Gerry and Mercedes first laid eyes on each other 12 years ago when they were entrepreneurship students at the University of Arizona. Gerry immediately noticed the pretty brunette at the program's kick-off reception.
"She was wearing a beautiful white dress," he recalled. "It was clear to me she was the best-looking girl in the program (by far!), and I knew I would end up dating her."
Mercedes was skeptical.
"He definitely made an impression but he seemed really young and player-ish for my taste," she said. "The initial phases of our relationship were fun and flirty but I never thought anything serious would come of it."
It was two years before they were ready to say, "I love you." The trip to the altar took slightly longer. Just short of 10 years longer, actually.
When they first met, Mercedes quickly saw past her initial impression of Gerry and discovered an engaging and inspiring soul mate.
"He's fun and positive and never gives up," she said. "He's intelligent and interesting."
Terms of endearment soon followed. He started calling her "The Merc," a nickname friends and family soon took up as well.
After completing the entrepreneurship program, Mercedes, who is originally from Phoenix, moved to Palo Alto, Calif., to attend Stanford Law School. Gerry followed soon after, but not before a romantic, albeit exhausting, long-distance relationship.
"I used to write long letters to Merc," Gerry, 32, said. "This was in the fall of 1995 before I finally moved up at the start of 1996. I remember talking on the phone from 4:30 p.m. as I was leaving work until 8 a.m. the next morning, non-stop. I've never done that, nor could I imagine doing that, with anyone else."
Mercedes graduated in 1998 and moved to Gerry's hometown, Manhattan Beach, Calif. Gerry soon joined her.
Significant to Mercedes is Gerry's bond with her son, Andrew, 15.
"I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude for how Gerry has always embraced Andrew," Mercedes said. "I know we are going to be a great family. Andrew adores Gerry and has ever since he was young."
Mercedes is also grateful Gerry got to know her father, who passed away on March 28, 1998.
"That means so much to me," she said.
Mercedes is a corporate lawyer, specializing in securities and finance. Gerry owns a nutrition products and nutrition education company. The couple enjoys an active lifestyle.
"Gerry ran alongside me while I ran my first marathon," Mercedes said. "He is an Ironman triathlete and has completed many marathons, so he was there for moral support. Over the past 12 years, we've been by each other's side through all our best and worst times as well as shared many memorable experiences. Most recently, we went sailing and encountered a pod of dolphins (a good omen and sign of good luck). We've shared many a Valentine's Day."
Some might say every day is Valentine's Day for this couple. They still have the key-chains Mercedes ordered almost 10 years ago, engraved with October 20, 1995, the date they first said, "I love you."
Gerry's romantic gestures have included a surprise, home-cooked meal for Mercedes, complete with a menu (a perfect paella, she recalls) and faux restaurant theme. He was quick to show his love but let's just say he wasn't quite so quick to propose.
"I think I've known (she was the one) since we were dating in Tucson," he said. "I just needed to be ready. I was finally ready at the start of this year."
Gerry decided to pop the question on April 3, Mercedes' 33rd birthday.
"I took Merc out for her birthday with my dad, my mom and her husband, and Andrew," Gerry said. "When Merc went to the restroom, I pulled out the ring and got a two-thumbs-up gesture of approval from Andrew. After a brief discussion with him, I announced my intention to the table. When Merc got back to her chair, I kicked out my chair, dropped to one knee and asked her to marry me. I said that I've always loved her and couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else. She broke into tears and said 'I'm going to make you so happy!'