Dolly Parton’s Husband Didn’t Say ‘I Love You’ or Outright Propose Before the Wedding

Though they seem like polar opposites, Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean have been happily married for the better part of their lives. They met when Parton was 18 and married two years into their relationship. According to Parton, though, the proposal wasn’t too romantic. He hadn’t even said “I love you” before their wedding. She explained how this made her feel.

Dolly Parton met Carl Thomas Dean on her first day in Nashville

The day after she graduated from high school, Parton packed a bag and moved from her family’s home in Sevier County, Tennessee, to Nashville. That same day, she met Dean.

“I had brought some dingy, dirty little clothes from home,” she told NPR. “And so I was just down there doing my laundry and walking around on the sidewalk. And Carl Dean came riding by. And he pulled over and said something to me, and I said something to him and 50 years later, we’re still talking.”

Parton said that she felt an instant connection with Dean.

“I was surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me),” she said on her official website. “He seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about.”

She said he didn’t outright propose

The couple’s differing personalities work well for them. Parton is all about her rhinestoned glam and limelight, whereas Dean prefers to stay out of the spotlight entirely. He likes to keep things simple, as evidenced by the couple’s first date.

“When I met my husband, he wanted to take me out to dinner,” Parton told People. “He pulled up to the drive-in window and got our food at McDonald’s.”

Though they rapidly grew close, Parton said that Dean kept the relationship lowkey — so much so that he didn’t say “I love you” until after their wedding.

According to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, Dean never dropped the three big words during their courtship. Parton said that his emotional style left her “as mixed up as a road lizard in a spin dryer.”

Dean’s proposal was also without any fanfare. Parton was living in Madison, Tennessee, and Dean was in Nashville. The distance wore him down.

“He said, ‘You’re gonna have to move closer into town or we’re gonna have to get married,’” Parton shared, per the book Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller.

The proposal worked, though, and the couple has been married for over five decades.

Dolly Parton and Carl Thomas Dean had a second wedding on their 50th anniversary

Because Parton’s record label didn’t think marriage was a good career move, Parton and Dean’s wedding was small and private. On their 50th anniversary, Parton finally got the big wedding of her dreams. 

“I never really felt like I had the wedding that we really wanted,” she said. “He got all dressed up and I got all dressed up. Fifty years is a long time for anything, and I felt that we needed to do something to commemorate this. It’s been a good 50 years and I don’t know how many more years we’ll have left.”

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