When Kevin Romero and Philip Maziarz got engaged, it wasn't very exciting or even a truly memorable moment.
"Illinois had just legalized gay marriage before Christmas 2013 and both of our families were wondering when we would make it official," Romero said. "Around that time, while sitting at dinner, we decided that getting married made sense.
"Then after Christmas, we went to Puerto Vallarta with friends and we ended up getting engaged while sitting on a couch next to each other."
Maziarz was browsing wedding venues and their friends asked if they were engaged. They looked at each other and said, "No"because neither had proposed.
So right then and there Maziarz asked Romero if he wanted to get married.
Romero replied, "Sure."
"It's not a very exciting story," Romero admitted.
But their wedding, wow, it was an amazing story, an unbelievable tale, one worth Hollywood writers.
"We had lots of varied plans [for a wedding]some were extravagant destination weddings, such as Puerto Rico, Yellowstone or Napa; some were super-practical, [such as just] getting married at the courthouse when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage; and some were crazy, [like being a part of a] bulk gay wedding, married by Art Smith on the [TV] show Top Chef," Romero said. "The plans kept changing because, in many ways, we already felt like we were marriedwe had a condo, cars, and dogs together.
"We talked about lots of different scenarios, but the overarching theme was that Philip wanted a small wedding and I wanted something over-the-top."
Romero wonand, boy, did he go over-the-top.
He conceived, planned and executed a surprise wedding.
On Dec. 19, they were married at Firehouse Chicago, with 58 guests attending, including family from London, Long Island, Florida, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix and Santa Fe; plus friends from Miami, New York City, Madison, Scottsdale and, of course, Chicago.
Maziarz didn't know that morning that he'd be married that evening.
Romero, 34, works as a director of healthcare information technology at NorthShore University HealthSystems. He also boast the glamorous title of "Miss Andersonville 2015" and is a cast member with pH Comedy Theater. So Romero told Maziarz that he was hosting the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce 50th-anniversary holiday party and performing with pH.
Maziarz believed he was being "forced" to attend.
"I had also planned our going-away party on Facebook, so he thought that was occurring later that evening," Romero said. ( The two are moving to New York City this winter for two years. )
"The reality was, we were getting married, having dinner, and then having a combined wedding reception/going-away party."
Romero opted for Vincent since that is Maziarz' favorite restaurant. Then he had to determine the venue for the ceremony and the reception, and he chose the Firehouse Chicago in Andersonville.
Then it was a lot of liesfor monthsby Romero, he admitted with a smile.
"I misled Philip about a few things," Romero said. "If people know me, they know that I am a talker and I love to share, so this was perhaps the biggest challenge of my life.
"My [then]-soon-to-be sister-in-law helped out a ton with the wedding planning. She helped pick out photographers and decorations and vendors, and she did it all from London. So I would speak with her nearly every day to and from work to talk about what needed to be accomplished and by when. One benefit of Philip traveling for work was that I could work on components of the wedding while he was away."
There certainly were challenges along the way, Romero admitted. Such as, who knew what.
"The biggest internal challenge I had was that I couldn't share accomplishments with Philip," Romero said. "I had to remind myself that keeping the secret would be worth the outcome."
And yes, the secret was nearly leaked several times, such as the time their mailman tried to deliver a box which had their seating assignment cards, even though it was addressed to a friend down the street.
"He was being helpful in that the box had my name on it and he was confused that it had a different address," Romero said. "The funny thing about [that delivery issue] was that Philip told me that our friend must have bought me a Christmas present and that the mailman was trying to deliver the package to us."
Their surprise wedding even survived Facebook. Romero had to ask out-of-towners to not share their travel plans on social media.
More so, "everyone helped out by throwing Philip off," Romero said.
So, why do it?
Why not, Romero replied.
"After purchasing our condo, Philip and I had to pick out tile, paint colors and cabinet styles. I saw how much Philip would put pressure on himself to make the best choice for those things," Romero said. "Keeping that in mind, I thought preparing for a regular wedding would take a lot out of Philip to get all of the pieces just right. So when I solidified the plan with his sister, we thought that in many ways, this would take a huge burden off of his shoulders."
When Maziarz arrived at what he thought was a holiday party, Romero, who had arrived earlier and already changed into his wedding attire, took Maziarz' hand, told him how much he loved him and that he couldn't imagine life without him. Romero then got down on one knee and asked if Maziarz would marry him … and if he would marry him in 15 minutes.
With tears in his eyes, Maziarz agreed.
Maziarz was then sent to a dressing room to change, as Romero had already even planned his change-of-clothes for the wedding.
Ultimately, Maziarz's parents walked him down the aisle while a guitarist and violinist played Adele's When We Were Young.
Ryan Ruskin and Michael Andrews, who introduced Romero and Maziarz back in 2008, officiated the ceremony.
"Rather than doing traditional readings, I had friends perform funny and emotional/poignant lines from our favorite movies, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage," Romero said. "The ceremony was designed to express our love for one another, and to also show that weddings can be fun, emotional and surprising. While weddings are intended to celebrate the couple, weddings are also a celebration of families and of friendships. Having people witness the re-proposal, participate and witness the ceremony, and celebrate with us throughout the evening was an honor."
And yes, Maziarz was truly surprised.
"Kevin's desire to create the wedding I always wanted was a completely selfless act of love," Maziarz said. "He made me feel unconditional love, made me cry, made me laugh, and made me feel the way I felt when I knew he was the one.
"There were things that came up over the week [leading up to the wedding] that I thought were strange, but none of them together would have led to me to believe I was going to get married that day. I was surprised that one of Kevin's best friend's from New York City was coming into town, but it was not uncommon for him and his husband to visit to see old friends. I also thought it was strange that some of my friends didn't want to go out to dinner with us after our friend's master's program graduation the night before. They had good reasons why they couldn't go, but they are usually the ones that want to go out."
Maziarz said he wouldn't have changed a thing.
"I must have said 'This is crazy' and 'You're crazy' a thousand times the night of our wedding. It was crazy because I never imagined so many people would go out of their way to make Kevin and me so happy. I thought Kevin was crazy because he made so many of my dreams come true and made me so happy to have found the person that I want to spend the rest of my life. I always knew Kevin was the one and the events of that night showed all the most important people in our lives the same."
Maziarz is now responsible for their honeymoon, the two agreedand there's pretty much no chance Romero will know anything about it beforehand. "I feel that I need to keep up with the theme and make the location and events of our honeymoon a surprise," Maziarz said.
And do you plan to get even with Kevin?
"I don't think I could ever top this," said Maziarz, 35, who is a managing director with Protiviti. "There are only a few events in our lives that are truly special, so I'm limited in my options … but who knows … I might be able to get back at him one day."