When Lauren Swafford was a student at Southern Adventist University, she would frequent the local Starbucks where Daniel Hall worked as a barista.
They would frequently exchange pleasantries during the transactions, but there was no indication that a future together was in the cards.
Hall recalls being infatuated with Swafford at the time but adhering to what he called "the guy code."
"A lot of females come through the Starbucks drive-thru," Hall said. "It sounds overly romantic, but she always stood out."
He said when Lauren would drive away from the window he would clutch his heart and say to anyone who was listening, "If only she didn’t have a boyfriend."
Because she totally did have a boyfriend. And the two were on the path to marriage.
"I wasn’t really settled on him, " Swafford said. "But I was just going to go with it."
Swafford’s boyfriend at the time was in the military. They had been together for four and a half years, and she thought, like many girls in their early 20s, that the logical next step would be marriage.
Plus, Hall, at 29, was too old for Swafford.
An assignment in Swafford’s advanced journalism class changed everything.
Kendra Stanton Lee is an assistant professor of journalism and communications at Southern Adventist University.
She gave Swafford’s class an assignment to write a long-form investigative piece of their choosing.
"I think I threw out the idea," Lee said. "I’m from Boston, where you get married at 42. It’s a total different sensibility down here."
Swafford started researching marriage in the South. She found a study that said the average age of marriage jumped from 22 to 29 between 1990 and 2012 nationwide.
"I was thinking that might not be true in the South," Swafford said. "I wanted to dig a little deeper for the assignment."
Her current boyfriend was in his early 30s, and she needed to find other people to interview that were, from the outside, intentionally single and in their late 20s and early 30s.
Daniel, her barista, fit the bill.
She reached out to him on Facebook, and they agreed to meet at Panera for an interview.
"I was really just looking to help out this girl," Hall said. "I knew she had a boyfriend, and I don’t believe the idea that chivalry is dead."
Swafford assumed that she was going to hear from Hall various reasons why he hadn’t settled down yet.
"I kind of thought he was going to tell me he wanted to find himself," she said. "But it turned out that he was searching, too. His ideas were exactly in line with mine."
The interview that was supposed to last 45 minutes ended with the restaurant closing hours later.
"She used the phrase ‘kindred spirits’ and talked about ‘later on,’" Hall said. "The interview kind of knocked us both on our heels. I thought, ‘Something is going on here.’"
After she recovered, Swafford "made up" a design project in order to see Hall again.
Several days later, Swafford ended her relationship with her then-boyfriend. She was also involved in a serious car accident that kept her out of commission for weeks.
Lee saw Swafford on campus a few weeks after the assignment was complete.
"I think I’m in love with that barista guy," Swafford said.
The two officially became a couple on New Year’s Eve.
Swafford is a huge Zeppelin fan, so Hall purchased tickets to Zoso: The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience cover band at Rhythm & Brews on Friday, Sept. 6. But making her think they were going to a concert was part of a ruse.
As furtively as he could, he contacted family members and announced his plans for what he hoped was the perfect proposal.
Swafford was with her friend. They were scheduled to meet Hall at Westview Elementary School before the concert. Hall serves as music and creative arts director for a church that uses the school every Sunday, so the setting wasn’t suspect.
Upon arrival, Swafford was handed a note that said, "I’ve been waiting for you. Come inside."
Inside, Hall was waiting. He had gathered a band together to perform "Lost Kid" by Apache Relay, a song that included the lyrics "All my life, I've been waiting for you."
"That was a no-brainer," Hall said. "The song rings true. She sent it to me and said, ‘Gosh, this song sounds like us.’ We listened to it over and over again."
As seen in the video—produced by Alpaca Digital Media— Swafford entered the gymnasium, which was surrounded by tea lights and candles. Hall began singing the song.
After two verses, he stopped, approached Swafford and proposed.
She said yes.
As Hall sang the final verse, Swafford’s friends and family emerged from the wings.
"I would never have had any reason to interview him about marriage," Swafford said. "I found out everything about him before I knew him. I think everybody should do that."
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