When Robert Soriano first met Christina Arroyo at a Late Shabbat service at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2003, he used such a lame pickup line (by his own admission) that it fizzled right there.
Three years later they met again at a fundraiser for New Israel Fund’s New Generations, and this time things clicked into place. On their first date they saw “Chicago” at the Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre, and afterward went to a holiday party thrown by Soriano’s friends. When they walked in, Arroyo saw portraits of the hosts’ beloved dachshund everywhere; it just so happened dachshunds were her favorite breed, making her feel right at home.
In 2008, Arroyo moved into Soriano’s San Francisco condo and, knowing that he was a bit skittish about marriage, started campaigning to get a dog instead. He was reluctant, having grown up in Brooklyn afraid of the neighborhood strays, but he finally gave in. They started looking at photos of puppies from breeders, and when Arroyo spotted a dachshund with what looked like worry lines, she knew she had found “Robert’s dog.”
“I’m a worrier,” he admitted.
They planned to pick up the puppy after Soriano returned from a trip, but on the way to the airport, he experienced pain. He boarded not knowing that his appendix had ruptured, and by the time the plane landed, he needed a wheelchair. He and Arroyo went straight to the ER.
While Soriano was in the hospital, Arroyo picked up the puppy, Wally. When Soriano came home for his six-week recovery, Wally was there to greet him. That gave the pair plenty of time to get to know each other.
“He completely bonded with my puppy,” Arroyo said. “The dog that I really wanted became more of his dog.”
“Wally is like my son,” said Soriano. “He’s definitely played a big role in our relationship.”
As for her patience in waiting for marriage, Arroyo said they both came from broken homes so she understood why Soriano had some fears, and she knew to give him time to work through his issues.
“I never doubted that he loved me,” she said. “In our eight years of living together, we’ve shared everything, gone through illnesses, the death of parents, the stress of him starting a new career. We’ve done all the heavy relationship lifting and supporting each other.”
They also survived a remodel of the condo, in which they were pretty much confined to their bedroom for several months. “If we could survive that, we could survive anything,” they agreed.
Arroyo, 40, is a graphic designer at Salesforce who moved to the Bay Area from Southern California after college. Soriano, 52, came from New York to work at Genentech, where he spent over 25 years. He is now doing voiceover work for commercials, corporate videos and video games.
“There’s never a boring day with Robert, no two days are ever the same, and that’s what makes him perfect for me,” said Arroyo.
“Not only does Christina give me unconditional love, but she challenges me,” said Soriano, “and sometimes I really need that.”
Finally, in December 2016, on their 10th anniversary, Soriano proposed over dinner at Forbes Island, a floating restaurant at Pier 39 that has since closed. Given that nine previous anniversaries had come and gone without a proposal, Arroyo was in shock.
They were married Sept. 17, 2017 at Congregation Emanu-El by Rabbi Ryan Bauer with local singer Jewlia Eisenberg and Kugelplex taking part in the affair. While they didn’t want to do anything overly religious that would exclude Arroyo’s non-Jewish family members, it was Kugelplex bandleader Jason Ditzian who convinced them to have a tisch, which culminates in the men escorting the groom to the women, and a bedeken, in which the groom veils and unveils the bride. Both later said these rituals were highlights of the ceremony.
Arroyo designed a crest for the wedding that featured Wally, dahlias (representing Arroyo’s father’s Mexican heritage) and seahorses (the symbol of Rhodes, Greece, where Soriano’s father’s Greek Jewish family is from). Soriano’s mother was born in Argentina, but her family fled there from Bialystok, Poland, before World War II.
Wally was the ring-bearer, and the reception included an ice sculpture of Wally, a Wally-shaped disco ball and little Wallys climbing up the cake.
The couple ran a slideshow during dinner of pictures from other family members’ weddings. The dancing included a song about Bialystok as well as songs in Ladino and Yiddish.
“Rather than our coming together, our wedding was more a celebration that we’ve been together,” said Arroyo. “I had put so much time into planning this gorgeous wedding, but it wasn’t the flowers or the ice sculpture; those things were great, but during dinner, we were able to sit back and see our families connect. Listening to the noise in the room of all of these people talking and laughing, and knowing that we created that, was really special.”