Their attitudes toward the New England city could have been a dealbreaker for Minal, now 41, and Chris, now 39, but the two clearly complement one another. Minal, a former rape crisis counselor who now runs a design firm, was “looking for someone who could keep a cool head in emergencies.” Chris, a Montgomery Country firefighter, fit the bill.
But not in a weird way, Chris clarifies. Based on his experiences dating in Washington, he had expected Minal to be either super into his job — “some sort of fire department groupie” — or fundamentally uninterested because he doesn’t work on Capitol Hill or at a law firm.
“To find someone who was in that rare middle ground was actually kind of interesting,” he says.
Minal had similarly met men who were super into her being Indian, and “that sort of exotification is weird, too,” she says. Luckily, she adds, Chris was “open and cool with it but had no preconceived notions, had no fixation on it and [didn’t have] some story of all these Indian women he had dated before me.”
Minal and Chris grew up in very different circumstances. She is the daughter of Punjabi and Coorg immigrants who worked as doctors in Brooklyn during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic before moving to Staten Island to raise their two children. He is the son of third-generation Italian and Irish Catholic parents who raised their two kids about 25 miles outside Boston.
But the two quickly discovered that both their families were “loud, intrusive and unconditionally loving,” as Minal puts it.
Just three months after their first date, she texted Chris that her mother was “coming to town.” The air quotes are his, even though Minal insists there was no hidden agenda behind the visit — that her mother wasn’t, as Chris still believes, coming to town to size up her daughter’s suitor. The three had dinner plans, but Minal had forgotten about a networking event she had to attend beforehand. Would Chris entertain her mother for a few hours?
“That’s when I realized I had been set up,” he says.
Chris won her mother’s approval — and nearly four years later (they call the five-year progression of their relationship a “slow burn”), she helped him pick out an engagement ring. Choosing the princess-cut emerald ring was easy enough, Chris says, but Minal had a “list of conditions” for the proposal.
“It wasn’t a list,” she cuts in. “I was like, ‘Please don’t do something at a sports stadium or in public,’ ” or anything that involved a prank. Chris struggled to come up with a worthy idea.
That is, until the end of March 2017, when Chris, while on the job, encountered a man who was inconsolable after losing his wife of 64 years. Upon returning home, he pulled Minal aside and proposed right then.
“We don’t have 64 years ahead of us,” she says. “It was very impromptu and sweet. . . . I think we’re both very good at acknowledging the light and dark sides of life, and so the proposal was wrapped in that, too. That made it all the more real and much more genuine for us.”
The couple decided to have an intimate civil ceremony April 14 in the Bethlehem Chapel at Washington National Cathedral, fulfilling Chris’s wish to wed in a D.C. landmark and Minal’s desire to give his parents something familiar. Three weeks later, on May 4, they held a traditional Coorg ceremony at the Silver Spring Civic Building, during which their 300 guests, in lieu of an officiant, came up individually to bless the couple.
Chris says that Minal’s consideration of others has helped him develop greater empathy.
“There is nothing fake about Minny whatsoever,” he says. “She can’t, even if she tries, hide who she is. . . . If she is passionate about something, then she is passionate about something. It is not halfhearted.”
“I used to attract a lot of lost souls,” Minal says, “and when I met Chris, I was like, this guy’s not lost at all. He knows exactly who he is. That allows me to be who I want to be without ever having to apologize for it.”