Campus & Community

Be mine

Couples who met at Harvard recall their first dates, first kisses, first impressions

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Ashley LaLonde and Noah Reimers kiss on their wedding day.

Ashley LaLonde ’20 and Noah Reimers ’19 met during a friend’s surprise birthday party at Daedalus in Harvard Square in 2019 and got married this year.

IVASH Photography

Six couples share the stories of how they met at Harvard during their College and graduate school days and what makes their relationships last.

Brent and Larry

Brent Blackaby and Larry Huynh at a party at Holden Chapel in the late 1990s.
Brent Blackaby and Larry Huynh with children Clara and Dashiell.

Brent Blackaby ’96 and Larry Huynh ’97 attending a party in Holden Chapel after a Glee Club concert and holding their children, Clara and Dashiell.

They have lived together for 25 years, share two children, and harbor a lasting debt of gratitude to the Harvard Glee Club for bringing them together.

Thinking back, Larry Huynh ’97 is pretty sure his first impression is of a sophomore Brent Blackaby ’96 in a fraying Glee Club sweatshirt making an announcement to the group.

Brent remembers a quiet freshman with a Texas accent who would come to rehearsals then leave quickly when they were over. The next year Larry, more confident and outgoing as a sophomore, was sometimes a bit too outgoing and social when the singers were trying to learn a new song. Brent, the group’s manager, was the enforcer.

“He would get on me,” Larry recalled. “He was all business.”

“I was still figuring out my style, and maybe I was a little overbearing, but I felt like I had to do something,” said Brent. “So, there was also a little extra friction early on in a way that probably slowed things down.”

Before long they were both serving on the club’s leadership team and developing a deep friendship. Then things changed a few months before Brent graduated. They were on tour in Florida with the club when he put his arm around Larry “in a way I’d never done before.” Larry wasn’t ready. “I know I felt something, but I just wasn’t comfortable saying it at that time,” he said. A few days later he told Brent he “couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

“We were exploring our sexuality and coming to terms with it and being comfortable with it,” said Larry. “It was a different time than it is now. It felt so much more complicated, but I am sure it feels complicated for any kids trying to just figure out who they are.”

Brent also remembers struggling with “all the emotions” that accompany a new romance and an impending graduation. “You’re leaving a place that you really love and people that you really love. You’re thinking about what’s important, what’s not important, what relationships you value. I knew Larry was too important to lose. And things just intensified very quickly.”

They’ve been together ever since. Brent moved to California in 1996, and Larry joined him a year later after he graduated. In 2004 they co-founded the digital marketing firm Blackrock Associates, which became Trilogy Interactive in 2010. Brent founded Confidently, a start-up devoted to digital privacy, in 2019.

Their daughter, Clara, was born in 2017 and their son, Dashiell, arrived a year later.

Today they consider themselves just “two Harvard nerds,” one a bit more outgoing, the other a bit more reserved, who were lucky to have found each other so young.

“It’s really such a great foundation,” said Larry. “As different as we are, we also have so many shared experiences and so much in common.”

“In some ways you don’t have to always say everything,” said Brent. “There’s so much that’s already unsaid, you just know.”

Lani and George

Lani Nelson-Zlupko and George Zlupko at Harvard in 1989.
Lani Nelson-Zlupko and George Zlupko.

Lani Nelson-Zlupko ’89 and George Zlupko ’89, then and now.

Humor and a healthy appetite were keys to the early attraction between Lani Nelson-Zlupko ’89 and George Zlupko ’89.

“He was used to taking people out to ice cream for a first official date, and they wouldn’t eat. I took it as a serious challenge,” said Lani, a former Crimson swimmer, who downed a large bowl of chocolate pudding ice cream, much to George’s delight.

“I come from a big family of eaters, and when we go out to eat, it’s time to chow down,” he said. “That night I think she ate her body weight in chocolate pudding ice cream, and I remember thinking ‘All right, then!’”

Having fun was also key to that first outing.

“To know George is to die laughing. He’s hilarious,” said Lani. “I just remember laughing that whole time.”

Neither really recalls their very first campus meeting. They were part of a large group of friends who lived in Kirkland House and socialized together. They do remember things changed at the Kirkland House Spring Fling dance their junior year. Lani was bruised from a rough water polo match and George tenderly asked her if she was OK. “There was such empathy,” said Lani, “it suddenly hit me he could be more than a friend.”

They kissed that night. Then came their ice cream date. Gradually they started spending more time together, taking trips into Boston or along the coast. When classes ended in the spring, Lani drove George to his home in Pennsylvania and ended up staying with his family for several days. “Picture six of them, not only hilarious, but they adore each other,” she said. “I fell hard.”

George said he was attracted to her independent and adventurous streaks and her “really positive, upbeat and fun attitude.”

By senior year they were applying to graduate schools in the same cities, he for med school, she for a master’s and doctorate in social work. They landed in Philadelphia, moved in together, and married on June 22, 1991, her 24th birthday, a day they joke he really “better not forget.”

Looking back on their three decades together, they said that meeting in their formative years, deep mutual respect, and lots of laughter have been some of the keys to their longevity as a couple.

“We met when we were still becoming who we are,” said Lani, who is a therapist (George specializes in emergency medicine). “Our early years were formed on grit and sacrifice. We ate a lot of ramen noodles; we didn’t have any money; but we had fun and each other. Our three kids share that same outlook, laugh hard and bond well, and I am so grateful.”

“We always want the best for each other,” said George. “We’ve continued to keep loving life and each other through the different phases from grad school to raising kids and empty nesting. And I think that’s so important.”

Tracy and Alex

Tracy Bjelland and Alex Gaudiani at Daedalus in 2004.
Tracy Bjelland and Alex Gaudiani get married at Memorial Church in 2015.

In 2004, Tracy Bjelland ’08 and Alex Gaudiani ’05 posed for the first of many pictures together at Daedalus in Harvard Square. A little more than 10 years later, they got married at Memorial Church.

Photo by David Murray Weddings

For one the first meeting was a lightning bolt. For the other, it was unremarkable. Now 17 years after their first kiss, their love is going strong.

It was late 2004 and Tracy Bjelland ’08 was instantly struck by the sight of Alex Gaudiani ’05 across the room at a campus party. They would be introduced over the course of the evening, an event that Alex doesn’t remember but Tracy can’t forget. So the first-year spent the next few months searching for the “the cool and engaging senior dressed so casually.” Eventually, they ran into each other in a class.

Like many romances, it began as a friendship. Their personalities clicked, and they talked for hours. Then came the kiss. One night Tracy feigned being too tired to head back to her room, so Alex let her crash in her dorm. “I totally manipulated the situation,” said Tracy, adding that when people tease Alex for being a cradle robber, she quickly sets the record straight. “I tell them I climbed out of the crib and started crawling right to her.”

At the time both women were still questioning their sexuality, but their budding romance was a key turning point. “Falling in love with each other was a blessing,” said Alex, “because we found our ‘one,’ but also found who we are individually.”

After only a few months as a couple, Alex graduated, moved to Los Angeles, and turned the romantic tables. “I ultimately pursued her the most for the succeeding six years. She was, and is, remarkable.”

But dating long-distance wasn’t always easy. Tracy, who hadn’t publicly come out and had three more years left at Harvard, struggled to navigate her new feelings, she said, “with my girlfriend across the country living an out and proud life.” In the end, they found that their love, and the love and support from their families, carried them through.

For the proposal Alex rented a seaside house in Malibu complete with champagne, a string quartet, and matching engagement rings made from a pair of her mother’s earrings. (Their two sets of parents also met on Harvard’s campus.) They wed at Memorial Church and held their reception at the Harvard Club of Boston in 2015.

Today Tracy works in brand management, and Alex works in marketing, and they live in Minnesota with their two young children, Theo and Charlie. They are hoping to celebrate the 17th anniversary of that first kiss as a family this March on a beach in Mexico.

Looking back, both said the early hurdles they faced strengthened their lasting bond. “That tumultuous but deep love that’s hard at the beginning has laid a foundation that I feel will get us through anything,” said Alex.

“We grew up together,” said Tracy, “and we never take each other for granted.”

Lindsay and Doug

Lindsay Hallion Miller and Doug Miller.
Lindsay Hallion Miller and Doug Miller pose on basketball court.

Lindsay Hallion Miller ’08 and Doug Miller ’10 both played hoops for Harvard so it was only fitting their engagement photo was shot on the court.

Photo by Ruby Shoes Photography

If sports offer a window on a person’s character, former Crimson athletes Doug Miller ’10 and Lindsay Hallion Miller ’08 each loved what they saw.

Both played hoops for Harvard. Doug was a first-year; Lindsay was a junior, and he thinks they met on the court during a break from a regular season practice.

“Practice was always very serious, so I was surprised that there was someone smiling at me and saying ‘Hi, welcome to Harvard,” recalled Doug. Lindsay mainly remembers “shooting around the gym before things started and seeing all these tall, young skinny guys.”

She’s clearer on the tough workouts they took part in that summer, and Doug’s fierce drive and determination. “It shows you a lot about who people are in that setting,” said Lindsay. “You can’t really hide who you are when you are sweating and gasping for breath at 6 a.m.”

Their first date may have been at John Harvard’s, or it may have been at a toga party. They can’t quite recall, but they know they had fun. They do recall spending lots of time with a group of friends from Leverett House where they lived, grabbing burritos on warm nights in Harvard Square, and walking back to the stadium where they would sit and watch “all the crazy people” running up and down the stairs.

And they both remember how a shared love for basketball fueled their respect and love for each other.

“She’s the hardest worker on the team,” said Doug, “but she’s continually positive. Even if something goes wrong, she may call somebody out on it but in a positive way. She was the ultimate leader of a basketball team, like a coach on the floor. That was something that attracted me to her for sure.”

Doug’s devotion to the team and doing his best stood out to Lindsay.

“He was recruited by the previous coach, so nothing was guaranteed for him,” said Lindsay. “But Doug was just so loyal to the program, to his teammates, and to Tommy Amaker’s leadership. He never stopped working, even after he broke his foot, he was always there for the team, so emotionally steady, and such a leader.”

She briefly played overseas when she graduated. He did the same, and they stayed together despite the long distance. They got engaged in the spring of 2014, married that summer, and today call Needham home. Doug works for a construction company, and Lindsay works as a counselor with a focus on athletes, and they have two young children with a third on the way. But there’s no pressure to play basketball, they said. “We are just letting them do their own thing.”

Dana and David

Gazette's 2017 Commencement edition , featuring profiles of Dana McKinney and David E. White Jr., is framed on their wall.
Dana McKinney and David E. White Jr.

Dana McKinney displays her engagement ring after David E. White Jr. popped the question at Griffith Observatory in LA last year. Both were featured in the Gazette’s 2017 Commencement magazine, shown above framed on their wall.

It’s tough meeting the woman of your dreams when her father’s standing right next to her. Fortunately, David E. White Jr., J.D. ’17,
recalls, “he wasn’t that scary.”

Still, it was a little awkward. David remembers being struck by “how beautiful” Dana McKinney, M.A.R. ’17, M.U.P. ’17, was and wanting to get to know her better but also realizing “it probably wasn’t the opportune time to ask for her number.”

Dana has a slightly different recollection of their first meeting in the fall of 2016. They were graduate students at Harvard. She was studying architecture and urban planning; he was studying the law. They were taking Sarah Lewis’ “Vision and Justice” class together, but their paths never crossed on campus. Instead, that first encounter was at an NAACP event in Boston.

Unlike David, Dana’s thoughts did not immediately turn to romance.

“I wasn’t interested. It was October. I was graduating that January and moving to Los Angeles,” said Dana. “And he seemed a little full of himself.”

David would not be daunted. He finally got her number and reached out when they both found themselves working in LA a year later — he was clerking for the Ninth Circuit, she was working for famed architect Frank Gehry. After their third date Dana knew.

“I don’t think I’d ever met or dated anyone else that I felt that way about,” said Dana. “He just talked about people with such great grace and humility. I could tell he had a really beautiful heart and soul.”

David also soon realized “she was my soulmate, the one I was destined to be with.”

Some long-distance dating ensued when David moved back to New York for work. In 2021, as Dana was preparing to leave Los Angeles and rejoin David on the East Coast, he showed up unannounced at her office. They spent the next couple of days on a farewell tour of LA. When they reached Griffith Observatory, after finding Dana’s favorite vantage point of the city, David dropped to one knee with an engagement ring designed by a female architect from Canada. The ring features a gold dome lined with black-tinted concrete (Dana’s favorite color and building material) and diamond dust.

“She grabbed it out of my hand and put it on before she had even said yes,” said David.

“He loves surprising me,” said Dana. “It keeps me on my toes.” (He also surprised her with a quick trip to Belize the next day.)

They will wed in September at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in D.C., five years to the day after their first date. Dana’s father will be there again, too.

Currently David leads the national security and foreign policy team at the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, and Dana co-founded enFOLD Collective, is development manager at the equity-centered development company Adre, and serves on the faculty at the University of Maryland. So as busy professionals, they make sure to balance surprises with quiet evenings.

“I am home, pretty much without exception, for dinner every night, even though it means I have to log back on afterward,” said David. “It’s important to have that time together.”

Ashley and Noah

Ashley LaLonde and Noah Reimers at Harvard in 2019.
Ashley LaLonde and Noah Reimers on their wedding day.

Ashley LaLonde and Noah Reimers at Harvard in 2019 and on their wedding day in New York City earlier this year.

Wedding photo by IVASH Photography

For some it might be awkward to live with your girlfriend’s parents for almost a year early in your relationship.

But for Ashley LaLonde ’20 and Noah Reimers ’19, who married Feb. 5, it was a blessing that deepened their bond. They called the 11 months they spent in Ashley’s parents’ home in New Jersey during lockdown their pandemic silver lining.

“I loved having him there, and so did my parents,” said Ashley.

Noah slept in her brother’s room and became the unofficial chef, IT guy, and handyman, not to mention a member of the family.

“It was a very special time to really get to know not only her much better,” said Noah, “but also her family as well.”

The couple met during a friend’s surprise birthday party at Daedalus in 2019. Ashley was a junior, Noah was a senior preparing to graduate. Their social circles overlapped, and his friends had long thought they would make a great couple.

Noah had heard glowing things about Ashley. She confesses she’d “never heard his name before.” He gushed when he introduced himself; she responded with a polite smile. Later that evening a nervous Noah spilled a beer dangerously close to Ashley’s feet while they chatted. “I thought it had fallen directly onto her shoes. I remember putting my hands over my head and thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve ruined it. It’s done.”

In fact, it was just beginning.

She laughed it off and helped him mop it up. He relaxed and asked for her phone number. Their first date was over burritos at Felipe’s. “It was raining that night, and he brought an umbrella to walk me home to Adams. It was very sweet,” said Ashley.

More dates soon followed, and Ashley remembers thinking, “This guy is really nice, and intentional, and seems like he knows what he wants more than most College guys.”

“She was someone that I was so quickly comfortable with,” said Noah. “I had never experienced that.”

Before long, Noah scrapped his plans to move to San Francisco and started looking for jobs in New York City, Ashley’s professional home base. (She is currently starring in the musical “Punk Rock Girl” at the Argyle Theatre on Long Island. He works for a climate tech startup.) “I kept wondering, ‘Why am I going to move across the country when she’s definitely going to be in New York for her career?’ It just didn’t make any sense.”

They got engaged in May 2021 in New York’s Gramercy Park. Noah tried to hide his nerves. Ashley saw right through him. “He’s not a good liar,” she said, “which is such a good trait for a life partner and husband, but not a good trait for surprising someone with an engagement.”

Though together for only three years, they said their deep love and faith has helped them weather long periods of separation and togetherness, as well as COVID — they each tested positive late last year.

“It really feels like we’ve known each other through so much of our lives,” said Ashley.