16 Real-Life NYC Love Stories

Bring out the lingerie, install the dimmer switch, light those scented candles: It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, that one special holiday that celebrates our pink-saturated (mis)conceptions of love and affection.

Sure, greeting-card companies and FTD might make a powerful argument that February 14 is the most overly sentimental romantic day of the year, but there are many of us who would heartily disagree.

Here, 16 of New York’s coolest couples share their most tender, heartfelt tales. From proposals popped in Italy to goofy inside jokes shared at home, these sweet stories prove that the most meaningful moments are often unexpected — and that grand romantic gestures aren’t dead.

1

Michael Chernow, Co-Owner Meatball Shop + Donna Hemmingsen Chernow, Model
“Donna and I went to Europe in 2005 for a three-week trip. Our first stop in Italy was in Catania, Sicily, where we stayed with a buddy of mine Ricardo for a week. Catania was beautiful, but after a few days we became a bit bored. On top of that, I was looking for the most beautiful place to ask Donna to marry me. I told Ricardo about the plan, and the last day we were in Catania he took us an hour north to Taormina. As soon as we got there, I knew this was the place. I set up a hotel room for that night with dinner reservations at what was supposedly the most sought after restaurant in the region. We went back down to Catania, packed our bags, and shot right back to Taormina. 

“That evening, we both got dressed up, headed out to dinner, and I had the ring (in the classic box) stuffed in my right boot. I made a late reservation, outside under the stars, with hopes to be alone in the restaurant toward the end of the meal. But, just as we finished our entrées, a family sat right next to us, kids and all. I was shattered. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and ran to speak with the maître d’ to ask for a suggestion for al place to do the deed. He directed me to a path along the cliffs that looked out over the Mediterranean. 

“I began to sweat. I was terrified because I knew this was the moment where my life would change — if she said yes, of course. As we were walking along the cliffs, I began to tell Donna how much I loved her, and how special she is to me. How she has helped me understand the meaning of love — yada yada yada — when all of a sudden she turned around and said, ‘HOLY SH*T! IS THAT MOUNT ETNA ERUPTING?!’ Lo and behold, a little way off on the skyline, the volcano began spewing lava. We could even hear it, and it was beautiful. If this wasn’t a sign, well then I don’t know what is. It was as if I had called the man upstairs to set this up perfectly on time with the moment when I was to ask the woman of my dreams to marry me. I got down on one knee, pulled out the ring and asked her to marry me. She began crying, asked me if I was crazy, and said yes. I was also tearing up a bit and was overwhelmed with love and joy. We kissed, and I screamed over to a couple walking passed that we just got engaged. We walked to a nearby café and had a big cup of hot chocolate and went home to the hotel for some loving. That was one of the best days of my life. And, I still can’t believe the volcano.” — Michael

2

Jeff Halmos, Designer and Cofounder, Shipley & Halmos + Lisa Mayock, Founder and Designer, Vena Cava 
“My wife Lisa and I love to travel. We spent our honeymoon venturing through India, and aside from seeing new places, my favorite part was being able to spend lots of time together — just us — with no distractions. (Unless you count a million rickshaws, people, and animals converging together in the streets!)” — Jeff

3

Patricia Beranek + Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia
“Jean and I were six months into our relationship in 2003, and fully loved up. We hadn’t really said the big I LOVE YOU to each other, but both of us knew what we had was the real deal. 

“So, this one Sunday morning, we were listening to U2 and just doing the honeymoon gaze into each others eyes. I looked at Jean, and without saying it out loud, told him that I loved him in my head. He looked at me, smiled a little, and said, ‘I love you, too.’

“WHAT?!?! The dude can read minds!!! I totally freaked out. After realizing what just happened, he pointed at the stereo, and said: ‘I love U2.’ The band U2. Then he looked at me, and said: ‘But, I love you, too.’

“Note to self: He is still a great guy but can’t actually read minds. Or, so I think.” — Patricia

4

Lisa Salzer, Founder/Designer, Lulu Frost + Marlon Taylor-Wiles, Dancer
“One of our sweetest moments happened in Argentina, where we were staying on this amazing remote ranch. We woke up early, just before sunrise, and started out for a walk down a dirt path surrounded on either side by towering oak trees. As we walked in the early morning light, two cats joined us, followed by a few adorable dogs. Chirping birds began swooping right by us as we walked, trailed by the cats and puppies, and it began to feel like a crazy scene out of Ace Ventura! We felt like we were animal whisperers. All of a sudden, the distant sound of stampeding hooves became deafening, and a huge herd of 50 gorgeous horses thundered right toward us, galloping past us by the narrowest of margins in a flurry of dust. It was an amazingly powerful moment, and the best part was experiencing it together.” — Lisa

5

Mary Alice Stephenson, Stylist and Founder, GLAM4GOOD + Luca Iacovoni, Architect
“I met Luca on a blind date at Bocca Lupo…. He walked in, sat down, and that was pretty much it. The moment we met we knew: This was something different — together in an instant. Now everything feels better with Luca next to me. When you swim in the sea a lake will no longer do. As my friend poet Tyler Knott Gregson says, ‘It’s amazing how manageable life can feel with only one blanket and the right two arms.'” — Mary Alice

6

Amber Ibarreche, Artist + Sera Sloane Bishop, Hairstylist
“We briefly met once at a party in 2001. Amber came up to me, ran her hands threw my hair, smiled, and walked off. A year later, we were both featured in Dazed and Confused magazine. Just last year, I had it on my coffee table, and a friend was looking through it and pointed out her picture. It reminded me of the girl I met who walked away. I was able to find Amber on Instagram, and that’s how we reconnected. Now, when I look at her, I can’t imagine her not in my life. And, I like to remind her of that moment (often) at that blurry party when we were both just kids who had moved to New York.” — Sera

7

TECLA, Musician + Kassa Overall, Musician
“The other day, Kassa and I asked our roommate how we are together as a couple, and he answered: ‘All I know is that you guys walk around talking in funny voices, playing characters, and cracking up about ridiculous inside jokes that no one else really understands. And, while acting so affectionate when you think no one is watching, you hang out with all your friends together — but as individuals. You are the definition of best friends and lovers.’ I think that pretty much sums it up.” —TECLA

8

Todd Pendu, Photographer and Founder/Creative Director, PENDV + Zana Bayne, Designer/Founder, Zana Bayne Leather
“Back in 2011, when I used to operate my company out of my apartment in Williamsburg, I would walk three blocks to a small family-run post office to send all of my orders. Being that the majority of my business was web orders, I was there almost every day, shipping boxes full of leather to every corner of the world. My post-office runs were usually the only time I would leave my place in the daytime, and the chances of running into someone I knew were slim to none — so needless to say it was never an affair to dress up. October 12 was a Wednesday like any other. I used to always rush to the post office at around 2:45 to make sure I had everything in by their 3:00 p.m. pick-up schedule, so it must have been around that time of the day. While standing in line with all of my boxes zoning out, I was jolted back to reality by the words of a stranger, ‘You’re Zana Bayne.’ Those words belonged to a seriously handsome, long-haired guy with intense eyes and beautiful lips. I responded, ‘Yes, I am.’ And, so it began. The romance ensued seven months later.” — Zanna

“Back in 2012, I was running a small record label that was working directly with fashion designers to style the artists, and the first time I came in contact with Zana Bayne’s leather harnesses was for a photo shoot. I lived directly above a post office on Lorimer at the time, which unbeknownst to me, was the same post office that Zana used. One day, while I was having a piece from Iris van Herpen being carefully packed up to be shipped, the owners mentioned that some of the pieces I had been returning reminded them of the work of one of their favorite customers — Zana Bayne. I smiled and couldn’t help but take a mental note that she and I shared the same post office — just one of those perfect NYC coincidences. Only a few weeks later, I walked in and noticed Zana leaning against the wall, while she was waiting for them to finish some work for her. I immediately approached her and introduced myself. I sent her an email later, and she replied asking me to visit her studio, which was conveniently three blocks away. Shortly after, my roommate came home one night and brought along none other than Zana. The next time I saw Zana, we were dancing to German techno in a small bar and having a great time. I decided to invent a mission to search out a rave for her and I to go to. Only a day later, I received an invite for a rave that our mutual friends Ladyfag and Seva were hosting on the night of the Super Moon. That ended up being the night that brought us together — a shared love for leather, bass music, and adventure. It just goes to show that you never know who you might meet even in the most seemingly mundane places.” — Todd

9

Dao-Yi Chow, Designer, Public School and Black Apple New York + Canis Chow
“A year to the day we met, I proposed to my wife at the same little Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong where we went on our first date. She lived in Hong Kong at the time, and I flew from NY to surprise her. I told her I was traveling and unable to meet her for our first anniversary, but that I had set up a special meal at the restaurant for her. She went begrudgingly on her own. At the sushi bar where we first sat, I told her I had left a present for her. It was a big gift-wrapped box with another box inside and finally a card inside that. As she sat down and opened the boxes, I slid behind the counter from inside the cramped kitchen in a full sushi chef uniform, and stood before her. The note inside the box read ‘LOOK UP.’ As she picked her head up from reading the note, there I was! She threw the card at me in shock with tears streaming down her face. After explaining for 20 minutes how I managed to sneak to Hong Kong, I came around bar, got on one knee, and asked her to marry me.” —Dao-Yi

10

Everard Findlay, Brand Strategist + Molly Findlay, Set Designer
Molly: “It was 1999, late summer. We met at a party near Times Square of all places. Everard is so handsome — I was worried he might be a little arrogant and was reluctant to speak to him. But, we did speak, and he surprised me with his quick wit and insightful nature. When he asked me to go surfing the following weekend, I was keen to try it.”

Everard: “Molly was wearing the oldest corduroys I’d ever seen. They were bald corduroys. She was lovely and seemed very different from anyone else I’d met. We went to the Rockaways with two of her friends (she invited an entourage) to surf. Unfortunately, the two guys couldn’t learn, but Molly shocked me by getting up on the first wave.” 

Molly: “Yes, the first, and nearly last time I stood up on a surfboard. Later that afternoon, I crashed and dragged my face along the ocean floor — it was not pretty. Everard took me to Kings County Hospital. Even though we weren’t sure whether my face would heal, Everard said I looked beautiful. This was a lie — little kids were recoiling from me in the waiting room — but it was a sweet lie.” 

Everard: “I was very persistent. I was living in Brooklyn and Molly was living on 96th and West End. I went to see her every day. It took two hours or so each way.” 

Molly: “Yes, I never had to call him. It was very old-fashioned. We got engaged six months later (he asked my father’s permission first), and we were married a year after that in Central Park.”

11

Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador-at-Large, Barneys New York + Jonathan Adler, Potter/Designer
“We went to see Showgirls on the night it opened in NYC. We both laughed and gasped at the same moments. We knew we were meant to be together.” — Simon 

“For our first vacation together we went to Florida for a week. It happened to be the coldest week in Florida’s history and was 30 degrees every day. Instead of lounging poolside, we spent each day going to down-and-dirty thrift shops. At some lowbrow store, I found a vintage, polyester Givenchy disco shirt for Simon. He rocks it to this day, and it always reminds me of one of our happiest vacations together.” — Jonathan

12

Brendan Fallis, DJ + Hannah Bronfman, DJ
“We have a little inside joke. Brendan and I happen to be very polite to each other when we ask each other to do things and, as a joke, we will say in response: ‘Not if you’re going to yell at me.” It always puts a smile on both of our faces, but when we say it outside of our house or in front of others, people tend to look at us like we’re in a heated fight. Little do they know…” — Hannah

13

Fede Saenz, Contemporary Artist + Kathrine Glindvad Larsen, Fashionista
“The most romantic date we went on was in L.A. for my birthday. Fede showed up in a convertible Camaro rental ready to tour the whole city, stopping at key modernist destinations he had carefully planned. Every stop was a new surprise to me. We started off having an American breakfast at the classic Googie-style diner Pann’s — a super cool place, stuck in time. We felt we were back in the ’50s era. After that, he took me to the Hot Rod magazine anniversary car show! Since we love vintage cars, this was the best opportunity to see them all together outdoors, while a rockabilly band played. Next stop was the Case Study Houses by Eames and then a private sunset viewing at the Pierre Koenig house in Hollywood Hills. We ended this amazing day with a romantic candle-lit dinner surrounded by nature in the Topanga Canyon. It was a complete L.A. adventure.” — Kathrine

14

Michael Hainey, Deputy Editor, GQ + Brooke Cundiff, VP of Brand Relations/Fashion Director, Gilt Man
“I will never forget our first anniversary. We went to La Grenouille, where we were married, and during dinner Michael slipped a small, wrapped package onto the table. Michael said, ‘You know what the first-anniversary gift is, right?’ I said, ‘Paper.’ I thought maybe it was stationery. We’d been talking about getting some. But, when I unwrapped the package, I found an advance, typeset copy of his book, After Visiting Friends. I was so thrilled. His book! He had been working on it for ten years. Then he told me to open it, and when I turned the pages I saw for the first time that he had dedicated the book to me. I got all weepy. Not just because of what he gave to me, but because I was so proud of him for achieving his dream. How many women get a book dedicated to them — for their first anniversary gift?” — Brooke

15

Jess Wolfe, vocals, Lucius + Dan Molad, drums, Lucius
“Well, we are lucky because we get to pour our hearts out together every night on the road. I just turn around, and he’s right there — it’s almost like he’s my heartbeat. But, one of my favorite, loving moments as a couple was at our wedding last May. The power went out before Danny’s planned surprise could happen, and our beautifully talented friends (who happened to be supplying the music for the evening) improvised. They circled around us, and together with all of our guests, sang a song that Danny had written for me, lit up only by the light of their cell phones. As the song came to an end, the lights came back on, along with a thunderous cheer. It’s an unforgettable moment, shared by all the people we love most, but also one that allowed Danny and I to be perfectly alone amidst it all.” — Jess

16

Zanna Roberts, Senior Fashion Editor, Marie Claire + Mazdack Rassi, Founder/Creative Director Milk Studios 
“Snowboarding is our ultimate escape together. Rassi is an brilliant rider, who taught me to board when we first met. This picture was taken after I’d fallen badly and my knee had popped out of its socket. Lying on my back with no one around for miles, Rassi had to pop the derailed patella back into its socket. But, before he did, he told me he loved me for the first time. A perversely romantic story of love at high altitude!” — Zanna

Illustrared By Caitlin Owens

Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.

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