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Vows: Seeking a Driver’s License Led to a Marriage License

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By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI

The road from the first to a second kiss shared between Marlena Baldacci and Ryan Militana, a stretch of 14 years, began with a driver’s education class.

“Ryan was sitting in the row behind me and would not stop talking to me, and we got kicked out of the class,” Ms. Baldacci said, recalling the moment in November 2001 when they met as 16-year-old Connecticut high school students at the Lewis School of Driving in New Canaan, Conn., a short ride from her hometown Darien, and his home in Wilton.

“It was too early for either of us to call our parents for a ride home,” she said. “They would have known something was wrong.”

Together and without a license, they chose what they thought was their best alternative route: a short walk to Baskin-Robbins.

“I was attracted to her immediately,” Mr. Militana said. “By going for ice cream, I had an excellent opportunity to spend some free time with her and to get to know her.”

Ms. Baldacci, 31, who worked until last June in Washington as a producer for the television news show “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer,” described her teenage self as “a goody two-shoes with very strict parents who was always afraid of getting into trouble.”

But she was well worth the trouble to Mr. Militana, 30, who is now an anesthesiology intern at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Marlena and I were two people who came from similar backgrounds and had similar experiences growing up,” he said. “So from the very start, we were very comfortable in each other’s company.”

By the time she finished her pralines and cream, Ms. Baldacci felt more than comfortable.

“I felt totally connected to him,” she said. “We spoke for about 20 minutes, and in that time he really opened up to me about his family and everything else that was going on in his life.

“For an athlete who was both a baseball player and a ski racer, he was such a tender guy,” she said. “And he looked so handsome sitting there in his letterhigh school jacket.”

That night, they began instant-messaging each other and made secret plans to see a movie the following week, after another driver’s education class.

On what would become their first official date, they saw “Behind Enemy Lines” and shared popcorn and a kiss. But they left early, Ms. Baldacci said, because “it was getting late, and I didn’t want my mother to find out I had gone to the movies with a boy she didn’t know about.”

Mr. Militana, who said he “enjoyed both our time at the theater and our kiss,” was crushed a week later when Ms. Baldacci, feeling too pressured to continue their secret relationship, sent him another instant message, this one saying she could no longer see him.

“He was really bummed and wanted another date, but I said no,” she said. “He knew I had strict parents, and I also explained that we went to different high schools, and that the whole thing was just too complicated.”

“It was a lot of drama, but, hey, I was just 16,” she said with a chuckle. “Like any other 16-year-old, I was quick to say, ‘This isn’t right for me.’”

They kept in touch through Facebook when she was a student at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., (she later transferred to Boston College) and he was at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.

“We spoke online maybe once or twice a year to let each other know what was going on in our lives,” she said. “But that was about it.”

She learned that he had become a senior operations analyst at Credit Suisse in New York, where he stayed for three years before leaving the financial industry for medical school.

And he followed her career path in television, from local stations in Boston and Manchester, N.H., to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta, where she was a news and political editor from 2011 to 2014 before heading to Washington to join Mr. Blitzer’s staff.

In January 2015, Ms. Baldacci was still enjoying her professional life in Washington, but her personal life was another matter.

“I was dating a guy for a short while who just disappeared on me,” she said. “It wasn’t a very important relationship, but he just disappeared. No return phone calls, nothing. It was strange.”

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Later that month, she received a different kind of return call. She picked up the phone, and it was Mr. Militana, reappearing from her past.

“I was expecting a call, but not that one,” she said.

He had called from Danville, Va., four hours south of Washington, while studying for a medical degree at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Va. Her antennas were raised when he said that after graduation, he might embark on a medical rotation in Washington, and wanted to ask her thoughts on living there.

“It sounded kind of odd, and I got the feeling that he was really calling just to see what I was up to,” she said. “I think he was trying to find out if I was dating anyone.”

Mr. Militana, who admitted having “a bit of an ulterior motive” when dialing her number, was soon hearing about the man who had vanished. When she asked him for a man’s perspective, the soon-to-be-doctor doled out advice that he hoped would benefit her — and him.

“I told her that there was no reason to keep trying to call that guy back,” he said. “I was like, ‘Look, if he calls you again, great. If not, it’s his loss.’”

“I still had feelings for Marlena,” he said. “So I didn’t want to encourage her any more than I had to in terms of going after another guy.”

They were soon reminiscing about their “driving school adventure,” as Ms. Baldacci called it, and began chatting daily. Two weeks later, he invited her to spend a weekend at his home in Danville to cheer for a friend who would be competing in a rowing event there.

“I thought about it for a little while and was like, ‘Why not?’” Ms. Baldacci said. “It wasn’t like I was making this long trip to visit a perfect stranger. Despite the fact that I had not seen Ryan since high school, I still felt that I really knew him, and that he really knew me.”

She took a Friday off from work and drove to see him, all the while “feeling a bit nervous about the whole thing,” she said. But he put her at ease the moment they locked eyes again.

“He was so much more handsome than I had remembered,” she said. “He was also polite and respectful, and he even prepared homemade lemon pasta for me, which was very thoughtful.”

“The whole time I was there, he made me feel as comfortable as I had felt the first day we met,” she said. “It was like we were connecting all over again.”

That weekend, they shared a second kiss.

“Wow,” Ms. Baldacci said. “That second one was even better than the first. It was an amazingly different kind of kiss, and it got me thinking that he must have had a lot of practice since the last time I saw him.”

Although thrilled, Mr. Militana knew he still had unfinished business.

“I wanted Marlena back in my life, to stay,” he said. “When I saw how wonderfully we got along that weekend, and how our personalities meshed so well, I knew I wanted to marry her.”

Three weeks later, he visited her in Washington and brought along a lifetime plan.

“We had a really serious talk, and he told me how much he wanted our relationship to work,” she said. “It was a very sweet, very romantic talk. And I told him I felt the same way.”

They dated long-distance for 15 months before Mr. Militana became Dr. Militana, receiving a medical degree in June. Later that month, they moved to Chicago, where he had begun his anesthesiology residency. “Marlena has made a huge sacrifice for me,” he said. “She had a great life in Washington, and now we’re in Chicago, where the only support system we have is each other.”

On Ms. Baldacci’s last day in “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer,” the show’s host wished her an on-air goodbye. “That meant so much to me, because I know how happy my co-workers and other friends and family are for me and Ryan,” she said.

Heidi Nichols-Baldacci, the bride’s mother, who is a registered nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said she was completely unaware of her daughter’s first go-round with Dr. Militana. “And I have no idea how it even happened, because I was strict,” she said. “Marlena didn’t listen to the rules that time, but it was a good thing.”

That sentiment was echoed by the groom’s father, Dr. Charles Militana, who is an anesthesiologist in New York and an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.

“Marlena has brought out a contentedness in Ryan that I hadn’t seen in a while,” he said. “She seems to enhance his positive qualities.”

They were married Oct. 15 by the Rev. Anita Lofgren Chung, a retired Lutheran minister, during a brief ceremony at the Langham Hotel in Boston. About 130 guests gathered inside the Esplanade, a room overlooking Post Office Square, a park where the couple had posed for their wedding photos while basking in the sunshine of a crisp fall morning.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D played on a keyboard as the bride walked down the aisle. And as the sun began to set beyond a giant glass wall of the Esplanade, crystal lanterns on both sides of the aisle shined a guiding light upon the bride’s path to her waiting groom.

“You met while you were taking driving lessons, not the most romantic place,” the Rev. Lofgren Chung said. “But when you learn to drive a car, you have to learn a lot of rules. In marriage there are also rules: faithfulness, respect for each other, love and friendship.”

On their latest adventure, they’ll abide by those rules in Chicago, where Ms. Baldacci recently made a post-wedding trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. “BaldacciMilitana looks real good, especially on my new driver’s license,” she said.

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