When it came to approaching Tara Jaishanker, Matt Shanklin was less than confident. Just the sight of the girl in his intro to chemistry class made him feel tingly.
"She showed up to class in sweatpants and old sweaters. She didn't care. She was super cute," Matt says.
At the beginning of that semester at the University of South Florida, they sat apart — until Tara started sitting behind him.
"She was just as confused in chemistry as I was, so we would ask the same dumb questions and laugh," Matt recalls.
One day after class, Matt awkwardly bumped into her in the hall — and nearly knocked her over — just so he could talk to her. He then admitted his crush.
"Are you kidding?" she asked. Tara had her eye on him the whole time, too.
"I thought he was super attractive, but I never approach guys — especially really good looking guys," she says.
At the time, Tara was 24 years old and going through a difficult divorce. Matt had also been in an 11-month-long whirlwind marriage. Both hearts were fragile, but Matt had to have her.
He asked her to go with him to St. Petersburg's First Friday. They sat in a cozy booth at the King and I, a tasty Thai joint on busy Central Avenue.
"The first thing we talked about was The Lord of the Rings because we're both giant dorks," Matt recalls with a laugh. Tara loved Lord of the Rings. He was halfway in love.
Over the next year, Matt tried to run away a few times, feeling that he didn't deserve her. Fortunately, each escape only lasted a day.
• • •
Matt clicked around on Groupon and lined up a boat rental and a parasailing adventure. It was time to propose.
Just before sunset, Matt stopped the boat underneath the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
He told Tara he thought this would be a lovely place for a picture. He pretended to turn the 10-second timer on, but started recording instead.
"Uh, isn't it recording?" Tara kept asking. "The red light's on."
If that wasn't enough, the camera kept falling over as the boat rocked.
"I kind of knew what was happening, so I just tried to help him out because it was so pathetic," Tara says (lovingly).
Then, he got on one knee.
• • •
Tara, now 26, picked out a very lacy trumpet gown with a wide-open keyhole back from David's Bridal.
With little money to spend, the couple chose their favorite place along St. Petersburg's Coffeepot Boulevard to have their ceremony. It was a little patch of land with a concrete awning. The waves splashed against the sea wall right across the street.
They put out signs a few days before the wedding, Dec. 30, 2012, that said: "We're getting married here tomorrow. Please keep it clean."
On a cold day, just as the sun was falling from the sky, Matt and Tara said their vows.
Matt, a massage therapist and laser technician, and Tara, a veterinary technician, now live in St. Petersburg with Molly, their chihuahua.
"I had always wanted to be in a good relationship, but I had never been with a good person," Matt, now 31, says. "She's amazing."
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8862.