When Lauren, 29, began law school at the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2005, she thought she had a pretty good idea where life was taking her: She'd marry a Jewish guy and they'd settle in Philadelphia, or possibly New York.
Early that semester on a group outing to a 76ers game, Lauren met Paulo, an MBA candidate from Brazil. He was attractive, smart, fun, and interested in her. And there was a certain chemistry between them. But Paulo did not fit her plan. "He's not Jewish, he's leaving soon [to return to Brazil], this is not going to work," she told her girlfriends.
She and Paulo, now 33, enjoyed great conversations and grew to respect each other's intellect. But they dated other people.
In summer 2007, Lauren, born in Philadelphia and raised in Cherry Hill, was summer associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the firm where she now practices law. She took her then-boyfriend to an engagement party, and there was Paulo, who was interning at Citibank, with his then-girlfriend.
They had a long conversation, much to the displeasure of their dates. Shortly thereafter, Lauren left for six months of study in London.
Back at Penn, she was taking a negotiations class at Wharton and saw Paulo in a hallway. They talked vaguely about getting together, exchanged contact information, and a week later, Lauren invited him to a birthday party at a local bar.
"He shows up super-late, wearing this absurdly ridiculous hat," she said. Paulo grew up in various cities around Brazil, and his family now lives in Goiânia, outside the capital of Brasilia. The friends began a discussion about cultural differences in the United States.
"In Brazil, we have a kissing culture," Paulo said. "Kissing is a way to get to know people. It is a way to show interest in someone. It doesn't mean it's going to develop further. I want to kiss you. Can I kiss you?"
Kissing Paulo very likely would mean nothing, Lauren knew. She did it anyway.
Later that week, the two went to dinner at Tinto on their first proper date. It was Valentine's Day, but Paulo didn't know that - it's celebrated in June in Brazil. It was wonderful. "So, you want to be my girlfriend?" he asked Lauren.
"This is so bizarre, but yeah, sure, why not," Lauren said.
At first, both thought they'd just have some fun while they could. Then came a trip to Paris.
They stayed with a friend of Lauren's, celebrated Paulo's birthday, and toured the Champagne region. "That's when I realized I really did love him," Lauren said.
Neither thought their chances, long-term, were good. Says Paulo: "I just stopped thinking about it, and tried to make [the time together] as good as possible."
In June 2008, he flew back to Brazil, where he runs a subsidiary for the private equity company Kroton.
In August, after passing the bar exam, Lauren flew to Sao Paulo for a month. "I hated it," she admits. She expected one big, beautiful, tropical party, but found the city crowded, loud, and dirty.
"It's not easy to live in Sao Paulo," Paulo said. "There are issues with security. Language is a big barrier, as very few people speak English. The society is dominated by men, and Lauren is an independent woman."
Lauren took a job with her firm in New York. She and Paulo talked on the phone or via Skype and managed to see each other about every six weeks, here or there.
How does forever sound?
Two continents were soon one too many. The couple decided to marry. Since Paulo had to stay with his company for at least two years or pay back the cost of his education, and Lauren's firm has an office in Sao Paulo, she would move.
In Brazil, weddings are a big deal, but proposals in the U.S. sense don't exist. No one wears engagement rings, both because there is no tradition for that, and because wearing any expensive jewelry attracts crime, Lauren said.
No ring was fine with Lauren, but not with her father, Scott. Paulo had called to tell him of the couple's plan to marry. But to Scott, an engagement ring symbolizes a promise, and he did not want his daughter moving to Brazil without one.
Lauren called Paulo in May 2011. "Honey, you have to come to New York and buy a ring."
He did, and they celebrated with Lauren's family.
She moved that August to Sao Paulo - a city whose wonderfully warm people and weather have grown on her - leaving her ring in a New York safe-deposit box.
It was so them
The couple had a traditional Jewish ceremony. For the reading of the Seven Blessings, the rabbi read first in Hebrew, followed by someone from Lauren's family in English, and then one from Paulo's family in Portuguese.
"It was very beautiful," Paulo said.
Many of the couple's 150 guests traveled from Brazil, and the groom stayed out until 4 a.m. the day of the wedding celebrating with them.
That party revved up again at the wedding reception, where guests were served caipirinhas, a Brazilian drink, and danced to a 10-piece samba band with huge drums, whistles, and tambourines.
Lauren walked down the stairs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the landing where Paulo was waiting. Their guests watched the ceremony from above, but she didn't notice them. "It was just the two of us exchanging our vows, telling each other how much we loved each other," she said.
Paulo thought Lauren looked beautiful and nervous as she walked toward him. "I touched her hand, and she was shaking. But the way she was looking at me, it was very different from any other exchange of looks we had up until then," he said. "At that moment, I kind of really realized, 'Oh wow, I'm getting married.' That part was really unforgettable."
This was unexpected
Paulo's mother, Cleide, gave a speech about her son, from the time he was a little boy, to his growing up and meeting Lauren. It was entirely in Portuguese, but so expressive that even the English-only crowd was in tears.
A bargain: Lauren's dress was hot off the runway when she fell hard for it, but not for its suggested cost. She negotiated directly with designer Ines di Santo and saved at least 30 percent.
The splurge: Lauren's pre-wedding beauty regimen. She worked with a trainer three days a week for four months, did juice cleanses, and had mink eyelashes applied.
More than two weeks in Bali and Japan.
Behind the Scenes
Rabbi Eli Freedman of Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Jimmy Duffy's, Philadelphia
Ellen Trainer and members of the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra; DJ Manny Romano of Scratch Weddings, Philadelphia; Samba band Alô Brasil, Philadelphia
Shari DeAngelo, Philadelphia
Light Mill Film Studios, New York
Florist and day-of coordination
Sara Fernandez of Beautiful Blooms Events, Philadelphia
Ines di Santo, purchased at Bridal Reflections, New York
Lavender Paperie, lavenderpaperie.com