Sophie Siegel wasn’t sure that Aaron Makanoff would stick around. They’d been dating only a month when her mom received a breast-cancer diagnosis in November 2009, sending her world into a tailspin for the third time in 15 years.
Siegel was 22, studying criminal justice at American University and growing tired of the kind of guys she met at bars, who seemed more interested in playing games than starting a relationship. Though she’d never had a Jewish boyfriend, she signed up for JDate.
Makanoff, 28, worked long hours as a police officer in Anacostia. He didn’t know anyone in town when he moved to Washington from Michigan three years earlier, and most of the people in his circle were colleagues. After several friends met their wives online, he decided to give it a try.
He noticed the smiling brunette’s profile picture, and after five minutes of instant messaging, she asked for his number and called him. They spoke for four hours and did the same the next night.
“I’m not much of a talker, especially chitchat,” he says. “But I’d sit down and we’d just be talking and I’d look at the clock and suddenly it had been two hours.”
Siegel had met a number of police officers through her school program and was skeptical about dating one. But Makanoff was thoughtful and caring, and more sarcastic than anyone she’d ever known.
After two weeks of marathon conversations, they agreed to have dinner. Siegel, still wary of meeting people through the Internet, asked two friends to join them.
In the hours leading up to the date, she grew increasingly nervous. “It was just, ‘What is he going to think of me? Do I look like I do in the pictures?’ I felt like I was going to throw up,” she says. But when she spotted him with a big smile, her worries evaporated. “I just felt so relieved, and then after that, it felt like our millionth date.”
At dinner, they talked as easily as they had on the phone, and once they were out of eyeshot of Siegel’s friends, Makanoff kissed her. “It was just comfortable as soon as we were together,” he recalls. “It was pretty refreshing.”
They began seeing each other every day he wasn’t on duty, and it was quickly apparent that they’d found something special. But when her mom’s cancer returned, Siegel suspected that Makanoff might head for the exit.
“He’s going to leave, because this is insane,” she remembers thinking. “But, no, he never said anything like that, and there was no hesitation to help.”
He volunteered to drive her mother to chemotherapy appointments and did everything in his power to make the two women laugh. And when Siegel, an only child, was overwhelmed with sadness and broke down crying, Makanoff comforted her.
“I don’t know what I would do without him,” she says. “I don't even want to think about it.”
The following April, Makanoff’s cellphone started ringing incessantly just as he was making an arrest. His three siblings were calling to tell him his father had died of a combination of ailments.
As the couple nursed each other through the loss of his father and her mother’s illness, he realized that the relationship would be a lasting one.
Siegel, who loved to party before she met Makanoff, began staying in more and taking better care of herself. And she pushed Makanoff, a homebody, to go on adventures and try new things. “The things I lack, he gives me,” says Siegel. “So it works out perfectly.”
“I’m what you’d call hyper-vigilant. It’s job-related. I don’t generally take what people say at face value most of the time,” he says. “But with her, I just have absolutely no trust issues. And she puts up with me somehow. I have a lot of bad days at work, and she weathers the storm.”
After 18 months of dating, Siegel was ready for a more serious commitment. “So she started nagging” me to get married, Makanoff says with a laugh. In fact, he was ready, too, but had to save up to buy a ring.
Last September, when they were in Dewey Beach with her parents, he popped the question as they got ready for dinner. Siegel’s mom heard her daughter’s scream from another floor of the house and knew it was time to pop the champagne.
On June 10, Siegel beamed as both of her parents proudly walked her down the aisle of Sixth and I Synagogue. Her father, a lay cantor, sang blessings to the couple as they stood under a chuppah of driftwood and flowers.
At a tropical-themed reception at Sequoia on the Georgetown waterfront, guests were entertained by a band Makanoff and Siegel had danced to the night of their engagement and a surprise performance by a group of Jewish bottle dancers.
“We’ve been through things a lot of people who’ve been married 20 years haven’t been through,” she said before the wedding. “And I’ve never loved anyone like I love him. There’s just a knowing.”
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