Countdown to Bliss

Stephanie Foster and Paul Virtue

Met: 1985

Engaged: Dec. 13, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: May 9, 2004

Let’s get physical … in perpetuity! Paul Virtue, 40, a personal trainer, plans to marry Stephanie Foster, 42, a yoga and acting teacher, in an intimate ceremony on the island of Maui.

The aptly named Mr. Virtue has soulful dark eyes, cocoa-colored skin and romantic tastes to match his muscular arms. “As a kid, I used to fantasize about Nadia Comaneci,” he said.

But as an adult, he was having little luck meeting the girl of his dreams. For years he’d shared a karate class and a mild flirtation with a woman named Stephanie Foster at World Seido Karate on 23rd Street, but they hadn’t been in touch since he got his second-degree black belt. One spring day, perusing the fitness rack of his local video store, he came across a tape called Stephanie Foster’s Master Series Yoga with the striking brunette on the cover. “She was never attracted to me,” he thought morosely.

Three weeks later, he was on his way to Whole Foods when he noticed Ms. Foster emerging from a screening of Raising Victor Vargas , en route to a yoga class.

“Steph!” Mr. Virtue said. “How are you! Married? Kids?” She shook her head no. “Waiting for me?” he said. “There’s a church down the street, you know.” Hi-ya!

The toned Ms. Foster was more flattered than freaked. “I had always thought he was just a very nice boy,” she said. “An amazing athlete. Strong, graceful, agile. Just beautiful to watch.”

Mr. Virtue pressed on, asking her to go out sometime, even if it was just for a glass of water. “It was strange because she’d never really been affectionate toward me, but we both felt a physical shift,” he said. “Then she kissed me on the lips when we parted, and I remember going across 23rd Street and I was in a different world. I can’t believe I wasn’t hit by a car.”

At dinner at a West Village bistro the following week, they discussed martial arts and matters of the heart. “He was just so open about the way he felt-his fears, his insecurities,” said Ms. Foster, also a black belt. “I complimented him on his karate and he nearly fell off his chair.”

And she just kept on knocking him out. “You get used to people, but I never get tired of Stephanie,” Mr. Virtue said.

One night, soon after he moved from Chelsea into her midtown one-bedroom, they went to see the since-closed Anna in the Tropics on Broadway. When the show was over and the audience had filed out, Mr. Virtue lifted Ms. Foster up with his aforementioned manly arms, set her on the edge of the stage and took out a white gold band containing a single diamond (he bought it through the relative of a client). “We both started crying,” he said. “I couldn’t get the ring on her finger.” The tears continued to flow on the subway all the way to their celebration dinner at Bouley.

The sinewy sweethearts are preparing for the wedding with regular workouts at a Synergy health club (and for the marriage with occasional kung fu kicks). “She’s my archetype woman,” Mr. Virtue said. “We sit around and have conversations that mean things … but also surf together and lift weights.”

Thomas Howe and Alison James

Met: May 6, 2001

Engaged: Dec. 6, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: April 9, 2005

Alison James knows that in order to keep a New York guy around, you have to shave your pussy.

Get your mind out of the gutter! Ms. James’ five-year-old cat, Kishkin, had a bit of a shedding problem, and her live-in boyfriend, Tom Howe, a flaxen-haired analyst at Capital Z, wasn’t dealing well with the constant fluff in their Upper East Side one-bedroom. Out came the buzzer. “We live in such a small apartment, and Tom was just complaining about it all the time,” said Ms. James, 29. “And having him shaved has just been the best thing! Everyone should shave their cat!”

“She’s a freak,” said Mr. Howe (a.k.a. Tomito, Tomita, Tomitian the Grecian, Tomishkin or Mishkin), a boyish 27.

Not that he’s so conventional. For example, one day Ms. James was at her computer working on her forthcoming book, I Used to Miss Him But My Aim Is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide (Adams Media), when her beau asked if she might like a piece of pizza. “No. I’m too fat,” she said, nuzzling the denuded Kishkin on her lap.

Whereupon Mr. Howe brought in an empty plate with a platinum-set diamond ring on it-and then took the cat’s paw in his hand. “Will you marry me, Kishkin?” he said, attempting to shove the poor sheared thing’s foot into the bauble. “Oh, it doesn’t fit.”

The goofy, giggly twosome met in the finance section of the Union Square Barnes and Noble. But they’re both “creatives,” make no mistake. “I was just there for work ,” said Ms. James, a Princeton grad who toils in finance at the History Channel and A&E. “I was going thorough a phase where I wanted to do a really good job at my work.” As for Mr. Howe, he majored in English at Hobart College. “I was just on my way to the erotica section,” he joked. “I was checking her out, but not at length.”

He uttered a bon mot-what, neither of them remember. “Something transparent but noncommittal,” Ms. James said. It was enough to win her phone number and e-mail address, which he used to propose two first-date options: McDonald’s, or the top of the Empire State Building. “I was like, ‘Is he a freak? A stalker?'” she said, suggesting the Hudson Grill. “Weirdo! Schmuck! He couldn’t even pick the restaurant!”

Things progressed slowly from there: a date or two per week for a few months. “I’ve been with a lot of guys where you meet and then spend all your time together, but that’s a really good way of killing a relationship,” said Ms. James, something of a breakup connoisseur. (She describes her book as “a sassy, edgy guide for women with a rip-his-head-off twist.”)

But this relationship lived, and the couple will be married in the chapel of Mr. Howe’s alma mater, Regis High School. “He has this phenomenal sense of humor. He just gets it,” said the bride-to-be. “He has this intuitive sense about what’s funny. He can see the quirks in everyday life and point that out and make me laugh.”

And what does he treasure about her?

“Her intelligence, her humor,” he said, “and her ass.”

Marina Bernstein and Michael Futterman

Met: March 2001

Engaged: Dec. 30, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: Nov. 20, 2004

Ladies, need we say it again? Men like it when you eat! When Michael Futterman went on J-Date, that online haven for Jews and their mothers worldwide, he was turned on by Marina Bernstein’s declared love of sushi, Vietnamese food, etc. “It’s great to see a woman who isn’t afraid to say that,” declared Mr. Futterman, 33, a swarthy, good-looking “senior learning specialist” for Paine Webber whose profile described his ideal date as “stuffed with blanched almonds and wrapped in bacon.”

It didn’t hurt, either, that her photo showed a svelte woman with sloe eyes and long, highlighted brown hair. “I thought it was put there by J-Date to lure guys to the site,” Mr. Futterman said. “It just seemed so unusual that a woman like her would have any difficulty finding a guy.”

Yet the Moscow-born, Scarsdale-bred Ms. Bernstein, 32, was too busy to answer his summons immediately (she’s admissions director at the Dwight School and a candidate for a master’s in education at Hunter). Mr. Futterman wrote again, asking if her picture was a J-Date hoax. “Stop being so impatient!” she fired back.

“She’s always patient when I’m not,” Mr. Futterman said.

Date 1 was at Sin Sin. “It was so effortless from the very beginning,” Ms. Bernstein said. “I got into the cab after the first date when we parted and totally had that first-date buzz.” Date 2 started at the Otheroom and ended at the not-very-gourmet Tortilla Flats, where they played bingo and she stole the bingo card. “If you print that, will they come get me?” she asked.

The buzz continued. “Within a month, we were like, ‘O.K., we’re getting married,'” she said.

But it wasn’t official for another two and a half years. At a friend’s house in Vermont, Mr. Futterman pointed to a heart-shaped tree they’d admired on trips there before. “It’d be really cool if we came back here every year together to see ‘our’ tree,” he said.

“Yeah, that would be cool,” Ms. Bernstein agreed.

Without warning, Mr. Futterman pulled out his grandmother’s diamond. Bada-bing!

They live in a Columbus Avenue three-bedroom co-op with their cuddly Sharpei–yellow Lab mix, Tamber. “He’s an amazing communicator,” said Ms. Bernstein, meaning her fiancé. “Whenever there’s anything that needs to be talked through, he won’t let either of us keep it inside. That’s not very typical of guys. I feel lucky to have someone like that.”

The wedding will be at the Yale Club, with lots of vodka to keep Ms. Bernstein’s family happy and plenty of Russian caviar, too, which the bride expects to gobble up with reckless abandon. Hey, Mr. Futterman thinks it’s sexy, right?

“As long as you don’t eat too much,” he said. Countdown to Bliss