Engaged couple’s first date was sparked by class assignment

The most obvious question tied to Chloe Ament and Nick McNeill’s relationship is,” Would we be engaged and planning a September wedding if not for a 2014 writing assignment at East Carolina University?”

“It’s hard to say,” Ament said. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Ament was a freshman in Dr. Damon Rappleyea’s introduction to marriage and family relationships class. She needed to ask someone on a date and answer a set of questions about the experience to complete the assignment. Ament decided to ask McNeill, who was not in the class but was an ECU student.

They both lived in Jarvis Hall and were aware of each other, but it was the class assignment that sparked their relationship. Ament asked McNeill on their first date and was honest with him about the foundation for the date, but roles quickly shifted as it was Ament who received a text message from McNeill the same night after their first date in pursuit of a second outing.

Ament and McNeill’s first date involved dinner and a movie.

“After a good date, I thought it could be something more, so I pursued,” McNeill said. “It really kind of pushed us into each other’s direction. Before, we were more acquaintances. I considered her a friend, but not the closest friend at the time. We knew of each other and had talked a few times. … I think the formal date really pushed us to get to know each other in that way.”

They went on a traditional first date, eating at a pizza restaurant before going to a theater to watch a movie.

Their wedding date is Sept. 24. Ament emailed Rappleyea in May to thank him and inform him of their engagement.

“It’s really validating to be able to hear their experience,” Rappleyea said. “That is the target of the assignment. It’s not necessarily to get married and that’s not what I’m shooting for — that’s a bonus — but I think the target of the assignment is to have an experience and be able to confront some discomfort and being able to meet somebody and you can have a more formalized opportunity to get to know people. It is something in our society that we don’t do as much anymore. We prefer the casual and the informal.”

A recent meeting between Rappleyea and the couple led to the professor to ask what they think now of the assignment.

Ament, a 2018 ECU graduate in dance with a minor in human development and family science, said her initial reaction was some anxiety of figuring out who she should ask on the date. She said friends in her dorm helped in confirming McNeill should be her choice.

Ament also now appreciates the responsibility and power she had in asking McNeill to dinner and a movie.

“Women don’t normally ask guys on dates, but this assignment gave me, as a woman, a reason or an excuse to ask somebody,” she said. “Really, we shouldn’t need to have (an excuse). But that’s the way a lot of people view it. You just have to get out there and do it. Sometimes there is that intimidation factor of being too nervous or wondering what if it never happens. But when you’re given a deadline, I had to ask somebody and had to do it now.”

Even though McNeill was not in Rappleyea’s class, the dating assignment has made him think about the many details and roles of relationships.

“Obviously we are super grateful for (Rappleyea), because who knows where we would be at life right now (without him),” McNeill said. “I tend to try to be super realistic. Are there soulmates? I don’t know, but because of this assignment and meeting Chloe, I start to get a little cheesy and am like, ‘Maybe there are soulmates.’ I’m super grateful that this all came about and happened.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rappleyea hasn’t used this writing assignment in class since 2018. He hopes to reintroduce it in spring 2023.

Ament and McNeill’s love story has been refreshing and rewarding for Rappleyea, an ECU associate professor in the College of Health and Human Performance who has seen dating evolve and trend toward casual and even technology-based in recent years compared to a formal dinner and movie setting.

“There is nothing wrong with that, but you hear the difference in conversations with Chloe and Nick,” Rappleyea said. “Making it more formal made it more apparent that he was interested in her, and he pursued it. That is really neat.”

Ament and McNeill are planning a Sept. 24 wedding.