Family and friends thought they were nuts, but after three weeks they knew they had found what they wanted.
By DENISE WATSON BATTS
Published February 13, 2004
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Elissa Saperstein, right, embraces her husband, Matthew Saperstein, outside their South Tampa home recently. Elissa and Matthew dated for 23 days before getting engaged. Story
BALLAST POINT - Elissa Graham and Matthew Saperstein will share their first Valentine's Day together as a married couple tomorrow.
Last year this time, they were engaged.
The year before, they were strangers.
The two hadn't really spoken to one another until they met for a dinner date Aug. 15, 2002. But 23 days later, they were betrothed.
Family and friends thought they were nuts.
So why talk marriage so soon?
"We knew things were getting serious," Elissa said about their whirlwind romance, "and something had to be done."
* * *
Neither saw love coming.
Matthew moved to South Tampa from Long Island in January 2000, looking for computer work in a warmer and slower-paced climate. Elissa had lived in Atlanta for 10 years but often returned to her hometown of St. Petersburg to visit family.
Both were regulars on jdate.com, an online dating service for Jewish people. She wanted someone who loved family. He wanted someone who liked fishing and the outdoors. Matthew, now 33, and Elissa, now 29, had tired of the bar scene and had a difficult time finding Jewish mates. They'd met interesting people but not the one. Not yet.
During the summer of 2002, Elissa began planning an August trip to Florida before heading off to San Diego where she'd accepted a job in pharmaceutical sales. She logged onto jdate.com to arrange a dinner date during her five-day visit.
Up popped Matthew's photo with his stats, one of the most important being his height: 6-foot-3.
"I thought he was cute," Elissa said. "And tall. I'm 5'-10" and it's hard to find a tall Jewish guy."
They e-mailed back and forth, she sending photos, he sending possible dates and times. Her schedule seemed too jammed, and she was about to blow him off.
Then he shot her a message: "Do you want to meet me or not?"
Bold man, she thought. She liked it.
Elissa got into town the week of the 11th, told her parents she was going to meet this guy for dinner, and they demanded to meet him. Elissa called Matthew with the new stipulation. It embarrassed her. He took it in stride.
He arrived promptly at 8:30 p.m., met the parents, then the two went for dinner at The Garden in St. Petersburg.
"I remember him looking at me at the table, and I knew there was something about this guy," Elissa said.
Matthew felt something stirring as well. "It was like sitting with an old friend."
They listened to music, talked into the wee hours and Matthew returned her home around 6 a.m.
By the time Elissa woke up a couple of hours later, Matthew had sent an e-mail asking for another date. She was at lunch with her mother when he called her on her cell phone to discuss plans.
She got off the phone, looked at the ceiling, and announced to her mother: "I'm not going to California."
Her mom thought it bizarre. Elissa did too. She didn't think it was love but knew she couldn't move so far away.
"I felt I shouldn't give up this opportunity," Elissa said. "I've always figured it was easier to find a job than to find the right guy."
The two spent the next few days together, Elissa canceling her plans to fly back to Atlanta four times before finally leaving. Matthew flew to San Francisco the next day for a guys-only trip he'd planned months before. The whole trip, he and Elissa spent most of the time on the phone.
Matthew flew to Atlanta 10 days later to spend Labor Day weekend with her. They knew they to be together, permanently.
Matthew flew back to Tampa Sept. 3, and Elissa followed two days later for the High Holy Days. Before she arrived, Matthew invited her father to lunch. He asked him permission to marry his daughter, and the two went searching for a ring.
Elissa had no idea.
Matthew made plans for a getaway on Siesta Key but, "I'd picked up the ring and couldn't wait."
That Sunday, Sept. 8, the two were at his apartment and he suggested they stroll to the patio with a bottle of champagne.
There, he said softly, "You make me happy, and I want to spend my life with you."
Elissa blurted: "Yes. Do you have a ring?"
He did. He pulled out the three-carat princess cut.
* * *
The two married May 24, 2003. Matthew started his own technical consulting company, which he runs out of their Ballast Point townhome. Elissa never went back to sales. She looked briefly at taking jobs here, but they would've required her to go out-of-town for three weeks of training.
The couple couldn't bear to be apart.
Elissa's job is taking care of Matthew, she said, and she loves it. They'll start planning a family in May, their anniversary month.
They often get asked about their brief courtship. They always respond that it was long enough for them to realize they'd found what they wanted.
"I didn't want to have to settle," Elissa said. "I feel like I have it all with Matthew."