Countdown to Bliss

James Frankel and Cynthia Rivera

Met: Nov. 10, 2001

Engaged: Oct. 24, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Nov. 14, 2003

Cue up the theme from West Side Story! Jim Frankel, a native Upper East Sider, is marrying a Bronx-born Puerto Rican, Cindy Rivera, at City Hall. Wait-scratch that theme, his family approves . In fact, they’re bringing the couple to Daniel afterward for a szhooshy celebratory repast.

“I never had the little-girl fantasy of the big white wedding,” said Ms. Rivera, a still-gamine 37 with long black hair in bangs and brown eyes that her groom adoringly compares to those of Audrey Tatou, the actress. “It all seemed too involved.”

“We wanted it to be simple,” agreed Mr. Frankel, 41, a copy supervisor at Grey Healthcare Advertising with an attractive aquiline nose and blue peepers. “We thought it’d sort of have the panache of the Cary Grant era this way.”

They met at a mutual friend’s potluck dinner on the Upper West Side. “You get to the point when you just think, ‘Man, there’s no one out there!'” Ms. Rivera said. “But he was just dreamy.” Mr. Frankel was nattily attired in a crisp blazer with a signature handkerchief folded in the pocket, his hair in a 1940’s combed-back look. “It was very movie star,” she said. “I thought, ‘ ¡Delicioso!’ “

Later in the evening, he took off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves. “You look like you’re about to ‘bust up a chiffarobe,'” she said to him, quoting a line from To Kill a Mockingbird. Then she admitted that she didn’t really know what a chiffarobe was. When he explained it was a type of armoire, she was “really impressed …. And he really looks like he could bust one up.”

They went for drinks the next week at Angel’s Share in the East Village, and within three months were shacked up together in a one-bedroom on the Upper East Side, a few blocks away from a Bombay Company store, where she works as a manager. On weekends, they like to prowl the Chelsea Flea Market. “It sounds gay, but we both really like antiquing,” he said. Honey, nothing sounds gay to us anymore ….

In a mad rush of love, the couple got wedding bands and set a date before he gave her an engagement ring as a formality at the restaurant Danal (not to be confused with Daniel; see above)-a nearly two-carat diamond set in platinum, with two baguettes that had belonged to his great-grandmother. Ms. Rivera will wear the bauble with a vintage raw-silk silver tea-length dress and a corsage of white roses to their modest ceremony. Mr. Frankel will wear a double-breasted blue suit-very Gregory Peck. “He’s mi cielo -my sky,” she said. “The sky is always there. Sometimes it has clouds, but you can always rely on it.”

“Even though we come from completely different socioeconomic backgrounds, we have similar psychological backgrounds,” he said. “Compatible neuroses.”

Michael Hale and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Met: August 2001

Engaged: October 2002

Projected Wedding Date: Feb. 14, 2004

Michael Hale, 43, the floppy-haired assistant editor of The New York Times ‘ Sunday Arts and Leisure section, is engaged to Cheryl Tan, 28, a senior fashion writer at InStyle . “She has better story sense than any editor I know, even at The Times, ” he said. Gee, hope his Wunderkind boss Jodi Kantor isn’t reading this!

Their reception will be in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the groom’s mother lives. The bride plans to wear a halter-topped Narciso Rodriguez gown-the same design that Meg Ryan wore on last April’s cover of InStyle . To secure the frock, Ms. Tan went on a waiting list at Bergdorf Goodman like anyone else. “It was the first dress I tried on,” she said, “and I said to my sister, ‘Oh my God! Am I going to feel like I married the first guy I slept with?’ And she said, ‘Would you rather go and sleep around?’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, you’re right, I’ll buy it.'”

The couple was introduced by a Times recruiter during an Asian-American Journalists Association event at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. “This is going to sound a bit dorky,” Mr. Hale said, “but you know, we’re both journalists, and we take that very seriously.” Ms. Tan, a streak-haired, full-cheeked looker who was born in Singapore and attended Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, was working as a fashion writer for The Baltimore Sun at the time. “I’ve always had a thing for tall skinny guys with glasses,” she said. “So when I saw one, I went, ‘ Oooooh .'” Mr. Hale, who is half-Korean and went to Stanford, is a bespectacled 6-foot-2.

They bumped into each other the next day at a cutting-edge panel on how to cover transsexual and transgender communities. Mr. Hale had apparently done a little extracurricular research overnight. “He said ‘Oh, I liked this story, and I liked your treatment of that,'” Ms. Tan said. “And I’m like, ‘Huh? No one reads The Baltimore Sun .’ But then I realized it: He’d Nexis’d me! I was really impressed.”

She arrived in New York for Fashion Week in fall 2001 and suddenly found herself covering Ground Zero stories. She was constantly calling Mr. Hale at The Times’ headquarters, and their romance was rapidly expedited. They began commuting between Manhattan and D.C., playing lots of board games (“Never play Trivial Pursuit with this man,” she said darkly), watching The X-Files over the phone when they couldn’t be together in the flesh.

Eventually, Ms. Tan sewed up the gig at InStyle and moved into a West Village loft with her sweetie, who has given her a two-carat round stone in a platinum setting from Tiffany.

The ring was meant to be a surprise, but when Mr. Hale suggested a special dinner at One If By Land, Two If By Sea, the savvy Ms. Tan smelled a story right away. “She went and researched the restaurant and figured out that it was the most clichéd place to propose,” he said. “She’s such a good reporter.”

Laura McConnell and Mike Stemmler

Met: Aug. 31, 2002

Engaged: May 24, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: June 4, 2004

Laura McConnell and her boyfriend Michael Stemmler were strapped and Velcro’d into full snorkel gear, paddling through chilly Bermuda waters over Memorial Day, when they happened upon an unidentified sunken object.

“Laura, what’s that?” Mr. Stemmler asked.

“It’s a piece of debris,” Ms. McConnell said, shivering. “Let’s go back to the boat, it’s cold.”

“Pick it up,” Mr. Stemmler suggested, with mounting urgency.

“No, I’m not picking that up,” Ms. McConnell said.

He dove down and retrieved what appeared to be a small … box of some sort and looked at it with ostentatious curiosity.

“Mike, just bring it back on the boat,” Ms. McConnell whined.

Mr. Stemmler caved and opened the box, revealing a two-carat brilliant-cut diamond flanked by two half-carat pears in a platinum setting that he had suavely “dropped” moments beforehand into the middle of the Caribbean.

“I literally almost had a cardiac arrest,” said Ms. McConnell. “I’ve never been so stupefied in all my life.”

She’s 31, a 5-foot-6 blonde with a strikingly delicate bone structure, an exile from the Condé Nast matrix now getting her master’s in social work from N.Y.U. He’s a 34-year-old sales executive at Hewlett-Packard, also blond, 6-foot-1 and dapper. They’ll be married in a Catholic ceremony at Our Lady of Pompeii in the West Village, with a reception to follow at Tribeca Rooftop. The bride, who speaks fluent Spanish ( ¡olé!) will have eight attendants, including Mr. Stemmler’s six-count ’em, six -sisters. “It’s six new people to talk on the phone with and six new people to go shopping with!” he told her during their first official date, a rushed dinner at Chicama before the premiere of The Sopranos (they met at a group house in Nantucket). “I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” said Ms. McConnell, who already had one sister of her own and a ton of other female chums. “I’m thinking, ‘Do I need six new girlfriends to hang out with?'”

Mr. Stemmler currently lives in a self-proclaimed “frathouse for thirtysomethings” on Lexington and 27th (she is marking time in Gramercy Park), but they’re closing on a swank University Place two-bedroom and busily planning a three-week honeymoon in Africa, which we trust will be free of the sort of stunt that accompanied the proposal.

For Ms. McConnell tossed and turned all that night in Bermuda, understandably aghast at the thought that that hefty rock might have disappeared forever into the Caribbean’s watery depths.

“I was still in shock,” she said.

Mr. Stemmler said that he “slept like a baby.”

-Ronda Kaysen Countdown to Bliss