Shayla Nastasi had just reached the end of a two-and-a-half-year relationship when she joined the dating website OkCupid in 2015.
“I went online basically for compliments,” said Ms. Nastasi, 31. “When you first start, all of a sudden you get a lot of people messaging you nice things. It’s a good way to kind of get your ego back.”
Her intent was to bask in the digital glow of her OkCupid admirers, though stopping short of accepting requests for real-life connection. But only two weeks into her ego-reinflation exercise she received a compliment from Steven Sze that caused her to rethink her no-dates policy.
“Steve was like, ‘Great cosplay! You look amazing,’” she said. Until then, reactions to an OkCupid photo of her dressed as Tifa from the video game “Final Fantasy” — black shorts, a white tank, suspenders and red gloves — were of the “Ooh, girl! You’re so sexy” variety. By contrast, Mr. Sze’s comment on the picture, taken during a 2012 visit to New York Comic Con, felt friendly and encouraging.
The sister of the bride, Ana Nastasi, touches her sister’s wedding dress, designed by BHLDN.CreditDavid La Spina for The New York Times
In posting the Tifa shot, she had unwittingly sent up a smoke signal to a kindred spirit: “I wanted to show that I was actually a real-live nerd,” said Ms. Nastasi, who is the associate manager of book conservation at the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He got the alert. “I consider myself a pretty nerdy guy,” Mr. Sze said.
Ms. Nastasi grew up in New Castle, Del., and Pennsville, N.J., Mr. Sze is from Worthington, Ohio. Both landed in New York to start careers — Ms. Nastasi after finishing college at the University of Delaware in 2011 and Mr. Sze after graduating from Ohio State University in 2009. Ms. Nastasi went to work in the Bronx for AmeriCorps, sometimes referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, to help with local hunger issues. Mr. Sze, 32, a senior designer at Richard Meier and Partners in Manhattan, had been accepted into Parsons School of Design on a path to becoming an architect, a title for which he is still earning his license.
Mr. Sze, who describes himself as deeply introverted as well as nerdy, pieced together as an undergraduate that architecture suited his personality. “I’ve always had an engineer’s mind-set but also the creative artist’s mind-set,” he said. “Architecture seemed like a way of melding those things.”
Ms. Nastasi, by contrast, was not entirely sure what she wanted her professional life to look like, but she knew it would have to satisfy her appetite for frequent and meaningful change. “I like to try new things, and I like to go big,” she said. That explains her shift from AmeriCorps to her stint as an event manager for Saucy by Nature, a catering company in Brooklyn, and eventually to the Thomas J. Watson Library. There she acts as a sort of air traffic controller for rare and damaged books, ensuring they are properly tagged and labeled after being repaired and recirculated.
Though Mr. Sze tends to follow straight lines professionally and Ms. Nastasi more circuitous ones, they established on their first date that their approach to new relationships ran a similar trajectory. They established it more like a dozen times, actually.
Over cocktails at the Shanty in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in February 2015, “every half-hour we were like, ‘Are you still having fun? You can bail anytime you want,’” Ms. Nastasi said. “I probably did most of the questioning. Because there’s nothing worse than going on a first date and not feeling it, but not knowing how to end it.”
Mr. Sze understood the impulse. “I’m not the most forthcoming or talkative person,” he said. “But I felt the same. I wanted to be sure she was enjoying herself.”
One cocktail at the Shanty turned into several before they moved on to Burnside, a bar closer to Mr. Sze’s apartment in Williamsburg. “The date lasted hours and hours,” Ms. Nastasi said. Topics of conversation included video games and their love of cats — Ms. Nastasi has two and Mr. Sze one. When Mr. Sze finally walked Ms. Nastasi to the G train for her commute home to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, neither was sure how to express their elation over how the night had gone.
“We kind of didn’t know how to part ways,” Mr. Sze said. “So we just sort of said, ‘We’re so awkward,’ and ran away from each other,” Ms. Nastasi said. For her, the mutual acknowledgment of social uncertainty was comforting. “I felt like, Wow, we navigate the world in the same way.”
Within 24 hours, they were making plans for their next date, at El Almacen, an Argentine steakhouse. Both were too nervous to concentrate on the menu, so they ended up with plates heaped with meat, not realizing they were supposed to order side dishes. But food, by then, was beside the point. In the few days since she had met Mr. Sze, Ms. Nastasi found she couldn’t stop smiling. “It was that heady first stage of love — I couldn’t wait to see him,” she said. By the end of their second date, which ended with the kiss they were too shy to lean into days earlier, she knew she wanted to commit to him for life.
That kind of certainty came easier to Ms. Nastasi than to Mr. Sze. While she had been in several committed relationships, Mr. Sze had never had a serious girlfriend. “He might have brought home a girl from high school once,” recalled his older brother, Kevin Sze. “But that’s about it.”
For someone who wasn’t used to negotiating the contours of romance, though, Mr. Sze was quick to accept the role of boyfriend. After the steakhouse date, they saw each other daily, biking the 10 minutes between Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy for dates and the occasional home-cooked meal, including one that Ms. Nastasi recalls for its thoughtfulness.
“He wanted to make me breakfast, but he didn’t know what kind of pancakes I liked so he bought both chocolate chips and blueberries,” she said. “We just wanted to be with each other all the time, and be with each other’s cats.” His cat, Macky, is female; hers, Orion and Oolie, are both males.
By the end of 2015, Mr. Sze had traveled to Delaware to meet Ms. Nastasi’s family, including her brothers, Nico Nastasi and Jesse Hassler; her parents, Billi Jo Moran and Nicola Nastasi, who divorced when she was a toddler; and her stepmother, Christine Nastasi, the mother of her 11-year-old sister, Ana. Ms. Nastasi had also met Mr. Sze’s parents, Irene and Cedric Sze, who still live in Worthington, as well as his brothers, Kevin and Brian Sze.
Each new meeting elicited a similar response, especially among Mr. Sze’s friends and family. “Steve has always been a man of few words,” Kevin Sze said. “Anytime we take a picture he’s always got this serious look on his face. You tell him to smile and he barely gives you anything.” But all that changed, he said, by the time his brother introduced his family to Ms. Nastasi. “She’s opened him up. You can see emotion in him now, and joy.”
Mr. Sze also remained patient and quietly attentive. In the summer of 2016, when the couple moved to a new place in Bed-Stuy, he soothed Macky into her new blended cat family with Orion and Oolie. “And he never complained about the longer commute from Bed-Stuy,” Ms. Nastasi said. He also was careful to uphold new traditions they were establishing as a couple, like celebrating their anniversary on Super Bowl Sunday.
“We don’t have any special feelings about the Super Bowl, but if you go to a restaurant that day with no TV, you get really good service,” Ms. Nastasi said.
On Feb. 4, 2018, Mr. Sze planned for an anniversary dinner at the restaurant Casa Publica, then drinks at the Wythe Hotel. Months before, he had recruited Ms. Nastasi’s friend Carolyn Cleveland to accompany him on an engagement ring shopping mission.
“I needed Carolyn because I went alone at first, and when the person at the jewelry store asked what I needed help with I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth,” Mr. Sze said. With Ms. Cleveland’s help, he eventually bought a rose gold three-diamond ring at Catbird, a Williamsburg boutique. Before the Super Bowl Sunday anniversary date, he tucked the ring in his pocket.
On a rainy, post-dinner walk through McCarren Park on the way to the Wythe, Mr. Sze dropped to one knee and let loose a flurry of words. “Honestly I can’t remember what I said besides quoting Chandler from ‘Friends,’” he said. “It was something along the lines of, ‘You make me happier than I’ve ever thought I could be.’”
“I was like, ‘Nerd!,’” Ms. Nastasi said upon hearing the “Friends” reference. But by the time he uttered the words, “Will you marry me?” she was overcome and in tears. “I screamed, ‘Yes!’ And honestly the rest of it is a blur. I just remember Steve pointing out how beautiful the rain looked in the streetlights.”
March 31 was another rainy day, as 70 friends and family members gathered at Threes at Franklin and Kent, a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, brewery, for Ms. Nastasi and Mr. Sze’s wedding.
After greeting each guest near the bar, Ms. Nastasi and Mr. Sze slipped into a private room while their officiant, Sarah Royal, a Universal Life minister, hustled the crowd into a side room outfitted with a few chairs for family; most guests stood.
Ms. Nastasi, in a three-piece ivory dress from BHLDN that she said she chose for its elegant, whimsical look, walked down a makeshift aisle with her father. Mr. Sze, who preceded her in a dusty blue brushed wool suit custom made at Brooklyn Tailors, was accompanied by both his parents, one on each arm. Three bridesmaids and three groomsmen, including Ms. Cleveland and Kevin Sze, were awaiting them.
After an introduction by Ms. Royal and readings by friends — first a selection from David Levithan’s novel “Every Day,” and then the Margaret Atwood poem “Habitation” — Mr. Sze and Ms. Nastasi read vows they wrote themselves. Mr. Sze started by saying, “I have never been great with words.” But after a few pauses for tears, he convinced the room otherwise. “Whether we’re at the top of a mountain or three seasons deep into a Netflix marathon, I will be at your side,” he said, closing with “I love you and I like you.” Ms. Nastasi, who also fought tears, said, “You love me and our cats with intensity and fullness. And I know you will bring that to everything we endeavor.”
Ms. Royal advised the couple to “collect all the good moments like Pokemon,” before she pronounced them married. And then came the afternoon’s only hint that Mr. Sze and Ms. Nastasi might, in fact, share a nerdy tendency: Before they recessed down the aisle, they performed an elaborate secret handshake, complete with finger wiggles.