loved the idea of broadcasting it to everyone at once so they could share in our little moment. To me, being so used to posting everything online, it seemed like a very natural extension of how our relationship started, and how I’ve put it online in a way for all to see.” (It also spared him having to call everyone he knew and tell them.)
Perhaps you have issues with the institution of marriage, especially given the fact that not every couple in love is afforded the same rights. And perhaps you don’t personally know Johnson and Nystrom and don’t see why you should care at all. But this is the world we now live in, the private increasingly public, and for once it’s nice that the message being spread is that “these two people are in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together.” This is a community of oversharing, but at least this time what’s being shared is a love story.