When Her Reality TV Journey Ended a Real-Life Romance Began

On Jan. 17, 2019, Nicholas James Wehby caught his first glimpse of Sydney Maree Lotuaco. But it wasn’t a real-life sighting.

“Nick watched me on Season 23 of ‘The Bachelor,’” said Ms. Lotuaco, who willingly left the show in week six. Mr. Wehby had watched as a guilty pleasure with his roommate, Michael Perazzo. “He took a liking to me from the moment he saw me on the show,” Ms. Lotuaco said, adding that she had also appeared in the “Bachelor in Paradise” spinoff.

“I look back on the show very positively,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “I met my husband in a round about way by going on the show.”

Mr. Wehby had mentioned his interest in Ms. Lotuaco to Mr. Perazzo, who encouraged him to contact her. Mr. Wehby said he figured, “I really don’t have anything to lose.”

So, on Dec. 11, 2019, he sent her a direct message on Instagram.

They sent a couple of messages back and forth. But that was the extent of it.

On three occasions between late January and late February 2020, they briefly exchanged messages again. “He would occasionally reach out to comment on things I was doing,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “I would always try and respond back to everyone, which included him.”

The couple, who are both 31, say what they call the “official back and forth” began on March 21, 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, when Ms. Lotuaco had more time to engage in messages. “It was just fun to keep each other company at the start of a very unknown time,” she said.

Wedding guests were treated to a boatload of beer.Credit…Kristen Zeis for The New York Times

There was a lot of joking. “That’s one of the things I like to think she likes about me — my sense of humor,” Mr. Wehby said. “But I also didn’t know if she was just humoring me. So I gave her an out and gave her my number and messaged, ‘If you’re ever in town, come see me.’”

She texted 30 seconds later. He was in Ohio at the time; she in Virginia at her childhood home. Both were waiting out the pandemic.

That was on April 3, 2020. After that their banter “quickly blossomed into a full relationship after a few days of back and forth via DM and text,” Ms. Lotuaco said.

They spoke for the first time using FaceTime a week or so after that text. Ms. Lotuaco said she considers that their first date. “I didn’t warn him I would be calling him, but I wanted to see what he was like and if I was maybe getting catfished,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “We talked for hours.”

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Mr. Wehby was completely caught off guard by the call. “It was late at night” he said. “I was just lying on the couch playing video games with friends. My first thought was, ‘This is a mistake.’ But it’s still ringing so I have to pick up.”

“It was like zero to 100,” Ms. Lotuaco said of that night. They continued to call each other every night. “We were basically dating after that first call,” she said.

Still, Mr. Wehby said he was sure she would “snap out of it and not be interested.” She didn’t.

The newlyweds delighted guests by showing off their dance skills. The bride is a former professional dancer for the New York Knicks.Credit…Kristen Zeis for The New York Times

“He was my first boyfriend ever,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “We couldn’t do anything but talk and that really worked for me. It was a very traditional way of crafting a relationship, but in a modern way.”

It wasn’t until three months later that they met in person. She flew to Cincinnati on June 10, 2020. “It was weird seeing each other outside of a screen and to be able to finally hold hands and touch,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “We agreed to kiss each other right when we first met so we weren’t waiting around for the inevitable. It was definitely a risk, but luckily worked out perfectly.”

They drove to Virginia Beach together on June 17, 2020 and became “Instagram official” the very next day.

Mr. Wehby drove back to Cincinnati on June 21. And on July 23, Ms. Lotuaco flew to Cincinnati for a visit and never left.

“We definitely had a lot of logistical factors that didn’t make sense,” she said, “but we didn’t let that stop us from falling in love.” Ms. Lotuaco officially moved in to Mr. Wehby’s house in Cincinnati that August where the two continue to live.

Ms. Lotuaco, who grew up in Virginia Beach, is a host of the podcast “Something to Share,” as well as a content creator, fitness instructor and former professional dancer for the New York Knicks basketball team. She has a bachelor’s degree in dance from Marymount Manhattan College.

Mr. Wehby, who is from Mason, Ohio, has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Indianapolis. He is the director of key accounts for Kaivac, a specialty cleaning systems manufacturer.

On June 22, 2013, when Mr. Wehby was going into his junior year as a football player at the university, he dove into a swimming pool at a family friend’s graduation party and dislocated and fractured his C3 and C4 vertebrae. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

“The other guy still in the hot tub heard my head hit the bottom of the pool and jumped in and protected my neck. I was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds,” Mr. Wehby said. “Luckily he was bigger and stronger than me.”

Mr. Wehby was rushed to the hospital and his family was told to say goodbye. Then they were told they had managed to save his life but that there was zero chance he would ever walk again.

The next day, however, Mr. Wehby found he was able to move his left leg slightly and the day after he was able to sit up and wiggle his toes and squeeze his hands. On June 25, 2013, he took his first three steps. And just one day later, he was released from the hospital.

Mr. Wehby said he is now almost fully recovered.

“When I learned about this story, I knew he was the real deal,” Ms. Lotuaco said.

On Dec. 5, 2021, Mr. Wehby proposed to Ms. Lotuaco. The two had kept a journal that they passed between them while dating long distance and Mr. Wehby wanted to incorporate that into their engagement.

The bride’s father, Nicanor Lotuaco, performed a magic trick as part of his speech.Credit…Kristen Zeis for The New York Times
The rain held off until after the couple’s outdoor ceremony.Credit…Kristen Zeis for The New York Times

“So, he crafted a plan with one of our photographer friends who reached out to me to do a photo shoot together,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “She came up with an idea for us to write letters to each other so that we could exchange them during the photo shoot for ‘cute pictures.’”

Ms. Lotuaco wrote hers on paper and Mr. Wehby in their shared journal. Then they swapped them and read them to one another. “What Nick had ended up writing in our journal was his proposal to me,” Ms. Lotuaco said. “I was shocked.”

The couple were wed May 13 before 121 guests at the Mimosa Barn in Cape Charles, Va. Girard Larkin, a friend of a bridesmaid and a minister who was ordained through a nondenominational Christian church in Chesapeake, Va., officiated in a ceremony that was led by Mr. Perazzo, the roommate who had encouraged Mr. Wehby to contact with Ms. Lotuaco.

“It felt like someone was looking out for us,” Ms. Lotuaco said of the day. “The high percent chance of rain held off so we could have the outdoor ceremony we dreamed of.”

“My dad and brother surprised us with a song in honor of my grandpa, who sang at my aunt’s wedding,” she added. “The rain began right as he started to sing.”

Mr. Wehby said, “The amount of love surrounding Sydney and I was almost overwhelming at times. I have only felt that level of love one other time in my life, when I was in the hospital after my injury. It’s crazy to think that the best day and worst day of my life felt exactly the same.”

On This Day

When May 13, 2023

Where Mimosa Barn, Cape Charles, Va.

Like Magic At the reception, the bride’s father, Nicanor Lotuaco, performed a magic card trick as part of his speech. “My dad technically met Nick via Zoom performing the same magic trick,” Ms. Lotuaco said.

Recycled Dress Ms. Lotuaco had her mother’s wedding dress redesigned into a rehearsal dinner dress for her and a purse for her mother. “My mom absolutely loved the purse,” she said. “It was very special to share that with her and to give her dress a second life. The dress had been in a box for 30 years.”

Sponsored By In exchange for social media content, the couple’s wedding bands were gifted from Tacori. The bride also received jewelry rentals from Verstolo and shoes from Bella Belle. Bridesmaids’ dresses were from Revelry and their sleepwear from Birdy Grey.

Traditional Touches The couple buried a bourbon bottle at the wedding venue to help ward off rain, a Southern tradition that partially worked. Ms. Lotuaco said they also “had a phone guest book to symbolize how we met over the phone.”

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