Meet five Madison couples in love

On a date night, we met five couples at Fresco Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge.
Melissa and Yahya hugging with the New Orpheum sign in the background
Melissa Hollendyke (left) and Yahya Rushdi (Photo by Amandalynn Jones)

On a date night in the city, we met five couples dining and enjoying each other’s company at Fresco Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge, a romantic locale. Their love stories span years, but in only a few minutes we learned how life brought them together at that very moment.

Melissa & Yahya: Just a Few Feet Away

Melissa Hollendyke and Yahya Rushdi spent a year in the Madison Community Orchestra, sitting nearby, without talking to or knowing each other before technology connected them. A chance match on Coffee Meets Bagel led to a first date brunch, many Sunday brunch dates afterward (find their brunch adventures on Instagram: #MelissaAndYahyaBrunch) and an October 2019 engagement with a wedding to come this year.

YR: We went to North Carolina for a week for a vacation. It was a half-hour drive outside of Asheville at a place called Catawba Falls. And she didn’t know anything.
MH: We got there really early at sunrise because we didn’t want to have any people around and we were afraid because we got there and the first thing we see is this sign that says, “Beware of the bears and here’s what to do if you come across them.” I was freaking out and I was like, “I don’t know if we should do this” and, of course, I didn’t know what was coming down the pipeline. We get up to the waterfall and he asks me if I want to sit down on this tree that has fallen over, and so I sit down. I look at the waterfall and then I turn to look at him and he has taken out our couples journal — we have a journal that we write in together. We’ve written messages back and forth, more so at the beginning of our relationship — it’s kind of dwindled off since we moved in together. He has the journal in his hand and he hands it to me and inside he has written an entry that talks about how he feels about us and how he feels about himself after being in this relationship for a year and a half, and then he says, “I think I’m ready. Scratch that. I know I’m ready …” and then he verbally asked me [to marry him].

Amanda and Sarah: The Maine-to-Madison Connection

Amanda Kidwell and Sarah Harebo at Fresco

Amanda Kidwell (left) and Sarah Harebo (Photo by Amandalynn Jones)

Amanda Kidwell (left) and Sarah Harebo traveled thousands of miles to see each other over the course of nine months. The couple, who met in New Orleans during the Southern Decadence festival, wasn’t looking for a relationship, but it turned into a long-distance love affair — Kidwell in Madison and Harebo in Maine. Harebo, who is from Wisconsin originally, and Kidwell traveled at least bi-weekly to see each other starting three weeks after the two met, until Harebo decided to move to Madison.

AK: At some point in all the mileage and the flying back and forth it was just clear that I wanted to spend my life with you.
SH: Not caring about spending all that time in airports, I was thinking about doing all that travel and I was negotiating that. In between that I sold my house in central Maine and moved to Portland, Maine, and then lived in Portland for a few months … and it didn’t matter. I was like, “Yep, I’ll be there, I’ll be there.”
AK: Both of us were always frequent travelers; we met in New Orleans because we like to travel, but we also became experts at finding really cheap flights or flying with a backpack
for the weekend.
SH: Not having to pay all the baggage fees or whatever to fly that often.
AK: [Finding the] cheapest flight. [Scenarios like:] “If you drive four hours you can pick me up from this airport.”
SH: And we did that sometimes. What was it? I picked you up in Philadelphia?
AK: You drove eight hours to Philly.
SH: I drove eight hours to Philadelphia.
AK: It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure.
SH: What do we always say? “That’s not me” when the planes fly.
AK: I live under the flight path here for Dane County. For months, it would be, “I know that’s Sarah on the plane landing now or flying away.” And now when planes land we’re like, “That’s not you.”
SH: “That’s not [me] anymore.”

Marcus & Brittany: Five Minus One

Marcus VerHage and Brittany Kidd sitting at a table in Fresco

Marcus VerHage (left) and Brittany Kidd (Photo by Amandalynn Jones)

Marcus VerHage (left) and Brittany Kidd were out for an anniversary date, celebrating their “five minus one” anniversary. The couple, who met in La Crosse during college, had taken a one-year break in the relationship after VerHage graduated two years before Kidd and moved to Madison. Once Kidd graduated, she moved to Madison, where she’s lived for more than two years, saying that it might be the place where she wants to live long term and eventually start a family.

BK: Before I met Marcus, I wasn’t really focused on personal growth. I was kind of more just focused on, I’d say, non-important things. When I met him, he always wanted me to strive for the best and always get involved and now I feel like I’m completely different than when I initially met him. I just really appreciate that. He’s a pretty inspiring person.
MV: With Brittany, I appreciate her overall love for life and being happy in any situation.
BK: Looking at the positive in everything.
MV: Very positive person, fun to be around.
BK: Thank you. What a perfect [thing to say] for our anniversary.

Cody & Jennifer: It Was Inevitable

Cody Ross and Jennifer Hoeft hugging on the stairs at MMoCA

Cody Ross (left) and Jennifer Hoeft (Photo by Amandalynn Jones)

Cody Ross (left) and Jennifer Hoeft have known each other since eighth grade, but they started dating during their sophomore year of high school. Hoeft says they’ve been dating between six and 20 years, since they’ve been off and on since high school. They broke up during college, but both Ross and Hoeft say it was inevitable that they would get back together.

JH: I love that he challenges me in different ways to see the world in a different way than I had.
CR: That’s a good one.
JH: I know. I always think that.
I always said I wanted to find someone who would challenge me, not be just exactly like me, and he definitely challenges
me, good and bad. We’re very different, but at the core our values are very similar.
CR: That’s what I would have said. You stole mine.
JH: Go for it.
CR: I’ll say … her eyes.
JH: You can’t say something physical.
CR: All right. … She also is
very supportive and passionate about helping others, which is something that I admire. She’s
a nurse, so she tries to have that rub off on me. But I think I could do better at it — caring more about others.
JH: That’s where the challenge comes in.
CR: I care about people, but
she does it to an extent that is incredible.

Kelly & Ryan: From Coworkers to ‘I Do’

Kelly and Ryan Gajewski sitting in Fresco

Kelly (left) and Ryan Gajewski (Photo by Amandalynn Jones)

Kelly (left) and Ryan Gajewski first met in 2007 while training as DNA analysts for the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory, but it took until September 2012 for them to start dating. Once they started dating, Ryan went to Afghanistan to do contract work for the Army. Kelly says that tested their relationship, but they stayed together despite the long distance. On Sept. 14, 2019, Ryan and Kelly tied the knot at Steenbock’s on Orchard.

RG: She caught my eye before I caught hers. I give her a hard time that she didn’t know my name for the first year, but she did. I think what I liked is that she was always able to be herself and not worry about what other people thought. Maybe she worried what other people thought, but she still wasn’t afraid to be herself. She’s just very outgoing and fun.

KG: I paid him $50 before this. … The thing I always noticed about you was what a great sense of humor you had. I mean, he could make anybody laugh.

Editor’s note: These conversations were edited for punctuation and clarity.

Maija Inveiss is digital content editor of Madison Magazine.