New Yorkers share their stories of falling in love with strangers
The cliche of total strangers in an urban crowd who wind up madly in love is the staple of romcom movies, countless "Sex and the City" episodes and schmaltzy songs.
While most people meet their mates in school, at work, on line, through a shared activity or via mutual friends, the density of our pedestrian-friendly city ups the odds that you could fall in love with a stranger here, say courtship experts. And out of the 5.4 million rides taken weekdays on our subways, someone is destined to meet their mate.
Jamel Polite, 24, a maintenance worker from Fort Greene, went to the Macy's flagship store in January to buy underwear and emerged with a girlfriend. A female employee brandishing a perfume tester offered to spritz him with perfume. He declined, protesting, "I'm a man!"
"Maybe you'd like some for your lady or your wife," persisted Tiffany Vasquez, 22, of Queens Village.
"I don't have a lady! I'm single and I'm not married!" protested Polite.
"Would you like to be married?" Vasquez parried.
And so they began.
Discovering he and Vasquez shared an aversion to excessive alcohol consumption and an appreciation of reading and history, the two clicked immediately.
"I knew right away I could talk to her face to face," sighed Polite, enchanted by Vasquez's spunk and sparkle.
Our own amNewYork columnist Rachel Figueroa-Levin, 26, was on the No. 1 train seven years ago when a guy made a motion asking to borrow a pen. He then scribbled his cell phone number on a business card, gave it to her, and on another wrote "you?" She wrote back "Jewish?" and he nodded yes. Married since 2007, the Innwood writer and Michael Levin, 42, a marketing technologist, now have a 2-year-old daughter. "I love my meet story," said Figueroa-Levin. "We kept the pen I gave him and used it to sign our ketubah (Jewish marriage contract)."
NYC is disproportionately comprised of single people, upping the odds that that cute girl or guy waiting for the light to change is (technically) eligible: As of 2011, there are 3.9 million never married, widowed or divorced people in NYC, accounting for 57.9% of all people over the age of 15. The national average is 49.5%, according to the U.S. Census.
Too, New Yorkers do not lack for chutzpah, again . . . upping the odds.
Figueroa-Levin hazards that when one meets in a one-off, expectations are eased, allowing a sense of happy surprise to fluorish. "There was zero pressure" during their courtship, she recounted.
What NYC lacks in affordable housing and leisure time it more than makes up for in adversity and adrenaline. Both can spark or kindle romantic attraction. "In adversity, you have extreme emotions and when there are extreme emotions, people fall in love more easily," explained Diana Kirschner, a Manhattan psychologist and author of "Find Your Soulmate Online in Six Simple Steps."
A stalled elevator, late bus or lack of electricity may be frustrating, but shared frustrations "are entry points for conversation" that instantly reveal how adept a person is at coping with stress, added Shamir Khan, a psychologist in private practice in Midtown.
Such was the case for Rowena Sahulee, 36, a recent MBA graduate who met her husband, physician Raj Sahulee, 35, after they both fled to the roof of 346 East 13th St. during the August 2003 blackout. She had the candles; he had the matches. The blackout, she said, "was a huge icebreaker. You just start talking to people: There are no barriers." The couple is now in Philadelphia, but moving back to NYC in July.
Sabina Ptacin, now 34, had ducked into a Herald Square bar to get out of the rain in January 2012 when editor Alexander Hitchen, now 40, also arrived with a friend. The two began chatting and Hitchen's friend snapped a photo of the two, commenting "wouldn't it be funny if you two got married some day?"
That day for the Greenpoint couple is Sept. 14.
"All the stars were aligned: We both saw the potential and were determined not to let it pass," said Ptacin, a co-founder of Tin Shingle, a support service for small businesses. Ptacin has become evangelical about the opportunities for single women in the bars, on the streets and even under them (i.e. the subways) of NYC. "Open your eyes and put down your phone!" she exhorted. "If you just put down your phone, you see there are all these opportunities in the world's most romantic city: You just have to walk into them!" Ptacin exclaimed.
Vanessa Hammer, 29, a Murray Hill veterinarian, is planning to spend the summer at outdoor cafes chatting up strangers. "I've done a couple of online dates, but even if they look good on paper, you have to vibe in person," which is often not the case, she said. Encountering an attractive stranger "is more exciting. You don't know anything about them and there's more to learn," she said.
But even when the chemistry is auspicious, repeated exposure is required to know that you share values, goals and enthusiasm for similar experiences so a deep relationship can be sustained, cautioned Khan.
And, of course, precautions must be taken - especially by women - with unscreened suitors. As star struck as Ptacin was by Hitchen, "I Googled him as soon as I got home," she recalled, before consenting to see him again.