Countdown to Bliss

021306 article engage Countdown to BlissPaul Bennett and Courtney Higham

Met: April 27, 2003

Engaged: May 1, 2005

Projected Wedding Date: May 6, 2006

“In New York, you’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Courtney Higham, 34, a raven-haired, bubbly and statuesque beauty who works as a senior client liaison at Administaff, a human-resources firm.

The 5-foot-10 Ms. Higham was on a boring blind date arranged by friends at the now-defunct restaurant Grange Hall—“They found me this tall man,” she said, because “in this city, when you stand on the subway, you’re looking over everybody’s head”—when she spotted a handsome stranger with salt-and-pepper hair at the end of the bar. “I thought, ‘That’s the man I should be on the date with,’” she said.

Sensing the lack of chemistry, Tall Guy eventually made his exit.

“It doesn’t look like your date went too well,” said Grange Hall’s bald bartender, addressing Ms. Higham. “You should stay for a while.” As it happened, he knew the salt-and-peppered stranger: one Paul Bennett, an editorial assistant at Fortune magazine.

Soon Mr. Bennett and Ms. Higham were immersed in conversation. She offered to read his palm—“That was my big thing when I was a single woman in New York,” she said—and found a couple of old romances in his “heart” line. She also told him about her childhood pet, a 15-pound feline named Winston. Some Manhattan men would’ve run screaming at this conversational gambit, but …. “There’s this cat you have to meet,” Mr. Bennett said excitedly.

He walked her to a cab. Before the night was through, he called and left a message on her voice mail. “I’m calling you before he is,” he said, alluding to Tall Guy. “We’ll talk soon.”

“I saved that message for a year,” Ms. Higham told the Love Beat, “I thought, ‘That’s the way to do it.’”

On their first real date, Mr. Bennett took her to Café Loup in the Village, where they met his friend and fellow Schubert fan, the food critic Seymour Britchky, and Pierre, the restaurant’s resident cat. “He was a marvelous cat,” Mr. Bennett said. But it was the critic’s opinion that counted. “If you could pass muster with him, you had something,” said Mr. Bennett, “and she passed muster.”

Still, this longtime bachelor, now 43, was a bit reluctant to break from his accustomed routine. “I felt like I was Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, doing a dance to lure him out,” Ms. Higham said. When Mr. Bennett’s mother died, his girlfriend threw her old-fashioned skepticism about cohabitation out the window, and the two upgraded from his studio in Brooklyn Heights to a one-bedroom in the same building, her hip-hop albums merging with his classical.

But make no mistake: Marriage was very much on Ms. Higham’s mind. “I hypnotized him every night before he went to bed,” she said, “like The Manchurian Candidate.”

Apparently, it worked: Mr. Bennett proposed during a walk on a damp day in Tralee, Ireland (he has family there), having planted a ring box on the path containing a single-carat, white-gold-set oval diamond flanked by two sapphires. Packs of sheep roamed about the surrounding farmland as Ms. Higham burst into happy tears. “It was like a moment out of the 1950’s,” she said.

Their wedding will take place at Harry’s Loft, an artsy space near Gramercy Park run by two French dames.

ruleLong Countdown to Bliss

Lauren Cohen and Christopher Starr

Met: October 2004

Engaged: September 2005

Projected Wedding Date: May 13, 2006

Before Wedding Crashers extolled the technique of picking up women at funerals, hunky ophthalmologist Christopher Starr was scoping out Lauren Cohen, a slender, dark-haired photographer, on a train headed to Westchester for the burial of a mutual friend’s father.

Though they were both Brown graduates, the two had never met before, but they hit it off immediately, discussing art and movies. “Obviously, at the funeral we behaved ourselves,” said Dr. Starr, 34. Sure ya did, sure ya did …. Upon returning to the city, he got her phone number, claiming that he needed updated headshots for his Web site.

“I really did,” Dr. Starr said. “It wasn’t just a line.”

They agreed to meet at Brown’s annual Halloween Bash at B-Bar. She dressed up as Wonder Woman, he as … Buckethead (an obscure musician who wears a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket as a hat), which earned him some baffled looks.

“So, are you coming?” asked Ms. Cohen with a typical Brown girl’s directness as she hailed a cab at the end of the night. They zoomed to her studio in the Flatiron district, and he slept over. “I liked that she was forward, because I can be a bit shy,” Dr. Starr said. He also liked the photos she took of him, making a special trip to Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat.

But during dinner at his Upper East Side apartment later that week, he put a bit of a damper on things. “Look,” Dr. Starr said, “I’ve been single for a long time, but I’m seeing someone else also.” Ms. Cohen shrugged. “That’s cool,” she said.

“Secretly, I was freaking out,” she told the Love Beat.

The other woman soon faded from the picture, but Ms. Cohen was frustrated for a while at Dr. Starr’s laissez-faire attitude. “It was always casual, like, ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to hang out?’” she said. “I’m from the old school; I want to have a real date.”

She text-messaged her grievances to him during a business trip to L.A.

Do you want to go out on a real date? Dr. Starr text-messaged back. And when she returned, he took her to see Sabbra Cadabra, a Black Sabbath cover band. “I went once; I’d never go again. That’s what true love is,” said Ms. Cohen, who prefers Elton John and Billy Joel.

Despite their musical differences, the couple moved into a Gramercy loft after only three months together. “On the coldest freakin’ day in January,” Ms. Cohen griped. The movers took eight hours longer than expected, finally finishing at 3 a.m. “It was the first time we really saw each other stressed and under a lot of tension,” she said.

On a three-week vacation to Greece and Italy, Dr. Starr surprised his girlfriend by dropping to one knee during a gondola ride in Venice. (“It takes some balance,” he said.) From his pocket, he pulled out a plastic ring—a placeholder for a four-carat, cushion-cut, platinum-set aquamarine surrounded by pavé diamonds, designed by Ms. Cohen’s talented aunt. “You’re my best friend; you’re the love of my life,” he told her. “I’ve been so happy being with you for this last year living together, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

Though she’d known this was coming down the pike, Ms. Cohen nonetheless added a few drops of salt water to the canal.

The couple is hoping to hire Grandmaster Flash to D.J. their wedding, which is being organized by Fête, a Park Avenue event planner. It will be the first in modern memory to be held at the Prince George Ballroom on 28th Street, where the nonprofit organization Common Ground has combined the restoration of an Edith Wharton–era grand ballroom with welfare housing. “Chris likes to tell people we’re getting married at a homeless shelter,” said the bride-to-be.