Here’s the thing about office romances: They all begin the same way. Typically, one person becomes interested in a co-worker, which is followed by a series of shy smiles, witty comments and coffee dates. The coffee turns into lunch and lunch, bravely, becomes dinner. It’s up to chemistry to take it from there. Gina Cremona and Phillip Lee’s love story followed this path, but it was just a little bit different.
In January 2013, Phil had just moved to the District for a job at a downtown federal court when Gina, the bright, new legal intern from Georgetown Law, walked in. His first impression, to be frank, was that she was the loudest intern of the bunch.
“It was her liveliness and — in other words, I guess you could say it was because she was louder than anyone else,” Phil says with a laugh. “She came in and was really friendly with the other interns, and I knew some of the other interns, too, so I would visit them and honestly I would just notice her first by just her voice.”
Then, it was Gina’s turn to take notice of Phil. That turned out to be no problem at all. Instead of running into each other in the office by coincidence, Phil had started to purposely linger and make conversation with her. A sly move, he thought. But not really.
“The interns were always in this communal office area, and when you walked by I was the first person you saw, and it was just sort of along the way to the bathroom,” Gina says. “And I was like, ‘Why is this guy going to the bathroom 20 times a day?’ ”
“Which sounds really weird,” Phil says with a laugh. “But really, I drink a lot of coffee, and of course I always wanted to see Gina and try to talk to her. I swear, this wasn’t creepy or anything.”
“In the beginning, it was more about being nice to people and I wanted to get to know everyone, and it was like Phil was just constantly around so I got to know him really quickly,” Gina says. “And I was a student going to school sometimes in the morning and then would come in the office and ended up staying late to work on things. But really I would stay so late talking to Phil. Everyone thought I was such a hard worker because I was staying late all the time, but really I was just talking to him.”
During these talks Gina mentioned that she loved pho, the Vietnamese soup dish that Phil happened to be rather obsessed with.
“I’m not kidding when I say that when she mentioned Korean and pho in the same sentence that I knew she would be someone important to me,” Phil says.
He wanted to take her on a date, and on Valentine’s Day, the opportunity presented itself.
“It was just one of those days when I was staying late working, and he came by and asked me if I wanted to grab something to eat real quick,” Gina says.
They ended up going on their first one-on-one outing to Off the Record in the District. Instead of being a quick meal, it turned into a several-hours-long conversation, and they realized some of the peculiar similarities in their lives. They both traveled a lot as children and as adults; at different points, they attended the same law school and worked for the same law firm, and they both took Asian heritage seriously, particularly the food.
Also on that date, they discovered that there may be a more cosmic reason behind their compatibility.
“Both of our moms come from Asian backgrounds and they’re sort of superstitious and know a lot about Chinese astrology,” Gina says. “And we’re four days apart. My birthday is July 28th, his is August 1st, and we’re almost exactly four years apart. The number four holds a lot of power in Chinese astrology, and that seemed really special to both of our moms.”
With both mothers now pleased, the dates for pho continued. After spending nearly all of their time together, in and out of the office, Phil decided to propose in May.
The weather that day was horrible, with downpours and humidity, which presented a problem given that Phil had walks scheduled between his selected locations for the night. The strategic first stop was dinner at Oceanaire, the site of one of their first “official” dates. After a great meal, they noticed the downpour had ended, and the couple took their first stroll of the night to the steps of the courthouse where they first met.
In front of the grand fountain at the main entrance, Phil got on one knee and ended a passionate proposal with, “It truly would be ridiculous for us not to be together.” Gina agreed and, for one last surprise, the two took another stroll to their mainstay, Off the Record. There, Gina’s closest friends met them at the bar with champagne in hand.
Gina Cremona, 29, married Phillip Lee, 33, on Dec. 7 in a traditional Catholic ceremony at St. Thomas Apostle Catholic Church surrounded by an intimate group of fewer than 50 friends and family members. The reception was held at the Hay-Adams Hotel, just a few floors above the spot where they met almost exactly 10 months earlier.
“I think ultimately you both as a couple have to deal with each other’s crap and be able to see where the other person is coming from, and Gina and I have that,” Phil said. “Also, I feel like we probably feel like better people together as opposed to us as individuals.”
“Even though these random everyday things like our love of the same food or traveling seem ordinary,” Gina added, “it’s what’s keeping us together. We both love the same things like we both love one another in the same way.”