Love and fun keep them together despite absences

Dec. 27, 2019, and Oct. 15, 2021

Vince and Erika had spent two weeks in 2014 laughing at each other’s wit and groan-worthy puns through a dating app and text when Vince, then an Air Force mechanic who zipped in and out of the country, finally returned to McGuire Air Force Base.

They met in person and confirmed their attraction held up face-to-face over drinks at Dadz Bar & Grill in Hainesport, but then Vince was off on another assignment. Three weeks later, he invited Erika, a registered nurse who now works at Virtua in Marlton, to dinner at a Philadelphia restaurant.

“I don’t remember which one, but I know I spent $100,” Vince says in a playful tone that makes it clear he’s got a story to tell.

“We went to a bar afterward. I had just picked up the tab for dinner and she wouldn’t even buy me a beer! The bar server came looking for payment, and I look at her and she just looks around. I paid, and I thought, ‘We are done.’ I didn’t talk to her for three weeks.”

Erika and Vince are both laughing by the time she starts to tell her side of the story: His purposeful ‘are you gonna get this?’ look? “I did not pick up on it at all,” she said. His three-week disappearance? “I just thought he was away [on assignment].”

She messaged him for one reason: “I liked him. I decided to give it a shot.”

Erika offered to treat Vince to dinner.

“Redemption!” Vince said, and the two laugh.

The couple now lives in Mount Laurel. Back then, Erika lived at home with her parents in Mount Holly. About two months after their first date, Vince, who grew up in Pittsburgh and lived in Lumberton, came to her house for the first time.

Vince was heading for the front door when he heard a party — a college send-off for Erika’s little brother — in the backyard. “He went through the whole party and met my entire family, including my parents, all at once,” Erika said. “My parents liked him -— they were impressed with how instantly comfortable he was around my entire extended family.”

When Erika and Vince left that party, they joined a group of his friends. “All my friends were married, and the fact that I brought around somebody they actually liked — that was big ups for me,” he said. “They all thought she was funny — they said funnier than me, but I disagree.”

That August day was the first time Erika and Vince felt like a couple.

Sometimes Vince’s Air Force assignments kept them apart for months at a time, often in different time zones. “As a nurse, I work weird hours, too,” Erika said. “We find out what times are mutually beneficial, and if I have to be up at 2:30 in the morning to video chat, I will do it!”

Her willingness to build a relationship and support him through even extended absences contributed to him falling in love with her, said Vince, who now manages the flight line as a production superintendent. “She was always there to greet me when I got back, and would even help me prepare, mentally and physically, for the next trip,” he said. “She has also helped me to become a better person —- I see a lot of growth in myself because of her -— and that is something really special.”

Erika realized Vince was the person she was meant to be with in an instant. She sometimes has depression. “The first time I told him about it, that I have these issues where I am sad, he said, ‘Don’t worry, we will get through this,’ ” she remembered. “He didn’t say, ‘Sorry that you are going through this. You’ll be OK.’ He said this is our problem together.”

Whenever Erika and Vince, who are now both 32, are in the same place at the same time, they love movies and food.

“I have learned to cook a pretty badass steak in our years together,” said Vince. “I’ll do barbecue or steak or seafood. She does all the stuff that requires measuring.”

“I love to bake, and I make pasta,” Erika said. “We put it all together to form a great meal.”

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Vince learned of a forthcoming yearlong deployment to Turkey. He also learned that if he and Erika weren’t married by the end of the year, the Air Force would give him his next assignment without considering their relationship.

The ring wasn’t finished by their trip to Las Vegas, where he planned to propose. Running out of time, he suggested a trip to New York City the Saturday before Christmas. “I don’t like New York, she doesn’t like New York, and we don’t like crowds, but there we were at all the touristy spots,” Vince said. “It was not that romantic.”

“And I had gotten sick on the plane ride home from Vegas,” Erika added. “I felt like I was dying in the cold, in those crowds.”

She asked several times if they could go home, and all Vince could say was “not yet.”

As soon as it was dark, they walked toward the Christmas lights near Radio City Music Hall. “I pointed at nothing and told her to look,” said Vince. “When she turned around, I had the ring out, and I asked her, like Bonnie and Clyde or Ocean’s 11, if she would go on one last heist with me.”

Erika’s yes was Rick and Morty-inspired: “You son of a bitch, I’m in!”

About a week later, on Dec. 27, 2019, the couple married in the backyard of Erika’s parents’ home. She wore a pretty blue dress and Vince donned a jacket and the rubber ducky tie he had worn on their first date.

“My mom can turn a pumpkin into a carriage,” Erika said. Terry Linn hung drapes along the sides of a tent and filled it with Christmas lights, plants, decorations, and space heaters. The Rev. C.W. Smith, a cousin, led the ceremony.

The couple exchanged vows they stitched together from song lyrics: “When I said that I loved you, I meant that I’d love you forever, and forever’s gonna start tonight,” said Vince.

“This will be an everlasting love,” said Erika.

Parents, siblings, and a few other family members joined them for Italian food from Carollo’s Little Italy and afterward, the couple met friends at a local bar to celebrate.

From August 2020 through August 2021, Vince was stationed in Turkey.

The couple planned to have a full reception when Vince returned, but Erika realized she wanted to wear a wedding dress, and it felt strange to do so just for a party.

Two months after Vince returned stateside, the couple held a second ceremony and a reception for 80 at The Madison in Riverside. While Erika’s mother had begun planning before the couple was officially engaged, she hired planner Zupenda Davis-Shine shortly before the event to double-check the details. Davis-Shine’s team included two attendants — one person assigned to help the bride throughout the entire day and another to help the groom. This was a revelation, said Erika. “I didn’t have to worry about anything, and I had no pre-wedding jitters because of this help and organization,” she said.

It was Erika’s father, Scott’s, idea to hold pre-ceremony cocktails as an incentive for everyone to arrive early.

The outdoor, candlelit ceremony began right before sunset. The couple and their bridal party walked in on a white runner hand-painted in gold with the words “We Do Part II.”

A second, post-ceremony cocktail hour featured the music of electric violinist Lorenzo Laroc. At the reception, DJ Bishop played ‘90s hip-hop and other music curated for the couple.

Dessert options included an ice cream sundae bar and a doughnut wall.

“Since we have spent more than half of our marriage so far apart, we want to get some more time together,” said Erika. “We’re going on three honeymoons,” said Vince: Puerto Rico in the spring, Yellowstone in summer, and in November, most likely Disney World.