Kyle D'Ascenzo and Avinash Raizada
August 11, 2018, in Philadelphia
Avinash and Kyle met through an online dating site in summer 2010. They laughed at each other's sarcastic humor. They bonded over a shared commitment to family, friendship, and hard work. They saw each other regularly, at one of their Washington apartments or the other, for two years.
All of that without ever going on a real date.
Avinash would suggest dinner, or some other date-type event out in the world. Kyle, who is from Morton, gave noncommittal answers that really meant no.
Kyle had known for years that he is gay without accepting and embracing that part of his identity enough to truly live it. That meant he couldn't pursue a relationship with anyone. But he couldn't bring himself to stop seeing this kind, funny, and smart man, either. Avinash, born and raised in the Detroit suburbs, found the reclusive nature of their get-togethers and the lack of romantic progression frustrating. Yet he so enjoyed Kyle's confidence and company, and it sure seemed like Kyle felt the same. Avinash persuaded himself to give Kyle more time.
They were stuck.
Then in 2012, Avinash spent a month in Michigan helping his sister pull together the final details of the big, traditional Indian wedding he'd helped her plan. Kyle felt lonely in his absence and began to think about a less obvious loneliness — he wasn't fully with Avinash even when they were together. "There has been this great guy right in front of me for two years!" Kyle thought. He knew things needed to change. He called Avinash: "When you come back, let's go on a real date. Let's have dinner."
Avinash laughs now at how quickly he said yes. "When the person you've been wanting to spend time with says he wants to go on a date with you … I didn't even think about it."
They had spicy tofu in Arlington, and found conversation flowed as wonderfully in public as it had in private. "It was very nice to be together, to continue that great connection we had, and to formalize it," said Kyle, who is now 30. "It was comforting, like coming home," said Avinash, now 37. "After that date, we spent every other night going out together, or he'd come over and we'd cook, for the rest of the summer."
Within two months, they were in love. Six months later, with each other's emotional support, both told their sisters, parents, and best friends that they are gay. "There's just nowhere we would rather be than right next to each other," Kyle said.
True, but not always possible. Avinash moved to the Caribbean for med school for a year, then, deciding medicine wasn't for him, he moved back to D.C., where he is a management consultant for Deloitte. In 2014, he bought a place in Capitol Hill, and Kyle, who then did marketing for Hilton, moved in. The next year, Hilton presented Kyle with a wonderful opportunity that required six months in Singapore. Later that year, Kyle accepted his current position: marketing manager for Cadillac in New York City. The couple spends a lot of time on Amtrak, traveling between Kyle's Jersey City apartment and Capitol Hill.
In November 2017, Avinash called Kyle's mom, Debra, and dad, Gabriele, to tell them he planned to propose to their son and received an enthusiastic blessing. He invited his mom, Rekha, and dad, Ramesh to Philadelphia.
On a Saturday, Kyle and his parents and Avinash and his converged at Franklin Square — one of Kyle's favorite places. Avinash was randomly selected — or so Kyle thought — to give the countdown to start the Holiday Festival & Electrical Spectacle. Beyoncé, Kyle's favorite, poured from the speakers. Someone handed Avinash a microphone. Instead of counting down to the light show, he listed all the reasons he loves Kyle, and all the reasons he wanted to spend his life with him. Then he knelt.
Kyle was so focused on his boyfriend he didn't see his other people pouring out from their hiding places.
"Will you marry me?" Avinash asked. "Yes!" Kyle said.
The couple hugged, followed by many hugs from Kyle's grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and his and Avinash's sisters and best friends.
Realizing the festival was waiting on them, the couple stopped hugging long enough for a countdown.
Almost immediately, the planning for what Kyle calls a "big, fat, Indian-Italian gay wedding" began.
Wedding weekend began with a Friday night welcome reception at the National Liberty Museum in Old City. Saturday afternoon, the couple and their 140 guests participated in the baraat — a traditional Indian wedding procession that went from City Hall to the Union League. Avinash and his parents rode in a carriage pulled by a white horse while everyone else danced down Broad Street as a mobile DJ spun a mix of Indian and American tunes.
At their destination, ceremonies began with the milni: Avinash's mom dipped her finger in red powder and marked Kyle's forehead, welcoming him to the Raizada family. The couple's mothers, fathers, and grandparents all exchanged flower garlands, as did Kyle and Avinash.
The wedding was a mix of Christian readings and prayers and Hindu traditions, blended together by Journeys of the Heart officiant Diane Smith-Hoban, who was assisted by Hindu priest Satyanarayan Sharma. Kyle and Avinash walked together around a sacred fire that they helped build. Each of the four times they circled, Kyle's sister, Nicole, and Avinashi's sister, Nishi, and cousin, Gauri, gave the couple a handful of rice. The couple added the rice to the fire, its growth symbolizing their growing life together. They wore sherwanis, traditional Indian wedding attire, until the cocktail hour, when they changed into tuxedos.
The grooms launched the reception with a choreographed dance to the Spice Girls' "Spice Up Your Life." "Even though everyone was watching, it felt like it was just us, for really the whole time in those three days," Avinash said. Before it was over, their guests were also on the floor.
"I've never seen my dad dance so much — and he's 84!" Avinash said.
Avinash's cousin, who owns a dance company in Florida, performed an Indian-style dance to a medley of Michael Jackson songs.
"Welcome to the family," Avinash's mom, Rekha, said as she placed the red powder on Kyle's forehead. She, Avinash's dad, Ramesh, and his uncle Brijesh beamed, and a whole host of new in-laws clapped. Kyle will never forget the palpable sense of acceptance and love. "I remember exactly how I felt — that this was exactly how it was meant to be, with us and our families together, and that everything was perfect," he said.
As a teenager and young adult, Avinash never dreamed of getting married. How could he? "Maybe I would have a domestic partner, but marriage was not allowed," he said. He thought of that as he walked down the aisle with his parents, and then stood at the top, waiting for Kyle. "There I was, marrying Kyle, having a blended Hindu and Christian ceremony, with our family and friends all around me," he said. "It was so powerful."
A bargain: Avinash loves a good retail hunt. During some wedding events, he sported a beige Burberry tie acquired at Nordstrom Rack for one penny.
The splurge: Despite the plethora of free-to-use chairs at the Union League, Kyle persuaded Avinash they needed to rent Chiavari chairs for $8 each.
Soon after the wedding, the couple traveled to Montenero di Bisaccia, Italy — the place where Kyle's dad lived until immigrating to the United States at 16. The trip had been in the works before their engagement, but when Kyle's uncles, aunts, and cousins learned he and Avinash would be visiting as newlyweds, they organized a surprise reception. About 50 people feted the couple at a restaurant overlooking the Adriatic Coast.
Photography: Adrienne Ingram, Element Photography, Medford.
Videography: Walter Cherkas, Muddysnow Productions, Philadelphia.
Makeup: Emily Stewart, Love N' Glow Bridal Makeup, Medford.