They met and fell in love in Hawaii. It sounds like the setup for a romantic comedy headed for failure, but for Ryan Tauriainen and Ethan Chiang, it’s the setting for a love story with a happy ending.
In December 2008, Ryan was enjoying winter break from his Teach for America job in Oahu while Ethan, on break from Cornell University, was visiting his family on the island.
For Ethan, love was the furthest thing from his mind at the time.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to find anyone while I was there. I just wanted to hang out with my family on my break,” Ethan says with a laugh. “But then Ryan intervened.”
Right around Christmas, Ryan sent a message to Ethan on an online dating site after noticing he was cute and close by. As per usual, first impressions were everything.
“I was stationed as a seventh grade English teacher, and the first thing I noticed about Ethan online was that he was smart,” Ryan says. “I think I asked him to describe himself, and he had this rich vocabulary, which sounds strange now but that’s what really drew me in. I wanted to keep talking to him from that.”
They kept chatting for about two weeks before deciding to meet in person and have their first official date. But when you’ve communicated with a person only online, there’s reason to be cautious about what will change when you’re finally face-to-face.
Ryan invited Ethan to his apartment in Waialua to impress him with some of his culinary skills and prepared an Italian meal inspired by his mother’s cooking. Happily, the chemistry was still there.
“Before meeting him I was always struck with his passion about everything he did, and I was afraid that was going to not be there in person, but it was,” Ethan says. “It’s funny because you talk online for so long and you think maybe there will be a difference in a person. But there wasn’t with Ryan. He was the person he always was with me, and I loved that.”
They saw each other as much as possible before Ethan had to fly back to Ithaca, N.Y., to finish up his PhD. They decided to keep their relationship alive even though they were going to be far apart.
“It was just totally clear for both of us,” Ryan says. “We made a big effort because we both knew that it would be worth it.”
And so began 11 / 2 years of dating with a six-hour time difference.
From January 2009 until June 2010, they scheduled daily phone calls, e-mails and Gchats. In the summer of 2009, Ryan flew to Ithaca before Ethan defended his doctoral thesis; in September 2009, Ethan moved to Washington, all while Ryan still worked as a teacher in Hawaii.
“We were together through the thick of it,” Ethan says. “That ended up really strengthening our relationship because we both needed each other at that point. Our relationship grew because we were always there for each other with job stress or moving stress, and we were each other’s rocks for 11 / 2 tough years. But that’s because we always knew we would end up together again.”
With Ethan getting settled in D.C. after a fellowship turned into a job, and Ryan’s Teach for America contract running out in June, they finally found a time when they could be in the same place at the same time and move in together, which they had wanted for so long. Ryan made the nearly 5,000-mile trip as soon as his contract was up.
“That was actually incredibly stressful and a real test of our relationship, because I was uprooting myself and leaving my friends,” Ryan says. “But it’s easy to get through something like that when you have a partner as dedicated and supportive of you as Ethan. He was able to really make that transition easy for me.”
Finally, they were together, with a new dog, a new home and a realization that they wanted to get married.
“We thought about what it would be like to be married, and there’s this assumption that the man proposes to the woman. In our situation it was more like, how is this going to happen?” Ryan says. “Ethan actually told me a while ago that he wanted to be the one.”
“I had thought about it for a long time,” Ethan says. “And the one thing I always knew that I wanted to do for him was surprise him in some sort of way.”
Last year, Ethan told Ryan that they would be going to Niagara Falls for his birthday. Although it was January, and it would be freezing, Ryan was still excited since he had never traveled outside the country. Ethan took Ryan to get his first-ever passport all the while knowing that they wouldn’t be going to Canada, but instead the Caribbean.
On the day they were supposed to leave, Ethan told Ryan that the ride that they had scheduled for the trip canceled, meaning they would have to fly. That’s when Ryan started to get suspicious, soon realizing their flight had a different destination.
They landed on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, took a boat to St. Barts for Ryan’s birthday and then came back to the French side of St. Maarten for the last day of their vacation, where Ethan was planning the ultimate surprise.
He took Ryan out to the balcony of their suite at night with the moon glistening on the water and, on one knee, Ethan asked Ryan to marry him.
On Jan. 9, the five-year anniversary of their first date, Ryan Tauriainen, 27 at the time of the wedding, and Ethan Chiang, 31, married in an intimate ceremony on a balcony at the Madison Hotel before four close friends.
“We’re looking forward to this married relationship where we get to spend these milestones together, like buying a home or having children,” Ryan said before the wedding. “I’ve always been interested in being a part of marital traditions like this. So I’m so happy that we get the opportunity now.”