How I redeemed my inept wedding proposal

It is a humbling experience to look back at the day you proposed to your wife and realise how badly you mucked it up.

This ignominious occasion three decades ago came off so ineptly that neither my wife nor I marked the date. We simply remembered that it did not go well.

The problem was not the complete lack of romance in my request; it was what prompted me to take the plunge in the first place.

I had been inspired by a small-minded, self-absorbed television loudmouth whose work I despised.

It was 1988. We were sitting on the grass at the Rosedale Conservancy in Newark Street in north-west Washington on a warm summer day with my dog, Ernie.

I turned to my then-girlfriend Connie and said: "I think it's time to get married."

We had been together for nearly a year and while we had discussed the possibility, I previously resisted.

So Connie was not shocked. But she was curious. "Why now?" she asked. "Why today?"

"No reason," I said, lying.

My beloved shifted into cross-examination mode.

"That can't be," she said. "Something must have happened."

"Nothing happened."

She stared. I gave a nervous little laugh. She kept staring.

"Well, actually, it was something Morton Downey Jr said."

Downey Jr was, at the time, a syndicated television talk-show host who found out that it paid to be foul and obnoxious.

He had honed a populist shtick and invited masochistic liberals onto his show so he could shout them down in a spray of insults.

I lived at the opposite end of the broadcast universe, as the audio-board operator for The Diane Rehm Show on radio station Wamu.

Downey had been her guest that morning. During the show, the meticulous Rehm asked him what research he did before a show.

"I don't do any," he replied.

Books, apparently, were for weenies: "I don't need to read anything. When you know something, you know it."

The pitiful thing is, that drivel was exactly what I needed to hear.

I knew I loved Connie.

The time for weighing and reflection was over. So that afternoon at the park, I made the wedding pitch.

But under Connie's interrogation, I naively revealed the source of my mojo. She was spectacularly irritated. She had spent months cultivating the relationship, figuring out what made me tick, making sure my dog loved her as much as he did me.

After all that, to have someone like Downey Jr as the catalyst was intolerable.

"I don't accept," she said.

I immediately made things worse by chuckling.

"No, I really mean it," she said.

"I might accept at some point, but not now. This is too ridiculous."

We had a very chilly walk home.

Neither of us remembers how or when things thawed. After a few days, they did. Parents were called, housemates were informed, plans were made and my lacklustre proposal faded into history.

But I must have harboured a desire to make amends and redeem a disastrous salvo that succeeded in spite of itself.

So, a few months ago, with Valentine's Day in mind, I set out to learn the date of that moment in the park.

It was my secret research project.

All I needed was the day Rehm interviewed Downey.

I visited Wamu, but Rehm had retired and the station lacked records of guests going back that far.

I e-mailed a sympathetic librarian at the University of Maryland, where some of the Rehm archives are kept.

I even harassed the producer of Evocateur, an enjoyable documentary about Downey.

Dead ends, all.

I almost gave up, but I make my living doing research at PolitiFact and it crossed my mind that if New Jersey-based Downey Jr had been promoting himself on the Rehm show, he probably had done other media hits in town.

And if he had, The Washington Post would have written about him.

It is amazing how quickly a puzzle resolves itself once you start down the right path.

A few minutes - literally - with the online Post archives and I had it, though not where I expected.

In the days before the Web, newspapers published lists of upcoming guests on news shows.

The Post ran this blurb on July 15, 1988: "Talk: 10am - Wamu-FM (88.5) Diane Rehm Show. A panel of journalists reviews the week's top news stories. Then TV talk show host Morton Downey Jr discusses his new book Mort, Mort, Mort."

Victorious, I delightedly shared my discovery with Connie.

She was pleased that I had finally spent some time thinking about what a hash I had made of the moment and I was pleased because I finally had put a touch of romance into that day.

Now, 30 years later, we have a date for July 15 at the Rosedale Conservancy in Newark Street.

• Jon Greenberg writes for PolitiFact, a news service that vets the accuracy of political statements.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'How I redeemed my inept wedding proposal'. Subscribe