They chatted for a few minutes, but soon Chawla’s order was ready. She told Karnik she was on deadline and needed to go, but he seemed trustworthy so she offered her e-mail address before saying goodbye.
“I thought he was really nice. A little dorky, but I liked that, too,” she recalls. “And the minute I met him — maybe just because of my sister’s wedding and I wasn’t in a relationship — I was like, ‘He definitely seems like a guy to marry.’ ”
Karnik, a Detroit native who works in finance, was smitten. “I thought she was very beautiful and very intelligent,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, she’s pretty awesome.’ I was very interested in another date — and thought I was lucky to meet her the first time.”
They went out that week. Dinner led to drinks, and Chawla grew more and more intrigued. Karnik was sophisticated and fun to talk to, and it seemed as if their upbringings and outlooks on life were similar.
“It was very relaxing,” she says. “I always felt very comfortable with him.”
They continued dating throughout the summer. It seemed to be evolving into something more serious, although neither was in a rush to take the next step. Chawla eventually wanted to return to Washington, where she’d grown up and where her whole family lived; Karnik’s career was entrenched in New York.
Still, he assumed they’d figure things out in time. When she told him in October that she was moving back to D.C. to take over her family’s real estate business, he was shocked.
“If you don’t want to continue this,” she told him, “I understand.”
But Karnik didn’t want to give up that easily. He booked a ticket to visit the District. And for a few months they went back and forth, planning fun weekends in both cities. But by February, the strain of the distance became too much.
They began dating other people. Chawla was convinced the relationship was permanently over, but Karnik couldn’t stop thinking about her. Finally, he sent a text message asking whether she wanted to meet up.
“I felt like if I never reached out to her again, I would always regret it. Even if the answer was, ‘I have no interest in you,’ at least I would have done my part instead of always lamenting it,” he says.
Chawla, now 31, was surprised to hear from him. But she’d recently broken things off with another man and had come to appreciate what she had with Karnik. They began talking by phone occasionally, and Karnik came for a visit in December.
At first, Chawla was hesitant to open up again, but as Karnik took the bus to Washington one weekend after another, she let her guard down. “I think it was because I saw his genuine intentions,” she says. “And I trusted him.”
They both knew that there’d be nothing casual about the relationship this time around — if it worked, it would be for keeps. They met each other’s friends and families; by spring, they were talking about marriage. “Let me know when you’re ready,” he told her.
In June, they went to Turks and Caicos, where Chawla got food poisoning. Karnik, now 34, stayed by her bedside. “He took really good care of me,” she says. “You learn a lot about someone based on how they treat you when you’re not at your best.”
Soon after they returned, she told him she was ready. In August, they returned to Turks and Caicos. Karnik told Chawla he’d signed them up to tour the resort’s penthouse suite. On the balcony, as she looked out at the ocean, he got down on one knee to propose.
The couple were married in a traditional Hindu ceremony at the St. Regis Hotel on the morning of Nov. 17. That evening, more than 300 friends and relatives celebrated with a reception at the Willard Hotel. The couple changed from traditional Indian garb into a white gown and tuxedo and surprised their guests with an elaborate Bollywood-style dance performance.
“I do believe people are meant to be with certain people,” Chawla said after the wedding. “I think whatever has worked in the path to lead us to this point speaks for itself.”