Forgoing the Cheese Plate to Forge a Connection

Brian Ellner was appraising the cheese spread at a party in Bellport, N.Y., in April 2018, when Jarrett Olivo walked through the door. Mr. Ellner said he practically leapt over the couch to say hello.

“It’s rare for me to leave a cheese board, but when I saw Jarrett I knew this was someone I needed to meet,” said Mr. Ellner, 51, who is an executive vice president for growth and marketing at the communications agency Burson Cohn & Wolfe. “I felt drawn to him.”

Mr. Olivo, 30, the director of global marketing for Tiffany & Company, felt the same instant attraction. “I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I believe you can meet someone and realize they will have an enormous impact on your life,” he said. “Brian had energy and presence. I knew my life was going to change.”

Before leaving the party, Mr. Olivo asked Mr. Ellner for his number. Texting immediately followed and the two picked a day to meet for drinks the following week. Then Mr. Olivo got the flu. A new day was picked. Still feeling unwell, Mr. Olivo canceled for a second time.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s that,’” said Mr. Ellner. “Ten days was a long time to be sick. I thought whatever spark existed maybe wasn’t that big.”

The spark, it turned out, was big enough for a third day to be set — and kept. More than two weeks after they started texting, the two met for drinks at El Quinto Pino, a wine bar on West 24th Street. A second date followed. Then a third.

But as they continued to see each other, Mr. Olivo said he kept some emotional distance. “For three months I didn’t take us seriously because there were hurdles: He needed to meet my crazy Jewish family, there was a 20-year age difference, and he was more settled and established,” said Mr. Olivo. “I was nervous about losing myself in the relationship.”

Mr. Ellner, who graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College, received a law degree from Harvard. Formerly the lead strategist for the Human Rights Campaign’s effort to win marriage equality in New York, he said he had always been passionate about equal rights, but not passionate about marriage for himself.

“My parents had an ugly divorce when I was 10,” Mr. Ellner said. “It created a fear of commitment and abandonment issues, which made it difficult to envision a lifelong commitment to someone.”

Mr. Olivo, who graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with a dual-degree in art history and political science, said his doubts about their relationship are actually what allowed it to grow. “With such a low chance this would work out I became my weird, crazy true self,” he said. “Because of that our bond became strong and real.”

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In April 2019, a year after they first met, Mr. Ellner gave up the lease on his apartment in Chelsea’s London Terrace Gardens, where he lived for 20 years, so the couple could move into a new apartment in the Flatiron district together.

A proposal came on Dec. 22, 2019, when Mr. Ellner got down on one knee in the couple’s living room. A romantic dinner at Augustine followed. The next day, they flew to Boca Raton, Fla., to celebrate with Mr. Olivo’s family and friends.

An engagement party set for May 2020 was canceled because of the pandemic, which also led the couple to postpone their first wedding date of June 26, 2021.

They were married on Oct. 2 at the Manhattan home of their friends Josh Schulman and Jim Conley. Maneesh Goyal, the host of the party where Mr. Ellner and Mr. Olivo met, officiated after being ordained by the Universal Life Church. Their 80 guests were asked to show proof of vaccination and an after-party was held at Jimmy, a rooftop cocktail bar at the ModernHaus hotel in SoHo.

“Brian helped me know what I want out of my life and how to put it together,” said Mr. Olivo. “He’s my oracle.” Meeting Mr. Olivo, Mr. Ellner said, was like finding a “missing puzzle piece. Jarrett broke through a protective shell I created. That took a lot of digging, but it let me be completely vulnerable and committed.”

Of Mr. Ellner, Mr. Olivo added, “He needed someone to show him true, unconditional love. I’m going to give him just that.”