TAMPA — Eros didn't shoot his arrow the first time Nicole Andriso and Chris Mantzanas joined other Greek youth group members for dinner at Applebee's 20 years ago. No sparks flew between the two high school students that night.
Nicole went off to study broadcasting and public relations at the University of Florida, eventually starting her own business in 2010.
Chris enrolled in police academy at 19, then earned a criminology degree at the University of South Florida while working for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in Dunedin.
Neither felt pressured to date within the Greek community, says Chris, 39, a Tarpon Springs native. "My parents just wanted me to be happy."
Still, being Greek is a source of great pride for him. He speaks Greek fluently, dances the Zeibekiko like Zorba himself and, two years ago, obtained dual U.S.-Greek citizenship. His grandfather owned a Greek restaurant in Perry for 40 years. His father is a retired chef who catered countless Greek parties.
Nicole, 38, dated a few Greek men through the years, mostly blind dates, arranged by well-intended friends. "But nothing worked out," she said, "I usually went for the blue-eyed, blond type."
Until the gods finally smiled on them in June 2011.
Chris spotted Nicole at a dance concert in St. Petersburg, organized by the Pancretan Association of America. He recognized her amid the hundreds of people watching the costumed dancers, despite not seeing her since high school.
"I am a police officer. I'm good at remembering faces," Chris said.
She didn't notice him and he never approached her. But later at home, he hopped online and sent her a Facebook friend request.
Nicole's quick reply led to dinner, where they discovered Chris knew her dad, a volunteer at the Sheriff's Office. "We'd spoken a few times, but I never made the connection," he said.
Soon they were commuting between his house in Tarpon Springs and her townhouse in South Tampa. Their traveling extended to Washington, D.C.; New York, Connecticut and North Carolina, where they always tried to find a good Greek restaurant.
In May 2012, when Chris suggested a walk around Spring Bayou park in Tarpon Springs, Nicole wondered why they didn't go for their usual run. She understood when he dropped to one knee and asked her to be his wife. Their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews were all waiting to celebrate when they arrived at a family barbecue.
Mr. and Mrs. Mantzanas married Jan. 12 at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa. The "big, fat Greek wedding followed all the traditions and customs," Nicole said, including the crowning, or stefana ceremony, where they wore crowns joined by a white ribbon that are exchanged between the couple's heads three times. The crowns symbolize glory and honor, and the ribbon symbolizes unity.
The 175 guests clapped and cheered during the reception, when they danced the Kalamantiano in a circle and friends hoisted them on chairs in the air. Chris' godmother baked hundreds of kourabiethes wedding cookies for the party.
After 20 long years, their odyssey was complete.
"We needed to grow up," said Chris. "When it was the right time, we'd find each other."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or call (813) 226-3332.