Countdown to Bliss

Tara Higgins and Britton Payne

Met: Spring 2001

Engaged: May 13, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Dec. 20, 2003

The estrogen-centric Oxygen network is a great place to meet babes! Brit Payne, a skinny Yalie, was working in its airy Chelsea Market offices as lead animator for an online detective series called The Ruth Truth. Tara Higgins, a blue-eyed cutie, was producing a special short segment on Mr. Payne’s animation. “I thought I was in charge, and he thought he was in charge, and he was following me around and I didn’t understand it,” she said. “I thought he was annoying, because it was my project.”

“At a ‘woman’s company,’ it takes a lot of guts to ask someone out, because you don’t want to offend or harass or have anyone think you’re a lech,” said Mr. Payne, 32. “I didn’t know if she liked me …. One day I just blurted out, ‘You’re so beautiful!'”

Ms. Higgins, six years his junior, wasn’t offended, but she didn’t rush to lift her skirt, either. “I definitely thought he was dorky,” she said. “He was very Alex P. Keaton-very preppy. I’d always dated more cocky, bad-boy kinds of guys.”

He brought her to Union Square’s Republic-not exactly the epicenter of Manhattan romance, with its communal tables and noisy noodle-slurping-and then to see The Mummy Returns. “I’m the worst new dater there is,” he said. For their second assignation, he invited her to his house to watch Pleasantville with a bunch of friends, then fell asleep during the movie. (He made up for it later that evening, however, with wine on the roof and a kiss.)

Within a year, they had adopted a Boston terrier, Jake, and set up house à deux in the East Village, where they enjoy singing-show tunes for her, Christina Aguilera covers for him. “He’s a big dork, and so am I,” Ms. Higgins said.

Then Mr. Payne was laid off from Oxygen and decided to write and illustrate a book called Dumped about his failed ex-relationships, which he sold to Bloomsbury (along with a sequel, Laid Off ). “We were in a great relationship, and I’m thinking, Who are all the women in this book? ” Ms. Higgins said. “It definitely caused a couple fights.”

Things only got tenser when she left Oxygen to work for the Learning Channel’s A Wedding Story. “I was getting really anxious,” she said. “I would look at couples I interviewed and think, ‘Ugh, we have a better relationship than they do! We’re just as in love-why aren’t we getting married?’ I wanted to give him his space and let him ask me when he was ready. But it was really hard.”

Mr. Payne finally proposed at his mother’s beach house on the Jersey Shore, presenting her with a pink T-shirt with the word “Yes” on it. “I was welling up, my voice was shaking-I was just being a spaz,” he said.

“I thought he was losing his mind,” Ms. Higgins said. Sanity was briskly restored with three oval-cut diamonds set in white gold.

They’ll be married at the Voorhees Chapel at Rutgers University, with a reception to follow at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge. Mr. Payne, who watercolored the save-the-date cards, is now applying to law school and mulling titles for his next book. May we suggest Whipped?

Kate Landis and Mike Loewengart

Met: Spring 1997

Engaged: March 20, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Aug. 21, 2004

Vermont: It’s not just for same-sex domestic partnerships! Kate Landis, 25, a publicity associate at BR Guest, Steve Hanson’s restaurant conglomerate (Blue Fin, Blue Water Grill, etc., ad nauseam) is planning a Middlebury, Vt., wedding to Mike Loewengart, 27, an analyst at Lord Abbett. “Everything will be simple and fresh,” she said of the wedding menu. “Lots of heirloom tomatoes and Vermont cheese …. We love to eat. We’re not very formal. We just want our friends to come up and take off their shoes and have a good time-drink Vermont beer, have good wine.” Burp.

They met through mutual friends at Middlebury College, alma mater to 90 percent of the Patagonia fleece-wearers in Manhattan. She was a history major; he played defensive lineman on the football team. “I thought he was a total meathead,” said Ms. Landis, who is curvy, with straight dirty-blond hair she wears to her shoulders. “I’d make fun of him to my friends. I’d say, ‘Oh, he’s such a dork.'”

But Mr. Loewengart, entranced by her “good hip-to-waist ratio,” persisted. She succumbed to one outing to a Chinese restaurant in Larchmont over the summer, then didn’t return his calls. “That’s O.K., you’re just a flake,” he said when she apologized to him in the fall.

“I got really mad!” Ms. Landis said. “I was like, ‘I’m not a flake! I just don’t want to be your girlfriend!'” Also, dude, the Chinese food in Westchester sucks!

Mr. Loewengart kept telephoning. “I felt like she was leading me on from the first time we met,” he said. “If she had just said she didn’t like me, I would’ve backed off.”

Eventually, Ms. Landis cracked. “I remember him standing in a stairwell, begging me, saying, ‘Why won’t you just let me be nice to you?'” she said. “And I didn’t really know why. I guess you just have the vision of what your boyfriend is supposed to be like and how it’s supposed to go, and it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. But I knew I really liked him one day when I saw him and was like, ‘Oh my God, he just got such a bad haircut!’ And then I was like, ‘Wait-why do I care about his haircut?'”

After graduation, they ditched their Tevas and moved to a one-bedroom in Battery Park. Before her fancy flack gig, Ms. Landis worked as a hostess at the Union Square Café. “I’d never eaten sushi before I met her,” said her strapping, round-faced swain with wonder. “I was very sheltered.”

He proposed in their apartment one evening with an emerald-cut diamond set in platinum with two tasty baguettes. “All he could say was, ‘Will you marry me, will you marry me, will you marry me?'” Ms. Landis said. “And I’m like, ‘Look, our CD’s are all mixed together, we bought this furniture together-of course I’m going to say yes!'”

A sizable repast at L’Impero followed-on the house, naturally, as the bride had done that place’s P.R.

Leslie Gesser and John Robert Lymington Price

Met: July 21, 2002

Engaged: May 5, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Oct. 26, 2003

Tree’s company … but apparently not quite enough company for the rest of one’s life. Robert Price, 35, a Westchester arborist (also known as a “tree doctor”), is marrying Leslie Gesser, 36, owner of the Upper East Side party-planning company, In Any Event. Ms. Gesser has booked the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk Street for their wedding, and plans to decorate each table with an eight-foot birch and give saplings as favors. They are registered at Bloomingdale’s for Marc Blackwell china-in a leaf pattern, of course. “It’s going to be all about trees and leaves,” said the bride-to-be.

Mr. Price, meanwhile, is organizing the honeymoon. “What I really want is to see the temperate rain forest,” he said.

He first met his little wood nymph at Doc Watsons, an Irish pub on Second Avenue into which she’d wandered with some lady friends. He was puffing on a Marlboro Red, as is his wont-apparently indifferent to the damage it inflicts to his beloved natural environment-and was barefoot. “Like Tarzan in the trees,” said the titian-haired, voluptuous Ms. Gesser. “I saw him and said, ‘Hmmm, that looks interesting!'”

Another guy was hitting on her, but she made doe eyes over his shoulder at Tarzan and then made her approach. “The first thing I said to her was, ‘Can you smell my feet?'” said Mr. Price, who is tall and swarthy in the Chris Noth mold (he rolled his eyes at the comparison) and originally from Surrey, England. “I’ve always been into red hair.”

“He was too cute to pass up,” Ms. Gesser said. “I had no intention of consummating the relationship that first night, but we really just had such a good time together, I didn’t want it to end. I mean, look at him-would you let him out of your sight?”

Mr. Price took root in her Upper East Side one-bedroom a week later, and it wasn’t long before he found himself paying special attention to the left-hand fourth fingers of his suburban-housewife clientele. “When they go to sign the contracts, I always look at their engagement rings. All of them have pronged settings,” he said with disdain. He picked out a white-gold half-bezel suspension setting more to his liking from Wedding Ring Originals on the Upper East Side, got the store to insert Ms. Gesser’s late grandmother’s 1.6-carat diamond, which he’d secured from her mother, then presented the treasure while the two were in the bedroom one evening (fully clothed, thank you very much). “No stars, no moon, none of that shit,” he said. “I just love her, and that works for me.”

Ms. Gesser reciprocated with a Tag Heuer “engagement watch.” “Robert is like an English oak,” she said. “Strong and always getting better with time.” Yes, it’s Ardor Day, Charlie Brown ….

“She’d be an ornamental Japanese cherry tree, also known as kwanzan ,” Mr. Price said. “They blossom in the spring in pink and white, and she’s like that. Sweet like a cherry blossom.” Claritin, anyone? Countdown to Bliss