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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

Engaged and underaged: Brown students find love early

Handmade rings and fireworks seal the deal for engaged undergraduates and their future spouses

Time passes in full moons for Dylan Felt ’16 when he is away from his fiancee.

There was a full moon on their first camping trip together, and it was a blue moon when he proposed.

So when his fiancee Danie left for Chile and Argentina for seven months, the two opted to mark the time by friendlier lunar units. “Instead of saying so many months to go, we said it was seven full moons, six full moons and so on,” Felt said. “Because no one has ever said, ‘Boy, I love being far away from the person I love!’”

Felt is one of a small handful of engaged-to-be-married Brown undergraduates whose ‘ever after’ is just a little more certain.


A modest proposal

In a seventh grade jewelry workshop, Felt made a ring: a simple metal band with a red stone. He said he knew then he wanted to give the ring to the person with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

“Apparently I’m a love hipster,” Felt said, ducking his head with a smile.

When he proposed to Danie, the ring “fit perfectly.”

Alyssa Browning ’15 has been engaged for three years to her fiance Thomas, whom she met at a hockey game when she was 13. The middle school crush blossomed into a close and beautiful friendship, she said.

“College is a fabulous dating algorithm,” said Browning, who imagined meeting her future spouse at a university. “But I don’t think it can’t happen when you’re very young.”

Thomas proposed when Browning was 16. The two were standing in a gazebo on a pond with twinkling lights bouncing off the water, Browning remembered. When Thomas got down on one knee, Browning’s first thought was that he had tripped.

Though Aamir Imam ’14 met his fiancee Rabia in the sixth grade, they only became close after he graduated high school, when she was a junior at the University of Mary and Washington, he said. The summer after he graduated high school, the two would meet up and watch the star — that is, the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star — in Roanoke, Va.

While he was working in Chicago this summer, Imam decided to propose.

When Rabia visited, he told her they were going to eat at Olive Garden. Their real plans were much more elaborate — shopping, dinner on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building and a late-night walk in Millennium Park that ended with a proposal at 10:14 and a few seconds.

At 10:15, Rabia said yes. Right on cue, fireworks erupted in the sky.


The marriage plot

Felt attended the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific IB program in Canada to receive a full college scholarship. The program entailed an extra year of high school, during which he met Danie.

They were engaged Aug. 31, 2012, the day before Felt came to Brown. Adjusting as a first-year was difficult due to his age and was made even more complicated by his relationship status, Felt said.

“People on my hall would say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s that guy who’s not only a year older than you, but also engaged,’” he said. “No one really got it.”

Some other misconceptions surrounded his relationship. Right before coming to campus, Felt had messaged his roommate-to-be about Danie, his fiancee in Canada. But, some time before, Felt had accidentally set his Facebook preferences to indicate he was interested in men.

He soon realized his roommate thought Felt was using his girlfriend in Canada to avoid discussing being gay.  “A little way through the year he tried to give me the ‘I accept you’ talk,” Felt said.

Felt had spoken of Danie to his friends for such a long time that “it was very easy for me to lend his story over to dreamland,” Ian Garrity ’16 said. So when Garrity, Felt’s current roommate, met Danie for the first time, he immediately exclaimed, “You’re real!”

During senior week of last year, Alp Ozcelik ’13 was walking with a friend when he stumbled upon a couple taking wedding photos on Ruth Simmons Quad. “It was such a surreal experience,” Ozcelik remembered. “I said ‘Best wishes’ to the bride, and then I turned to the groom and was like, ‘Congra — wait, what? Jack? Oh my god!” It turned out the groom was his freshman year roommate. Ozcelik walked away stupefied, he said.

Ozcelik’s roommate, Yilong “Jack” Yang ’13, met his girlfriend Afee Tian Qiu ’13 at an event in China for incoming Brown students, he said. Yang and Qiu started dating before the academic year began and began living together in a gender-neutral dorm in their sophomore year, Ozcelik said.


Near, far, wherever they are

Students engaged to people outside of the Brown community have to balance missing their fiancees with enjoying the lives they lead here, Felt said. For him, that balance comes with frequent Skype sessions, nightly Facebook messages and visits as often as once a month.

Garrity said he loves the reliability of rooming with someone who is engaged — it means he is never in danger of being sexiled mid-week.

“I’m not chasing little flights of fancy or wondering who looked at me what way in the Ratty,” Felt said. “This one part of my life is stable and lovely and supportive, which makes me stable and lovely and supported.”

Felt wears necklaces that remind him of Danie whenever the two are apart, evidenced by the brown beads peeping out from the neckline of his purple sweater.

Browning’s fiance lives in Providence, so she sees him at least five times a week. The two mostly go off College Hill, shopping, eating dinner with her parents and taking low-key vacations, she said.

“If this is what being married for a long time feels like, then I’ll take it!” she joked, rubbing the bright square stone on her left ring finger.

The distance between Imam and his fiancee is the hardest aspect of their relationship, he said. “I would love to walk her to class or just buy her flowers,” Imam said.



The social atmosphere at Brown can be less than open-minded toward these students’ choices, some said. Many students Browning did not know personally initially criticized her relationship status when they learned she is engaged, she said. If people ask her and Thomas about their relationship, they talk about it. If not, they won’t.

Life is smoother this way, Browning said. She even bought him a Brown jacket to help him blend in. Browning said her engagement does not detract from other aspects of her life at school. “It doesn’t change the way I look at my classes, my career or my constantly evolving personal plan,” Browning said. “It’s just life.”

Felt has never experienced this social antagonism outside of joking within his circle of friends, he said.

People often think that committing in this way just does not pan out in college, Garrity said. “A certain part of me still thinks that,” he added.

“But from what I’ve seen, it really can happen,” Garrity said. “And when it does, it’s incredible and magical in a way that nothing is. Real love.”

Imam has only received positive feedback about his engagement — in spades. All his friends have been asking when the wedding will be so they can help him plan it, he said.

Imam is half-Indian, half-Pakistani, and Rabia is Pakistani. Imam’s culture dictated that his parents ask her parents for permission, but he wanted to incorporate an American side to his proposal. As he prepared to pop the question, an anxious Imam had even explored the possibility of eloping, he said.

Luckily, everything worked out.

When others ask him to describe his fiancee, Felt replies, “She’s short. She’s a francophone. She loves the ocean and snores really loudly.” Felt paused for a moment. “We just make each other happy,” he said. Saying these things can seem cliched to him at times, but “then you realize you’re engaged to someone and you love them, so why the hell do you care?”



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