'This Happens From Time to Time': 9 Columbia Love Stories to Make Your Heart Go Pitter-Patter

Whether finding the best of friends or the love of your life, Columbia remains a special place to find lifelong connections. This Valentine's Day, we're sharing nine stories of alumni who met their counterparts, romantic and platonic. 

February 09, 2024

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we’re looking back at one of our favorite traditions: the Columbia Alumni Association’s #ColumbiaLoveStories.

Every year for the past 11 years, the group has asked Columbians to share their love stories—platonic and romantic—for their Facebook albums, and every year the stories set our hearts soaring. 

Here are just nine of the stories that have pulled on our heartstrings:

'Yes, Yes, This Happens From Time to Time.'

Molly McDonald (CC'90, GSAPP'95) and Jonathan Gelber (GSAPP'95)

Jonathan Gelber and Molly McDonald

Molly writes: "Although Jonathan had trouble remembering my name in our early days as first-year planning students, he enlisted me to accompany him to Health Services for his MMR vaccination. I guess that made me a little more memorable to him. After that, we were friends for many months.

"In the spring, during a department program in Latvia, we declared our love for each other. Our professor Sigurd Grava, who was not one for grand displays of emotion, took the eventual news of our engagement with, 'Yes, yes, this happens from time to time.'"

Football, Fencing, and Forever College Walk Strolls

Anthony Maddox (CC'12) and Dmeca Maddox (BC'13)

Anthony and Dmeca Maddox at their wedding with their Columbia groomsmen and bridesmaids

Dmeca writes: "Anthony and I crossed paths throughout our college years due to shared courses and training at Dodge — we were Football and Fencing student-athletes, respectively. But, we didn't formally meet until a classmate introduced us at a local bar in our sophomore and junior years.

"We became fast friends, began dating a year later, and married in October of 2021. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were fortunate to have so many fellow alumni travel from near and far to celebrate our special day, including Best Men: Joshua Martin (CC'13) and Kalasi Huggins (CC'12) and Bridesmaids: Anne Faber-Inkpen (BC'13), Nzingha Prescod (CC'15), Essane Diedro (CC'13), and Loweye Diedro (CC'13).

"We now live on the Upper West Side, just a few blocks from campus, which is perfect for enjoying weekend strolls on College Walk after brunch."

'Some might call it “tooth” love.'

Aimee Leibowitz (DEN'11) and Eric Frank (DEN'11)

Aimee Leibowitz and Eric Frank

Aimee writes: "As part of Columbia’s dental school orientation we did a boat cruise around the city. It was that night we spotted each other. Not many words were exchanged, but as everyone said their goodbyes at the end of the night with waves or handshakes I gave Eric a kiss on the cheek goodbye. There was something there, but we weren’t quite sure what just yet.

"Fast forward to walking me home from lectures, dinner dates post anatomy lab, long nights in the pre-clinic drilling plastic teeth, local anesthesia shots to each other's faces for practice, all nighters at Hammer Library to ace those dreaded pathophysiology exams. There was true connection. Some might call it 'tooth' love.

"We began what is now our love for travel. Our first trip together was to Puerto Rico during our second year. I recently learned Eric knew I was 'the one' when we were on the tiny island off of Puerto Rico — Cuelebra — & intended to do a night of camping. However, our ferry left too early the next morning for the tent rental to be returned & they would not rent us one. So we made the best of it & slept on the beach with a sheet & our luggage as pillows in the rain. Apparently that sealed the deal!

"After dental school graduation, Eric continued his residency at Columbia for orthodontics and I matched in Boston for pediatric dentistry. While the long distance was not easy, we got to know Bolt Bus very well alternating weekends in each of the two cities. Mid residency we took a big trip to Southeast Asia & while on Phi Phi Leh — a beautiful island in Thailand — Eric proposed.

"We moved in together after residency & soon after married. We continued to live in New York City — as dental school taught us clearly the best city in the world.

"Our dental specialties paired so well together it became very obvious the next move was to open a practice together.

"In 2017 we had our first child, began the construction on our very own dental office & said goodbye to the city that brought us together as we moved to Westfield, New Jersey.

"Columbia University even played a role in where we ended up. Kind of a long-winded story, but the program director of post-graduate studies at the dental school at the time — his wife owned a tiny satellite office in Mountainside NJ that Eric started working at. She chose to retire early and Eric had the option to take over the practice. Being from Long Island I had some major hesitations about New Jersey, but our options were to close our eyes & pick a random town in New York to start an office completely from scratch or take this tiny little orthodontic practice, add pediatric dentistry on, and turn it into something.

"Five years later we are so proud of the office and family we have built , and we have Columbia University to thank for that. So much love."

Sisterhood Forged On the Floors of Furnald

Kyra Sampson (CC'17), Mariah Maldonado (CC'17), and Jasmine Akuffo (CC'17)

 Kyra Sampson '17CC, Mariah Maldonado'17CC, and Jasmine Akuffo '17CC

Kyra writes: "Mariah, Jasmine, and I met our freshman year. Mariah and Jas were roommates on Furnald 1 and I lived on Furnald 7. I’m so grateful to God’s universe for bringing us together. I have endless memories of us grabbing dinner at Ferris (the Thanksgiving feast was a favorite), chilling at the high-top tables at JJs Place, and grabbing dinner at Vine Sushi right across the street from campus — just to name a few.

"Mariah and Jasmine are two incredibly important pieces of my heart. These incredible women have become my sisters throughout this journey called life. I’m endlessly grateful to have them by my side. Here’s to Columbia from paving this way for our wonderful sisterhood!"

Don't 'Knapp' On This Coincidence

Melissa Yvonne Raciti Knapp (CC'90, LAW'93) and Jon Knapp (CC'91)

Knapp family at an alumni gathering

Melissa writes: "Jon Knapp and I met in 1990. We were set up by mutual friends who were dating at the time. A year before that I had been to a Columbia basketball game and, after seeing a player on the court with the jersey 'Knapp,' I joked to my friend, Yvonne Knapp, that if I married him my name would be Melissa Yvonne Knapp.

"A year later, Jon and I started dating and it dawned on me that this was the same basketball player I had seen a year before. We got married in 1997 and have two daughters, Isabella (17) and Lily (12). Isabella will be a Freshman at Columbia College in the Fall. Roar, Lion, Roar!"

Tortilla-Making, An Iconic Laugh, and the Makings of a Love Story

Carolina Perez (SEAS'22) and David Valdes (SEAS'20)

Carolina Perez (SEAS'22) and David Valdes (SEAS'20)

Carolina writes: "Tortillas, a staple of our shared heritage, brought us together in early Fall 2018. I was an incoming member of the Latinx Tree of the Columbia Mentoring Initiative, and the mixer planned was a tortilla-making event. He was the one in charge of bringing the tortilla press (his own personal one he brought from home in Texas, I later learned). We spent the evening bonding over cooking, eating, and dancing. Later that night, a Casa Latina party brought us back together, and for the next two weeks—nothing, until the Homecoming Yard Show on Low Steps.

"I was alone, struggling to find my friends among the sea of people watching the performances. As I was looking at my texts, waiting for clearer directions on their whereabouts, one sound broke through everything else going on. My attention immediately shifted to the unrestrained and riotous laugh I somehow recognized from that first day. He was standing near his friends who were at their Phi Iota Alpha table on the other side of the plaza. I made my way over and casually, just so happened to coincidentally 'bump into' him. And then we were inseparable...for a while.

"The pandemic abruptly forced us apart in early 2020, and we found ourselves in a long-distance relationship for long spurts of time until my graduation in May 2022. Now, we are finally settling down a bit as a newly engaged couple over in Hamilton Heights. A lot has happened since that first day we met, and I'm forever grateful to whoever it was that told a joke so funny it made David laugh like that. We have come out of Columbia with great experiences, amazing friends, and a love story I'll never tire of reminiscing on."

A Classic Morningside Heights Meet-Cute

Trisha Mukherjee (CC'21) and Hari Choudhury (SEAS'26)

Trisha Mukherjee (CC'21) and Hari Choudhury (SEAS'26)

Trisha writes: "One rainy November evening, I was visiting a friend near Columbia. Having recently graduated in the midst of the pandemic, I missed the serenity of campus and all the friends I had made over the years, from the public safety officers to the dining hall staff to the booksellers and shop owners who made Morningside Heights so special to me. As the evening went on, I realized I had to be downtown in half an hour. I covered my head and ran to the 110th Street subway station, just in time to catch the train that was arriving in one minute.

"It wasn't a lot of time—just enough to say hello to the owner of the kiosk in the station that sells candy, drinks, and chips. Chacha, an immigrant from Bangladesh, became my friend while I was studying at Columbia. He would tell me bad jokes, speak to me in Bangla (my mother language), and give me a Ferrero Rocher every time I stopped by.

"On that November evening, with one minute until the train arrived, I rushed towards Chacha's kiosk when I saw that there was someone in front of me in line. Getting closer, I realized they were actually having a conversation, nonetheless in Bangla!

"Chacha briefly introduced us, handed me a Ferrero Rocher and waved goodbye as the two of us got on the 1 train together. In the crowded car, Hari told me he was from London, his father was from Bangladesh, and he was doing his PhD in physics at Columbia. When he got off to take the express at 96th Street, I felt that something unnameable but undeniably special had just happened. It turned out he did too. Now, we've been together for a year and couldn't be more excited for the future ahead of us."

We Love a Trip in the 'Waaay Back Machine'

Jen Chew (SEAS'94) and Greg Zimmermann (SEAS'95)

Greg Zimmerman and Jen Chew

Jen writes: "Greg Zimmermann and I met as undergraduate engineering students. We married at the chapel on campus, bringing our families from Alabama, Connecticut, and Switzerland together.

"We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We now look forward to our older daughter, Kat (GS‘24), graduating next year!

"The photo is from the waaay back machine: a formal on campus."

From TC Summer Camp as Kids to an Alma Mater Proposal

Alison Chang (CC'16) and Akira Baruah (SEAS'16)

Alison Chang (CC'16) and Akira Baruah (SEAS'16) on College Walk

"Akira and Alison are native New Yorkers who first crossed paths as kids attending summer science camp at Teachers College back in 2000. They later got to know each other while taking a Speech Recognition class during their final semester of college before moving out west to California.

"During a recent trip to NYC, Akira surprised Alison with a scavenger hunt, which he disguised as a SEAS holiday activity. The clues led Alison to various spots around Columbia's campus that reflected their own journey—Mudd, where they took their class together, or East Campus, where they both lived senior year—and culminated in Akira proposing in front of Alma Mater.

"Meanwhile, their friends and family were hiding behind the columns of Low Library to photograph the event. After taking photos on a beautifully lit college walk, they celebrated the engagement with their families down the street at Toast, where they'd had their first date over 6 years ago."

Want more #ColumbiaLoveStories? Check out Volume IVolume IIVolume IIIVolume IVVolume VVolume VIVolume VII, and Volume VIII Volume IX, Volume X, and Volume XI on Columbia Alumni Association’s Facebook page. And share yours using this form or the hashtag #ColumbiaLoveStories.