By Ashley Edwards Walker
In 2019, Bradly and Heather felt ready for love. They were both from small towns, and most of their friends were married or in committed relationships. Heather, who works in marketing and programming for the town of Kernersville, N.C., was typically “old school” when it came to dating, and envisioned meeting someone through her social circle. “I prefer to know someone and know their history when I talk to them or meet them,” she explains. But the local dating pool felt limited, so she started using Bumble as a way to meet new people. Bradly, a construction manager, had taken a similar approach to his love life. “But the people I was meeting were all younger or involved in things that weren’t interesting to me,” he says. Like Heather, he turned to Bumble in the hopes that he would match with someone who was also ready to settle down. Little did they know back then, they were closer than they thought to their happy ending.
That August, just a few weeks after they both got back on the app, Heather came across Bradly’s profile. She got excited when she realized they lived in adjacent towns and might know some of the same people after all. “I knew someone who grew up in his town, and that obviously sparked the conversation,” she says. They ended up messaging for hours, quickly exchanging numbers and moving to texting and talking on the phone. Heather liked Bradly’s small town charm. “He was very old school,” she says. “I loved that he actually wanted to talk on the phone and not just text.” They were also clear about the fact that both were ready for a relationship. “We were both kind of at a point we were done playing games,” Bradly says. “We weren’t looking to waste our time, or anyone else’s.”
Their first date was spontaneous. It was a Thursday night near the start of football season. Bradly mentioned in one of their conversations that he was a huge football fan, so Heather suggested they meet at a casual wing place after work to watch a game together. Bradly was shocked. “He was like, ‘Really?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll watch a football game,” says Heather, laughing. “That’s probably one of the reasons we’re still together,” Bradly quips. He loved that it demonstrated Heather could go with the flow.
With so many disappointing dates behind them, Heather and Bradly kept their expectations neutral going into their first date. “I was at a point where it was like, it’s either going to work out or it won’t,” explains Bradly. “I’m just going to be myself.” Heather took a similarly casual approach to the date. Instead of spending an hour picking out the perfect outfit and carefully applying her makeup like she usually did before a date, she decided she wasn’t going to “do all that.”
Once they met in person and got seated inside, “it was just easy,” recalls Bradly. “It didn’t feel like a first date.” They talked about marriage and whether they wanted kids, “things people tell you to avoid at first,” says Heather. The first date went well enough that Heather invited Bradly to join her and some friends on a night out the following evening. It was perfect, because her plans were with a woman from Bradly’s hometown, and Bradly knew her father. “Like I said, dating apps were intimidating to me because I liked knowing people’s background and family history,” says Heather. “Most of the people I’ve dated were people that friends recommended, or I grew up with them or something. So the fact that my friend knew him helped.”
For the next couple of months, Heather and Bradly continued seeing each other, hanging out at each other’s homes, going to dinners and movies, and attending college football games. By October 2019, they decided to make their relationship official. When the pandemic hit a few months later in March 2020, they took turns staying at each other’s places throughout quarantine. Grocery shopping, cooking meals, and spending so much time at home together gave them a taste of what “domesticating” would be like. “To go through all that together, and we still didn’t kill each other, that was a good sign,” jokes Heather of what solidified their bond. A year later, Bradly started thinking about proposing.
Heather is a “very hard woman to surprise,” says Bradly, so he knew he had to get creative. He started looking at rings and asked Heather’s mom for her blessing to propose in summer 2021. Then he waited for the perfect opportunity to present itself. As part of her job, Heather worked her small town’s Christmas tree lighting, and had been for the past 12 years. The staff had a tradition of taking photos in front of all of the lights. When Heather started planning the event in October, Bradly realized the holiday event checked all the boxes. Friends and colleagues in attendance? Check. A picture-perfect backdrop for when he got down on one knee? Check. A professional photographer and videographer already in attendance to capture the moment? Check. He told one of Heather’s coworkers what he was planning, and she agreed to help make sure both she and the cameras were exactly where they needed to be.
Ironically, the Christmas tree lighting is not something Heather usually looked forward to because it falls near her birthday. “I always had to work, so plans to celebrate with friends and family would always get interrupted,” she explains. Bradly decided to turn the traditional disappointment on its head. At a family dinner the evening before the event and his planned proposal, he gave Heather a gift card for her birthday, but didn’t otherwise “make a big thing” of the day. The real surprise he’d planned for her was just 24 hours away.
The night of the event, Bradly and Heather planned to meet in the park. The evening got off to a rocky start: after Heather “made a big deal” about how important it was to her that Bradly be there, he arrived late. But he did make it in time to watch the tree lighting. And afterwards, like they do every year, Heather and her coworkers walked around taking pictures of all the lights. “I was so distracted, I didn’t even suspect he was hiding a surprise,” she says of what followed.
Bradly waited until Heather finished with her work obligations, then they posed for a picture beneath a tunnel of sparkly Christmas lights. As Heather was smiling for the camera, Bradly dropped to one knee and proposed. “I apparently screamed so loud that the entire park could hear me,” Heather recalls. “It was the best night. I lived a true Christmas movie moment.” Bradly then revealed one final surprise: he’d arranged for her family to be there to witness their big moment. “It worked out perfectly,” he admits.
“The only way I can truly describe our connection and relationship is serendipity,” says Heather now. “We were both finally in the right place at the right time. After so many disappointments and failed relationships, what we were seeking was right in front of us!” She and Bradly married in May 2022. Despite originally having reservations about online dating, taking a chance with Bumble gave this couple a holiday movie-worthy proposal—and love story—they’ll always cherish. Heather says she’ll remember her Christmas proposal as “the most magical night.”
Main photo credit: Vines Studios