On their first date, Cindy Castro and Dante DiRusso did what any ordinary couple just getting to know each other would do—they (fake) got married. The two were introduced in 2007 by mutual friends in Arizona, but their first meeting was unfortunately followed by Dante’s almost-immediate relocation to Los Angeles. However, an online friendship soon blossomed. They were not reunited again until 2008 on a “Vegas or Bust” group trip, which proved their official first date. “We pretended to get married and bought fake wedding bands and fooled our friends,” says Cindy, an associate casting producer for reality television series Kitchen Nightmares and Tattoo Rescue, among others. “The rest is history.”
When it came to the real engagement—after a five-year romance—Dante, a producer’s assistant for television shows The Xeron Factor, Say Yes to the Dress, and Who Has the Last Laugh, among others, opted for a much more low-key proposal. Taking Cindy to his Ohio hometown, Dante told her that we wanted to go to his family’s logging property. “Dante took me to the tree that his grandfather dedicated to carving milestones,” says Cindy. “It was freezing cold and I didn’t understand why he wanted to show me the tree now. And then he got on one knee and proposed.” When it came to the October 5, 2013, wedding, the bride, a native Washingtonian and University of Maryland alum, wanted to return to the District for a “D&C in DC”-themed celebration.
After Erin Mullins met James Herbert Jr. in algebra class during their junior year of high school, she went home and told her mother that she “met a boy who was extremely nice.” Erin and James developed instant crushes on one another. “At first sight I thought she was unbelievably beautiful, but after talking with her throughout class, I found out what a caring, loving, and extraordinarily intelligent person she was as well,” says James, now a policy advisor, about his first impression of Erin. “I would say it was then that I knew I would one day marry her.”
James kept his word. After six years together, he proposed at Alden Vineyard in Sonoma, California, where the two were on vacation. “Right before dusk, we went outside onto the patio overlooking the vineyard to have a glass of wine and enjoy the evening weather. While I was standing by the railing looking at the view, he knelt beside me on one knee,” says Erin, now a teacher. “The rest is simple, he asked, and I said ‘yes.’” A wedding ceremony, inspired by the couple’s love for Nantucket, Massachusetts, followed 15 months later.
When Daniel Raphael met Rachel Gart, through mutual friends at a happy hour, he instantly knew she was the perfect woman for him. “The question was whether I could hold out long enough without saying something stupid for her to realize I was perfect for her too,” he says. Lucky for him, Rachel was equally taken with the “goofball with some sweet dance moves,” as she describes her first impression of him, and the two quickly bonded over their love of running and hiking, and the aspiration of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Fourteen months later, Daniel, who works in real estate management, planned a proposal fit for his perfect woman. As Rachel got home from work one Friday, she was greeted with a rose petal path starting from the entrance of their apartment building leading into the elevators and onto the floor where their apartment is. Excited, Rachel exited the elevator only to find that the petals led to an entirely different apartment. “Daniel happened to be in the hallway, and I quickly rushed into our apartment bedroom to hide my embarrassment in thinking that the rose petals were for me,” says Rachel, an attorney.
Once in the bedroom, Rachel saw a note taped to the back of the bedroom door. Inside were a series of texts and e-mails she and Daniel had exchanged over the course of their relationship. After she read them, Rachel went back into the living room to find it completely transformed. “Dozens of tea candles covered the room, my favorite flowers streamed from the ceiling, all of the light bulbs in the lamps were red, and draped over the dining room table was a tablecloth Daniel had made that said, ‘You are nothing short of my everything,’” recalls Rachel. “As I burst into tears, Daniel got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.” The groom sealed the deal by sweeping Rachel away for a surprise weekend at a bed-and-breakfast in West Virginia.
Their wedding, which followed on September 1, 2013, at Leesburg’s Raspberry Plain, was nothing short of spectacular.
Ashley Gilmore and Jeremy Rephlo first connected over Pringles and a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels during a train ride from Washington to New York City. The two met while working at AOL, during which time they were sent on a business trip to manage a booth for Internet Week in Manhattan. “As soon as we sat next to each other on the train, there was an instant connection,” says Ashley, now a user experience designer. “I just never knew you could meet someone who makes you more of who you are.”
The groom, now a product director, felt the spark too. Their friendship quickly turned to romance, and a year later Jeremy proposed on Ashley’s birthday. After cooking an elaborate dinner, Jeremy arranged a stack of nine beautifully wrapped gifts, and then asked Ashley to open them in order from smallest to largest. Each gift contained a memento recalling a special memory or a trip the couple had taken together. “The final gift was a bag of yogurt pretzels and a can of Pringles, with a note asking if I’d like to go to the roof,” say the bride.
When Ashley followed Jeremy upstairs, she was greeted with a breathtaking view overlooking the DC skyline, a rooftop full of candles, and a rug to sit on. Jeremy then took the Pringles out of his backpack—but instead of chips, the can contained an engagement ring. “The reason the can was so meaningful is that even though we have had the privilege of doing some awesome things, our happiest and best moments together lie in the little things that we have with each other every day,” says Ashley. A year later, the duo wed at an elegant celebration at the Mayflower hotel in Washington.
The night Derek Bakker’s roommate introduced him to Madeline Teague, while he was spending the summer interning in New York, he called his best friends afterward to tell them he had met the woman he was going to marry. A “fairy-tale” first-date weekend in the city ensued, with strolls through Central Park and a first kiss on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They met up for another date in Baltimore at an Orioles game, which cemented what Derek already felt. “I knew I was in love when Madi said that she really wanted a hot dog and a margarita,” says the groom, a national account manager for a software company.
Madi, now a third-year law student, was equally taken with Derek, and could not stop “gushing about him” to her friends. After being separated by 600 miles for their last year of college—the groom in Philadelphia, the bride in Knoxville—they reunited when both moved to Washington in May 2011. The following summer, Derek proposed to Madi at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, while they were taking a walk with their Labradoodle, Dupont. A year later they returned to Sugarloaf for their wedding at the Strong Mansion.
When Whitney Ourisman and Keegan Ferguson first met, as undergraduates at Georgetown University, they were instantly drawn to each other. Whitney remembers enjoying Keegan’s sense of humor; he thought she was “cute.” The scenario would have been perfect for romance—if Whitney hadn’t had a boyfriend at the time. “Thankfully for me, they broke up a few weeks later, and I took my chance,” says Keegan, now a graduate student.
A first date at DC’s Los Cuates led to a three-and-a-half-year relationship, which was followed by an engagement at scenic Lake Placid in the Adirondacks in New York. “We were in a boat on the lake, enjoying the sunset and beautiful weather, when he proposed,” says Whitney, a teacher. An equally picturesque wedding followed 11 months later.
It took Michael Widomski and David Hagedorn almost a decade to figure out they were meant for one another. The two first met in 1997 when Michael, the director of communications for the National Weather Service, attended a Christmas Eve dinner party that David, a food and dining columnist and cookbook author, was hosting. While there were no instantaneous sparks, per se, both felt a connection, which led to a meaningful, decade-long friendship. As their familiarity grew, the two friends realized they were poised for something bigger, and they began a romantic relationship in 2007.
It would be five more years before Michael spontaneously popped the question in the couple’s living room, inspired by the idea that legal same-sex marriage would soon be a viable option. “Michael got down on his knee while we were watching the evening news, on which it was announced that the Supreme Court would take up the DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] and Prop 8 cases,” says David, who has been a vocal leader in local causes to support gay marriage. Nine months—and a Supreme Court ruling—later, the couple wed on the rooftop of the Penn Quarter restaurant Fiola, with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiating.
When asked about their first impression of each other, Lindsay Steedman and Arkadiy Naumov both don’t hesitate to use the word “annoying.” That didn’t stop the two analysts, who met while working together years before, from eventually warming to one another and ultimately starting to date and fall in love. Three years later, on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, they decided to spend the holiday as a couple, just the two of them. “Arkadiy proposed at our dinner table after we spent all day preparing a Thanksgiving meal for each other,” says the bride. The couple made up for the low-key proposal when they went all out with a horse and carriage, a handmade veil and decor, and personalized details 20 months later at their Maryland wedding celebration.
It was obvious to everyone from the start that Erica Shinham and Jacob Gaskill were meant for each other. They met at a church picnic not long after Erica moved to Virginia to begin a job as a reading specialist. Jake’s family members thought the two would be perfect for each other and gave Erica numerous not-so-subtle nudges, but she was too shy to introduce herself. Instead, she busied herself with setting up one of the children’s games and was approached by a little boy who turned out to be Jake’s son, Brayden. A proper introduction between the two adults was finally established, and they spent the remainder of the picnic getting to know each other.
It didn’t take them long to realize what everybody else already knew: They were meant for each other. Four months into dating, Jacob, an AutoCAD drafter, bought a ring and began looking for the perfect opportunity to propose. After spending Christmas Day with his family in Virginia, Jake couldn’t wait any longer to ask for Erica’s hand in marriage. He enlisted the help of her brother-in-law and set up a plan, then packed a suitcase for himself and Brayden and made the drive to Pennsylvania, where Erica was spending the holidays with her family.
When Jake arrived, unbeknownst to Erica, her brother-in-law gave her a note that said to go outside. “When I opened the front door, Jake was standing on the front porch with a ring in his hand, and Brayden was jumping up and down giggling next to him,” she says. Seven months later, a summer wedding full of DIY touches followed at Early Mountain Vineyards.
Attraction blossomed for Colette Handley and David Forster from the moment they laid their eyes on each other while sunning themselves on the beach in San Diego, where both lived prior to moving to Washington. “I thought Dave was strong, intelligent, charismatic, and funny. And big—I am 4-foot-11 and Dave is 6-foot-4!” says the bride, a sales associate. The groom instantly fell for Colette’s “stunning eyes,” and a first date at a restaurant in Pacific Beach soon followed.
One move and four years later, on New Year’s Eve 2011, David planned a scenic, wintry proposal on the bridge overlooking the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial. “I tricked her by telling her that a friend needed us to pick her up after car trouble,” says David, a franchise operations manager. “So on our way down, I stopped, stepped out of the car, popped the trunk open, and surprised her with the ring and flowers.”
A year and a half later came their elegant wedding celebrating Washington’s cherry blossom season. The icing on top of their stunning two-tier cake was the news that came after the big day—Colette and David are expecting their first baby, who should arrive in time for their one-year anniversary.