Countdown to Bliss

Oliver Gold and Julie Moss

Met: Fall 1997

Engaged: July 19, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: Nov. 15, 2003

When Oliver Gold presented Julie Moss with a hefty princess-cut diamond ring that he’d hidden in a Banana Republic box, lots of tears flowed … but not happy ones. “She said, ‘Whose is this?’ And I said, ‘It’s yours!’ And she said, ‘Are you kidding? I’m not getting married for 10 years! ‘” recalled Mr. Gold, 27.

The pair had moved upstairs to a room at the W Hotel Union Square following a boozy dinner at Olives. The dark-haired, pallid Ms. Moss, who’d been anticipating a surprise birthday party rather than a proposal, made a crisis phone call to her younger sister. Mr. Gold suggested that she return the ring. “No! I’m keeping it!'” she hissed, storming into the bathroom and slamming the door. Sis arrived within minutes, leaving the sorry swain to guzzle champagne from the bottle alone.

After an interval, the two girls emerged, with looks of resolve on their faces. “I said, ‘O.K., we can get married-but it’s not going to be for a loo-oong time,'” said Ms. Moss, 25.

“She has extreme reaction to change,” Mr. Gold said. He then dialed his parents and brother, who’d been waiting at Cafe Luxembourg nearby to join them for a toast. (Whatever happened to punctuating a proposal with simple coitus?) During the subsequent celebration, Ms. Moss sat on the bed drinking water, trying to sober up and get into the spirit of the thing with her partner. “He’s very sensitive and into his emotions,” she said, “and was just eager for us to start building a life together.”

The two met at Syracuse University, as undergraduates majoring unenthusiastically in information-management technology. Syracuse had done wonders for her complexion: “She had an Elvira look about her, like she’d never seen the sun in her life,” said Mr. Gold, a manager at the baby-clothing importer Bon Bébé.

Ms. Moss, an executive assistant to the vice president of HBO program-scheduling ( Six Feet Under five nights a week, please?) thought the dark-haired stud out of her league. “He was really, really, really kind and sensitive,” she said. “And he’d say the cutest things. Like ‘You’re a door bell!’ Get it? Like ‘adorable’? I thought that was soo-oo funny.”

When a tornado tore through Syracuse, Mr. Gold lured her to his apartment to weather the storm, splurging on a bottle of wine. “Thirty dollars!” he said. “So she’d think I was some sort of connoisseur.”

Not long after graduation, they bought a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side, near his childhood condo. Folded neatly on their small bed is a tattered blue cotton blanket from his youth. “I’ve really grown to love his blanky,” Ms. Moss said. “We have a constant tug-of-war about who gets to sleep with it.”

“Her parents describe us as calming forces to each other,” Mr. Gold said. “But together we’re kind of tense and neurotic and hyper.” Already slender, he’s lost 30 pounds in anticipation of the wedding, which will be a small affair in Jamaica, and is closely guarding the secret of his costume. “He’s kind of vain,” his bride-to-be said with affectionate disdain. “I think he’s the bride and I’m the groom.”

Despite his employee discount, they’re not planning to have any children. Ms. Moss has a recurring dream in which she realizes that she forgot her baby at home-and then is kind of glad.

Sheri Koetting and Marc Levitt

Met: June 1997

Engaged: Feb. 14, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Sept. 18, 2004

Designing woman meets designing man! Sheri Koetting, 28, grew up in St. Louis, attended Drake University in Iowa, and came to New York to find a glam job in graphic design. The now-defunct ad agency Ammirati Puris Lintas told her they weren’t hiring. But her interviewer-noting Ms. Koetting’s full lips, supple form and long, reddish Pre-Raphaelite curls, quickly formed other, er, designs: He suggested she get some “career guidance” from the son of a friend, Marc Levitt, a graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and a rising star in the high-stakes world of international graphics.

The two young people met at Pipa in ABC Carpet and Home. Peering through his thick vintage glasses, Mr. Levitt was thoroughly charmed by Ms. Koetting’s “very grandma but kind of cute” use of expressions like “haste makes waste” and “a stitch in time saves nine.” “She gave off a lot of good, proactive vibes,” he said. “I had only met, like, these Jewish East Coast girls, and here she was, Catholic and from the Midwest. It was so unexotic that it was exotic, you know?”

But our Annie Hall failed to mention that she already had a photographer boyfriend. “I never really could go for the Sunday-football kind of guy,” she said. “I was always more into the sensitive, non-chauvinistic ones.” (In these parts we call that “cute, but poor,” honey …. ) Mr. Levitt discovered his rival after showing up at Ms. Koetting’s housewarming party on the Upper East Side. He gave her a card he’d made-a picture of a house that he’d warmed and browned in a toaster oven-then slunk quietly, dejectedly, into the night.

They’d bump into each other occasionally at the white-hot social events thrown by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Ms. Koetting got a job at Toda, a design firm, and eventually split with the shutterbug. One day she called Mr. Levitt looking for the phone number of a paper supplier, invited him to see the motorcycle show at the Guggenheim, and vroom : They’ve been together ever since.

The couple hopes to launch their own design company from their hyper-chic one-bedroom in Long Island City, which is stocked with his-and-her gas masks and a lot of canned food.”We’re the biggest paranoid freaks you’ve ever met,” said Mr. Levitt, 29, who works at the Nestor Stermole Visual Communications Group and sports a soul patch.

They were sitting in the Anyway Café when he suddenly handed over a junk-jewelry ring on which he’d scrawled the letters “FPO.” Huh? “It’s industry jargon for ‘For Position Only,'” he said. (We repeat- huh? ) He later swapped it for his grandmother’s ring from the 1930’s, a 3.5-carat round diamond set in platinum.

“I was surprised that he’d taken the initiative, because he’s not the most proactive character,” said Ms. Koetting. (There’s that word again …. )

“I’d been very slow-moving and noncommittal,” Mr. Levitt said. “I was more worried about other things-like just surviving in New York.”

They’ll wed far from the urban chaos, in a St. Louis rose garden near the Climatron Dome at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Ms. Koetting is hiring a recent Parsons graduate to copy a Donna Karan dress. They haven’t yet settled on a typeface for their invitations.

Eric Smith and Aliza Wassner

Met: Summer 1999

Engaged: Aug. 20, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Spring 2004

Aliza Wassner, 31, an associate company manager at Hairspray , is marrying Eric Smith, 33, an assistant carpenter on the just-closed Man of La Mancha . Some 150 guests will gather for the ceremony at her maternal grandparents’ farm in Thermont, Md., right near Camp David.

The two Broadwayites met during the national tour of The Sound of Music in 1999, after opening night in Minneapolis. The hills were alive! Ms. Wassner had noticed the blond, broad-shouldered carpenter backstage manhandling props. “He looked kind of cool,” she said. “He had these funky yellow-tinted glasses. Now everyone has them, but he was totally ahead of his time.” Mr. Smith, who goes by “Speed”-a mysterious nickname from his high-school days back in rural Illinois-found the bustling brunette “very organized” and sultry all at once.

They bonded at the cast party and did several rounds of slots with fellow thespian revelers at a nearby casino. (Yes, Minneapolis is the new Vegas.) When the play stopped in Boston later that month, the two slurped oysters off the shell at the Union Oyster House and took leisurely strolls around the leafy Boston Common. Ain’t New England quaint?

But the thea- tuh community can be hell on a budding romance.

“One of the stage managers saw us holding hands. Everyone is so gossipy -I was always overly worried about what people were going to think,” Ms. Wassner said. “I’m such a quiet person.” Meanwhile, Mr. Smith was getting flak from the crew. “They were like, ‘She’s the assistant company manager-you date her and you fuck up, it’s over for everyone,'” he said.

The couple toured from Charlotte to Chattanooga and began bunking together on the road toward the end of the run. When the tour ended, they took off for a scuba-diving vacation in Costa Rica, followed by a month-long sojourn in Europe.

After another traveling show together ( Swing ), they were forced to split for separate gigs: she to Tommy , he to Saturday Night Fever . Untempted by gyrating backup dancers, Mr. Smith would rendezvous on weekends with Ms. Wassner whenever he could. Once he arrived at her hotel in Santa Barbara and decided the bedding wasn’t quite up to par, so he dashed to the Eddie Bauer Home Store and bought green plaid flannel sheets, setting up candles around the room. “That’s one of the moments I knew this was something special,” Ms. Wassner said. Or perhaps an outtake of Trading Spaces .

After two years of this vida loca , they settled together into a West Village one-bedroom. “The best part about living together is that he can fix anything,” Ms. Wassner said. “He’s so good around the house.”

A year after getting permission from her parents, following an exhaustive Internet trawl and a blackout-induced FedEx delay, Mr. Smith finally eased a diamond ring with three round-cut stones set on a platinum band on his sleeping girlfriend’s finger on an August morning-then promptly dozed off himself. In theater terminology, one might say he failed to “find his mark.”

“She was shaking me, saying: ‘Honey, honey, there’s something here that wasn’t there before!'” Mr. Smith said. “And I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m sleeping … but will you marry me?'” Oh, you !

– Gabriel Sherman Countdown to Bliss