For Chris Vasquez and Lawrence Neuhauser, a late night OkCupid date produced love at first sight.
“I thought, okay, probably another bad date but at least I’ll get a couple of drinks out of it,” Lawrence said of receiving Chris’ invitation to get together in January 2014. “The next day I basically moved in with him.”
But for the couple, the time between their September engagement that year and their wedding on September 4, 2016 was anything but a snap.
“That took forever,” Lawrence said of their preparations for the big day.
Ironically, the instant connection and the drawn-out wedding planning, in important respects, resulted from the very same qualities in the two men.
“We did everything ourselves,” Lawrence explained. “We picked out the flowers. We did the invitations by hand.”
And then Chris interjected, “Everything but the invitation cards themselves we did ourselves. Everything we wanted, we wanted to come from the heart. After the wedding, people said it was totally us and very welcoming.”
Chris added, “We wanted it to feel like home.”
Capturing the feeling of comfort and home is exactly the way the couple describe how they knew their relationship made sense from that first night.
“I think we pretty much knew right away,” Lawrence recalled. “It felt right and safe and easy. We felt at home with each other.”
Chris said of Lawrence, “He was like my rock right from the get-go. He is an amazing listener, and I am a very complicated person and he gets me. I fell for a guy who is quite possibly the nicest and sweetest man you will ever meet.”
Explaining that Lawrence lost both his parents at a very young age and that he is estranged from his father and has difficulties with his mother accepting their relationship, Chris said, “We both had the same exact goal — to settle down and have a dog family.”
With no immediate thought of raising children, Chris and Lawrence are happy dads to Meeko, a year-and-a-half old dachshund mix.
The couple now have their home in Central Harlem, but their upbringing was very different
Lawrence, who was 35 on their wedding day, was raised by his grandparents in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, a small town about 35 miles north of Madison, while Chris, who was 39 the day they married, grew up in the East Village, where his father left the family when he was seven.
Lawrence first came to New York in 2011, with the hopes of working as a professional dancer. In a career that breaks a lot of hearts, Lawrence found success, dancing on Broadway, in touring shows, and on cruise ships. His most recent gig was dancing with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the renowned drag ballet corps established four decades ago here in New York. Ever since the company received a rave review in the New Yorker, it has toured the world to wide acclaim.
Professionally satisfying as that work was, for Lawrence it had definite drawbacks.
“I traveled a lot,” he explained with no hint of wanderlust in his voice. “I was only in the city one week a month.”
That transience is what led Lawrence to try OkCupid — and gave him a fairly low expectation for the dates that came his way. But when he struck gold with Chris, he decided to give up his dream of a professional dance career. Lawrence now works for a private equity firm, while Chris is in human resources at an Internet-based marketing and web consulting company.
When a couple live together and express the depth of connection that both Chris and Lawrence attest to, it may be no surprise that marriage is in the cards. But Chris managed to turn his proposal into something pretty unexpected and pretty great. Seeing a Facebook posting that the “Rachel Ray” show was looking for audience members interested in proposing, he responded.
“A producer called me almost immediately, and we did it on Sept 16th,” Chris wrote in an email follow-up to our interview.
Six couples in all got engaged on the show, and “RR even supplied the rings,” Chris wrote. “It was so much fun. Completely TERRIFYING, but fun.”
Best of all: “Lawrence had no idea.”
Those RR rings, the couple decided, would be the last thing about their wedding that they didn’t personally have a hand in. Confident in their knowledge of themselves and what they wanted, they plunged into a two-year DIY party planning slog.
The biggest task, of course, was finding a venue.
“We did a lot of, a lot of research online,” Chris recalled.
In the end, they chose Harding’s, an East 21st Street Flatiron District restaurant whose cuisine and décor celebrate Americana. The restaurant scored the number one spot on an online survey of cheap wedding venues in New York City the couple stumbled upon.
Chris and Lawrence were set, however, to slap down a deposit on another venue just at the moment they first spoke to Harding’s.
“The owners were amazing,” Lawrence said. “We had dinner there…” –– at which point, Chris interrupted to say, “It was industrial, gritty but elegant, and the food was outrageous. We wanted a dance floor, and they just said we can remove the chairs.”
The result, the couple said, worked out perfectly for the 85 people who attended the wedding.
Getting those 85 people to the same spot at the same time was the other big hurdle Chris and Lawrence faced. Lawrence has strong ties to his family in Wisconsin, and having them at the wedding was important enough to him that the couple briefly contemplated two celebrations — one here and one in — and why not? — Pardeeville.
The solution was a holiday weekend, so last Labor Day, Chris Vasquez and Lawrence Neuhauser Vasquez finally said their vows.
The bridal party included two officiants — Chris’ best friend, Lisa DaSilva, and Lawrence’s best friend, Janelle Junio, in town from Los Angeles.
Janelle’s offer to put together the boutonnieres for the two men made for a particularly poignant moment on the wedding day. For Lawrence’s boutonniere, she included a small locket with pictures of the grandparents who raised him and the parents he lost as a small child opposite each other. Lawrence, meanwhile, had planned to surprise Chris with a similar locket with pictures of his mother and Harley, the couple’s first dog whom they had lost to a sudden illness in their first autumn together.
Meeko, their current canine, made an appearance on the wedding gift bag, where the young dachshund’s snout foregrounded a picture of Chris and Lawrence.
“He’s our entire life,” Chris said of Meeko.
For a photographer, Chris turned to a business card he had collected more than five years before at the wedding of a friend. Impressed by the work Sarah Tew did that day, he and Lawrence quickly decided on her for their own wedding, and her work graces these pages.
On the morning of their wedding, Chris and Lawrence dressed in their room at the Carlyle Hotel and posed for pictures in the nearby Upper East Side streets. Before they headed over to Harding’s for the festivities, they had one more task — a visit to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
“I had a dream that Lawrence was dancing for me on an empty stage while I was wearing a tuxedo,” Chris said.
Actually, both men were in formal wear as Lawrence danced on the iconic fountain.
“The tears from me is of that dream coming true,” Chris said. “I get chills every time I see that picture. He’s a magnificent dancer.”