Leigh Katcher maintained strict order in her life. She worked relentlessly, watched what she ate meticulously and never missed a day at the gym.
“I was a little rigid,” she admits.
Katcher took the GMAT during her senior year at the University of Virginia not because she was applying to graduate school, but because she thought she might someday. Her conscientiousness came in handy after four unhappy years in the finance world, when she decided business school could put her on a new path.
In spring 2005, she flew to Chicago for an event for prospective students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. After a welcome dinner, she headed to local bars with a group that included Devu Gandhi, a tall, outgoing type who held court at the pub and led the charge to an after-hours hot dog joint.
“He was really kind of loud and a little obnoxious,” she recalls. The rowdy outing was not Katcher’s scene. “I don’t think I’d had a hot dog in, like, five years.”
The two met again when the fall semester started, and they wound up hanging out in the same circle of friends. When the group spent the day at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, Katcher began to see Gandhi differently.
“It was the first time we’d hung out in a more intimate group. I felt more attracted to him,” she says. “He struck me as really intelligent, and he was very funny.”
When Gandhi heard Katcher, who was normally reserved, make a particularly sarcastic joke that no one else caught, he was intrigued.
They began to spend time alone, and things quickly turned romantic. Katcher, who grew up in Vienna, found herself able to relax with Gandhi.
“I always just had so much fun around him,” she says. “I remember him saying, ‘It’s okay to just sit on the couch and watch TV — that’s okay. You don’t have to be doing something every single minute. It’s okay just to be.’ And it was this huge epiphany, like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine. Who cares? I’ll eat the hot dog at 3 a.m.’ ”
With Katcher, Gandhi felt supported and understood, but he also felt torn. He’d come to business school intending to find an Indian woman. Although Gandhi grew up in Florida and had never dated Indian women in the past, it was something he felt compelled to do.
When he told Katcher, she was devastated. “Because that’s something I can’t change, obviously, and something he always knew,” she says.
Katcher had dated only Jewish men and assumed she would end up with one, but the way she felt with Gandhi changed that. A recently married friend once told her that the right guy would never come in the package she was expecting. “I always remembered that,” she says.
But when she couldn’t convince Gandhi, they stopped hanging out. Gandhi did date one Indian girl, but the relationship ended disastrously.
The following spring, he and Katcher signed up for the same two-week school trip to India. At first both felt awkward, but they slowly warmed to being buddies; by the end of the trip, they wanted to get back together.
“I realized I really liked her and that I was unhappy without her,” he says. “I got over whatever it was that was in my way.”
That summer, Katcher interned in New York and Gandhi left to work in India. They wrote frequent letters that allowed the two to reveal themselves in a new way. “It was hard when he was gone, but we became closer in a way,” she says.
They reunited at school the following fall and had to decide whether to try for jobs that would allow them to stay together after graduation. Katcher planned to return to New York for a marketing position, but Gandhi was less sure. Several months after they finished school, he was hired for a job in Mumbai.
“I agreed that it was the right decision, but I was devastated,” Katcher recalls.
They talked every day despite a nearly 12-hour time difference and visited one another every few months, but each parting seemed harder than the last.
In 2009, after a year in India, Gandhi left his job and came back to the United States for a two-week visit in June. But as his departure date approached, his dread grew. He never got on the return flight.
Gandhi unpacked his bags in Katcher’s 400-square-foot studio apartment and began to hunt for jobs in New York. “And I never looked back,” says Gandhi, who is now 33 and works in publishing. “It was the best decision.”
In September 2010, they visited Lake Placid and hiked to the top of a mountain. There, Gandhi asked Katcher, now 32, to be his wife. “Literally, the sun comes out, the clouds part and I proposed,” he says.
On Nov. 19, Gandhi rode a horse along Massachusetts Avenue to meet his bride in the ballroom of the Fairfax Hotel, where they were married in a ceremony that combined Jewish and Hindu traditions.
“We really chose each other based on our personalities, not our backgrounds,” Gandhi said before the wedding. “We chose each other as individuals.”