Rachna Butani hoped she’d hear from Samir Bhatt, but as the days ticked by, her optimism waned.
They’d met at a mutual friend’s wedding in Atlanta in October 2009. After being introduced during the sangeet, a song-filled celebration the night before the nuptials, Butani and Bhatt talked as the party swirled around them and her mother speculated with friends about the young man who’d captured her daughter’s attention.
The next night, the two sat at the same table. “He told me a lot about his family background, and I was shocked at how honest and upfront he was,” Butani recalls. “He was just so genuine.”
When the music picked up, they began to dance. At the end of the night Bhatt asked for her e-mail address. But in the back of his mind, he thought, I’ll probably never see this person again.
He flew back to New York, and she headed to Washington. After nearly a week with no word, she assumed he’d lost interest. But as Butani rode with her parents to a celebration of Diwali, a traditional Hindu holiday, an e-mail from Bhatt arrived, asking whether she’d be in New York anytime soon.
Butani would be there the following weekend, so they made plans to meet for a drink. She expected only to stay for an hour, but when she checked her phone, Butani saw that she was late to meet her friends, who’d been calling and texting anxiously.
“It’s like when you’re talking on and on and then you look up and you don’t know where the time went,” says Bhatt, a 37-year-old who works in finance.
“He was just very different from any guy I’d met,” Butani says. “When he talks to you, he really looks at you. I think it was that sense of focus that really stayed with me.”
They began talking regularly by phone, and when Butani invited Bhatt to tag along to a friend’s birthday celebration in Atlantic City, he quickly accepted.
Butani began to panic about the weekend’s dynamic, but once she saw him interacting easily with her closest friends, she relaxed. When food was served at breakfast the next morning, Bhatt handed his dish to the birthday girl, who’d ordered late. “You ordered what I ordered, so I want you to eat first,” he said.
“That was the moment where I was like, ‘I really like this guy,’ ” says Butani, who is the president of HRGM, a construction company her father founded.
But in the months that followed, the pair met up only once every three or four weeks. Bhatt had always prioritized career over relationships and found he was glad that the distance prevented the relationship from progressing too quickly.
Both continued to see other people, but Butani’s heart became increasingly set on Bhatt. By early spring, they were logging 10 to 12 hours on the phone each week and their bond was growing despite the distance.
As her April birthday approached, they came to a crossroads. If he planned to celebrate with her in Washington as she hoped he would, there would be a dinner with her parents that indicated their seriousness. Bhatt said he wanted to come.
And for his birthday the following June, she organized a big dinner with all of his friends, sending him a spreadsheet of restaurant choices where she’d already made reservations. “She listens to everything I have to say,” says Bhatt. “And she remembers everything.”
That fall, Bhatt enrolled in an executive MBA program that further restrained his time, but they committed to spending every other weekend together. Butani was sure Bhatt was the one for her. But Bhatt wasn’t quite ready for the next step.
He’d started a new job and was focused on settling in and getting his degree, but also, he admits, “I always had a romantic view of these things. You meet the right person, and it falls together.”
“I’m a planner and always thinking,” Butani says. “Whereas for him everything has to happen naturally. He’s just a very organic person. Everything has to evolve. You can’t force it.”
When she worried they weren’t on the same page, she would recall the advice of a friend, who told her to pay more attention to his actions than his words. “She said, ‘It’s not how much he talks about marriage. It’s what he’s doing,’ ” says Butani, who’d met Bhatt’s family and become close with his friends.
That winter, they traveled to Aruba and talked about their future. The most important thing, they decided, was to be together — emotionally, if not physically. “That’s what made me feel she was exactly the right person,” Bhatt says.
He told his parents he planned to propose, and his mother consulted an astrologer who said that the Friday before Mother’s Day was an especially auspicious time. On a visit to Washington, Bhatt asked Butani to marry him.
On Dec. 10, more than 500 guests watched as Bhatt was paraded into the Ritz-Carlton to meet his bride and exchange vows in a Hindu ceremony. The party poured into the ballroom decked with lavish red centerpieces and a 13-layer cake. Throughout the evening, the couple was entertained by song and dance performances by relatives and friends.
After a honeymoon, he’ll return to New York and she’ll come back to Washington until they figure out how to be together.
“The distance is such an easy excuse to say, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work,’ ” says Bhatt. “I think it just made us talk about every little thing to the point where we didn’t feel like we’re so different. That’s what really brought us closer together.”