A match made in California
We grew up about 2 hours apart in Illinois and both went to Stanford, but we never met until the 4th of July, 2002, when some mutual friends decided to throw a party at the last minute. Joseph had just finished his undergrad degree and was spending the summer doing research at Stanford before spending another year finishing a Masters degree. His friend and former roommate Bismarck "Business Man" Lepe had just graduated and was renting a house in nearby Los Altos with some friends (the famed "Casa Whitham"). Bismarck's then-girlfriend and former dorm-room-neighbor of Joseph was Michelle's sorority sister (and maid of honor at our wedding) Amber Ulrich. So Bismarck and Amber threw a party at the Casa and both Joseph and Michelle were invited. We hit it off nicely enough, but since we were both seeing other people at the time, we didn't take the encounter too seriously. Still, there was a clear mutual attraction and intrigue from the first day that never went away.
That weekend we went up to see an outdoor concert in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with our friends from Casa Whitham. We tried to play it cool but we were clearly still mutually enamored and in retrospect that was probably pretty obvious to everyone around us, no matter how clever we thought we were being at the time. We saw each other a couple more times socially in the following week, but then Joseph left for a previously scheduled trip to visit his then-girlfriend Yseulte in Connecticut (she had also just graduated and gotten a job teaching physics at an east-coast boarding school). While Joseph was happy to see Yseulte, he knew that they had begun to drift in their own separate ways. He also couldn't stop thinking about Michelle, which he found a bit surprising but also a sign that there was something more there than he had originally realized. He knew that Michelle was still spoken-for, but he decided to follow his heart and parted ways with Yseulte.
Joseph returned home with his head swimming--excited to proclaim his love for Michelle but scared to death that she wouldn't be willing to take the same plunge. He landed in San Jose and called up Bismarck, who was going to pick him up. Biz said he was running a bit late and to just go wait by the curbside. Joseph walked out of the boarding area and to his great surprise Michelle was standing there with a rose! Joseph stopped and stared with a startled look--what was she doing here and was this rose for me?! Michelle of course had no clue that Joseph had broken up with Yseulte--for all she knew, they had decided to get married during their visit! She stood there trembling with that same fear of rejection and a brave, hopeful smile. We both just looked at each other for a few seconds and then blurted out simultaneously that we loved each other and had broken up with our significant other in the hopes that we could find happiness together. It was truly a surreal moment and it took a while before we had calmed down enough to realize how amazingly and happily things had turned out. From that point on, we were inseperable.
A blissful year together passed like it was a day and Joseph was now finished with his Masters degree. Michelle still had a year left to finish her undergrad and Masters degrees (she tucked them both into four years) and since Joseph was now working at a newly founded startup company called Plaxo in nearby Mountain View, they decided to spend the summer living in Casa Whitham, where they had met one year ago. They also began to think more seriously about their future together--both Michelle and Joseph were contemplating graduate school and the top schools for their respective fields weren't necessarily the same. Even if Joseph stayed at Plaxo, what would Michelle do once she graduated? Getting a PhD at Stanford was out of the question (her degrees were from the Psychology and Sociology departments, neither of which would admit grad students from within) so she would have to find a job in the area. How serious was our relationship, we wondered, and how hard should we fight to stay together?
At first it was frightening to consider getting hitched right out of college. We had both had a few serious relationships before, but we were also still quite young. And while we were very much in love and didn't have any relationship problems, it seemed daunting to assess whether we'd want to stay together for years, let alone decades to come. So we did a somewhat odd thing--we went shopping for engagement rings. At first we were just curious to see what was available, but after a while it became a philosopher's stone of sorts for comtemplating our relationship: were we ready to make such a big commitment, and was this really the one we wanted? Of course life always takes unexpected turns--just as we'd found a ring we loved and were getting comfortable with the idea of getting engaged, Joseph's parents called us down to "talk it over". We feared they were going to tell us that we were crazy to think about getting married, but in fact they showed us a georgeous diamond and sapphire ring from Joseph's great-grandmother's engagement in 1903 Vienna (small world!) that had been in the family under safe-keeping ever since (this was the first Joseph knew it even existed). The stars, it seemed, were in alignment.
With a new optimism about the future in our hearts, we took off on a road trip down the California coast in celebration of Michelle's 21st birthday. We visited Big Sur and Hearst Castle, then continued further south to San Luis Obispo. After a nice Italian dinner in the city (notable for their Carpaccio, which was served "burrito-style" rolled up with the ingredients tucked inside!), we drove around looking for a beach to stroll down. We didn't know the area at all, but we followed our noses and ended up at Avila beach. We were dressed up nicely from our dinner but we took off our shoes and socks and walked along the shore under the moonlight. There was something perfect about the moment. Joseph dropped to one-knee in the sand and asked, "My darling Michelle, will you be my wife?" Michelle responded immediately with a "yes" wrapped in a giddy little twitter. We enjoyed a long embrace and stared out to sea, pondering the journey ahead.
THE REST OF THE STORY
We celebrated our engagement with a party on the banks of Stanford's Lake Laguinita, featuring a tasting of a dozen New Zealand wines and and two giant cones of shrimp (if you weren't there, you'll have to use your imagination). Michelle finished her last year at Stanford while Joseph lived at Casa Whitham with Bismarck and Amber. Michelle's graduation coincided with Joseph's brother Benjy (the best man)'s graduation at UC Santa Cruz so Joseph's and Michelle's parents were finally able to meet face-to-face. They had a wonderful time together and both echoed their enthusiasm and support of the marriage. In June 2004, Joseph and Michelle moved into their first apartment together, in San Jose. Michelle competed for and won a spot in Franklin Templeton Investments's "Futures Associate" program, where she began rotating through different departments and learning the details of the company in anticipation of an extended career there. Joseph continued to work at his startup Plaxo, which had grown nearly 10x in head count since he and Michelle first met.
We soon started looking for a place to hold our wedding and reception. We looked at a number of different sites in California (some coastal, others further inland) but when we found the Viansa winery in Sonoma Valley, we knew it was the ideal spot. With a beautiful Tuscan-style villa overlooking the vineyards and less than an hour north of San Francisco, it was a fantasy that would be practical to share. All that was left was to urge our family and friends to come descend and celebrate with us.
Come help us finish our story together!