After three weeks of e-mails, Chris and Rae met at the now-defunct Chestnut Hill Borders. The conversation was so wonderful, they left the bookstore for dinner, then drinks. The "friends-only" pledge would be harder to keep than they thought, but both were determined to keep the brakes applied.
"Especially with having children, you can't make the same kind of impulsive decisions you made previously," Rae said. They began getting together on weekends - sometimes going out as a couple, and other times getting together with their kids for movie nights or other family-oriented activities.
They discovered that Rae's quiet, somewhat reserved nature and Chris' outgoing spontaneity balanced each other perfectly. About three months into their relationship, the women knew they were getting serious, ready or not. And so, on a trip to the Franklin Institute, the women told their sons, Dylan, now 14, Jason, 12, and Nathan, 11, that they were girlfriends.
Rae and Chris held hands as they walked through the museum's giant model heart.
How does forever sound?
After dating for almost two years, Chris, now 41, and Rae, 44, bought a home in Royersford together.
In early winter 2010, Chris told Rae that she didn't need a ring or a fancy party, but she wanted a ceremony to show the world their commitment.
As planning began, Rae found the ceremony meant as much to her as it did to Chris. "We just wanted to have something to show everybody that we were really committed to each other, just like any other couple. And also to show the kids that we were committed. That if we had a fight," Rae said, "we would stick together and work things out."
While Chris said no ring was necessary, Rae had watched her drooling over some vintage diamond rings at an antique jewelry store in Phoenixville. She bought her one.
In early 2011, the kids were with their grandparents, and Rae and Chris saw Les Miserables. Back at their hotel, Rae asked Chris to wait in the lobby for a few minutes. Rae decorated the bed with red rose petals arranged in a heart shape. She placed candy conversation hearts on the night stand and desk, and then went back to the lobby for her girlfriend.
When they entered the room, Rae got down on one knee. She told Chris that, from the first time they met, she knew she wanted Chris in her life, even though she didn't know at first what that would look like.
"Will you spend the rest of your life with me?" Rae asked, and presented the ring.
It was so them
The couple wanted to share a deeply meaningful moment with friends and family, then celebrate with a casual party that offered something fun for guests of all ages. They booked Chaplin's the Music Cafe - an old theater where Charlie Chaplin once performed, and the site of the early date that led to the couple's first kiss. Their reception had a vintage carnival theme, established when their 75 guests received tickets with their invitations.
Friends did readings, and then Chris and Rae shared the vows they had kept secret from each other, and exchanged rings.
"Since we've met, everything about our relationship has seemed peaceful and easy," Chris told Rae. "Even with the chaos surrounding us, things between us are calm."
"You always tell me that I keep you grounded," Rae told Chris. "But you're the one who gives me wings that allow me to soar."
Rae, a contract legal writer for Thomson Reuters, wore dark-gray pants and vest with a burgundy-and-gray vintage tie picked out by Chris, all set off with black-and-white Doc Marten spats.
Chris, a case manager at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia oncology department, wore an embroidered, ivory, off-the-shoulder dress.
Guests played guessing and trivia games to win giant lollipops, and took photos in a photo booth. They snacked on peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, mini-pizzas, and corn dogs, and loaded up on old-fashioned candies from a candy bar. Special cocktails included the "cotton candy kiss" (a martini poured over cotton candy) and the "liquid lemon stick" (a cocktail designed to taste like a lemon speared with a peppermint straw).
Each of the couple's boys received a son's cake. Dylan's had a wizards-and-broomsticks theme. Jason's football cake was done in dark blue and gray with a star. Nathan's black-and-white music cake was covered with musical notes.
If gay marriage were legalized in Pennsylvania, Chris and Rae say, they would marry before a judge in order to receive the legal protections and benefits marriage offers. But they would not hold another public exchange of vows and celebration. They have already pledged their lives to each other and celebrated that commitment.
From the stage where they said their vows, Rae looked out at all the friends and family members who were there. "Especially when you come out in your 30s, you are wondering, 'How are people going to react? Will I still have friends? Will they still like me?' " she said. "And there were so many of my friends, grade school friends, and college friends with their kids, and it just really struck me - everybody was there, and they were OK with everything, and they really just wanted both of us to be happy."
Having all those people get quiet to listen to the vows the couple made to each other was a "powerful" moment for Chris. And she loved it when they broke their silence with applause.
A bargain: Chris' cousin and his wife, Jim and Cara, photographed the couple's wedding and baked their cake, as gifts to the couple.
The splurge: The photo booth. The couple decided early on that it was central to their carnival theme, but it was "really expensive" compared with the other things they purchased, Rae said.
The couple will use the money they received as gifts to take their boys on a family vacation this summer.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Chaplin's the Music Cafe, Spring City, Pa.
Positively Pasta, Pottstown, Pa.
Family members James and Cara Crugnale, as a gift to the couple
Wheatstone and Bridge, Wilmington, Del.
Three Peas in a Pod, Royersford
Rae's attire: Various local stores, with vintage Doc Martens from eBay
The Pyramid Collection, pyramidcollection.com
Designed by the couple, printed by Cards and Pockets, cardsandpockets.com
Love: DO YOU HAVE THE DATE?
Tell us in a short e-mail – at least six weeks before your ceremony – why we should feature your love story. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, we can't personally respond to all submissions. If your story is chosen, you will be contacted in the weeks before your wedding.