In the beginning, Jason Methner was the impatient one.
After meeting Molly Lipsitz at a mutual friend's birthday party in Wicker Park, Methner, 27 at the time and in a master's program at Northwestern University, was eager to accelerate the relationship, while Lipsitz, then 22 and a recent Northwestern graduate, resisted. It took "a wearing down," Methner said, just to get her to agree to a first date. He took her to a Ghanaian restaurant in Uptown.
But over the years, as a mutual love of books and food and unusual adventures drew Methner and Lipsitz closer, the roles reversed. Lipsitz pushed for greater commitment. Methner, who had acclimated to the slower pace, figured there was no reason to mess with a good thing.
And it was good: When Methner wanted to tour the cranberry bogs of Pittsville, Wis., his friends scoffed, except for Lipsitz, who thought it a spectacular idea, and they spent the day with a busload of seniors observing the harvest.
Their differences were as unifying as their quirky shared interests.
"We're the couple that will argue with each other in front of you," Methner said, at which point Lipsitz disputed the term "argue," so Methner revised: "We have passionate conversations." Point being, they don't shy away from calling each other out.
"I challenge Molly to take more responsibility of financial literacy, and she challenges me on organization and to eat more vegetables," Methner said.
As their respective pacing came into line, the couple moved in together, adopted a brown mutt they named Hammer, and, after four years of dating, knew they would marry. Lipsitz had no idea when Methner would propose, but she was sure of one thing: "I knew that it wasn't going to be something cliche," she said.
One Saturday in March, Methner, now 31 and a marketing executive, and Lipsitz, now 27 and working at a public relations agency, headed downtown to meet a friend for lunch. Lipsitz was growing increasingly annoyed. She had gotten a manicure that morning that she didn't need because a girlfriend begged her for company. When she returned home, surprised to find her normally casual boyfriend wearing nice khakis and a button-down shirt, she had just five minutes to change, and no time to fix her hair, before they had to leave.
As the "L" rumbled away from the Lakeview neighborhood where they lived, Methner explained that they would be swinging by the Harold Washington Library Center before lunch because the friend had written a children's book that she wanted to show them.
"I was like, 'Why are we doing this? Can't we just meet her afterward?' " Lipsitz recalled saying. "Why did she even write this children's book? She works in HR."
Meantime, staff members at the Harold Washington Library were preparing for the couple's arrival.
Stuart Griner, a children's librarian, had arrived at work that morning to find a box on his desk and an email from Ruth Lednicer, director of marketing and communications for the Chicago Public Libraries, with instructions on what to do with it. Inside lay a picture book featuring a floppy-eared rabbit.
Griner placed the book in the display rack for middle school chapter books and put other books around it so that it wouldn't look out of place. He eyed the door, wondering if each couple that walked in was the one. At one point he walked away from the rack, and when he returned the book was missing.
"I was freaking out," said Griner, who found the book soon enough — a customer had picked it up and put it on a different shelf — and returned it to its proper place. A photographer friend of Lipsitz's, Aparna Paul Jain, stationed herself behind a bookcase, training her lens between the shelves for a view of the rack.
Methner and Lipsitz eventually entered. Griner pretended to clean. Methner led Lipsitz to the rack where he and Lednicer had agreed that the book would sit, and placed it in her hands.
Lipsitz was confused, at first, that the book, titled "A Hare-y Tale," had no author on the cover. Inside, it said it was written by Jason Methner and illustrated by his friend, Yoni Limor. When she got to the first illustrated page, things started to become more clear: "Once upon a time there was a Bunny who loved to hop through Sandy Springs," it read.
Lipsitz grew up in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta, and since she was 5 had slept with a stuffed bunny named Bunny. Ensuing pages described Bunny meeting a Tortoise who grew up in Houston (that would be Methner), their cranberry bogs trip and their pooch Hammer.
"I can barely read it because I just want to get to the end," Lipsitz recalled. "I think what is happening is happening, but I'm not sure."
The second-to-last page read: "One day, Tortoise realized he enjoyed spending time with Bunny so much, he wanted to be with Bunny forever. 'Bunny,' he said. 'Sometimes we move at different paces, but I always love where we go together. Would you like to stay by my side always?' " When Lipsitz turned the last page she found a blank space for Bunny's answer. Methner dropped to one knee and popped open a ring box.
"I wanted to scream, and I couldn't," Lipsitz said, laughing. "We had to be quiet because we were in a library."
Lipsitz said she was shocked at the intricacy of the proposal.
After Methner hatched the idea of writing a book using the tortoise/hare metaphor for the fast and slow progress of their relationship, he reached out to Limor, an animator, and had him draw corresponding illustrations. He had the book bound at Lulu.com.
Methner asked one of Lipsitz's friends to take her for a manicure so her hands would be picture-ready. He asked Jain to photograph the proposal. He concocted the story about lunch with the friend. He emailed the library's general mailbox with his request for help, and when it got to Lednicer, she was thrilled at the idea.
"We all really took it to heart," Lednicer said. The only condition was that the library be able to post the photos to its Facebook page, hoping to get a few "likes." It went viral, with more than 100,000 views and almost 2,000 likes.
Presenting the proposal as a book, Methner said, gave the couple a keepsake that they could share with family.
"Our parents aren't here — we don't have a direct family tie to Chicago — so I knew that they would really want to be involved in the marriage process and proposal," Methner said. "The book was a nice way to have something tangible that we could show them. And it will be a neat keepsake for our kids, eventually, when we have them."
- In love with books? The Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Lit Fest will be June 8-9 on Dearborn Street, between Congress and Polk streets. Visit printersrowlitfest.org for details.