For several months, Nicole Van Vooren and Rolando Amaya secretly admired one another from afar while commuting on the same uptown city bus, the Circulator. (Its route is Woodley Park to K Street). Neither mustered the courage to strike up a conversation. The timing just never seemed right.
“I would notice him most days when I was on my way home,” said Nicole, a senior research associate at the American Sociological Association in Washington. “He always stood at the same spot next to the door. He would be leaving work around the same time I was leaving the gym. I would be a hot, sweaty mess when I saw him.”
To Rolando, she was the cute girl he saw get on the bus everyday two stops after his. However, he did not approach her because he perceived her not to be a morning person.
Fate stepped in when both were invited to a mutual friend’s ugly holiday sweater bar crawl in December 2010. Rolando noticed Nicole at one bar, and finally gathered his nerve to talk to her at the next bar. Fortified with liquid courage, he approached her, delivering the opening line, “Hey, you’re that girl from the bus!”
They quickly learned they both hailed from New Jersey and had been eyeing each other for some time. But their initial conversation was brief and awkward. Nicole almost didn’t give him her number.
“The night that we met didn’t really go very well,” she says. The conversation, she recalled, came to an abrupt end after he mentioned he had spent all afternoon watching Michael Jordan highlight videos.
Although she was hesitant, he left with her number, and within days he called and asked her out for dinner. They enjoyed a less awkward dinner date a few weeks later.
“I learned an important life lesson when I first met Rolando,” Nicole said. “First impressions should never be made at a bar.”
Before that first official date, they had what they now refer to as “a mini bus date” one morning before work. The conversation flowed easily, and they realized there was something special. Nicole got a glimpse of how sweet, charming and warm-hearted Rolando is. “I already felt a connection after our 20 minutes,” she said. “Sometimes you do get a second chance at a first impression.”
The couple had their first date at Ping Pong Dim Sum in Chinatown on Dec. 21, 2010. Three hours flew by, and at the end of the night, the pair shared their first kiss.
“As I got to know her on our first few dates, I discovered a very intelligent and independent woman. We just clicked,” Rolando says. “Most importantly, she was extremely thoughtful, caring and considerate. She was someone that I was eager to know, but also that person whom I felt like I had known my entire life.”
A relationship quickly developed, and it was clear within a year that both were considering marriage.
“We are very much a team,” Rolando said. “We are both givers, as opposed to there being a giver and taker, so there’s a very good sense of balance that we both appreciate.”
In the summer of 2012, their relationship was tested when Rolando had to deal with some challenging health issues.
“With Nicole at my side, she gave me the strength to get through it,” Rolando recalls. “It really just showed us that together we were stronger than we were individually.”
Nicole agrees. “We learned a lot about each other, how we cope with things, and came out stronger,” she said.
In October 2012, Rolando invited Nicole to accompany him on an alleged business trip in the Shenandoah Mountains, one of Nicole’s favorite places. He indicated she could enjoy herself while he made his “presentation” in the mornings, and in the evenings they could spend time together and relax.
While there, he suggested the pair wake up early and watch the sun rise from the Thorofare Mountain Overlook, the highest overlook on the mountain. At first, Nicole was reluctant. The night before the proposal, the weather on the mountain was extremely overcast and foggy (visibility was ten feet, they said) and she expressed doubts that they’d be able to see the sunrise.
Despite the thick fog and the early hour, Rolando persuaded her that the trip to the top of the mountain would be unforgettable. “A lot of people prefer to [propose] at sunset because it is so pretty, but for me this was the beginning of us as a married couple, so it had to be sunrise,” Rolando says.
Luckily, by the time they arrived at the outlook, they were above the clouds and the view was perfect. “I remember telling him, as we pulled up to the parking lot, ‘Don’t ever listen to me again,’ ” Nicole said.
As the sun started rising, Rolando ran to the car and set up a small table with a white tablecloth and two champagne flutes. He popped the champagne and then popped the question. She said ‘Of course!’ and they spent the rest of the weekend horseback riding and wine tasting.
“Everything that we did was exactly what I would have wanted to do with the day,” Nicole says. “He just knew me so well.”
On June 7, Rolando Amaya, 33, married Nicole Van Vooren, 32, at the Princeton University Chapel, at his alma mater. Afterward, they celebrated with 160 guests at the Cherry Valley Country Club in Skillman, N.J. They plan to honeymoon in Italy in September, combining his love of history and her love of Italian food, cheese and wine.
A quote by Sufi mystic and poet Jalal al-Din Rumi resonated with the couple: “The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
“Like a puzzle picture slowly materializing, as we have learned more and more about each other, we have come to realize that we just fit,” wrote the couple. “It is as Rumi says: there was a bit of us in each other from the start.”