Countdown to Bliss

Lisa Esler and Eric Gioia

Met: January 2000

Engaged: Oct. 20, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: October 2004

Eric Gioia, the 30-year-old Wunderkind New York City Council member who represents most of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Sunnyside and Woodside, is making political fund-raiser Lisa Esler, 26, his queen of Queens.

The wanton wonks met while working in the New York office of Al Gore’s ill-fated Presidential campaign. He was the bureau’s field director and she-a pretty Seattle-suburb councilwoman’s daughter with olive skin and a penchant for hot pink nails-was the volunteer coordinator. “I just remember she walked through the door like: ‘Hi! I’m here to help!’-and within the month, she’d organized all the states’ volunteers,” said the plump-lipped, happy-go-lucky Mr. Gioia. “She’d be like: ‘You need a rally? Syracuse’s airport? 4 a.m.? No problem! ‘ She was the all-star of all-stars.”

They were frequently stationed in separate states, but he was easily carrying the Electoral College of her heart. “He worked so hard and was so nice to everyone,” Ms. Esler said. “He spent a lot of time making sure we were all having a good time.”

Then came the day of infamy: Nashville, Nov. 7, 2000. Ms. Esler was in charge of the “victory” party, and that evening and the next few days were-as we remember-more stressful than any roller-coaster romance. “I just remember being on an escalator with her in the airport,” Mr. Gioia said. “We’re still trying to figure out the election, and it finally occurred to me: ‘Oh-the campaign is over, and she’s going to move back to Seattle.’ I was apoplectic!”

When she invited him to a Palm Springs wedding a few weeks later, he counteroffered: Could she move back East before New Year’s?

No problem ! she said.

“It all seems so hokey,” he said, “but it just felt so different with Lisa. It was really love. She loves me completely-everything, even my annoying habits and things. She finds them … changeable.”

When Mr. Gioia decided to run for City Council in 2001, Ms. Esler left a job in Eliot Spitzer’s office and ran the campaign gratis . (He ended up winning 93 per cent of the vote, the largest margin of victory in that city election.) She has since started her own political fund-raising office, the Esler Group, whose clients include City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

She was equally “proactive” about her marriage proposal, telling her lover that she wanted it to involve a white horse, the Empire State Building and a chunky canary-yellow diamond from a diamond-dealer relative of hers.

Mr. Gioia obligingly staged the scene at the Rainbow Room (with a porcelain miniature horse), but Ms. Esler was 45 minutes late to dinner, so he killed time in front of Rockefeller Center, where fellow Council members happened to be picketing NBC about a racial slur. “When she arrived, I was out front marching and yelling like any good politician,” he said.

The wedding will be at St. Sebastian’s Church in Woodside, where four generations of the Gioia family have run a flower shop. The City Council member, the first in his family to leave the biz, himself is allergic to flowers; he is also allergic to dogs, but Ms. Esler convinced him to get enough shots so that he can cuddle with her pointer, Charlie. “We’re both very can-do people,” she said. “We can make things happen together.”

Myka Carroll and George Del Barrio

Met: April 1999

Engaged: July 8, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: May 30, 2004

George Del Barrio, 27, is a scruffy-haired freelance portrait photographer for Vogue, InStyle and the Gap’s ad campaigns. Myka Carroll, 28, is an editor for Frommer’s travel guides who is getting a master’s in information and library science at Pratt Institute. They were introduced by a mutual friend named Rico, who went to high school with him (La Guardia High School of Music and Art) and college with her (Vanderbilt). He sold Mr. Del Barrio to Ms. Carroll as a tall, handsome roué who wrote poetry. “But I had a history with artist types and felt kind of done,” she said, “so I dismissed it.”

Rico was more suave vis-à-vis his dark, Arabian-featured female friend. “It was always: ‘She’s perfect for you, she’s perfect for you !'” Mr. Del Barrio said. “You know, when men talk about things like that, it’s not like we get into huge amounts of mushy, romantic detail.” So you say, fella!

When the two of them finally met at a get-together at Joe’s Pub organized by Rico, they both tried to play it cool, to the point where conversation was a bit stunted. “We both were interested, but didn’t want to seem too interested,” said Ms. Carroll, who was working as a production assistant in San Diego at the time. “He seemed to me to be as taciturn as a rancher.”

“I thought she was beautiful and possessed,” Mr. Del Barrio said. (We assume he means “self-possessed,” not like the chick in The Exorcist .) “I was intrigued.”

She decided to ditch L.A. a few months later, and the two of them had a nice first date strolling around Soho, discussing their shared passion for the authors Gabriel García Márquez and Richard Wright and then gobbling Ethiopian food on Broome Street. “I could tell he wasn’t someone to play around with, to have a fling with. He was the real deal,” Ms. Carroll said. “Things in his life have a lot of meaning to him, and I really appreciate that. He’s not frivolous.”

On their most recent anniversary, she came home late from class to find Mr. Del Barrio waiting with Ethiopian take-out, champagne and a marriage proposal. “I knew she was ‘it’ pretty early on. Everything felt so obvious,” he said. “Not seeing it would’ve been a willful avoidance or fear or cowardice.”

Ms. Carroll didn’t want an engagement ring, but has selected a platinum wedding band holding a smattering of small diamonds from the Clay Pot in Park Slope. She’s planning to wear a Jenny Yoo charmeuse silk sheath to the ceremony, which will take place at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Park Slope. The cake (red velvet) is from Fort Greene, the judge from her native Little Rock, Ark.

The couple has moved to a Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, duplex, where Mr. Del Barrio enjoys snapping artsy nude shots of his lady love. Soon after they found the apartment, the one immediately above it opened up and Rico moved in. So night after night, this guy gets to overhear exactly how happy he’s made these darn lovebirds. “He’s our guardian angel,” Ms. Carroll said.

Brian Greenberg and Winie Kim

Met: June 1996

Engaged: Oct. 26, 2001

Projected Wedding Date: May 1, 2004

Winie Kim, 26, hit the age of 19 without ever making out with a boy (we didn’t inquire about any possible Sapphic adventures). When she was a freshman at SUNY Binghamton, she created a “Never Been Kissed” club with five similarly chaste girlfriends.

Ms. Kim’s older brother had instructed his best friend, Brian Greenberg, a junior there, to keep a watchful eye on the 5-foot-2 biology major. But unbeknownst to him, baby-faced little sis was nursing a crush on the dark-haired, lanky pre-med and was more than ready to be bounced out of that club of hers. “He was my ‘idol’ guy,” she said.

After nine months of innocent late-night organic-chemistry study sessions, Mr. Greenberg invited Ms. Kim on a 2 a.m. stroll through campus. And it was a totally organic experience. “I was laughing, because it was my first time and I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

“She was pretty good,” said Mr. Greenberg, also 26 and now a medical student at N.Y.U. (We’re still just talking kissing here, right?) “After that, it went right into full steam.”

Following graduation, Ms. Kim decided to try acupuncture school. She moved back into her mother’s apartment in Flushing (the family immigrated from Korea in 1994). “My mom was getting into my life and saying I was staying out too late,” she said. “I thought, ‘I don’t really need this.'”

In short order, she had settled herself and her belongings in her boyfriend’s tiny dorm room. “It was ridiculously small,” Mr. Greenberg said-and the married-student housing on First Avenue is quite lofty by comparison.

One night, before a domestic evening of laundry and watching videos, Mr. Greenberg presented Ms. Kim with two red roses and a pair of tickets to Les Misérables . “And then he tried to propose to me in Korean,” she said. “It was the worst . But I knew what it was-I didn’t have to hear the whole sentence.”

He had also blown the student budget on a Tiffany diamond solitaire in a platinum setting. “It was one of the smallest diamonds they had,” Ms. Kim said. “But great quality.”

Mr. Greenberg has since taken up Korean lessons. Their wedding will be at the Inn at Central Valley in Orange County, N.Y., near where he grew up.

He hasn’t yet allowed his darling to try out her little needles on his tender flesh. “I try, but he won’t let me touch him until I was certified,” Ms. Kim said.

“I’m waiting for something to go wrong,” Mr. Greenberg said.

-Ronda Kaysen

Countdown to Bliss