Stephen and Jacquie found out when they were both 13 that they share the same birthday. Before long, they would share much more.

Jacquie, then a competitive cheerleader, was introduced to Stephen by his older sister Sophie, who was also Jacquie’s cheer team teammate. Sophie found it amazing that her friend and brother both were born on the exact same day in October 1996, so she introduced them.

“After we met, Jacquie and I would briefly chat over Facebook, with me commenting how pretty she looked on every picture she posted,” Stephen recalls. “Eventually, I gave her my number and she texted me and we started talking. This led to me asking her out after about 2 months of talking.”

For their first date, the two teens split a pizza and stuffed mushrooms at Frankie Fed’s Pizza & Pasta House, a popular family Italian restaurant in Freehold. “We were 14; our parents drove us to the place and sat at another table,” Jacquie remembers. “All these years later, it’s still one of our favorite pizza places.”

From there, Jacquie and Stephen would continue to see each other, often catching rides from their parents to get together. Despite their tender age, they both sensed their relationship was getting serious. Though she was just 14, Jacquie had written in her journal that she would one day marry Stephen.

“From the moment we started talking, he was the sweetest and most caring person,” Jacquie says. “Even at a young age, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life learning more about him and loving him.

Likewise, Stephen could feel his love for Jacquie growing stronger. “A telling moment was when she told me she was moving to Florida after our senior year of high school,” he recalls. “Not for a second did I think, ‘What does this mean for our relationship?’ The only thought I had at that time was, ‘Wow, this means I get to go to Florida more than usual.’ I never doubted our relationship when she had to move, even though it meant not seeing each other as much as we were accustomed to over the summers.”

Sure enough, Stephen found occasions to head south and be with Jacquie. They regularly celebrated New Year’s Day together in the Sunshine State, and as part of the celebration, they took part in an annual family photoshoot led by Jacquie’s mom, a professional photographer.

The proposal

 

This past October, 10 years after their first date, Stephen decided it was time to propose.

 

Around the couple’s birthday, Stephen approached Jacquie’s parents to get their blessing for him to propose on New Year’s Day, then asked his future mother-in-law to photograph the moment. Jacquie’s mom happily agreed, as Jacquie had said she always wanted her mother to photograph her proposal.

This past New Year’s Day, Jacquie and Stephen did the annual family photoshoot, while Jacquie’s sister safeguarded the ring in her handbag. “We were on this beautiful rustic bridge in my neighborhood,” Jacquie remembers. “My mom told us to walk towards her while she took some shots, then he took my hands and asked me. I said, “Of course!”

But that once-in-a-lifetime surprise element was nearly lost. Just minutes before the proposal, Jacquie went over to her sister to place her cell phone for safe keeping in the handbag, where the ring was stored. “She was seconds away from seeing the ring and case before I was able to grab the bag from her,” Stephen remembers. “Crisis averted!”

 

About the ring

An engagement ring, like a couple’s relationship, keeps its beauty across decades of joys and hardships. And part of Jacquie’s ring has already withstood the test of time.

When Stephen was a child, his grandmother, whom he affectionately calls “Babci,” had said she wanted him to have her engagement ring when he was ready to propose. On Christmas Day 2015, Babci’s house burned down. She survived and saved her engagement ring, but lost nearly all her other possessions.

Stephen brought the heirloom center diamond from Babci’s now 71-year-old engagement ring to Braunschweiger Jewelers. There, expert jeweler Caitlin (who happens to be Jacquie’s cousin) incorporated the diamond into the setting of Jacquie’s dreams: a beautiful JB Star setting with four pear stones, two on each side.

Jacquie and Stephen, now both 24, are putting off their wedding day until the summer of 2022; they hope by then the ongoing pandemic will be long in the rearview. But after 10 years of courtship, they know time is on their side.

“While we are of course excited to get married, we don’t mind waiting a little longer as many couples have been forced to postponed their weddings because of the pandemic,” Stephen says. “So if we can wait a little longer to save money and have a normal, COVID-free wedding, we don’t mind.”