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On Love

The wedding of Mike Zufall and Robb Mapou

A chance encounter in 1978 would bring Robb Mapou and Mike Zufall together. More than thirty years later, the pair was finally able to legally marry.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011

In 1978, a 25-year-old man mailed a Walter Rinder poem to a 23-year-old guy he'd known only briefly.

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"Whatever your needs are, I will try to fulfill them," the poem read.

"If you are lonely and need me, I will be there," it promised.

The younger man, Robb Mapou, had stopped in Atlanta earlier that year to visit friends and check out a doctoral program at Emory University. Mike Zufall had been living in the city for a few months after escaping a small town in Indiana that felt stifling to a young gay man.

Late on Jan. 14, each made their way to Backstreet, a popular gay disco. Mapou's friends had wandered off, so he was alone in the club when he noticed the tall guy in jeans standing next to him.

"Would you like to dance?" Mapou asked.

"I was just about to ask you," Zufall responded.

They danced all night and hung out for the rest of the weekend before Mapou returned to suburban Maryland, where he'd grown up and gone to college.

Zufall didn't have a home phone and neither man had much money to pay for long-distance calls, so they wrote letters discussing their daily lives and thoughts on relationships. Zufall, who hadn't been out of the closet long, was wary of commitment but thought the Rinder poem expressed his ideals of what love could be.

Once Mapou was accepted into a psychology program at Emory University, he arranged another visit to Atlanta in April and stayed with Zufall, who was working as a hotel desk clerk. When Mapou returned to Maryland after the cozy weekend, the letters started coming more frequently, sometimes every day.

The next month Mapou opened a package from Zufall containing a blue, hand-sewn shirt and a record of the Barry Manilow song "I Can't Smile Without You." In the accompanying letter, Zufall had written words neither had said before: "I love you."

Mapou moved to Atlanta permanently that August; soon, the pair were spending every night together. Zufall's resistance to commitment began to fall away.

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