In celebration of Hallmark’s month of Love Ever After programming, I would like to share one of the most beautiful Real Life love stories that I know. Because when people say “life is not like a Hallmark movie” or any movie for that matter, I think to myself, They don’t know Sarita and Andrew. (The couple’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.)
Twenty-two years ago, Sarita and I were two American college students studying abroad in London. We were roommates, or “flatmates” (which is the proper British term), along with two other women both named Janelle. I shared a triple with the Janelles’, and Sarita had the single room since she was an RA (Resident Assistant).
We lived in the beautiful, posh neighborhood of South Kensington, famous for being the home of Princess Diana when she was the Princess of Wales, and currently the home of the future King and Queen of England, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and their young children, George, Charlotte, and Louis. (What Hallmark blog would be complete without a nod to royalty, given all the princess movies they produce?)
It was while Sarita and I were strolling through Hyde Park and past Kensington Palace, exploring our new neighborhood and catching up on life, our summers, and her first week in London (since she arrived a full week before me for RA training) that she told me about a night on the town when she and two other female RA’s bumped into five English guys on a street corner in Soho. It was a meet-cute right out of the movies when a random stranger literally tapped Sarita on the shoulder and as she turned around asked her, “Do you know the way to London?”
So in celebration of their Love Story, which I wanted to share with all of you, I recently posed a set of questions to the couple, separately (just like Chloe did in Hallmark’s Love on Iceland). This way, you’ll get to see their various perspectives unfold!
Tell me about the night you first met…
Andrew: It was a lovely warm summer evening in London in 1998, and I was out with my brother and some good friends. We had visited a number of bars and pubs in Soho when we rounded the corner onto Shaftesbury Avenue and heard three loud (but also wonderful) American voices coming towards us. We had agreed that the next cute girls we saw we would stop and ask, “Do you know the way to London?” These three naïve American girls answered, “You’re already in London! Down that road is Piccadilly, that road leads to Leicester Square…” That gave us our “in,” and we spent many hours talking together, discovering common interests and friends (we pretended we had friends at Harvard), and generally all having a good laugh all the way until 4 a.m. We all exchanged numbers (mobile phones were a novelty then), and I had my eye on one particular girl of the three….
Sarita: It was a balmy summer night at the end of August 1998 and we were walking back up Shaftsbury Avenue towards Leicester Square. It was then that I was randomly tapped on the shoulder by an English guy who asked if I knew where we were (as in, he and his friends were lost). So I said to the guy, “Where do you need to go?” And the guy responded something like “Can you tell us the way to London” or “Are we in London?” It took me a second to realize this was some kind of pick-up line, and we all had a laugh. We all started talking right there on the street corner—five English guys and three American girls.
A couple of the guys had travelled around the US and had visited Harvard University and so forth. And whenever you are in a large group like this you end up just talking one-on-one with someone, and it just so happened I ended up talking most of the night with Andrew. We talked about our respective backpacking experiences, and I remember specifically mentioning to him how I found many of the castles in Budapest, Prague, Germany so romantic and beautiful (a point to remember later when it came to our unofficial first date). Little did we know we had all been standing on the street talking until like 3 a.m.!
Andrew then said that he and a few friends were going to travel up to northern England in a few weeks, and they would be happy to show us around. We thought that would be a great way to see a new country, so we swapped numbers (remember those big mobile phones we had back then!), and off the three of us went back to South Kensington.
Their stories begin almost identically, romanticizing the summer weather, and I’ve always found it funny that Sarita had no clue Andrew was interested in her. He thought he was successful in getting a girl’s number, and she thought she’d made some English friends to travel with. I remember hearing about their meeting on the street and the phone messages that Andrew left in follow up thinking: No guy puts in this much effort for a girl he’s not interested in. But in the beginning, Sarita had no clue!
Tell me about your first date…
Andrew: After much “to and fro” via telephone, I was beginning to think that Sarita was avoiding me; however, I tried one last time to arrange a date, and we finally met up around one month later at a bar in central London. We chatted for a while and then went for a nice Italian meal nearby. Everything was going great, so I decided to pull the romantic move of taking Sarita for an evening stroll along the Thames so that suddenly she would see Big Ben and Parliament at night for the first time in her life with me. It is one of the most beautiful sights, in my opinion, and I remembered from our earlier conversations how much she loved the architecture and political importance of Westminster. She was so amazed with the view, and that was where we had our first kiss! It felt amazing, and I was walking on air for days after that.
Sarita: After multiple attempts, we went on our “unofficial” first date three weeks after we met. I say unofficial because I had no idea Andrew was interested in me and I didn’t dare let that thought cross my mind because I could never be that lucky in love. So I just told myself he was a REALLY nice guy, and what better way to see a new place then with a local?
He arrived around 5-6 p.m. wearing a suit (which was his work attire) carrying a black briefcase and the biggest umbrella I had ever seen. (I didn’t know at the time that golf umbrellas were trendy in London – well because it rains a lot!)
He had used theater tickets as a ruse to see me, and at some point Andrew mentioned there was a mix-up with the tickets, so instead we went to All Bar One in Leicester Square for a drink and we talked and talked. After drinks we ended up at Bella Pasta (now called Bella Italia) between Leicester Square and Covenant Garden. It was then when we sat down to eat that it finally dawned on me that I really fancied him and wished something would happen.
After dinner we walked all the way down to the Embankment—I had never been around that area at night time—and it was so beautiful how the Thames was all lit up with lights, and then from just past Embankment station suddenly on your right you see Big Ben and Parliament all lit up. It was stunning. And Andrew just leaned in and kissed me. I was literally swept off my feet!
Although neither of them remembers this part of the story, I vividly remember Sarita coming home from this first date and launching herself onto my bed. I was fast asleep, and she literally started jumping up and down on my bed insisting, “Wake up! Wake up! I met the man I’m going to marry!”
Sarita and I will never win any awards for our cooking, but I needed to refresh my memory and inquire if my memory served me right in thinking Sarita almost poisoned Andrew when she tried to cook for him early on in their dating?
Andrew: Yes! Although she blames the rice that you cooked and not the chicken that she prepared!
Sarita: It was probably our third date that he came over to our flat and you and I cooked dinner, chicken and rice. Within 30 minutes he was sick in the bathroom. I remember asking you what I should do and you nudged me to check on him. Eventually I went and looked after him in the bathroom.
Remembering this cooking fiasco with fondness and laughter reminds me why Andrew is the main cook in their house. As they approach their 20th wedding anniversary, I followed up with asking about areas where they complement each other because I’ve always thought they make a great team.
Andrew: In general, I’m more of a planner and organized when it comes to housework and finances. Sarita is much more flexible and goes with the flow and I love that part of her as it has made me also deal better with uncertainty. I think my more pragmatic and disciplined approach has also had a good impact on Sarita. When it comes down to our morals, ethics, beliefs, work ethic and general view on life, we are actually very similar despite our different backgrounds, nationality, culture and this is best evidenced in how we both approach co-parenting our two daughters.
Sarita: Trust is something we never have to talk about – it is just there. In our relationship as husband and wife, with money, family decisions, work decisions, what to eat for dinner – whatever it is trust is just implicit in everything. Neither of us are selfish in the relationship – we are always thinking of each other and what makes the other person happy or the girls happy. We support each other in career goals and aspirations and give each other confidence. Andrew supported me through law school, my decision to take 12-months maternity leave and then going back to work part-time. We both love music, concerts, travel, sports, reading, movies…Andrew is more relaxed staying home and I enjoy going out. We are happy to do those things separately and together and never stop the other from doing what the other wants to do – there is nothing we can’t do with a bit of planning and communication. I’m loud and he is quietly spoken. We are opposites in many ways, but when it comes to the important things like values, ethics, how we view the world, value friends and family we are totally on the same page.
When did you know she/ he was the one?
Andrew: It’s hard to explain, but I had a wonderful and amazing feeling the very first night we met. I knew inside that it was the beginning of something special. Everything developed from there, really, and it just felt natural to conclude that we were in love. At the time we met, I had no idea how we would grow and develop our relationship together of course, but I can honestly say that every day we have spent together has felt like it was always meant to be this way.
Sarita: I knew he was definitely the one when, six or seven months after we met, I flew back to London to see Andrew during my spring break. We went up to Manchester to meet the rest of his family—aunts, uncles, and cousins. While out to dinner we were sitting at a very large rectangular table, and Andrew was sitting next to me. He was talking to people near him, and I was talking to some other people on the other side. I was having a conversation where I couldn’t quite remember the name of a person, and just then Andrew leaned over and whispered the answer in my ear. I knew right then that he was forever the one. Until that moment, I always thought what I had to say was meaningless and unimportant to people. He changed all that in an instant. He always listens and hears what I have to say and always has my back, he would never let me fall. That feeling, that shiver down your spine, then warmth in your heart that travels to your face, head and flushes your cheek and then travels down to your toes, is love. Unconditional love. I felt it in that moment.
Were there any obstacles to overcome to be together?
Andrew: There are always challenges, and we continue to work together to overcome them every day. The obvious challenges we had to face started with the fact that Sarita lived in the US and I lived in the UK. After only 4 months together here, we had to sustain a 12-month long-distance relationship in a pre-Facetime, pre-mass Internet, limited-email-access era. We dealt with this by writing so many emails and sending so many letters and packages that it felt like we were effectively experiencing each other’s lives as we would be if we were physically together. (And we also took transatlantic trips every few weeks—thanks STA travel!)
The second challenge we faced was more a cultural / religious one, in that Sarita is a first generation US citizen with Indian parents and heritage, and I am a white boy from the UK. We knew we would potentially face discrimination from more conservative family members, and we also knew we would be setting an example for other inter-racial marriages. We approached this always on the same page and were firm in our beliefs that we would “work” as a couple. We communicated a lot with both our parents, and I met with lots of Sarita’s family as a “friend” before her parents were officially ready to announce our relationship. It was not easy, and there is always a reason to say “no” to a challenge or think it is impossible, but if you are fighting for what you stand for and the person you love, you can find a reason to face the challenge and deal with whatever consequences happen.
Sarita: There were plenty of obstacles in the early days/years. I was in my last year of college when I met Andrew. At just twenty-two years of age, how does one conceive of living in another country, earn a living, and what if it all didn’t work out? Should I put everything I knew aside and take a giant leap of faith? Well yes, and that is exactly what I did. I believed in him, and in us, and most of all in myself that I could and would make it work. In the beginning Andrew made many trips to Boston/NY and spent time with my parents so they could get to know him—it was really important that he did that. Then he made time to meet my aunts, uncles and grandparents and spent time with them, and if anyone raised concerns about us being together, we provided a joint front.
Their life is not perfect; it is not a movie. They work really hard at their relationship, but when I think of couples who I admire, I always think of them. They took a movie meet-cute moment, fought really hard for their love, and worked together to build a beautiful life and family. Happy Anniversary you two!!!