Dana Milyak knew that if she wanted Dennis Marron to marry her, she’d have to be the one to propose — and it would have to be good.
Milyak, a 37-year-old development manager at a conservation nonprofit, had first spotted Marron during the summer of 2007, when he was jogging through their Alexandria neighborhood. “Ooooh, there’s my boyfriend,” she would think at each sighting.
After several weeks, she approached him at the dog park; they introduced their pets and then themselves. Chatting on a bench, Marron told Milyak he was a chef at the Grille at the Morrison House and Jackson 20 in the Hotel Monaco and told her she should stop by for a bite sometime.
Milyak, who was in the midst of a divorce, was nervous about taking him up on the offer. But when they ran into each other again while walking their dogs, she accepted his invitation to stop off at his house for a beer and promised to visit the restaurant. When she dropped in at the Morrison House with a friend the following week, she intended to stay just for a quick bite. But Marron instructed his staff to take them to a special table and proceeded to serve them a 13-course meal, complete with wine pairings.
“She’s a good eater,” he noticed approvingly as the plates came back clean. She’d already earned points in his book for being a dog lover and a runner with a cool tattoo and good taste in music. So as they had a nightcap to end the evening, he kissed her.
Soon all of his limited free time was spent in her company. But even as he was falling for her, he sensed resistance from Milyak.
“For the first couple months, I pushed away a lot. I was very standoffish,” admits Milyak, who was still waiting for her divorce to be finalized. “I just had really intense feelings, and I was afraid of them.’”
By March, Marron, now 37, was exhausted from his efforts to break through and told her he couldn’t do it anymore.
“It was just really hard, because I kinda knew I did that to myself — or to us,” Milyak says.
A few weeks later she came home to find a package on her front porch. Inside was a bat box — like a birdhouse, but for bats. It was something Milyak, an animal lover, had told Marron she wanted on one of their first dates. She cried as she unwrapped it, knowing it meant that he truly understood her and listened when she spoke. She hoped it might also mean they still had a chance.
So when Marron texted her at midnight on her birthday and asked if he could come over for a drink, she said yes. They warily sat on opposite ends of the porch until he told her what she’d been waiting to hear: “I miss you.”
She gave herself wholeheartedly to the relationship this time, and invited Marron to move in with her that summer. With him she was happy, relaxed and affectionate in a way she’d never been before. For years, she’d been accused of being too guarded, but Marron, she says, showed her so much “caring and loving, it kinda broke me down.”
“We draw the good out of each other,” Marron agrees. “We want to make each other better.”
Soon Marron began talking about marriage, a subject Milyak preferred to avoid. But on vacation in Ireland the following August, Marron asked her directly: “What would you say if I asked you to marry me right now?”
“I would say, ‘Why do we need to get married?’ ” she responded. In her eyes they were already committed to each other.
“I’m not asking you ever again,” he told her with a tone of resignation. “If you want to get married, you have to ask me.”
By the next summer, her thinking had changed. They wanted a family together, and she’d begun to see the value of a permanent commitment.
So Milyak had rings made, and in October she returned to the bench at the park where they first met and carved a heart around their initials. The next night she led Marron and their dogs back to the park.
Not quite believing his eyes as she pulled out the ring, Marron responded, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” she said, before adding, “but maybe it can be a long engagement.”
But her thinking on that changed, too. “I’ve sat on this. I’ve thought about it thoroughly. I know what I’m doing,” she says. “And there’s no hesitation.”
On March 13, a Sunday when spring seemed to dawn in Washington, Marron and Milyak exchanged vows by the banks of the Potomac near Mount Vernon in front of 50 guests. Before heading to a pig roast at the Hotel Monaco, their friend read the lyrics of a Johnny Cash song, “ ’Cause I Love You.”
“I’ll sweep out your chimney
yes, and I will bring you flowers
yes, and I will do for you
Most anything you want me to.”