Art Silpasuvan knows what he likes. He’s the kind of guy who goes to one restaurant again and again and orders the same dish every time.
And he liked Debbie Tang. So after eight years, two breakups and one arrest warrant, he married her.
In March 2004, Tang went dateless to a friend’s wedding and was seated with Silpasuvan, who was also on his own. They chatted through dinner at the Mayflower Hotel reception. He mentioned he was moving to Chicago for a medical residency. She told him her family owned A&J Restaurant, a Chinese place with locations in Rockville and Annandale.
The shy Silpasuvan worked up the nerve to get her number. A week later he called, asking if they could eat at her family’s restaurant. After an easy meal, they began to see each other regularly, but Tang, a lawyer, had no expectations for the future.
“I had just gotten out of a relationship and it was almost better that he was moving, because it was like, ‘Here’s someone I can hang out with and there are no strings attached,’ she says.
When he left for Chicago in June, he asked if she’d like to come and visit. She agreed but was surprised by his suggestion that they try to make the relationship work long distance. “I’m a very practical person,” she says. “I was like, ‘You’re very nice, but I don’t know if that’s going to work.’ ”
Besides, “nice” wasn’t at the top of her priority list when it came to men. She returned to Washington and continued dating other guys, most of whom weren’t paragons of kindness. Still, she stayed in touch with Silpasuvan, meeting up for lunch whenever he visited the District.
In the summer of 2007, he moved to Philadelphia, where his sister and her family lived. Back in the same time zone, he broached the topic of dating again. “We have fun together,” he says. “She was very caring, and we were very compatible. I was just happy when I was with her.”
Tang agreed to try, but after a few months of commuting, she told him her heart wasn’t in it. “I was just like, ‘I can’t do this any more. I think we’re just better off as friends.’ ”
He agreed, deciding it was time to truly move on. For six months they didn’t speak, and after that their communications were strictly platonic.
But on Labor Day weekend in 2009, Silpasuvan was in minor car accident, for which he was issued a ticket and a citation to appear in court. He hired a lawyer from a flier he received in the mail. A few months later, he learned there was a warrant out for his arrest. Records showed that he’d failed to appear in court; he’d thought his lawyer would be there on his behalf.
Amid the confusion, Silpasuvan called Tang for advice. “And that was kind of like the light bulb moment for me,” she says. “It made me realize, ‘Oh, Art — he needs someone to take care of him.’ He’s so smart. He’s an endocrinologist. But sometimes I’m just like, ‘Have you no common sense?’ ”
She helped him work through the legal processes and found herself calling more frequently to see how he was doing. Tang told a formerly wild friend who was now happily married with kids about Silpasuvan’s steady, good nature.
“And she was like, ‘You know you marry the nice guy,’ ” Tang recalls. “It was a foreign concept to me. I was like, ‘No. I didn’t know that.’ So many of these guys that I’ve dated, I would never want them to be, like, the father of my children.”
Silpasuvan was visiting Washington in March 2010 when Tang, who’d recently been laid off, told him of her conflicted emotions. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on in my life now. I don’t have a job, everything’s confusing. You’re the type of guy I can see myself marrying and having kids with. But I don’t want to date you.’ ”
Silpasuvan, naturally, was baffled. “I said, ‘I don’t know — I haven’t really changed. I’m the same person I’ve always been and we had good closure,’” he recalls. Besides, he told her, the point of a relationship was to be there in good times and bad. If she wouldn’t let him be there during tough times, what was the point?
That made sense to Tang, and though Silpasuvan was hesitant, they began traveling to see each other most weekends. “I was like, ‘I don’t really feel like starting this just so you can break up with me,’ ” he says. “So it was kind of like, ‘If I think she’s changed, we’ll see.’ ”
As months ticked by, it became evident her care for him was genuine. And she put him at ease as much as ever. “I know when I have a good thing,” says Silpasuvan, who is now 33 and lives in Washington.
“We have the same core values,” says Tang, also 33. “The things that are important to us are the same — our families and our friends.”
So in May 2011, he arranged to have brunch with the couple who were married the weekend they met seven years earlier. They wandered by the Mayflower, and the other couple suggested going in to see their reception room. Silpasuvan lured Tang to the corner where they’d been seated and dropped to one knee. Tang, who is rarely emotional, said yes through her tears.
On Feb. 25, they were married in a top-floor ballroom of the Marriott Key Bridge. More than 500 guests watched Tang enter the room in a strapless white dress for their American-style nuptials. The couple wore different outfits for both a Chinese tea ceremony to honor her heritage and a Thai water blessing to honor his.
“I always knew he was a nice guy, but I wasn’t ready for a nice guy yet,” Tang said before the wedding. “Art always says, ‘You’re lucky I didn’t find someone else while you were off making poor decisions about romance.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s true — I am lucky.’ Sometimes, things work out.”