Elena Cupingood and Dan Lisman
November 11, 2017, in Philadelphia
Elena read the January 2016 email claiming some guy named Dan was interested in her with skepticism. She hadn't used eHarmony for ages, so it was likely some kind of marketing ploy to get her back, she reasoned.
Yet curiosity led her to log in to her old account, where she read a profile that made Dan seem like a real person — and an interesting one — so she answered his inquiry. When their conversation reached the limit allowed without paying, Elena typed in the email address she used for online dating and asked him to contact her.
The website, which frowns upon such renegade communication, stripped out the part of her address beyond the @. "All I got was Elenadating," Dan said. Googling that led him to a site that promised gorgeous Eastern European women who were seeking a man like him.
"I think I'm being phished," he remembers thinking. But Elena seemed so genuine. When she asked him to reach out, she wrote "pretty please," for goodness sake! With details Elena had shared — she lived in Center City and was a vice president at her company — Dan sleuthed on until he found a LinkedIn profile with a photo he recognized. He knew she was a private person, but what other option did he have?
"I'm that guy you talked to on eHarmony. I swear I'm not a stalker," he wrote on his request to connect.
That was exactly the kind of privacy invasion Elena had hoped to thwart with her dating-only email address. "I was completely freaked out," she said. Then she took a breath. When asked what in life he wanted more of, this man had chosen contentment over money, power, or fame. How great was that? And he had given her his contact information, so any risk was his, she reasoned, and she went for it.
Elena, who grew up in Norristown and is now 44, is vice president of operations at Vantage Learning in Langhorne. Dan, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and Abington and is now 50, is a chef at Memphis Taproom in Fishtown. He worked at another restaurant back then, but the weekend they connected, a massive blizzard gave him two unexpected days off. He spent them nonstop texting with Elena.
They made a date for the following Saturday. Then Dan made a Monday trip from Abington to visit his brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces, and Elena's schedule allowed, so they decided to meet up after.
Dan's niece Morgan, then 4, didn't know her uncle had a date. That's why Dan and his brother Marty laughed extra hard when she said, "Uncle Danny, you need a wife."
"I don't think you should tell your date about this," Marty said. But Dan did, and Elena's laughter charmed him. The two talked at Ten Stone until well past midnight.
That Thursday, they met at a bar near her Center City apartment, where the couple now live. Dan brought flowers. On Saturday, what would have been their first date was their third. At the Ritz, he instinctively covered her eyes during the gory parts.
They saw many plays, heard a lot of music, and became so obsessed with the painted donkey statues inspired by the Democratic National Convention that they won a related scavenger hunt.
Dan soon took over her kitchen. The delicious meals he cooks are wonderful, but not the best thing about him, Elena said. "He's a good person, and kind," she said. "He is really smart, and it is so nice to have conversations about whatever topic could possibly come up."
Falling in love with Elena felt like a missing puzzle piece had fit into the right place. "She always makes me laugh, nonstop. We still haven't run out of things to talk about," Dan said. "I had always been a solitudinal person, but with her, I didn't want to be by myself anymore."
Two or three weeks into dating, Dan slipped and said, "Well, when we're married –."
Elena has no memory of the rest of his sentence. It didn't much matter.
As their first Hanukkah together approached, Dan began to fret. "I needed to get this woman I love the perfect gift," he said. "Then I thought, 'I'm going to get her a ring sooner or later, why not just do it now?' "
Knowing she's not into diamonds, he picked a ring featuring her favorite stone.
They wrapped in separate rooms with a plan that every night of the Festival of Lights, each would choose a surprise. On Day Two, which happened to be Christmas, they met his parents for a movie and Chinese food. His mom flashed a faux diamond ring at them. "When are you getting married?" she asked. That night, Dan cracked. "Here!" he said before Elena could choose her gift. "Open this one!"
She loved the Wonder Woman mug she had pointed out to him at Marshalls. "Look in the mug," he said. She found a gorgeous garnet ring. Hopeful, but unsure of what it meant, Elena waited for Dan to say something.
Alas, he could not. "I couldn't get the words out, and I'm just staring at her," he said. With effort, he finally blurted: "Do you want to make it official?"
Both Elena and Dan were born on the 11th day of their birth months, and they were engaged on the 11-month anniversary of their first date. There was no question 11/11 would be their wedding day. Because that was a Saturday, their faith made post-sundown a must, but this was not to be a formal affair.
Their invite was a concert poster; their save-the-dates a ticket. Tables were named for Philadelphia music venues, and the program resembled a CD booklet. "This was a celebration of us finding each other, and we wanted it to be fun," Elena said.
The couple also wanted a joyous way to memorialize departed loved ones. Dan wore his father's cuff links, and their grandparents' wedding photos were displayed. Later, reception centerpieces were placed on the loved ones' graves.
The 150 guests signed a bound set of old 45 rpm singles in paper sleeves – a gift from Dan's boss. A live band had a real horn section, and Monte Carlo's willingness to learn a few songs by Amos Lee and the Grateful Dead was a bonus.
Dan never knew that couples commonly meet before the ceremony for a "first look" at each other in their finery. "I thought it was kind of silly, but I was doing it for her," he said. Then, standing outside 30th Street Station, Elena tapped him on the shoulder. "I turn around, and there she is in front of me, in her bridal gown, and it was overwhelming," he said. "I was just dumbstruck, and I thought, 'Now I know why we do this.' "
Beneath the huppah, Dan broke a glass to symbolize that what they had just done could never be undone. Elena looked from him to the crowd of people from different parts of their lives, all there to celebrate. "I couldn't have asked for more than that for us," she said.
A bargain: They signed with Garces Events and the Cira Centre Atrium the day they attended the venue's open house, so the rental fee was waved.
The splurge: That saving and more went toward the band.
A week at a resort in Maroma Beach, Mexico, where the only decision was pool or beach.
Venue: Cira Centre, Philadelphia.
Food: Garces Events.
Music: Monte Carlo, EBE Events & Entertainment, Philadelphia.
Photography: Reiner Photography, West Chester.
Dress: Country Bride & Gent, Lansdale.
Hair/Makeup: Laura Edmonds, Crimson Hair Studio, Philadelphia.
Groom's attire: My.Suit, Philadelphia.
Planner: Bree Tomar, All About Events, Philadelphia.