"He was quite a gentleman, and Facebook doesn't show that," Irena said. "He picked me up, and he opened the car door for me."
At a wine bar in Richie's neighborhood, he introduced her to the bartender. Irena liked that he knew his neighbors, and that he was kind to everyone they encountered.
Richie admired Irena's success at Campbell's, where she is now a financial analyst.
The more he learned of Irena's past, the more impressed he became.
Irena was born in Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union. She and her family immigrated when she was 5. When Irena learned English, she interpreted for her parents, who otherwise couldn't communicate with her teachers. She worked three jobs to pay for college.
"Listening to her work ethic, and her background - I had never met a girl like that before," Richie said.
By their third date, they were exclusive.
On a lovely day that March, Richie, Irena, and her dog, a white whippet named Chase, were walking near the Art Museum when the couple let Chase off his leash. For reasons only the dog knows, he bolted and jumped over a wall. Irena began hyperventilating when she saw he had fallen about 30 feet over an embankment.
Chase was bloody, but the vet said the wounds were superficial, requiring only stitches and a course of antibiotics.
Irena had another worry. She had to leave the next day on a business trip. "You can leave your baby with me," Richie said. "I'll take care of him, give him his medication, and take him to his doctor's appointments."
Irena decided to trust her new boyfriend. When she returned, Chase was better. Chase and Richie had bonded. And she was convinced she was with the right guy.
How does forever sound?
In late 2011, Irena sat Richie down for a "What are we doing, and where are things going?" talk.
Richie, who is now 30, said he loved her very much, but was not ready for marriage. "I don't think I'll be ready to take that next step for probably another year or so," he said.
Irena, now 27, was disappointed, but "I love him, so I wasn't going anywhere."
Richie says this was the only time he has ever lied to Irena. "I was already halfway through custom-making her engagement ring."
Richie designed and cast a setting of woven platinum. The two sides crisscross at the top, where they hold a diamond he chose from hundreds.
In early 2012, Richie drove to Wilkes-Barre to ask Irena's father Stanislav for his blessing. That February, he invited Irena to join his family in Cabo San Lucas.
They spread out their towel at Lover's Beach. Richie unzipped the pocket of his bathing suit - it had not been easy finding a suit with a zippered pocket - and took out the ring.
He leaned toward Irena. "Will you marry me?" he asked.
Irena's mind returned to Richie telling her he wasn't ready for marriage. She knew she'd been tricked.
"I hate you!" she said.
"As long as you hate me for the rest of your life," he replied.
There were happy tears pouring down Irena's cheeks.
They hugged and kissed, and she said yes. When they got back to Philly, she moved to his Center City house.
It was so them
The couple married in a traditional Jewish ceremony. Irena purchased the tallis that formed the top of their chuppah on a recent trip to Israel.
Irena and her mother, Yelena, designed her dress, and Yelena, a seamstress, made it. As she sewed, Irena would say things like, "More Alice in Wonderland!"
Richie made the couple's wedding rings.
During the horah, the guests lifted not only the couple up on chairs, but also their fathers, Stanislav and Hy. Richie's mother, Terri, was crowned with flowers, because he is the last of her children to marry.
Irena smooshed more cake on Richie than he got on her, and the couple hung out with their guests at the bar until 3 a.m.
The vows that Irena wrote for Richie - and the way she looked into his eyes when she spoke them - were so beautiful. "It blew me away," he said. She ended with a play-on-dialogue from Richie's beloved Simpsons. "Richie, I choo-choo-choose you," she said.
Before the ceremony, during picture-taking, Irena was questioning whether she could pull off that kind of goofy humor. But then Richie leaned close, and in his best Ralph Wiggum voice, said the same goofy words.
"This is why I'm marrying this guy," she thought.
A bargain: The florist didn't have the bamboo chuppah frame the couple asked for, but made one without charging extra, convinced other couples will want to use it.
The splurge: Richie's love of live music trumped his desire to save money with a DJ.
Ten days in Thailand.
Behind the Scenes
Rabbi Elliot Strom of Shir Ami, Newtown
Le Meridien, Philadelphia
Rich Posmontier Music, RichPosmontierMusic.com
Stephanie Nolt Photography, snfoto.com
Addie Litman and Carl Alan of Event Creations, Philadelphia
Handmade by Yelena Libman, mother of the bride,
Eileen Micklin, Havertown
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