After Many Steps, a First Date

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The world felt bleak and lonely at the time Jonathan Juarbe found Daniela Grafman’s profile on the dating app Hinge.

It was April 7, 2020, early in the pandemic, and Ms. Grafman’s photos had an alluring “warmth in them,” said Mr. Juarbe, 36, the director of admissions at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy college conservatory in New York and Los Angeles.

After connecting, they spent a month messaging in the app before taking their conversations to FaceTime chats and an old-school phone call.

Immediately, Mr. Juarbe recognized similarities shared by him and Ms. Grafman, 32, a co-owner of the event planning company Vision Event Co. in Manhattan. Both are New Yorkers (she is from Queens and he, Brooklyn) who love food and had never been married or had children.

Their first in-person date happened in mid-May in Manhattan, and they walked to it — Ms. Grafman from the Upper East Side, and Mr. Juarbe, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Each arrived to find the other on the opposite side of the street at their chosen destination of the South Street Seaport.

Mr. Juarbe, who played mixologist, came prepared with strawberry-watermelon vodka smoothies kept cold in a Hydro Flask. The two enjoyed them along with some snacks on a bench by the water. Later, they picked up pizza from Adrienne’s, a restaurant in the Financial District, and ate it on a nearby stoop.

The date lasted eight hours. When each finally headed home, Mr. Juarbe called his best friend en route and told him he was smitten.

“There was a feeling of connecting on a different level then I had with anyone else I’d dated,” he said.

Ms. Grafman was taken, too.

“He was charming, personable, humorous and a great listener,” she said.

The next week, Ms. Grafman visited Mr. Juarbe on Saturday. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and she had planed to spend the day with him. She didn’t leave until Monday evening.

They continued to spend weekends together, first exploring Mr. Juarbe’s Brooklyn neighborhood, Cobble Hill, and later going a bit further on road trips to the Hudson Valley. It was on one of those trips, in June 2020, when Mr. Juarbe realized Ms. Grafman was the one.

“I’d never been more myself than when I was with her,” he said. “I knew I wanted to invest everything in this relationship.”

Ms. Grafman said she also knew their relationship was special because “we became vulnerable very quickly.” That July, after she had a panic attack at Mr. Juarbe’s apartment, “he stepped up in a way no guy had stepped up for me before,” she said.

In October 2020, Ms. Grafman fractured her foot while stepping on the sidewalk at an odd angle. Since she lived on the second floor of a walk-up, she recuperated at Mr. Juarbe’s.

She and her Ninja air fryer oven never left. For Mr. Juarbe, that was more than fine: “I’ve always wanted someone who matched my energy and positivity,” he said. “Daniela brings me to a calm, positive light. She makes me driven and feel alive.”

A proposal came on Aug. 14, 2021, when the two were in Hudson, N.Y. As they walked through Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, Mr. Juarbe stopped at a bench overlooking the river, got down on one knee and pulled out a diamond ring that he had helped design.

The couple were married in an interfaith ceremony on Feb. 19 at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. Rabbi Igael Gurin-Malous officiated before 180 vaccinated guests.

The theme of the wedding was 1950s Havana meets black tie New York. At the reception, each guest’s place setting included a scratch off Lotto card with a note that said, “wishing you a whole Lotto love.”

The bride, who has planned more than 200 weddings for other couples over the course of her career, said the groom and their relationship provided a long-awaited opportunity to flip the script.

“My work life let me focus on other people’s love lives,” Ms. Grafman said. “Then I found Jon and got to have my own love story.”