Keeping Up With the Sterlings

Darcy and Steph were best friends when fate contrived an online dating encounter between them. A few years later, they said “I do” in a stunning storybook wedding.

Dr. and Mrs. Sterling had not always planned on getting married.

Yet watching them navigate through their wedding album, from shots of the formal invite to the ceremony under the chuppah and the first dance, it’s hard to imagine any other fate for this couple.

There’s undeniable chemistry and charm between the two therapists. Darcy—GO’s resident celebrity mental health guru—takes ballet and jazz classes five days a week and has provided expert commentary on numerous television networks, including E! Entertainment. Steph plays competitive ice hockey, specializes in working with LGBT couples and provides athletes with performance counseling. Despite their varying interests, they work across the hall from one another and proudly show off their State of Connecticut marriage certificate.

When they were still just friends, Darcy and Steph were graduate students at New York University earning their Doctorate and Master’s degrees, respectively. The two best friends were inseparable, and never considered dating, even when they accidentally connected through an online personal ad.

“You have to try online dating,” Darcy remembers saying, to encourage Steph. “It’s not just for crazies anymore.” While Darcy had an online profile, she had never responded to an ad herself.

Without telling Darcy, Steph got up the courage to post her own ad, but did so without a photo.  It turned out to be the first ad to which Darcy ever responded.

“I was terrified,” said Steph of the awkward coincidence. Did it mean something? Rather than talk about their feelings, these BFFs decided to chalk it up to a strange coincidence and moved on without questioning its significance. The issue didn’t come up again for another two years, but the seed was clearly planted.

“We had a friend who predicted [our growing feelings for each other],” says Darcy. “I started feeling this weirdness around Steph. And this friend, who had only met her once, looked at me and said, ‘It’s Steph, right?’ And I said, ‘Why would you think it’s Steph?’ She replied, ‘You finish each other’s sentences. The world has been waiting for this thing to play out!’”

Steph concurs. “The feelings were there but neither of us really had an easy time acknowledging them. We were such close friends and colleagues and we didn’t know what would happen.” And while they can’t pinpoint the moment when the nature of the relationship shifted, their friendship quickly grew into love.

She Said Yes

They both proposed to each other, but in wildly varying ways.

For Steph, it was a spur-of-the-moment event. They were enjoying a quiet day at home when the mood struck. After Darcy left the room for a moment, Steph ran to her sock drawer—the one place she thought  Darcy wouldn’t look—and grabbed the ring she had bought two days earlier.

Darcy beams as her wife tells the story. “That’s just Steph,” she says.

“I’m just impulsive,” responds Steph.

“Impulsive, but real,” says Darcy. “Steph asked me to marry her following a very authentic moment in our life. It was very sincere, without a lot of bells and whistles. Just a fabulous ring.”

Two months later, Darcy proposed to Steph by sending her on a treasure hunt around New York City that ended at the Tribeca Grand. Darcy had decorated a room with candles and rose petals and hidden the ring among them. Steph discovered the ring, and Darcy proposed privately. Afterwards, Steph believed they were going to meet Darcy’s brother and his wife for dinner, but Darcy took her to a surprise engagement party. All of their friends and family were waiting at the chosen restaurant. It was the first time Steph’s divorced parents had been in the same room together in 20 years.

On September 5, 2009, the couple tied the knot. (Two months before, they had had a civil ceremony in Connecticut to make it legal.)

Darcy and Steph planned a small but very traditional wedding ceremony, with about 50 friends and family members in attendance—but their plans hit an early snag. “I fired my wedding planner eight weeks before the ceremony,” Darcy remembers. “I thought, ‘if I have to break up with someone before the wedding, it better be the planner and not my wife!'”

They chose the Lotos Club, a private literature club founded by Mark Twain on the Upper East Side. The venue’s history dovetailed perfectly with Darcy’s love of antiques and 19th century architecture.

Despite their nod toward traditional customs, Darcy and Steph created their own spin on certain rituals. While Darcy wore a stunning, tailor-made ivory ballgown designed by Israeli couturier Pnina Tornai, Steph chose a navy blue satin Armani Prive suit, with a custom-made shirt and tie. “We walked each other down the aisle, because it was our journey,” Darcy recalls. “We entered from two different doors into the room, and when we first laid eyes on each other, we were so excited.” They also wrote their own vows on the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. Their chuppah (wedding canopy) was made of gorgeous damask fabric that enhanced the opulent, storybook aspects of their nuptials. All went smoothly until the customary breaking of the glass underfoot.

“My dress was so wide, and I was wearing six-inch heels—I couldn’t see where the glass was!” Darcy laughs. “I stood there for a good minute and a half, trying to break it. I finally couldn’t take the pressure. I grabbed the hand of my Russian friend who was seated in the front row, hiked up my gown with the other hand, and finally broke that glass!”

Following the ceremony, the guests enjoyed a cocktail hour and sit-down dinner before dancing the night away. Three pairs of ballroom dancers performed, and then led the guests out onto the floor for hours of celebration.

Though their wedding was one for the ages, Steph never thought she would marry. “Politically, I was a women’s studies major in college and came out as a lesbian, and in my head marriage was an entirely heterosexual institution that I didn’t want to participate in. But then I met Darcy and fell in love and everything changed and here I am, married. With a full-on marriage certificate.”

Making It Work

Marriage is “a personal commitment to yourself and the other person; you’ll continue to work on the relationship, and it must remain a priority,” says Steph. “We’ve learned and developed very effective methods of communication, which is the foundation for our strength as a couple and helps us move past difficult times. I also think the fact that we have so much trust in each other helps us as we develop as a couple and as individuals.”

“We have figured out through the years how to work together as a team,” she adds.

Part of being on the same team involves picking a new name—Sterling—which they found by  looking through a database of Holocaust victims with no surviving family members. Teamwork also involved helping each family come to terms with their new marriage, which Darcy admits wasn’t always easy.

“Everyone is super supportive now,” Steph is quick to note.

“I think both of our families were mostly worried that we would have to live ‘abnormal’ lives as gay people,” says Darcy. “This is just who we are, and I think they’re relieved to see that our life doesn’t look very different from theirs. And that’s been really helpful. Everyone just needed to adjust.”

“And understand that this is real,” Steph adds. “That we’re real people. They have all had marriages and weddings and it’s the same thing. We have a very warm home. I think when our families experienced our home life with us, they felt like, ‘wow, they really put themselves together.’”

“I didn’t want people to minimize this relationship and think we are just really cute and happy roommates who sort of never grew out of living together after college,” Darcy explains.

Steph notes the changes she has seen in her  family. “Since the wedding, I’ve noticed my father being more inclusive of Darcy. Now it’s ‘Steph and Darcy.’ I feel like he kind of makes it known to others, ‘this is his daughter-in-law.’”

Despite their initial skepticism, Darcy and Steph’s relatives lavished them with compliments after the fairy-tale event. “I was very surprised at how gushy everyone was!” Darcy says. “I literally got a phone call the next morning from my mother, who said it was the most beautiful wedding she’s ever seen. Steph’s dad rolled through life as a Republican, but he stood under the chuppah—and one of the first phone calls we got was from him saying how much he loved it.”

Their story isn’t over yet. “It’s been a year and a half of peace and happiness since the big day,” Darcy says. “It’s been the best year and a half of our relationship. My only regret is that we can’t have the same wedding every year on our anniversary.”

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