Happily married couples look back on how their relationships began. (See, warm, funny love stories don’t happen only in the movies.)

By Real Simple Editors
Updated January 18, 2012
Couple eating burger at diner
Credit: Nico Kai/Getty Images

Abigail and Dwayne Shoppa

  • Austin, Texas
  • Ages 29 and 33
  • Married nine months

Abigail: I never met men through my job (I’m a real estate investor). So instead I had the bad habit of reigniting old relationships, seeing if I could make them work the second time around. In May 2010, my three sisters, with whom I’m very close, and my brother-in-law Chris urged me to try someone new. When I demurred, they insisted on buying me a date at a local bachelor auction for charity. At first, I protested, but eventually I gave in. And once I looked through the online profiles of the men up for grabs, I admitted that a civil engineer named Dwayne looked pretty dreamy. Plus, his bio mentioned that he coached Little League baseball. I love kids.

Dwayne: I had never participated in a date auction before. I only agreed because it was for a good cause—the proceeds were going to breast cancer research.

Abigail: The auction was held at a live-music venue in downtown Austin. When Dwayne came onstage, five other women raised their paddles and started bidding on him, too. My eldest sister, Amanda, 34, can be a little competitive. (Plus, she had had a few drinks.) She was determined to win Dwayne for me at all costs. And she did—for $600.

Dwayne: The lights were so bright onstage, I couldn’t see who was bidding. After it was over, the organizers had me walk through the audience and hand Abby a rose. I thought, What is this beautiful girl doing buying a date?

Abigail: I explained that my sisters had forced me into this and that he didn’t really have to take me out, but Dwayne insisted.

Dwayne: Five days later, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We got the world’s fastest waiter, who had us in and out in 45 minutes—it was disappointing. Plus, Abby was very shy and reserved. I thought she was sweet, but in all honesty I didn’t see a second date in our future. Afterward we stopped by a gourmet-cupcake trailer and bumped into a few of Abby’s friends. She loosened up, and that’s when I saw the girl I would fall in love with.

Abigail: I liked that Dwayne was so laid-back. One of our earliest dates was at a baseball field. We just played catch.

Dwayne: A couple of months later, we went to the house of one of Abby’s sisters. When I saw how Abby’s nephew and niece, who were then four and two years old, gravitated to her, I thought: This might be the one.

Abigail: That’s the same time I knew I could marry Dwayne. He was genuinely interested and cared about what these little kids had to say to him. That kindness meant so much to me. Plus, I want children of my own one day.

Dwayne: I had an elaborate plan about how I was going to propose to Abby, but I couldn’t wait. I ended up blurting it out one night after dinner. We married last April, 11 months after we met.

Abigail: I love that helping out with a good cause brought Dwayne and me together. We continue to contribute to organizations that we believe in, like Easter Seals and the March of Dimes. I have to admit, supporting charities has really paid off for us.

Gladys and Harold Beebe

Gladys: In 1948, when I was a high school senior, my girlfriend asked me to go with her and some other folks on a triple date. I told her, “I don’t go on blind dates.” Then she showed me a picture of Harold and I changed my mind. He was a college fella and so handsome!

On the evening we all planned to go to the movies, I was very excited. Harold came to the door to get me. But when we got to the car, where two other boys and two young ladies were waiting, Harold sat down and put his arm around another girl! I had to spend the evening with some other boy, who was full of himself. I did not have fun on that date.

Harold: I can’t remember why I chose another girl to be with that night, but, boy, I knew I had messed up. Bee—that’s what everyone calls Gladys—was very cute. She talked a lot and got along with everyone. After that evening, I called her three times and asked her out, but she kept turning me down. So I finally bluffed her out. I said, “If you don’t say yes, I’m not calling you anymore.”

Gladys: I agreed to go with him on a date, but only because I wanted to punish him for messing up and not choosing me that first night. My plan was to spend the evening being totally indifferent.

Harold: Thankfully, she changed her mind.

Gladys: We went to a drive-in movie, then had po’boys and curlicue potatoes afterward. I saw that Harold was smart and very kind. And he had a red convertible. That was big stuff back then. After a few dates, it grew into true love.

Harold: Two years later, in 1950, when I was 25 and Bee was 20, we went to the local courthouse and got married. But we kept it a secret, because Bee’s parents thought that she was too young.

Gladys: I was living at home and going to business school while Harold was studying to become a dentist. I hid the marriage certificate in my bedroom. Two weeks later, my mother found it when she was cleaning my room. Shocked, she called the justice of the peace and asked him, “Did you marry my daughter?” My parents came around, though. They liked Harold. He’s a good fella.

Harold: I learned early on to always ask Gladys what she would rather do. That’s one secret to our marriage: I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all.

Gladys: Harold has always put me first. After we got married, he wouldn’t go golfing at the country club with the other men. He would play with me. I love that about him.

Harold: Gladys has brought out the best in me by giving me unconditional support.

Gladys: Harold and I still enjoy each other’s company more than anyone else’s. We can’t play golf anymore, but we like to watch tournaments together on TV. And we’ve always been big Louisiana State University football fans, so we never miss a game. Oh sure, we still get mad at each other, but we try not to get mad at the same time.

Harold: There’s not enough love in this world, so you can’t lose when you meet someone like Bee. I am very lucky.

Renata Pasqualini and Wadih Arap

Wadih: Renata and I grew up in the same city in Brazil. We attended the same elementary and high schools and later shared an adviser at the University of São Paulo. But because of our six-year age difference, we never crossed paths.

Renata: We also shared a commitment to finding a cure for cancer. After graduation from medical school, Wadih studied cancer biology at Stanford University, and I did postdoctoral research at Harvard University.

Wadih: In June 1993, I needed a hard-to-find chemical for a particular experiment. My college adviser back in Brazil suggested I contact Renata in Boston, since she was using the same element in her work.

Renata: Wadih called me from his office in San Diego. Then we began corresponding by e-mail, which was brand-new back then.

Wadih: Forty-four people in my lab had to share the same e-mail address.

Renata: At first, our messages were purely professional. Then we began getting more philosophical and having deeper exchanges. But neither of us had romantic expectations.

Wadih: In August I invited Renata to speak about her research to my lab associates. When she stepped through the airport gate, I thought, Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.

Renata: I didn’t think that. But Wadih was exceedingly charming.

Wadih: She gave her lecture the next day, a Thursday. On Friday I took her to a classy restaurant. I couldn’t stop thinking this was it, that we would never see each other again. So I said, “I think we should get married.”

Renata: He put his hand in mine and something incredible happened. I knew I was in love. I said yes.

Wadih: We hadn’t even kissed yet.

Renata: Oh no! And there was no alcohol involved, either. My parents and friends were stunned when I told them I was engaged. I’m not known to be impulsive.

Wadih: We were both busy with work, but two months later we met up in Reno and married at an all-night chapel. We had a one-day honeymoon in Lake Tahoe.

Renata: I didn’t move in with Wadih for six months, because I had experiments to finish. We phoned, e-mailed, and saw each other when we could.

Wadih: Then, in 1999, we accepted an offer to head up our own research laboratory at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston.

Renata: Now we spend 98 percent of our time together. We work side by side.

Wadih: For some couples, our situation would be a deal breaker. They might think, If I worked by myself, I would get all the glory and awards.

Renata: Sometimes we fight like the gods. But minutes later it’s forgotten. Wadih and I are equals in every way. And we have a palpable connection. To this day, I wonder, What if I had been careful and turned down his proposal? It’s a dreadful thought.

Deborah and Carlo Pann

Carlo: In the fall of 1978, I was selected to be a contestant on Jeopardy! When I walked into the greenroom, a dozen other players were also waiting.

Deborah: I was one of the few women there. I had just killed it on my trial show, where they determine if you can go on the real program. I remember one of my clues had been “Longest song title of ASCAP record.” The answer was “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?” I was telling the other contestants that I was only the second person in the show’s history to answer that correctly when this tall, skinny man with curly hair and a terrible brown suit put his hand out for me to shake and said, “I was the first.”

Carlo: Deb had these great, bright eyes with such a vitality behind them.

Deborah: Carlo kept butting in to the conversation. He had something to say about everything. And yet we ended up flirting with each other.

Carlo: I didn’t have a problem with self-confidence back then.

Deborah: A network representative from standards and practices noticed that we were flirting, and she wouldn’t allow us to participate on the same show.

Carlo: I had already won on the show, but the next taping day I went on and lost. Before I left, I gave Deb my phone number.

Deborah: I didn’t think much about it because it was finally my turn to compete. I did terribly.

Carlo: I watched the episode at home. I remember yelling at the screen, “Come on! You know that!” I knew how smart she was.

Deborah: Three weeks later, I called Carlo (we both lived in the L.A. area). He had mentioned he worked at a movie theater and I thought, Hey, free movies! We spent our first date prowling around old book and record stores. I was surprised that we shared so many interests: We both liked the Andrews Sisters as much as Pink Floyd.

Carlo: I was smitten. We began dating and married in 1985.

Deborah: We’ve had our ups and downs. In 2007 I was laid off from my managerial position. Then we lost our home to foreclosure. I thought, We’re smart! How did we sign up for such a lousy mortgage? We’re now in a two-bedroom apartment. Carlo is a freelance writer, and I’m working as a receptionist. There has been a lot of yelling, but a lot of back rubs as well.

Carlo: We hold each other to high standards. God help you if you tell a joke you’ve told before. And when we watch Jeopardy!, we both try to guess the response from the final-category name instead of waiting for the clue.

Deborah: Through the years, we have kept each other interesting and interested.

Carlo: I would like to think I know everything there is about Deb, but I don’t. She’s always giving me new things to learn, and I love her for that.

Tangie and Brian Smith

strong>Tangie: The first time I met Brian, he put a toad that was the size of a softball practically on my lap. When I started screaming, he cracked up. I found him totally repulsive. I distinctly remember telling my mother, “I hate that boy.”

Brian: This was in 1988. Tangie was 11; I was 12. I wasn’t used to girls.

Tangie: My parents and I had just moved across the street from Brian’s family, so we couldn’t help seeing each other a lot. Brian called me “Tangerine.” He made faces at me at the bus stop. When it snowed, he waited outside to lob snowballs at me. He made fun of my clothes and hair. Not until high school did Brian spend less time teasing and more time trying to be warm and kind.

Brian: When she was 15, Tangie got very cute. We played basketball and video games together and watched The Goonies on VHS. I started driving her to school. We talked on the phone at night until we fell asleep, even though we lived across the street.

Tangie: Our junior year, Brian began dating my friend. They only spent time with each other—and ignored me. I felt vengeful. I spent days concocting a plan to break them up. And I realized I had feelings for Brian myself. Finally, on the way home from school one day, I told him, “I want us to be together.”

Brian: We kissed in my Pontiac Grand Am, parked in my family’s driveway.

Tangie: We dated through most of college, then broke up for a while. I had other relationships but didn’t really connect with anyone else. We got back together in 2001. In 2003 he put on some slow music, got down on one knee, and said he wanted to spend his life with me. I started laughing.

Brian: Tangie always laughs at me when I’m trying to be serious, so I expected it.

Tangie: I have a deep, romantic love for Brian. But I also love him because he’s my best friend. When you’re married, it’s easy to go on autopilot. You get the kids up in the morning, go to work, and don’t take time to have fun. You forget why you’re together in the first place. I feel lucky that Brian and I still joke like we did as kids.

Brian: I love to hear Tangie’s truest, most goofy laugh.

Tangie: However, Brian would never put a toad on me today.

Brian: Uh, no.