Countdown to Bliss

Elizabeth Dunleavey and Paul Mahoney

Met: Spring 1991

Engaged: March 15, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Dec. 13, 2003

It’s Nora Ephron nookie! This couple, friends for 12 years, were watching When Harry Met Sally -on New Year’s Eve, no less-when she suddenly piped up: “Did you ever wonder why we’ve never dated?” And shazaam!-they’re planning a wedding on St. John in the Virgin Islands.

They met at a party. Paul Mahoney, a senior vice president at HSBC (a big-ass international private bank), came with the dreaded ” such a nice guy” recommendation-the modern Manhattan male’s equivalent of Hester Prynne’s scarlet A. “It was just a turn-off that he was allegedly so ‘nice,'” said Elizabeth Dunleavey, 37, a community-affairs staff director at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy at Columbia. “I wasn’t into ‘nice.’ And I didn’t like that he lived in the area. I was only interested in men who were geographically undesirable and emotionally unavailable.”

Mr. Mahoney is a round-faced former frat boy with a come-hither cleft chin. Ms. Dunleavey is an effervescent, blue-eyed blonde with a regally high forehead and a gummy Katie Couric smile. Their other friends didn’t understand why they weren’t just ripping each other’s clothes off. “People would say things like, ‘Which one of you am I going to have to hit over the head first?'” said Mr. Mahoney, 38.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when long-lost exes of New Yorkers were suddenly emerging en masse like ants at a picnic, Mr. Mahoney was contacted by a former girlfriend he hadn’t seen since the 1980’s. He began spending his weekends in California, where she lived. “It was awful,” Ms. Dunleavey said. “I was miserable that he was happy with someone that wasn’t me. I think I needed that sense of competition in order to appreciate him more.” After consulting self-help literature, she concluded further: “I think I had been frightened of his love. I was scared that someone could really love me for who I am. I first needed to be able to accept myself before I could let him into my life in that way, and I think I finally started to do that.”

When Mr. Mahoney eventually ditched the West Coast chickie, Ms. Dunleavey called a strategy session with her best buds. Pounce , they said. “But he’s the boy!” she replied. “He’s supposed to kiss me first.” You gotta love that third-wave feminism.

A mere 74 days after their moment of revelation in front of the tube, Mr. Mahoney proposed at Le Château Frontenac, a castle in Quebec City, with a 1.3-carat diamond in a four-pronged platinum setting. “It’s amazing how he was always there in front of me, and I didn’t see him,” said Ms. Dunleavey, who has joined a large collection of World War II model airplanes in Mr. Mahoney’s Upper East Side two-bedroom. “It’s a big thing, after being alone for so long, to want and need someone else in your personal space,” he mused.

“My greatest fear used to be living alone one day with 50 cats,” Ms. Dunleavey said, Meg Ryan–esquely. “Or else I’d think to myself, ‘What if I choke and I’m living by myself?’ I figured I’d have to learn to throw myself on the edge of the countertop. But now I have someone to give me the Heimlich.”

Alexander Kopelman and Sarah Richardson

Met: December 1997

Engaged: Aug. 14, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: Sept. 6, 2003

Alex Kopelman, 41, is a Jew who came to New York from Russia in 1975 and feels he has a special affinity for two things: women’s fashion and African-American culture. We recently heard Mr. Kopelman-the ghostwriter for What Mama Taught Me by PBS journalist Tony Brown, and a collaborator on an upcoming book by Janet Longhart Cohen, wife of the former Secretary of Defense-in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons (co-owner Alex Von Bidder is his longtime sailing buddy), expressing bafflement at not always being accepted as an “equal” in the black community. He was also denouncing this season’s black-and-white large floral prints and low-heeled shoes.

“He’s very sartorially inclined,” said Sarah Richardson, 30, Mr. Kopelman’s pallid, flaxen-haired intended. She was drinking vodka and eating caviar in the restaurant’s Grill Room (which we think should be renamed the Art Cooper Room, à la Jackie O. and the reservoir) on yet another evening. “What I love about Sarah,” said Mr. Kopelman, who was sitting nearby, “is that she’s more of a round-toe-shoe gal rather than a pointy-toed-shoe one.”

Mr. Kopelman is the director of communications for Girls Inc., the advocacy group for female youth empowerment. He was married once before, to his high-school sweetheart from the United Nations International School, but it ended in 1989, and Mr. Kopelman, who now sports long, graying sideburns, spent most of the 90’s in smug-bachelor mode. Ms. Richardson noticed him standing in the corner by himself at a party in Carroll Gardens thrown by Alex Halberstadt, a contributing writer for Salon . “I just had my cool vibe on that evening, so I wasn’t planning to talk to anybody,” he said. “She backed her way toward me and turned around and said, ‘How are you doing, wallflower?'”

“It was more of a shy vibe,” said Ms. Richardson, who is finishing her Ph.D. in art history at CUNY, concentrating on Georgia O’Keeffe’s architectural paintings. “He was devastatingly handsome.”

They learned that they were both Vassar grads. By evening’s end, he was plying her with the dregs of Mr. Halberstadt’s refreshment table: malt liquor. The next week, he took her salsa dancing- ¡olé! -at Gonzalez y Gonzalez in Noho, and within the year he’d moved from Chelsea “to the wilds of Brooklyn,” as he put it, to “claim” his woman. They cohabited in Park Slope, but broke up. However, post-9/11, he threw himself at her feet after a long night of drinking. “I said, ‘Uh, O.K.,” said Ms. Richardson. They now live in a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side (Park Slope without quite so many muffin companies).

Initially “namby-pamby” about marriage, they bought a “pre-engagement” ring in turquoise and silver at Roslyn on Columbus. Mr. Kopelman asked Ms. Richardson to wear it to show that she was conquered “territory” while she did a six-month fellowship at the Smithsonian last year. The nickel in the silver has occasionally given the bride-to-be hives, but she’s been a good sport about it.

Their wedding ceremony will be at a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed church in the bride’s hometown of Madison, Wis., with a reception to follow in a local barn. In lieu of gifts, guests are being asked to make donations to Heifer International, which provides farm animals and eggs to needy families. (“O.K., but what’s your china pattern?” has been the typical response, according to Ms. Richardson.) She’s planning to wear a taupe-colored Selia Yang gown that Mr. Kopelman helped her pick out.

“Never in my 15-year-old fantasies of the big white dress and the legions of bridesmaids was there a groom who was a decade-older Russian dude,” she said. “But you know-he’s the bomb!”

Kimberly Ann Gadzinski and John Norgard

Met: Spring 2002

Engaged: Oct. 15, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: July 13, 2003

Apparently, the Hamptons housing market is even suckier than our Manhattan Transfers colleague Blair “Biff” Golson had led us to believe: Kimberly Gadzinski’s co-workers at Devlin McNiff, an East Hampton real-estate agency, have so much downtime this summer that they’re actually planning her wedding.

Jennifer D’Auria, a broker at Devlin McNiff (and former actress on Guiding Light and The Young and the Restless ), is hosting the reception at her Town Lane abode. She’ll also do Ms. Gadzinski’s makeup. Another broker is chauffeuring the bride to the church in his blue Porsche; still another is burning CD’s and will D.J. And the company’s owners, Lynn and Stuart Epstein, are orchestrating the event and providing white roses in massive number. Would Barbara Corcoran do the same?

“There’s no back-stabbing here,” said the red-haired, green-eyed Ms. Gadzinski, 32, a marketing director with the company for the past six years. “We help each other out.”

The groom is John Norgard, a blond, 6-foot-5 Ken doll of a man who first spotted Ms. Gadzinski one afternoon at the Poxabogue Golf Course in Wainscott, where she was hitting balls with a co-worker after a grueling Hamptons workday. “I’m all about the driving range,” she said. “It’s a good tension release.”

“Her drive is just so-so,” said Mr. Norgard, 36, a manager for Gap Incorporated. “But she commented on my nice shots, and I looked up and saw her and she had a wonderful glow.”

He asked her to dinner at the Surfside Inn in Montauk. She did what she called “the Hamptonite thing,” making “deals” on her cell phone throughout the meal. He ordered shrimp pasta and seemed nervous. “He hardly ate,” she said.

Yet after the third date, he called his mom to tell her he’d found a potential wife, and by the fourth date, the pair had exchanged I love you ‘s.

“I thought that was neat,” said Ms. Gadzinski, who described her swain as “well-intentioned” and “wholesome.”

“She always dazzles me,” Mr. Norgard said. “She makes me excited about what’s to come in our relationship.”

Project Kimberly’s Wedding took shape when Ms. Gadzinski came to the office and announced that Mr. Norgard had offered her a diamond in a yellow-and-white gold band after work the previous day (this was followed by a celebratory repast at Gurney’s Inn in Montauk, where he devoured with gusto).

They moved into a three-bedroom in East Hampton a few weeks later. Mr. Norgard, currently on a leave of absence from his job, has been taking advantage of the lousy weather to get to know his fiancée’s special colleagues better. “It’s a very caring group,” he said, adding that the Gap’s corporate culture is less coddling. “They don’t like people in different departments to interact outside of the office, ever,” he said. And to think he could’ve married a T-shirt folder!

Ms. Gadzinski is especially grateful for the it-takes-a-village approach. An only child from Aquebogue on the north shore of Long Island, she was raised by her paternal grandparents since age 12, following her parents’ divorce. Her mother, with whom she was never close, was always traveling, and her father suffered from a debilitating rheumatic illness. Her grandparents will attend the wedding, and her dad will walk her down the aisle, but Ms. Gadzinski’s true home is where her cubicle is. “Devlin McNiff is really my family now,” she said.