She was from Maine and he was from California, but when Zmira Zilkha and Ward Wolff were both admitted in 2005 to Middlebury College in Vermont, a friend that he knew from high school and that she knew from summers in Prouts Neck, Maine, made sure that the two connected.
“We happened to be put in the same dorm,” Ms. Zilkha said. “He knocked on my door and came in and introduced himself.”
Her room was tiny, she said, and so she soon found herself spending the nights on a futon in a room Mr. Wolff shared. But their relationship was strictly platonic.
“I think we both always had a crush on each other,” said Ms. Zilkha, now 34 and studying for a doctoral degree in art history at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. “There was always something between us.”
Mr. Wolff says that he recognized early in their friendship that she was special. “She cares very deeply about the people who are very close with her, and that’s something I always felt as a friend,” he said. “Also, she has an infectious laugh and smile, and she can just lose her mind when she thinks something is funny.”
In their junior year of college, when she was abroad in Florence, Italy, and he was in Buenos Aires, they had an exchange on Facebook. “It was totally random,” she said. “He said, ‘So I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I should ask you to marry me.’”
“I said, ‘Don’t tempt me, Wardie. I just might say yes.”
In their senior year, they had a romance that lasted just a few days. Both say it took a long time for their friendship to recover.
“It wasn’t the right time,” said Ms. Zilkha, who will continue to use her name professionally but will change her legal surname to Wolff. “The irony is that we both now admit we had strong feelings for each other at the time.”
After they each graduated from Middlebury, both magna cum laude, they launched off into the world. She went to Europe, where she received a master’s degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and after bouncing back and forth between New York and San Francisco, he landed on the East Coast, receiving an M.B.A. from N.Y.U. in 2017.
“We stayed in touch,” said Mr. Wolff, 34 and the associate director, in Los Angeles, of Upstart Co-Lab, an impact investing organization and a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
In December 2017, at a weekend-long birthday party of a mutual friend in Saugerties, N.Y., the two found themselves suddenly together again.
“We were playing a game of sardines, which is hide-and-go-seek, completely in the dark,” said Mr. Wolff. “And at one point, we just started holding hands in the dark. And not long afterward, had our first kiss.”
A few weeks later, after the holidays, on a “first date” in Brooklyn that both came to with some trepidation, they had a frank conversation about their aspirations and their hopes and their values. They found they were aligned.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone with as much integrity,” Ms. Zilkha said.
The right time for the couple had finally come, and on July 18, just outside the Joshua Tree National Park in California, the two were married in a ceremony led by Victoria Hogan, a Universal Life minister. They canceled their original plan for a big wedding in Prouts Neck, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It just kind of felt like from the exact moment we first kissed, it was obvious that there was no other outcome,” Ms. Zilkha said. “It just felt like I was home.”