Love Stories

13 local couples tell us how they knew they found 'the one'

Was it a first kiss, a clever line—or just plain kismet? As BERGEN’s readers prove, there’s no telling when— or where—you’ll find true love. As told to Rita Guarna

​Matchmaker's Match

I met the love of my life, my husband Vincent, in our senior year of high school, 1986.

There was a huge attraction from the moment we laid eyes on each other. However, we were both dating other people, so we left it at that. We went off to college but would check in on each other regularly.

I ran into him at the Paramus Park Mall while I was shopping with my mother one day. He approached me, and we spoke briefly. I had such a strong intuition about him that I told my mother, “If ever I have the chance to date him, I’m going to marry him.”

A few years later, I was visiting one of our mutual friends in Hoboken. He happened to visit that night as well. I saw him as he crossed the street heading to our friend’s place and thought, “Well, this is it.”

We’ve been together ever since: married 21 years, together 26; still madly in love, with three children.

Our marriage is the motivation behind the work I do today with my company, New Jersey’s Matchmaker. I know that true love is possible, and I help others find it. —Julianne Cantarella, Closter

​Weathering the Storms

It was 2013, my second summer in New York City—I’d moved from a small town in Ohio at age 29. I was about to celebrate the first anniversary of my liver transplant, and a friend convinced me to do a Shore share in Sea Girt.

The weekend after Memorial Day, one of my roommates, a Bergen Catholic grad, invited a few Bergen Catholic friends over for a barbecue before we all went out. Mike came in the house from winning a cornhole match to get a cold beer from the refrigerator. I was sitting on the island barstool texting my friends back in Ohio, telling them how great this Shore share was and that they must visit. He leaned on the counter and said hello, introducing himself in his thick, deep Italian Jersey accent. Well, at that point it was over for me.

Mike should have never been in Sea Girt that day. His family had a beach home in Normandy Beach, but Hurricane Sandy had destroyed it. He loves the beach, and it bothered him not to have a regular place to go with family and friends.

Mike and I had an instant connection: We had both dealt with hard times at a young age. He’d lost a brother in the North Tower during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now his father had cancer—he would pass away that December. As for me, at 28 I was fighting for my life and needed a transplant to survive.

The hurdles we have had to overcome have only made our love grow stronger. My husband is now a dentist in Fort Lee, following in his dad’s footsteps, and I’m living my second chance at life on the East Coast. Nothing comes easy for us, but we work really hard and do not let the challenges stop us. We’re going through IVF and are six weeks pregnant with plans to raise our family in Mike’s childhood home. Love is all we’ve needed—before, during and after the storm. —Jessica Zampieri, Saddle River

Father Knows Best

My wife, Jeannie, paid her way through Ramapo College working as a waitress at the local eatery my family owned, the Allendale Bar and Grill. I saw her for the first time at our annual Christmas party in 1989: red dress, beautiful smile and a way about her that told me she was an incredibly kind person. We went on one date over my Christmas break from college, and a courtship began.

My father and I never talked much about girls and dating, so I was quite surprised when I came home from work one night and he said, “Christopher, the young, pretty, hardworking Polish gal you’ve been seeing—”

“Yes, Dad,” I said, “What about her?”

“Don’t screw this one up. She’s a keeper.”

He was right. Jeannie and I married in 1996. I am eternally grateful that she has been by my side for all of these years, through good times and tough times. I lost both my parents within the past five years, and I often think of how close they were to my bride. They adored her and thought of her as one of their own. —Chris Kunisch, Allendale

​Football Injury Leads to a Win-Win

It was October 14, 1966, and I’d been injured in a football game, playing for Columbia. Since I could not play (ever again, it turned out), I was hanging out in the dorms when a buddy cajoled me into going to the first mixer of the year. He had to help me dress because my shattered arm would not work; it just hung by my side. When we entered the student union, an unseen 5-footer named Rita bumped into me. The resulting yelp piqued her curiosity. When I explained my injury, she replied, “What kind of a line is that?” I asked her to dance anyway, and it was amusing to watch her squirm and make profuse apologies when she realized I could not lift my arm to waltz with her!

When it dawned on Rita that she was about to violate her curfew, she jumped into a cab and bade me a hasty farewell. (Years later in telling the story she’d say she couldn’t believe I made no attempt to go with her, ask for her number or her last name, or suggest that we meet again.)

After several weeks, I went with two buddies to another mixer, and we perused the crowd from the balcony. When I spotted her, I took off at a sprint down the stairs and across the room. Long story short, I did accompany her home that night, well before curfew, and a 50-year relationship commenced. For years there wasn’t a hotspot, dance club or show we didn’t attend. I even took a night job just to pay for our excursions. We do it to this day, although we’re a little slower now! —Peter O’Hare, Paramus

​Love at the Tellers Window

My husband, Roger, and I met almost 25 years ago at Ridgewood Savings Bank (now Boiling Springs Savings Bank). Fresh out of college, I was working as a teller while looking for a job. He walked in for some mortgage paperwork, and our eyes met. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but there was definitely something there. His sister was a friend of the son of one of my co-workers, who gave him my phone number. Our first date was at the Park and Orchard in East Rutherford, and the rest is history. We were married seven years later and now live in Ridgewood with our daughter in the house where he grew up. —Laura Juppe, Ridgewood

Just What the Doctor Ordered

I met my future wife, Theresa Ann Henry, at the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Both of us were in a program that placed pre-medical and pre-nursing students in a hospital environment for the summer to prepare them for their careers. It was June 1971, and we worked together on the same floor, Neuro 7.

It was love at first sight for both of us. Working together on that floor cultivated a friendship and love affair that led to our engagement in May 1972. We announced our engagement to our families and friends at my parents’ 25th anniversary.

We were married on September 3, 1972. My acceptance to medical school at the University of Rome presented a dilemma: Either we’d be separated for a year while Theresa Ann graduated with her nursing degree, or we’d move up our wedding, putting off her education. We chose to be together, starting our married life in Italy.

It has been more than 45 years since our fairy-tale romance began. We have been blessed with 12 children and 16 grandchildren. The onetime medical student has been a busy OB-GYN at Hackensack University Medical Center, delivering more than 5,000 babies. The nursing student of 1971 has been taking care of a busy and still-growing family. —Robert James Gallo, M.D., Washington Township

Reunited After 15 Years

My husband, Robert Mazziotta, and I both grew up in Cliffside Park and attended the same Catholic elementary school. My best friend and his best friend were brother and sister. When I was in 6th grade, and he in 8th, we shared a kiss. A few months later, when he was a freshman at Regis High School in New York City, he took me to a dance. He claims that I lost interest after that, and we lost contact.

Fifteen years later, I was doing an internship in occupational therapy at Englewood Hospital. He was doing a research internship, preparing for his first year in medical school. He saw me in the lobby and ran down to his friend in the security office where all the staff and volunteer badges are on file and asked if it was me (highly illegal). Once he knew that it was, he approached me in the cafeteria (not the most romantic of settings) and asked if he could call me to catch up.

“Look me up, I’m in the book,” I replied. And he did. I was dating someone else, and he was at the end of a long-time relationship, but we immediately felt a connection. We were engaged a year later and married a year after that. We have been married for 19 years and have been through medical school for him, a Ph.D. program for me and infertility issues along the way. We now have two amazing sons.

I believe those years when we didn’t see each other were the universe’s way of allowing us to grow into the people we were meant to be, allowing us to find our way back to each other. We were meant to be together. —Catherine Cavaliere, Tenafly

​Where a Would-Be Pilot Landed

I met my future wife on Friday, February 11, 1966, at Phi Sigma Delta fraternity at Brooklyn College. That night I was there to see friends, as I belonged to Zeta Beta Tau around the corner. Dark-haired and beautiful, Susan caught my eye. After that day, I never dated another girl.

The Vietnam War was raging, and I enlisted in the Air Force in the spring of 1968. I was sent to Texas for basic training and officer training school. But in a short time the military released me because of back pain, ruling out my plan to be a pilot. The day I found out I was going home, I called Susan and asked her to arrange our marriage as soon as possible. Our wedding, on November 19, 1968, was small—only family and the closest friends—50 at most.

One week after our wedding, my back pain was diagnosed as cancer. I spent the next two months at NYU Hospital in radiation therapy. (While I was there, Joe Namath helped the New York Jets win the Super Bowl.) Susan was there every day and has been with me ever since. Our families were not well off, and Susan supported me, financially and emotionally, through NYU dental school and specialty training as an endodontist.

She has been there for me for nearly 50 years, and we’re still going strong. I could not love her more. —Herb Benkel, Woodcliff Lake

School Bus Crush

Daniel was the cutest boy in school, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. We met on the school bus to middle school in seventh grade. He had beautiful blue eyes and was always friendly to everyone. I was drawn to his personality; he was so sweet and genuine. I could tell he had a heart of gold. It was love at first sight.

Daniel and I used to sit up all night chatting on Instant Messenger. That was the only time we had to get to know each other. Eighth grade came to an end, and we went our separate ways. But he started pursuing me in high school and would text me every day asking me to hang out with him. I just knew we would be together. We dated for six years before getting married in August 2016. He is everything I could’ve ever wanted and more. —Jessica Meissner, Englewood

What's a Picture Worth

My husband, Kevin, and I like to say we met on the streets of Paterson. It was August 1993 and we were both in our early 20s. I was out with a friend, attending a church event. On our way home there were some guys taking pictures on the streets (Polaroid pictures were popular back then), and we decided to stop and take a picture together. We stayed for a long time talking to the guys. One of them was a great conversationalist who made me laugh. At some point I mentioned my name and the kind of company I worked for. He asked if he could call me, and I said yes and gave him my phone number.

Unfortunately, he lost my number and searched in vain for it—all over the sidewalk and through trash cans. But he remembered my name, so the next day he called every water company in the immediate area asking for me. He finally found a receptionist who said she knew me and transferred his call to me. He told me who he was, what had happened and how happy he was to find me. We set a date to meet the next day.

We got engaged six months later and married in November 1994—and he still makes me laugh. We love telling our story because it shows that you never know what will happen when you meet someone. —Sonja Clark, Hackensack

That First Kiss

I grew up in Bergenfield then moved to Wyckoff with my parents soon after college. In 2002, at 23, I was single and looking to make connections in my new hometown. I thought that the church my parents attended, Hawthorne Gospel Church, would be a good place to start.

I met Jared at the church’s college and career group. He was born in Dallas and moved with his family to Spain when he was 9. Jared’s parents were spending a year in the area (Jared’s mom was born in Ridgewood and her mom and brother still live there), and they were attending Hawthorne Gospel too. We quickly became friends, and though I thought he was really cute and was interested in him as more than a friend, I was also petrified. Until then I had not had a boyfriend; I’d never even kissed a guy! But on New Year’s Eve 2003, we ended up having our first kiss, and we got married November 22, 2003.

So my husband is my first true love, my first kiss and everything else!—Stephanie Kull, Ramsey

Sibling Connection

I married my childhood best friend’s brother! Keith was four years older than I, so we didn’t date when we were kids. But he always came out of his room to talk to me when I visited. My friend would say, “You’re my only friend he talks to.”

We stayed in touch when he went to college and sent cards and letters. When I was 20, I visited his sister in Miami, where they both went to school. She called him and asked him to stop by her condo, and he did. We talked for hours. We went on a date the next evening to see a movie, and were engaged four months later. Almost 28 years and three children later, we’re still going strong. Not only did we grow up on the same street, our parents even went to school together. —Lauren Imbruglia, Ridgewood

A Sense of Being Followed

I was driving my new black sports car home from an evening shift at the hospital around midnight on Friday, Oct. 13, 1978. I’d just bought the car and was about to buy my first house, an accomplishment for a single girl of 26. But I’d decided I might as well get on with my life. After declining two marriage proposals, I didn’t think my forever love was out there.

I was on the George Washington Bridge when a burgundy Mercedes pulled up next to me. When we crossed into Fort Lee, I saw him put his left turn signal on. I turned right, and just for fun, I waved goodbye. Then he stopped, made a U-turn and took off after me. I wasn’t afraid—I somehow knew he would never hurt me.

By the time I reached my town, I thought I’d better pull over. I was living with my widowed mother while waiting for my new house to close, and I didn’t want to have to explain who he was. So I pulled over, and he stopped and walked up to my window.

pulled over, and he stopped and walked up to my window. “So are you lost, or are you following me?” I asked. “I’m following you,” he replied in a beautiful Italian accent. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lucio.” He was tall, lean and dark, with a beautifully trimmed beard. There were hints of silver along his temples.

“Well,” I said, “you might as well buy me a drink.” He followed me to a small Tenafly bar, where we talked until the place closed. He was intelligent, and he looked into my eyes and listened as if I were the most fascinating person he had ever met.

At 4 a.m., I finally let him talk me into giving him my phone number. Six weeks later he proposed. Thirty-seven years and three children later, he still looks into my eyes and listens. —Pamela S. Angelini, Fort Lee

Categories: Bergen Health & Life