Shortly after they began dating, Ally Parson and Paul Medina attended a dinner party where they listened to their coupled friends explain that relationships succeed when one partner balances out the other.
Uh oh, Ally thought. Are we too similar?
When they first met, Paul, a trainer who has his own fitness company, and Ally, who manages guest relations and human resources for Cafe Milano, had several inconvenient commonalities. They are both workaholics. They describe themselves as passionate and headstrong, often unwilling to back down in an argument. They are both Midwesterners who worked in Washington while living in the suburbs — Paul in Maryland, Ally in Virginia.
Ultimately, though, they made it work.
Paul, 33, and Ally, 29, were willing to forgo stubbornness and make compromises — perhaps because he knew she was the one. And vice versa.
“That’s one of the hardest things to do: to relinquish part of yourself — your ego — for someone else,” Paul says.
Their matchmaker was Franco Nuschese, the owner of Georgetown’s Cafe Milano and Ally’s boss. Paul, Nuschese’s friend and trainer, was in the office one day to give Nuschese a Christmas gift. Ally and Paul exchanged glances, but neither made a move.
They began to ask Nuschese about each other, so he abruptly put Paul on speakerphone once when Ally was in the room. It was awkward, and neither felt good about the interaction.
Then, in January 2013, at a Cafe Milano party celebrating President Obama’s second inauguration, Paul saw Ally working at the registration desk. While his date — yes, he had brought another woman to the party — was in the coatroom, he boldly walked up to Ally and kissed her on the cheek. It made an impression, she says, as did Paul’s enthusiastic dancing.
And so it was, after a month of trying to find a good time, that they had their first date — a private salsa lesson. Paul and Ally agree: They were both awful. And Ally still wasn’t sure whether it was a date. At dinner after the lesson, she recalls Paul being steely in demeanor. He ordered water and an appetizer, and he asked for the check quickly.
“Are we just salsa buddies, or is this a date?” Ally recalls thinking.
But Ally says she now knows that Paul gets serious when he’s nervous. As for his haste through dinner, she says, “It was past his bedtime.” (Paul wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to start his workouts.)
In any case, things picked up pretty quickly from there. Paul’s interest in Ally was clear from the start, but two weeks in, it was Ally who told a friend, “I think he’s the one.” Never before, she says, had she met a man so sensitive and sensible.
Nine months after meeting, Paul and Ally killed two birds with one big step: They moved into an apartment in Northwest Washington. Both adored the city and had been looking for a reason to move from the suburbs. They discovered it in each other.
“It was groundbreaking for us to build our relationship in an area that we’re both not familiar with,” Paul says.
Three more months passed before the couple’s next challenge: After years of dreaming about it, Paul started his own fitness company, Capital Energy Training. He credits Ally for giving him the courage and support to take a leap of faith.
In August 2014, Paul and Ally were vacationing in Amalfi, Italy — Paul’s family’s native country. It was the night of Ferragosto, celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Mary, which closed down much of the city, including transportation. Paul and Ally ended up walking 90 minutes to their destination: a restaurant owned by a friend of Nuschese’s.
At dusk, Paul looked into Ally’s eyes and told her he loved her. She cried throughout the rest of the speech, certain that a proposal was coming. (Paul can’t keep a secret, Ally says — multiple friends and family members had already tipped her off.) But the ring didn’t materialize. Paul had planned to propose under the fireworks, which he expected would begin when the sky went dark, as is customary in the United States.
But it wasn’t until midnight, when the fireworks finally began, that the ring emerged. Paul gave another speech and got down on one knee. Ally cried again, and the entire restaurant applauded.
Paul’s large family had several weddings coming up, so Ally and Paul remained engaged for nearly two years to get an open date. “We were put on the wait list,” Paul jokes.
Yet Paul and Ally say they were grateful for the de facto incubation period. Ally says she “loved being engaged,” and Paul says it was “the best year and 10 months of my life.” In addition to just waiting it out and planning the wedding, the couple took the time to sort out some of the potential kinks.
Faith was the couple’s biggest area of compromise. Paul, who was raised Catholic, repeatedly said he hoped to raise his children in the church. So even before he proposed, Ally, who had never committed to any one denomination, began classes in Catholicism.
To Ally’s surprise, Paul was initially reluctant to go to church with her. He had lapsed in college. But with a nudge from his then-
fiancee — and with the help of a high school friend, Father David Wells, who ended up officiating Paul and Ally’s wedding — Paul rejoined the church with a new fervor and is now a lector at several local churches.
On June 25, Paul and Ally were married at the Holy Rosary Church in downtown Washington with 165 guests in attendance. The church caters to the Italian American community, and the reception was at the Decatur House, a historical home near the White House.
With the choice of venue, the couple hoped to convey to their guests, 70 percent of whom came from faraway places, just how important the city was in bringing them together. To that end, Ally and Paul also scheduled a monument bus tour between the ceremony and reception. In November, the couple plan to visit Rome, where they will don their wedding garb once again to have their marriage blessed by the pope, a culmination of the spiritual journey they have made together.
At the reception, Paul and Ally’s first dance was to “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake. What was once a source of anxiety had become a point of pride and love: They reflect the best in each other.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Ferragosto celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The holiday coincides with the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
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