By Wendy Steiner
I wanted to collect photographs of couples married in San Francisco to see what, if anything, I could glimpse about them by comparing their wedding photos to photos of them in the same places today. That, and I thought it would be freaking adorable. Seven photo shoots and many emails later, it seems like places and hairlines change, but if we’re good to each other and a little bit lucky, our smiles and love do not.
It was a pleasure to talk with everyone about their thoughts on love and how they and their partners have changed over time. Some of them have been married longer than I’ve been alive! Please bear in mind that this is just a teensy-weensy snippet of the different love stories of San Francisco – these folks were kind enough to lend their time and dusty photos for this project. I cannot thank Margo enough for bringing to life these couples’ stories of the endurance of love for each other and the city.
Tom and Christine met in North Beach in 1975. Christine walked into Gulliver's Pub while Tom was bartending and he swears he said, "I know. You want me to go home with you." Christine nodded because just minutes before, she had told her friends, "I like that guy, I'm going to ask him to go home with me." Tom explained to me, “We both had the same idea, but I was first.”
After that, Tom and Christine went on their first date and Tom proposed! (I think he really likes to be first.) The couple planned an outside reception in Golden Gate Park with BBQ and baseball at Speedway Meadows. The food was late, but there was an abundant supply of alcohol, and partygoers drank and played softball. Tom says, “Everyone got loaded and we have great photos of one of our guests becoming second base during the game because he was passed out.”
Tom said that at first his marriage was “sex, sex and more sex, until we had three sons to refocus our attention.” He also said that his family is his favorite part of being married and he has enjoyed watching his wife blossom. Christine said that Tom has softened over the years and that his old self would never have believed that he’d be watching (and enjoying!) Dancing with the Stars with her.
Valerie and Michael met in 1976 when Michael was the stage designer for the Pacific Ballet and Valerie was “their new ‘modern’ choreographer.” Michael went to see Valerie perform so he could work out the lighting, and Valerie describes their instant chemistry as a “bolt of electricity.” Valerie went on to explain: “Unfortunately, we were both married at the time to other people, so it was a mini scandal, but we worked that out, obviously.” Obviously.
The two were married on May 20, 1979. Valerie joked that they had an astronomical budget of $1,500. The couple have two children together and a stepdaughter. Michael told me, “We came to San Francisco not to make money, but to be part of a creative landscape that existed here at that time. And we never stopped. Every day Valerie wakes up with a new idea, and after all these years, we still delight in bringing these ideas into the light together.”
Stacy and Nancy met in the dorms at Chico State in 1974 and were married on April 16, 1983. The couple described their wedding as “awesome.” They had a traditional service at the chapel at Fort Mason and a reception at the Fort Mason Officers Club. They paid for their wedding themselves so they could do what they wanted, like have the Marin All Stars as their band.
“We have been best friends before and after we got married,” said Stacy. “We love doing things together. Kinda corny but the truth.” When I asked Stacy how his wife had changed since they’d been married, he answered, “Hmm, my wife is as beautiful and fun as ever and continues to make the world a better place. Me, I just continue to learn from her.”
Laura & Michael met at Nikki’s BBQ in the Lower Haight in 1989. Michael asked Laura to dance and they spent the rest of the night talking about their lives. They talked in great detail about what each of them could see when they looked out of their office windows, but Laura never said exactly where her office was. When the night ended, Michael gave Laura his card, but she never called him. A week later he showed up at her office after he had carefully figured out where she worked based on their earlier conversation.
Michael described the same night to me in a separate correspondence: He had gone out with two of his female roommates who “often took great pains to try to match me up with their friends or random women. They asked me to pick out someone in the bar I could be interested in. After I pointed Laura out, my roommates insisted that I ask her to dance. In fact, as I think about it, I think they refused to talk to me until I asked her to dance. Eventually I did. Within 10 minutes of chatting with her I knew that she was someone I could marry.”
The two were married at St. Vincent de Paul Church in 1992 and Laura describes it as “crazy fun and very Italian.” At the reception, Laura cut piles of fabric out of her wedding dress to make it easier to get around, and for their first dance Michael and Laura dressed up like Sonny and Cher and sang I Got You Babe. The rock star couple left the church in a black, 1950s-era Moto Guzzi motorcycle with sidecar and never looked back.
Christina and Michael met on Craigslist, but not in the section you'd think. Christina responded to Michael’s apartment listing. They were instantly drawn to each other and flirted through the whole interview. Michael said, “I thought she was great and should get the room. My more wise roomies said, ‘Hell no, ask her out.’” Christina didn’t get the room, but she found a place on the other end of Upper Haight. They spent the first year of their courtship walking through the Haight to each other's places. “We'll always be so fond of that neighborhood because of that era,” Christina said.
The two were married on September 5, 2010, in Golden Gate Park. Christina’s only regret was that her phone rang while she was reading her vows (the Bi-Rite chicken was ready). Michael and Christina both said their favorite thing about being married is having a teammate. Christina said, “It's so nice to know you can always come home to someone who gets you, loves you, and values you.”
Sarah and Nat met five years ago at a housewarming party and were drawn to each other right away. Unfortunately, Sarah was dating someone at the time so the two didn’t get together until a little while later and found that their chemistry hadn’t dwindled. They were married two years ago and described their wedding as the best one ever. They explained, “Being lesbians (meaning we didn't have a ton of money), we picked a local San Francisco bar owned by a lesbian (El Rio). We had it catered by Sarah Kirnon (another lesbian) who made us awesome Southern comfort food.”
When I asked Natalie her favorite thing about being married, she said she never thought she’d get married so it all seems awesome to her. The couple share a business and say, “We are able to achieve our individual and collective dreams much easier because of the support.” Sarah said she loves being a "we" even though she’s an independent person. She told me, “Being Natalie's wife has made me a better person and it has taught me to be more kind, more empathetic, and more understanding. Marrying her was the best decision I've ever made and I love her with all of my being.”
Rocio and Juan met at Loló in the Mission. He was working and she was a regular. It was and still is her favorite restaurant. They were married at City Hall on June 20, 2011. They had a simple wedding and didn’t want to celebrate at the beginning, but wound up having lunch with some friends and then celebrating with more people at Specchio Ristorante in the Mission. Rocio’s favorite thing about being married is sharing her day with the person she loves. Rocio said both she and her husband have changed in good ways. They’ve both learned how to respect the other person and “change those little details that you can do when you are living by yourself but can really bother your partner.”