Joey + Stephanie

“He seemed way out of my league when we were in high school. He was an MVP (years in a row!) and coaches award winning athlete in both football and basketball, AP student (smarty pants), and not to mention was elected best looking male in mock elections of our graduating class of 450 students. Talk about intimidating! I thought of him as some kind of a distant god: a combination of smart, talented, handsome, and most importantly genuinely kind…but much more of a ‘dream man’ than I thought possible for me. We sat directly next to each other in our AP Psychology class and were always friendly, striking up conversation despite being from different middle schools and different friend groups altogether, but nothing more than simply me SWEATING when talking to him, knowing that he was the most popular football player (he remembers this differently, of course, very humble…but it defeats the purpose of my story!). Years later, in our 4th and final year of college, we ran into each other back in our small hometown of Milford, where there’s really only 1 bar that brings the whole town together. We both roll our eyes at “meeting in a bar”, but it was truly much more than that: the bar was packed full of people neither of us had seen in 4+ years, being the night before Thanksgiving (coined the “biggest bar night of the year”), and we just happened to be pressed shoulder-to-shoulder in the crowd and decided to strike up a conversation that would inevitably last for the rest of our lives 🙂 it was truly serendipitous. We connected on so many levels of interest that we were shocked we hadn’t been best friends years prior, but it left so much room to learn about each other that we really do exactly that every single day. We found out in conversation that night that Joey would be moving just a mile away from me in Grand Rapids (where I was finishing up college) the very next month to begin a college internship, leaving us no excuse NOT to begin this beautiful relationship blossoming from a chance run-in. Everybody from our hometown knows that there is something about Milford that really brings people back to its circle, and we served as somewhat of a shock to the town once we started dating because of the two very large friend groups we connected. This is another thing Joey just thinks is so silly, but both of our friends liked to joke that we were “two different species” in high school, which just goes to show despite how “popular” Joey seemed when we were younger, the labels that are formed in high school can really disintegrate in our adult years when we are more defined by our individuality rather than our high school cliques. It’s a beautiful connection. Friendships formed and meshed and now our circle of relationships from high school feels like one huge family with no definitions and only a lot of love and fun!!!”

Joey’s proposal took the cake, as our meeting story is not very unique! My family comes from a small town in Italy around an hour outside of Rome. Pacentro, Abruzzi, home to approximately 1,200 olive oil-loving mountain dwellers that the Tollis’s call family, is the town where my father’s father was born and also where the love of my life asked me to marry him. August 6, 2016 was the very beginning of a family vacation (long planned for my parents, brother, and myself, with Joey as a well deserved latest addition) in order to celebrate the days surrounding my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary (August 9). To everyone’s knowledge but my own, this was also the day that Joey spent with jitters upon meeting several talkative (read: ITALIAN speaking) relatives for the first time – expected to taste even the slightest appreciations in wine delicacies – all whilst keeping a ring in his pocket and his *very* indecisive, jet-lagged girlfriend at bay with even what outfit to wear. It wasn’t until after a beautiful dinner and walk around the square adjacent to my grandfather’s birth home that Joey got down on one knee, where he reduced myself, the entire town, and most importantly, my father to tears of absolute gratitude. My father was overwhelmed visiting the town my grandfather left on earth with the memory of my grandfather’s passing in 2015 on the back burner of everyone’s mind. Many of the moments leading up to our Italian adventure were handled gently until the emotions erupted into prospect for lifetime happiness as he thanked Joey for his proposal of marriage and rejoiced in his own beautiful marriage with my mother. Needless to say, the vacation that was to come became the most memorable family connection I could ask for in light of beginning a family of my own!”


“If I could narrow down to two things I love about our relationship, it’s that we first and foremost really try to dissect each part of what makes us a good couple and honor that. We make an effort not only to think about why we love each other romantically, but also why we’re such good friends to one another. I mean it when I say we make an effort, because it’s not always natural or easy; anyone in a relationship knows we as humans can get so comfortable with one another that we find ourselves getting bossy more easily than we would with any of our other friends, or little things can slip out that don’t seem like criticisms but we know we’d shy away from saying to anyone but each other. We consciously address these things every day to make sure we are not only good friends, but also good roommates, good parents to our 2 kittens :), good siblings and children to our loving families, and good friends to those who support our love. I’ll admit Joey is much better at this than I am, because he is so effortlessly present!!! Secondarily, I’ll give us credit, because we are truly very good at thinking of everyone and everything with love and happiness, and we want to give that gift to everyone who crosses our path in life. We constantly remind each other what we are good at, what parts of our relationship are strong and celebrate that! Fun fact about us: we decided our favorite day of the week is Tuesday, so now every week, we consider Tuesday somewhat of a holiday and give ourselves an excuse to honor that day as if it were a celebration. We’ve even given each other small “Tuesday gifts” before! These little things are what I love about us, that we pick up on reasons to be happy and cling to those, and I think that everyone can benefit from doing that for each other!! Our motto: until further notice, celebrate everything!!!”

Similar Posts