Tying the knot with Portal: How one couple got engaged over Facebook’s video calling device

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For many couples, getting engaged is a simple and intimate affair involving a ring, a question, and an answer. But for Tanvi Chheda and Sagar Savla, tradition called for something a bit more complex. In their subculture, families gather for a gift-giving ceremony, a collective prayer, an introductory routine, the exchange of rings, and a group meal, which then sets the stage for a premarital phase of courtship. Chheda and Savla were ready to begin their lives together, but thousands of miles separated them from their relatives, and travel wasn’t an option. The solution: throw a virtual engagement party via Messenger and Portal, Facebook's video calling device.

Chheda, who is currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, first met Savla, a former Facebook AI researcher, when she was still an undergraduate studying earth sciences. At the time, Savla worked in San Francisco and Chheda had a summer job in the Bay Area. One day, Chheda decided to hitch-hike to a cultural event in San Jose. Who should pick her up but Savla's brother — with Savla in tow. "She literally walked into my life!” laughs Savla. The two bonded over their shared interest in caving, and after Chheda reached her destination, they friended each other on Facebook.

The couple’s relationship unfolded slowly, spanning multiple time zones and countries. Savla asked Chheda out on a walk one evening in California. Just one month later, he moved to Zurich, Switzerland, for work. “Since we both knew I was going to move away soon, we took a focused approach to dating in the first month, intentionally spending time in different environments, events, and contexts,” he explains. Chheda hit the road, too, spending time in Scotland, upstate New York, Texas, and the Netherlands. The two kept in touch through Messenger, and when Chheda moved back to California for graduate school, their relationship intensified. Two years later, they decided to get married.

Chheda initially popped the question to Savla while they were hiking through Castle Rock Park. That set the wheels in motion to make it “Facebook official” with their family.

Unable to travel to hold their engagement ceremony with family, Chheda and Savla sought a technological solution. “Typically we would have flown for this event, but due to logistics and scheduling we decided to do it over a video call.”

Savla was already familiar with Portal, having set it up in his family’s home. His grandparents were particularly big fans of the device, whose big speakers and screen make communicating easier for them. The hands-free aspect is also a hit with the family, adds Savla, who says his grandmother likes to chat with him as he does his household chores. “She’ll often comment on my cooking and offer her current recipe,” he notes. “I also tell her to exercise her ailing legs, and she keeps talking as she does her walks along the room (and the Portal camera keeps up with her as she prances about).”

Those same features came in handy during the engagement ceremony. “They could hear us perfectly,” says Savla. “Thanks to the wide field of view, we could also see the whole event space.” Roughly 50 celebrants were present for the hours-long event, which included a 10-present gift exchange, folk music and a steady procession of well-wishers offering their congratulations to the couple one at a time through Portal. “It was like the whole hall was watching a TV of sorts,” says Savla.

Overall, they managed to customize their ceremony with their needs, their families, and their culture.

“In a usual engagement event, there’s a ritual to feed the bride and groom a small piece of dessert as a way to commemorate the occasion,” says Savla. “However, in our version, they pretended to ‘feed’ us sweets via the Portal’s screen. Everybody was elated to see that Tanvi opened her mouth to receive it. They joked about how this way it would be zero calories.” The interactivity didn’t end there. “Our cousin and sister also mimicked the traditional forehead marking (bindi) on the screen like she would in person,” he says.

When the couple exchanged rings, the event hall erupted into cheers and applause.

Rather than having an ornate ceremony, Savla and Chheda say they want their wedding to be about giving back and bringing people together. That’s why they’re designating a 24-hour period during which friends and family from around the world can call in using Whatsapp or Messenger. For each call they receive, the couple will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund and Planned Parenthood Global.

Congratulations to Savla, Chheda, and their families on this wonderful life event.