Michael Cicoria is not the type to automatically pull out chairs and hold doors. But he will admit that when it comes to chivalry, he has his moments.
In the summer of 2013, while he was attending Drexel University, he was at a birthday party off campus in Philadelphia when he saw a fellow student, Deepika Subbiah, struggling to help an intoxicated friend into a taxi. Instead of tucking the friend into the cab himself, then closing the door with a goodbye-and-good-luck wave, he climbed in, too, and traveled along with them. Back on campus, he helped the women up the stairs and into an apartment. Then he disappeared.
“Mike was such a gentleman,” said Subbiah, a senior account executive at the Brownstein Group, a Philadelphia advertising and public relations agency. “He barely knew us. I hadn’t even asked him for help. And then, after I got my friend settled in her room, I turned around and he was gone. I didn’t even have his number to thank him.”
Subbiah, then a sophomore at Drexel, let the moment go with a sigh of gratitude. But not far beneath it was a sense of longing.
“I remembered meeting Mike my freshman year for a couple of minutes and being like, He is so cute,” said Subbiah, now 26.
In the fall of 2011, Subbiah and Cicoria were both active in Drexel’s small Greek community. Cicoria, 30, then a junior studying engineering, was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha. His roommate, Brendan Dodge, was friendly with the women of Phi Sigma Sigma, the sorority Subbiah was pledging. They met at Cicoria’s apartment when Dodge hosted several Phi Sig women as a stop on a pledging scavenger hunt.
That night, Subbiah told Dodge she was attracted to Cicoria. “But Mike didn’t want anything to do with me,” she said. It was nothing personal. “I remember meeting her and thinking she was pretty,” he said. The problem: He was already in a relationship.
Cicoria, a mechanical engineer at Jacob’s Engineering, grew up in Mahopac, New York, with his mother, Michelle Palange, a nurse, and a younger sister, Kaitlyn Palange. His parents divorced when he was a toddler. Michelle Palange moved the family to Mahopac from the Bronx for its safe neighborhoods and good public schools. “I started taking engineering classes in 10th grade, and from then on it was engineering or bust,” Cicoria said. He showed similar dedication to a girlfriend he met at Mahopac High School; they maintained a relationship throughout his first few years at Drexel.
At the time of the 2013 cab encounter with Subbiah, however, he was single. His disappearing act that night wasn’t out of disinterest in getting better acquainted with Subbiah. Instead, “I had gotten them home,” he said. “I figured they didn’t need me to hang around and impose.”
A few days later, Subbiah found him on Facebook Messenger. “I can’t remember exactly what I said but I’m willing to bet it was flirty,” said Subbiah. She was born in Canada, where her parents, Usha and Anthony Subbiah, and an older brother, Ranjan Subbiah, moved in 1989 from India so her father could attend an MBA program at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The family moved to Randolph, New Jersey, when she was 2. There she took up dance and competitive figure skating. She also kept a close eye on fashion; in addition to her work at the Brownstein Group, she maintains an Instagram account focused on Philadelphia fashion.
Subbiah had few serious relationships before she pinged Cicoria on Facebook Messenger. “There was never much interest from the other side,” she said.
Cicoria quickly made up for that. Their first date was July 6, 2013, at Chickie’s and Pete’s, a Philadelphia sports bar. Subbiah had set everything up. Dodge came along too but only because Subbiah didn’t want to be impolite.
“She was coming to pick me up and she asked me if he wanted to come,” Cicoria said. “I later found out she was asking to be nice, but I’m bad at reading between the lines.” That night, they would have their first kiss at Cicoria’s apartment. First, Subbiah would get some sleep.
“This was Mike’s first look at who I was as a human,” she said. “He had put on the movie ‘The Avengers,’ and I notoriously fall asleep during every movie.” Cicoria draped a blanket over her until the credits rolled and then kissed her good night.
Within weeks, they were seeing each other regularly. But Subbiah would not consider herself Cicoria’s girlfriend until the end of that year, when Cicoria, who had moved to the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia after graduating from Drexel, started introducing her that way at a holiday party.
“I was definitely excited to hear him calling me his girlfriend,” she said. But Subbiah had jitters before the next party they attended together: a 2014 Memorial Day gathering at the home of his aunt and uncle, Lisa and Tom Resciniti, in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.
“Mike’s family is 100% Italian, and mine is 100% Indian,” she said.
Regardless, “I threw her right into the craziness,” Cicoria said.
They arrived to a backyard scene of about 75 people, both recall, all of them competing for airspace. “It’s a loud family,” he said. “They’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they’re definitely loud.”
Subbiah felt relief. “I realized big Italian families are exactly the same as big Indian families,” she said. “Everybody is loud; everybody is obsessed with food. I thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’” When Subbiah brought Cicoria home to meet her parents that August, he also felt he could let his guard down. “The similarities in our cultures were very apparent,” he said.
Bala Murty, a longtime Subbiah family friend, remembers being impressed by their ease around each other’s families so early in their relationship “They were both raised with their own traditions, and they’re determined to maintain their own cultures,” he said. “But they’re progressive. They deeply respect each other’s backgrounds.”
Subbiah graduated from Drexel in 2015, then moved to Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood with roommates to start her marketing career. Cicoria moved into a house a five-minute walk away. After two years of getting to know the neighborhood and getting used to seeing each other after work every day, they rented a house in Fairmount together. Right away, a learning curve presented itself. “D is very much a neat freak,” Cicoria said.
Both agree that he isn’t that kind of person. “Mike will do laundry, then dump it on the bed, pick out what he wants and put the clean clothes right back in the hamper,” she said. “He lets dirty clothes sit on the floor. I don’t know how a human being lives like that.”
Nevertheless, she ceded laundry duties to him permanently after seeing a mouse in their laundry room in 2018. “I freaked out,” she said. “I couldn’t handle it. I haven’t done laundry since.” This continued even after they moved to a new place in Fairmount, where they still live, in 2019. He still washes and dries. She folds. “Now if I even try to do the laundry he stops me and tells me I’m doing it wrong.”
Domino, a pit bull they adopted in 2017, moved them toward further tidiness compromises. “He drags mud in and he’s on the bed half the time,” Subbiah said. “I realized we can’t be clean all the time. We met in the middle.”
By the summer of 2018, their families were asking regularly when they were going to get married. Both felt their relationship was veering in that direction. Subbiah started looking at rings. She sent Cicoria a picture of a sapphire ring more periwinkle than deep blue.
Cicoria has always been close with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, John Bennett, who was more like a father, died of Parkinson’s disease in 2014. His grandmother, Grace Bennett, is 89. In December 2018, Bennett offered him her diamond engagement ring.
“I had gone up to visit my mom and my grandmother, and it was one of those times my mom had been yelling at me about taking too long to get engaged,” he said. He accepted the custom engagement ring
and had it modified. The original stone, swapped for a pale sapphire, was made into a diamond necklace for his sister.
Subbiah admits she was getting impatient by the time he proposed, on a walk at Philadelphia’s Longwood Gardens, on Aug. 10, 2019. “There were so many weekends I thought it was going to happen,” she said. “We had even figured out that we wanted to get married April 18.” This would allow family in India to travel to Philadelphia because the school year there would be finished.
Her “yes” in August came with tears. “Mike looked at me like, ‘Why are you crying? You knew this was going to happen.’”
What they did not know, of course, was that the wedding they began planning for more than 300 guests would be derailed by COVID-19. “We were optimistic for a while,” Subbiah said. But by April 1, it became clear they would need to postpone a big celebration. Marriage, though, was their No. 1 priority.
“I had been waiting a long time,” Subbiah said.
On April 18, in the Rescinitis’ back yard in Cedar Grove, they said their vows before seven family members and scores of Zoom watchers. Subbiah, holding a white bouquet under an arch woven with white flowers, wore an embroidered pale blue ankle-length dress she ordered online from BCBG Maxazria; Cicoria wore a navy suit by Bonobos with a white pocket square.
Tom Resciniti, ordained through the Universal Life Church, officiated a short ceremony in which he called on both to support each other and accept each other’s support. “I promise to listen and learn from you,” each repeated before Resciniti pronounced them husband and wife.
As the couple kissed and then raised their arms in celebration, their Zoom friends cheered them with clapping and scrolling congratulatory chat messages and plenty of heart emojis.