Michelle Robertson and Gavan Dunleavy
June 2, 2018, in Philadelphia
Rumors of Gavan's crush on Michelle had passed around their fourth-grade class for months when he approached her on the St. Matthew's schoolyard one recess in the late 1990s.
"Can I have your phone number?" Gavan asked the girl he found so pretty.
At home, with his 9-year-old heart racing, Gavan pushed the last digit and the rings began. But the elderly woman who answered did not know Michelle. The number was a fake.
To Michelle, Gavan was no different from every other boy she knew: Not that interesting.
"I was just not having a boy call my house," she said.
His first taste of heartbreak was short-lived. The next year, Gavan left St. Matthews and Mayfair for St. Michael the Archangel and Levittown, Bucks County.
It would take two more years for Michelle to decide boys weren't so bad, after all.
Elementary, middle, high school, and most of college had passed by when Ken-from-the-old-neighborhood reached out to some former elementary school buddies on Facebook. He asked Michelle if she remembered the boy who moved away, Gavan Dunleavy. "Of course I remember him!" Michelle said.
Gavan couldn't place Michelle until Ken described her as "the girl you had a crush on in third, fourth and fifth grade, until you moved." Soon after, he accepted her friend request, and they messaged through Facebook. Then Michelle gave Gavan her number — the real one this time. He told her about his studies at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he majored in marine transportation. She told him about hers at Moore College of Art and Design, where she majored in fashion design.
It was Ken who suggested the three of them get together when Gavan was home one April weekend in 2010. During dinner and drinks, conversation — and sparks — flew between Michelle and Gavan.
"Ken couldn't get a word in," Gavan said. Each was fascinated by the other's chosen career and determination to succeed, and they shared an obsession with Seinfeld.
"He was going back to Massachusetts after that night, and he wasn't coming home until he graduated in June," Michelle said. They talked every day.
"Will you come to my senior fashion show?" Michelle asked him. "Will you come to graduation?"
What Gavan thought: "Wow, graduation. That's pretty heavy for this soon."
What he said: "OK, I'll go!"
Michelle fell for Gavan's sense of humor, his ambition, and his good looks, but even more so, for how she feels when she's with him. "He's just my best friend," said Michelle, 29, now a designer of pants, shorts, and skirts for Destination Maternity. "We're almost like the same person."
"It's almost scary sometimes," agreed Gavan, now 30. As a Merchant Marine on the cusp of captain-hood, he's at sea for 40 days at a time on ships including the MV Houston, then home for 40 days. "We really only see each other half of the year, but that causes us to make every single moment count when we're both at home," he said.
When he's away, they mostly email. But when his ship nears a land mass such as Key West, he's topside "with all the guys on the left-hand side of the ship, with our cellphones in the air."
The couple loves to ski, and Gavan planned a New Year's Eve weekend in Mont Tremblant, Montreal. On Dec. 31, 2014, they were walking through the little village to dinner when he suggested a short detour down a quieter path. "You're the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I love you so much," he told Michelle.
Before she could fully absorb the meaning of his words, Gavan punctuated them with a kneel, and held out a ring.
What happened next is a blur for both. "Somewhere in there, I said yes," Michelle laughs.
Shortly after their engagement, the couple bought their Yardley home.
Gavan and Michelle married at the church affiliated with their old elementary school, St. Matthews. They asked Cantor Kyle from Gavan's church in Levittown to sing the Mass. "Some of the songs were ones we had to sing in school," Michelle said. A trumpeter played "Canon in D Major" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Photos of Michelle's late grandparents were placed on her bouquet.
The reception for 150 was held at the Ballroom at Ellis Preserve in Newtown Square — a venue they booked while it was still under construction. They saw the potential in the renderings, and were glad to work with Finley Catering. "Their food is amazing," Gavan said.
Nautical touches included an anchor-shaped ice sculpture and groom's cake replica his favorite ship — a surprise from the bride. Gavan loved it. "I was shocked. It was so detailed, and even the colors were spot on," he said. Besides, "It was a chocolate pound cake with maple filling, and the back part of it was a Rice Crispies treat — everything I love in one dessert."
The church's aisle is so long that Gavan couldn't see Michelle very well at first. "But when she got to the middle, I could see how beautiful she looked walking up with her dad," he said. "I was very happy that the day finally came, and that it was just the start of a great day and a great life ahead."
The moment was just as amazing from the other end of the aisle, Michelle said. "We had been engaged for 3½ years, so it was a long time coming, and I was so, so happy that the moment was finally here, that it was our time, and that we were going to become husband and wife."
A bargain: None on that day. "We budgeted hard for the past couple of years, and saved rigorously so we could just have everything we wanted," Gavan said.
The splurge: Because Michelle works in fashion-world, she knows the good stuff when she sees it. "I was not skimping on my dress," she said. Her groom didn't skimp, either: Gavan's custom tux included his name and their wedding date in hidden embroidery.
A week of boating near the Isle of Capri, sunbathing while enjoying a view of Positano from their cliff-side patio, and eating as much as possible all around the Amalfi Coast of Italy.
Officiant: Father Patrick J. Welsh, S.L.L., St. Matthew Church, Philadelphia
Ceremony venue: St. Matthew Church
Reception venue: The Ballroom at Ellis Preserve, Newtown Square
Wedding cake: Termini Bakery, Philadelphia
Groom's cake: Velvet Sky Bakery, Jenkintown
Music: Mazz Entertainment, Cream Ridge, N.J.
Photography: Allie Wynands Photography, Philadelphia
Videography: Soft Focus Events, Philadelphia
Flowers: Katie's Bouquet Shop, Bryn Mawr
Dress: Hayley Paige, purchased at La Belle Mariee Bridal, Langhorne
Hair/Makeup: Karen Capcino, Philadelphia