Rubina posted a profile on a dating website for South Asians, but did nothing with it for weeks.
"I didn't check my messages, I didn't look at other people's profiles," she said.
The same friends who persuaded her to give online romance a try gently pushed a little more: Message at least one person before writing off the experience, they said.
And there was Shariq, who wrote about travel, art, and other things he loves. "It wasn't a resume," Rubina said. "You could tell there was depth to him."
Since his was the only profile that intrigued her - and she had zero expectations anyway - the fact that Shariq lived in Philadelphia didn't stop Rubina, a chiropractor then living in Toronto, from messaging him.
Shariq, who owns the software technology company Orion GlobeCom, admired Rubina's ambition and drive, and her interest in the world gave him a gut feeling they'd have a lot to talk about. The native of Northeast Philadelphia had been to Toronto to visit cousins. It wasn't that far, he thought. He e-mailed her back, and soon came daily, after-work phone calls that stretched into the wee hours.
"I would go about my day, and he was so excited to hear about everything," Rubina said. "Then he would share his ideas, which were so interesting for me."
"I found it very simple to talk to her for hours about any subject," Shariq said. "The chemistry was really nice."
Their first e-mails were exchanged in fall 2012. In February of 2013, Rubina accompanied her cousin on an academic trip to New York, and asked Shariq to meet her there.
Shariq, who is now 38, was to attend a family function on Long Island that evening, but figured he could meet up with Rubina first. He never made it to the family gathering.
They met near her hotel, then had dinner in the Meatpacking District. Shariq felt both chemistry and comfort from the start. Rubina said all those long phone calls before they met meant that Shariq was no stranger - she already knew all about him.
Late that night - a Thursday - Shariq returned to Philadelphia. But he was back in New York on Saturday. He and Rubina walked around Central Park and Columbus Circle. Rubina, now 34, went back to Toronto thinking she had likely met the man she would spend her life with. Shariq's thoughts didn't go quite that far, but he had "nice thoughts, nice visions of the future."
Before they parted, they committed to dating only each other to see where things might go.
Every month, they saw each other in either Toronto or Philadelphia. Since Shariq can work from anywhere with an Internet connection, he'd sometimes take long weekends. But soon, it just wasn't enough togetherness.
How does forever sound?
The couple decided to marry, but had to take another step before planning could begin.
Rubina and Shariq are of Pakistani descent. "We both really appreciate our culture," she said. "We knew we had to share with our family."
In summer 2013, Rubina met Shariq's parents, who gave their blessing to the couple's intentions. That fall, her parents invited his to the home in London, Ontario, that Rubina grew up in, and the Ahmads asked the Tahirs for their blessing, which was also joyfully given.
That December, the couple again met in New York. They had lunch at a rooftop restaurant on Fifth Avenue, then went outside to look at the view. Half of the roof was cordoned off with signs that said, "This section closed."
"Rubina, let's go over there," Shariq said, noting they'd have the whole area to themselves.
"We're going to get arrested!" she said. "It's illegal!"
"It's just a sign," Shariq said. "We'll just take some pictures."
She was admiring the sights when he said, "I have something for you."
Taking a small box out of his coat pocket, Shariq got on one knee.
It was so them
After researching many large venues, Shariq and Rubina decided they really wanted an intimate wedding. They married before 25 guests at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, in the Lower Egyptian Gallery. "It was unique, artistic, classy, and very historical," Rubina said.
The ceremony wove Pakistani traditions with those of Canada and the United States.
Shariq and his friends made a joyful, noisy entrance to the beat of the dhol drum, carrying gifts for Rubina's family and friends. Rubina didn't want anyone to see her, but loved watching from a hidden spot. When it was time for the ceremony, she walked with her father down an aisle of rose petals to the space in front of the Sphinx, where the couple said their vows.
Imam Muhammad Abdur-Razzaq explained each part of the ceremony in English, then performed it in Arabic. Likewise he recited from the Quran in Arabic, and then translated into English.
Rings aren't necessarily part of a traditional Islamic ceremony, but Abdur-Razzaq "made it a fusion kind of thing, and he blessed the rings for us," Rubina said. He also told parts of the couple's story.
After the ceremony, the couple and guests enjoyed samosas, chicken kebabs, pizza with a Paki twist, and mango lassi. Later, the couple and their parents and siblings had dinner at the Ritz-Carlton.
Rubina remembers how she felt the moment she saw Shariq. "We were going to have this moment when we get to unite, when we become this team." (A team whose members would finally live in the same city; the couple now lives in Fairmount. Rubina plans to open a practice here, and is also writing a book about how posture, sedentary lifestyle, and the ergonomics of technology affect health.)
Shariq said the wedding was also a time to connect with other people they love. "Everyone was expressing their joy - there was so much positive energy in the room," he said. "It was an intimate affair, and everyone there was a key component of it."
A bargain: The couple researched 40 venues, and the fees elsewhere were 10 to 20 times as much as the museum's $500, which included a membership for two.
The splurge: Photographer Gary Nevitt's prices were on the higher end of those they considered, but his work is "cream of the crop," said Shariq. "We can look at these photos and appreciate a different detail every time we look at them," Rubina said. Plus he made photo books perfect for telling the story to relatives in Canada and Pakistan.
Five days in San Francisco.
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