A Match That’s Perfectly Imperfect
Vows By LINDA MARX MARCH 23, 2018
Rahysa Vargas and Christopher Cheng were married March 3. The couple met in September 2006 at a University of Miami football game. As a teenager growing up in Miami, Rahysa Vargas was always more concerned with serving her community than looking for a boyfriend. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and, eager to fulfill the dreams of her parents to improve their lives in the United States, was interested in local politics and government. She even became the vice president of her high school class.
During Christmas holiday seasons, Ms. Vargas would accompany her father, an entrepreneur, to a homeless shelter in Homestead, Fla., where they would distribute toys to children.
“I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends because my heart was on activities to help others,” said Ms. Vargas, 31, who graduated from the University of Miami and received a law degree from the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. She is the founder and president of Ms. Esquire, a professional organization and networking group for female lawyers.
The wedding ceremony and reception took place at San Francisco City Hall.In September 2006, she was introduced to Christopher Cheng, a fellow University of Miami undergraduate, by mutual friends at a football game against Florida State. She was not intrigued. His face was painted the Miami school colors of orange and green that got streaked in the rain. “We briefly spoke, but since I don’t drink, he found me boring,” Ms. Vargas said. “His attention was on my friend who did drink.”
“I didn’t think Rahysa was my type,” said Mr. Cheng, 33, who was born in Plantation and raised in South Florida. “I never had a college girlfriend. I was a free spirit who liked the chase. I wasn’t mentally mature enough to engage Rahysa.”
Three months later, they reconnected at Tavern in the Grove, a local bar where Ms. Vargas, dressed in a silk dress and heels, was waiting for a friend. Mr. Cheng asked if she wanted a cocktail.
“She looked classy but said no to drink offers and was short with me,” said Mr. Cheng, who graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and sociology and has worked in television broadcasting and hospital marketing. “I was drunk and challenged, so I apologized for my rude behavior and asked if she was too upper class for me to make her dinner sometime.”
Since she loved food and found him attractive without paint on his face, Ms. Vargas agreed. After more than a week of conversation leading up to their Dec. 15 date, she discovered that he was also “smart, cultured and funny.” They dined at the Cheesecake Factory because Mr. Cheng had moved in with his mother for winter break. While waiting 90 minutes for a table, they talked about politics, religion, sociology and family. “We made fun of each other, laughed and couldn’t stop speaking,” she said. Later that night, Ms. Vargas suggested they see “The Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith, because she felt the struggles of the actor’s character were similar to those of her father when he moved the family to the United States when she was an infant. “I liked Rahysa’s brain, personality, ambition and drive,” Mr. Cheng said. “She was a firecracker who let me be candid without imposing judgment.”
Eager to see how she would fit in with his family and friends, Mr. Cheng asked Ms. Vargas to help celebrate his birthday the following night. “I normally chased down the wrong kind of girls, but nothing worked because they wanted bad boys, and I was too nice,” he said. “But this felt different. “ They started dating four or five nights a week, enjoying Mr. Cheng’s cooking, dining in restaurants and reading together. “I thought he was genuine,” said Ms. Vargas, who later showed her loyalty during another Miami-Florida State football game when Mr. Cheng was beaten by opposition fans in the stands. “They ganged up on Chris and smashed his face in,” said Mr. Cheng’s mother, Helene Woodward. “Little selfless Rahysa jumped on top of him to save his life.” Frank Guzman, a friend and groomsman, remembered how “Rahysa dragged his bloody, limp body into the aisle until the police arrived, and he was taken to the hospital.” His injuries included a broken nose, a laceration from lip to chin and contusions on his body and skull.
After Ms. Vargas graduated in May 2009 with a degree in political science, the couple rented an apartment together, but struggled with cultural clashes and communication.
Mr. Cheng liked to show his affection by giving Ms. Vargas gifts, or regaling her with an appropriate song. He also nurtured her with food and medicine when she was sick. But he didn’t plan birthdays, anniversaries or Valentine’s Day. “I always write a letter on birthdays,” she said, “and holidays are important so this became an issue.” Ms. Vargas also got jealous when Mr. Cheng, then a busy associate producer at WSVN-TV in Miami, hung out with a close buddy. She preferred that he spend quality time with her by going to dinner and talking. She also liked having him accompany her to places like the grocery store. Mr. Cheng wanted alone time to chill and play his guitar.
“I have a big social personality and need to be away from people to recharge because I get anxious and depressed,” Mr. Cheng said. “Rahysa is an adventurer and always wanted to go places.”
During one Christmas season when she asked him to help distribute toys at a homeless shelter, he declined, thinking her social interests were honorable but not as important as his television work. “I was super-selfish, and everything was about me,” he said.
“They are both strong personalities, leaders, opinionated and outspoken,” said her brother, Steven Vargas. Her mother, Constanza Gomez, agreed: “They are highly dramatic with similar personalities. Each can be sitting in a different room thinking about the same things.”
Ms. Vargas became unhappy after Mr. Cheng was overly argumentative. “I didn’t mean it but I was hurting,” he said. The couple split in mid-2010, partly because Ms. Vargas was eager to begin law school and Mr. Cheng was focused on becoming a broadcast reporter. “Although Chris was the love of my life, and I worried he would Still, while dating others, they kept in touch by sharing the grief of his uncle’s death, divorcing parents, illness and other mercurial moments. In 2013, when meet someone else, I had to let him go,” she said.
Mr. Cheng returned to Miami for a job in marketing after a year in news at a Texas television station, they repeatedly ran into each other. He said he was battling depression and anxiety, and wasn’t fulfilled by his career. “Even though I wanted to marry Rahysa and have a family,” Mr. Cheng said, “she would soon be practicing law and knew I was a storm coming back and couldn’t promise her a stable life.” The next two years involved soul-searching for Mr. Cheng. He sought professional help in hopes of finding stability so he could have one more shot with the love of his life. “She was my moral compass, a together person who liked me more than I liked myself,” he said. “She made me a better human being.” In 2015, when Mr. Cheng randomly spotted Ms. Vargas’s mother in a local lounge and told her that he was desperately in love, she encouraged him to try again. After many conversations, the couple reunited and slowly learned to communicate more and fight less. “We began to accept each other’s flaws and compromise,” Ms. Vargas said.
Within a year, they bought a house together in Miami, and agreed to take a vacation in Thailand and China. On Nov. 26, 2016, during a layover in Paris that Ms. Vargas planned to relieve Mr. Cheng’s anxiety about long flights, he escorted her to the top of the Eiffel Tower, dropped to one knee and surprised her with a proposal.
“Finally!” she blurted out, followed by “Yes!”
Wedding plans were temporarily disrupted last September when Hurricane Irma destroyed their new home, flooding it with 2½ feet of sewage and seawater and forcing them to move five times in four months while commissioning a total rebuild. They leaned on each other constantly. When one was weak, the other was strong. Mr. Cheng had left his marketing job earlier that year, then Ms. Vargas quit hers to concentrate on Ms. Esquire. “We spoke life into each other, and our church worship helped us endure this stressful time with unusual peace and calm,” Mr. Cheng said.
On March 3, the couple married under the cupola of the huge dome at the Beaux-Arts-designed City Hall in San Francisco, the city they visited shortly after reuniting. Before 88 guests, Chris Lopez, a mutual friend who founded Vous, their nondenominational Christian church in Miami, led a religious ceremony as David Gomes, a Universal Life minister, officiated. The couple wrote their own vows about how much they have overcome in 12 years, with Mr. Cheng declaring, “I can’t believe we are finally, finally here. I know! It’s my fault, my bad.”
Ms. Vargas thanked Mr. Cheng for “accepting that I’m the worst cook in the universe and for taking over the cooking in our house.” About an hour later, with dynamic dance music in the background, the newly married couple made a grand entrance to the reception, which was also held at City Hall. As they approached the bottom of the staircase, Mr. Cheng, poking fun at his own flair for drama, fell and acted as if he had hurt his leg. He was given a chair to sit in, and was handed a microphone and acoustic guitar. He then serenaded his surprised bride with “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Ms. Vargas beamed, wept and sang along. At the end, she wiped the groom’s tears before joining him for their first dance to “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel. “Chris and Rahysa walk the same path,” said the best man, Jonathan Shupert. “They hold hands when they disagree and are a shining example of how you can be an imperfect couple yet still love and grow.”
ON THIS DAY
When March 3, 2018
Where San Francisco City Hall
Divine Design The theme of “timeless romance” was created by the wedding planner, Guerdy Abraira, using cherry blossoms and five-foot-wide table centerpieces of white hydrangeas, cream and blush roses, and white phalaenopsis orchids. There was a memorial place setting at the groom’s mother’s table in memory of his uncle, John Paul Ottino III.
Cultural Nods Dancers in colorful lion costumes celebrated Mr. Cheng’s Chinese heritage. Later, LED foam sticks and lighted sunglasses were handed out to guests as a chorus line of samba dancers performed in honor of Ms. Vargas’s Colombian family.
Sweet Endings The marbled fondant five-tier wedding cake was half salted caramel with vanilla bean cake, vanilla buttercream and Himalayan sea salt caramel filling, and half orange-ginger carrot cake with toasted walnuts and orange cream cheese buttercream.