If the old adage “opposites attract” is true but “birds of a  feather flock together,” it’s no wonder why finding love can elude even the most hopeful, starry-eyed romantic.

For five couples interviewed recently by Jmore, finding their beshert, or intended, came in a variety of ways — love at first sight in kindergarten; wooing via a dating app; a chance meeting in the great outdoors; through the bonds of initial friendship; and by conspiratorial friends with the best of intentions.

All of them courageously stepped into romance with their eyes and hearts open, to embrace the love of their life.

With candor, affection and good humor, these couples, ranging in age and background, offer anecdotes and advice on when to know you’re in love, how to keep the magic alive and why working at love is worth it all.

When Barry Met Sandee

Sitting in their Pikesville residence surrounded by cherished family photos, Dr. Barry and Sandee Lever reminisce (and often correct each other) about the origins of their courtship.

It all began in Mrs. Katz’s kindergarten Hebrew school class in Harrisburg, Pa.

“From the moment I saw her, I said, ‘That’s my girl and I’m going to marry her,’” says Barry, 82. “Like Herzl used to say, ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’”

And will it he did, with tenacity, patience and, of course, amoré. But their first date, at age 11, wasn’t what you’d call a fairy tale beginning.

Barry and Sandee went to see the Ann Sothern comedy “Up Goes Maisie” at the Loews Theatre. Barry expected to pay the children’s discount but they were too old, so he came up short at the box office.

“I had to pay for it,” says a laughing Sandee, also 82. “And we sat in the back and he said, ‘You wanna smooch?’ Well, I thought that was an ice cream soda, so I said, ‘Sure! Let’s have a smooch!’”

Over the years, the two kept a simmering romance but dated others, too. Then, they both left for college.

“I still had this lady on my mind and I thought, ‘I’m going to marry her,’” Barry says. “So I basically hung around, so to speak.”

Sandee’s mom was a strong supporter of Barry’s. “[But] she said, ‘You know you’ve got to play the field.’ I had options, let’s put it that way,” Sandee says. “I dated a few other people, but [with Barry] it was meant to be. It was beshert.”

The Levers married in June of 1956, and Barry’s periodontics practice brought them to Baltimore seven years later. They’ve navigated graduate school, a military stint, careers, three children and six grandchildren. The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last summer.

What keeps their union strong? “First, you have to have a commitment to stay married,” says Barry, who is retired. “Then, the best thing anyone can do is trust each other.”

Respect is essential, adds Sandee, a retired early childhood educator. “I have to respect what he thinks and he has to respect what I think,” she says. “And it’s just as important what you say and how you say it. … You have to have a hierarchy of what’s important and what isn’t.”

Now in the seventh decade of their marriage, love still abounds.

“Barry always said from the time we were going together, ‘Grow old with me, the best is yet to be,’” Sandee says. “So I think we’ve had a lot of good times, and we’re still looking forward to the best to be.”

Young and In ‘Weird’

Daniel Golberg and Kayla Keiter met through the dating app Tinder. Their first official date was at Pikesville’s Mari Luna restaurant in the autumn of 2015.

“We had a blast,” remembers Golberg, 28. “We found out we’re both goofy and fun-loving, [and] we’re hard workers. We had so much in common, it was scary.”

Keiter, 27, was attracted to Golberg’s strong connection to his family. “There’s a lot of support and love and family and food,” she says. “Him being Jewish and me not being Jewish, I was exposed to holidays and families. … That just made me love him more and more as the months went by.”

The feelings were intense from the start.

“When we began dating, I had such strong feelings for Kayla,” says Golberg, an information technology professional who lives in Pikesville, “but I couldn’t tell her I was in love with her. So I would tell my friends that I’m in ‘weird’ with her, because we’re so goofy in our mannerisms and the things that we enjoy. So it made us both feel more comfortable saying that, instead of saying a strong word like love.”

But just a few weeks in, that four-letter word was uttered. “I asked her to be my girlfriend because I didn’t want anyone else to snatch her up from me,” Golberg says. “I wanted her to be mine.”

Things moved rapidly, Keiter recalls. “It just progressed really fast, about three weeks,” she says. “I felt nervous about that, but it just felt real, like everything was supposed to be.”

Golberg and Keiter, a mental health social worker who lives in South Baltimore, say open communication is key to their relationship.

“You have to address the different cultures and religious perspectives, the values we have,” says Keiter, who’s from Miami. “We grew up very differently.”

Says Golberg: “Communication and mindfulness have been huge for us. Without those two things, you’re in trouble.”

Golberg and Keiter agree that marriage is on the horizon, and plans for a shared home are in the works. They are currently looking to buy a condo in Pikesville.

Laying Down The Law

Driving from her native Atlanta to New York City to date prospective husbands grew old quickly for Shira Perlman. But marrying someone Orthodox was important to her, and in the Peach State the pickings were fairly slim.

In July of 1999, she and a friend moved to Baltimore, where mutual friends kept scheming to get Shira and Shmuel Perlman together in the same room over and over again. Their first Shabbat dinner encounter was less than impressive.

“He was sitting on this reclining chair and he said something about being able to eat two chickens,” recalls Shira, now 38, with a big laugh. “And I thought, ‘Is that supposed to be some kind of turn-on?’”

Later, they chatted during a walk and, Shmuel says, “She said, ‘I’d like to be a stay-at-home mom,’ and I said ‘Great.’ Then, she said, ‘I like to shop,’ then I said, ‘I’m out.’”

But their paths kept crossing at the behest of conspiratorial friends. Finally, they agreed to a date but kept it secret.

“I laid down the law and said, ‘I’m only interested in dating to get married, not to have fun. So if you want to go out with me, here are the ground rules — we’re dating to get married,’” says Shmuel, also 38.

They had seven dates over the following 10 days. “I had already known that she was the one. Don’t ask me how,” says Shmuel, who owns a plumbing company.

On Oct. 14, 1999, they walked into her apartment and he stepped in first. By the time she turned around, Shmuel was down on one knee and proposed.

“I couldn’t stop laughing,” says Shira, a kosher baker. “He said, ‘I found the person I want to marry,’ and I said, ‘Who?’”

They were married Jan. 30, 2000, in Atlanta.

The Perlmans, who live in Pikesville, say that a sense of humor helps them face life’s challenges. But they agree it takes more than that.

“I think we have a great level of trust, but we haven’t lost who we are,” she says. “It would be easy to call it quits. Marriage is not easy. You have to work on it when something’s worth it, and he’s worth it. It’s a good life, and we have three great kids.”

Love Under the Stars

Melissa Verduzco was first spotted by Danielle Feinstein during a sorority pledge at an alumni camping weekend at Georgia Southern University in March of 2004.

“I thought she would be interesting to get to know,” recalls Feinstein, 39, a medical assistant.
“I was still new to coming out, so it was still a matter of feeling people out, and I happened to see this little safety pin on her backpack that had the [LGBT pride] rainbow on it. We just started talking. It was one of those camp experiences where you stay up all night.”

Recalls Verduzco, 32, who works for Chesapeake Urology Associates: “She invited me to go hiking. She invited a couple of others to go hiking, too, and I really wished the others hadn’t gone … just to see if something would have happened under the stars, even if it was just like a first kiss. But I knew right away that this was something special and that this was something I wanted to see through.”

The couple maintained a long-distance relationship while Verduzco finished college.

Feinstein wound up in Charm City in 2011 to pursue a master’s degree in Jewish communal service from the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University.  Verduzco joined her here in 2013, and they married that year. Now that things have settled down a bit, they say discussion of adoption is in the air. They live in Reisterstown.

“One of the things we always said in the beginning was, ‘I’ll stay here as long as you’ll have me. I’ll keep trying as long as you’ll have me,’” Verduzco says, citing honest communication and patience as important tools for their marriage. “And as long as both of us choose to have each other, we’re still together.”

You’ve Got Mail

It was during their sophomore year at Towson University that David and Shaina Zobel recognized what had been obvious to those around them for years — that they should be more than friends.

A handmade collage box Shaina crafted for David’s birthday is what finally opened their eyes. It didn’t seem like any old gift you’d give a friend, David thought.

“Shaina, how do you feel about me?” he asked her one night as they were driving during a blizzard.

“Honestly, as the words came out of his mouth is the same time it clicked for me,” recalls Shaina, 38, a federal government employee. “We always say everyone else knew we were interested in each other before we realized it.”

When David, also 38, wanted to propose about a year later, he remembered that Shaina loved getting mail, sometimes checking her mailbox four times a day at their dorm. So he packed up a ring and a note and snail-mailed it to her.

“She said, ‘I got your package in the mail, come over here,’” he recalls with a laugh. “It was a joyous thing, not, ‘OK, we need to talk.’”

The Zobels married right after college and moved to New York City for two years. Both agree that navigating big city life, new jobs, graduate school and the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, strengthened their bond.

Today, the Zobels, who live in Parkville, speak candidly about what it takes to stay married, raise two children and reconnect if you drift apart.

“You have to really work to get yourself back together,” Shaina says. “We were sharing the space and getting through each day, getting the kids out the door, getting dinner on the table and then starting again the next day. It wasn’t any specific event, but we just started to pull apart a little bit. … And we had to really talk and come together and realize why that happened. And we did, but you’ve got to work on it.”

Marriage is a work in progress, says David, a graphic design teacher. “You’re constantly learning — ‘OK, I’ve fixed this problem,’ but whoops! All of a sudden that’s not the issue anymore, now it’s this.

“[Marriage is] an amorphous thing that never stops moving. And if you don’t move with it, you’re done.”

 

Melissa Gerr is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Photos by Evan Cohen

Videos by Melissa Gerr

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