Say hi or keep biking by? Call the phone number or throw it away? Despite the offerings of self-help experts, there is no perfect formula for finding love.
We asked nine Toronto couples to tell us how they first met. Their stories are sweet, funny – and full of lust.
Barry Birnberg & Bert Bik, 19 years
Birnberg was a loud-mouthed New Yorker living in Canada. Speaking at an Edmonton conference for Dignity, a Roman Catholic gay group, he noticed Bik. Unlike so many other jean-and-plaid-wearing Edmontonians, Bik was dressed with European flare.
Over the next while, they spotted each other at Edmonton’s nightclubs and the third time, got to talking. Their first date two weeks later featured dancing, passionate sex and Birnberg’s admission that he was in love. Bik went home afterward, but called Birnberg at 2am.
“He said he loved me too,” says Birnberg, 60. “I trusted my instincts. My previous relationship was 23 years.” Bik, now 49, had also been married to a woman.
The first few years of the relationship had Birnberg flying back and forth between Edmonton and Toronto. The couple moved to Vancouver, but finally decided to set up home in Toronto.
“Our philosophy is to be honest and open. We’ve gone through lots of changes. Too many gay men aren’t patient,” says Birnberg.
Liz Marshall & Jennifer Moore, going on two years
Indie recording goddess Ani DiFranco brought Marshall, 30, and Moore, 37, together. Marshall was making a documentary on DiFranco and Moore knew the performer through DiFranco’s husband. They met after a show and then again at Buddies.
Marshall says she wasn’t immediately attracted to Moore – her own complicated love life was too distracting.
“She chased me,” Marshall says. “We got together and took my dog for a walk. We talked for a while. She was at the time seeing a guy, using me as a confidante.”
Marshall skirted the commitment issue for a while, but had a ring made for her sweetie. Moore moved in inApril 1999. It was living together that convinced the duo that the relationship would last a long time.
“We’re both busy doing creative things. We have a nice rhythm at home,” Marshall says.
Kenny Lee & Robert SanFelice, going on four years
Lee was a little drunk walking down Church St at 4am when a car pulled over.
“I had followed him all the way up Church. He was all in leather,” says the driver, SanFelice, 41.
“He was shivering,” says Lee, 32. “He thought I might hurt him.”
After a romp, they exchanged phone numbers. SanFelice threw Lee’s away, thinking it was a one-night stand.
Lee called about 10 days later for a date at the Barn. At first, Lee couldn’t remember what SanFelice looked like – too much long hair.
“On our third date, I shaved his head,” says Lee.
SanFelice was working in Sudbury. “Even a month after the relationship started, I’d miss him,” says Lee. A few months later, SanFelice moved to Toronto.
“I feel very stable, very comfortable,” says SanFelice.
Barbara Center & Kate Greco, going on seven years
Center and Greco met at a proverbial lesbian potluck. Center didn’t get a good look at Greco first, as the latter came late bearing a huge bouquet of flowers. They ended up sitting on the floor together, though, and Greco started telling stories.
“She’s trained as a professional clown,” says Center, 51. “She’s a natural entertainer and I’m attracted to charismatic people.”
The relationship sparked in that first encounter. Center reluctantly went line-dancing afterwards to get more of Greco, who is 47. They exchanged numbers and went on a date about a week later. It was a Buddhist meeting.
The two started dating regularly. Center had just come out of a 13-year marriage and was treading carefully. After a year-long courtship, they bought a condo/townhouse together, where they live with the younger of Center’s two sons.
Kevin Houlihan & Greg Giberson, six months
Giberson is Houlihan’s third boyfriend. Their eyes connected at a street dance last summer. Houlihan’s boyfriend at the time witnessed it and later conceded to Giberson: “I knew when you made eye contact I had lost him to you.”
When Houlihan and Giberson saw each other two weeks later at Fly, Giberson had a beard. Houlihan went up to him, said “Nice touch.” They talked but went home alone. Each was in a relationship; break-ups followed.
“He’s my true love for sure,” says Houlihan, 34. “In prior relationships, I moved in quickly. We took things slowly. We didn’t have sex for three weeks.”
The pair is very much alike: “It’s scary,” says Houlihan. Giberson, 27, is moving in next month.
Rosemary Little & Monica Wickeler, five years
Little worked in the flower shop at First Canadian Place. Wickeler worked at a nearby bakery coffee shop.
“I saw her there and found excuses to make small purchases. She found excuses to order flowers,” says Little, 35.
Nothing happened (though Wickeler says she caught Little checking out her ass one day) until they saw each other at a Strange Sisters performance. A period of casual flirting and not-so-casually becoming single ensued. They both thought it would be a fling. Then Little tagged along with Wickeler and her friends during a New Year’s Eve trip to Montreal. The duo ended up staying behind a few days on their own.
After dating a year, Wickeler, 34, subtly started the process of moving in with Little.
“She snuck in. Her bird arrived first,” says Little, who now owns Quince Flowers on King St E.
Julia Steinecke & Michelle DesRoches, going on five years
During the eight weeks of their women’s coming out group, Steinecke and DesRoches didn’t even think they had enough in common to be friends, never mind lovers. Steinecke was a cycling granola dyke; DesRoches was a lipstick lesbian.
Pride day was coming, though, and neither wanted to go alone. Of course, their proposed meeting place didn’t exist and they spent the next few hours looking for one another. Just before the parade started Steinecke walked down an empty Yonge St with a wide-brimmed straw hat. DesRoches saw her and called out “Julia!”
“It just felt right to be yelling out that name,” says DesRoches, 32. So then DesRoches hugged her.
“It didn’t feel like fireworks,” says Steinecke. “But it felt like a person I would date.”
Date they did – five times in a single week. That way they could say they didn’t have sex until date number five. Moving in together came a year later.
“We were both eager and weren’t going to let nervousness and fear get in our way,” says Steinecke. “We both felt we had put things off long enough.”
Dennis Loney & Sean Karow, going on five years
First impressions are thankfully not always the most important. Or else Loney and Karow would not be heading towards their fifth year together.
“I was at Colby’s in a bad man-hating mood,” says Loney, 29. “Sean came over to say hi and I was just rude to him and kind of ignored him. Thankfully, he came back.”
Loney says the key reason why things have worked out is because things started off slowly – with lunch one week, then dinner the next and moving in a year later.
The fact that they have different interests has helped give each other a comfortable level of breathing room where Loney is the sporty one and 33-year-old Sean more the intellectual one.
Claude Lemieux & Paul Pellegrino, going on 12 years
Lemieux had just gotten off work and was eating at Toby’s on Church. A guy two tables away was staring at him.
“The last thing I wanted was someone cruising me while I was eating,” says Lemieux, 36.
But when he finished his meal and started to bike home, he saw the guy on the street.
“I could either drive past him or I could turn my bike around,” says Lemieux. He turned his bike around and the two ended up going for a drink on Yonge St. Pellegrino, 34, turned out to be a keeper.
Lemieux was caught between not wanting a relationship (he was on the rebound and besides, Pellegrino was studying political science in London, Ontario) and instantly feeling that Pellegrino was relationship material. They dated but broke up after two weeks. Then Lemieux called back and said he wanted a relationship, but not a long-distance one. He moved to London a couple of weeks later. After they both finished some schooling, the two moved back to Toronto together.
“There have been rough patches, but we’ve gotten over them,”