Paul Fifer remembers when he initially met his future husband well. It was 2010 and he had just been laid off.
“That was about the time that, you may recall, the economy went in the toilet with the housing bubble, and folks were losing their jobs right and left,” he says. “I had just left my job after nine years.”
He met Rick Fifer on a dating app. While they connected and dating for a few months, “the timing just wasn’t right,” Paul says. “I wasn’t in the right place. Rick wasn’t in the right place. So, we went our separate ways.”
Fast-forward about a decade. During that time, Paul spent several years in Richmond, Virginia for work, before moving back to the Tampa Bay area.
Rick continued growing his real estate career as broker of Vintage Homes Realty. While they were connected through Facebook, they rarely spoke more than the occasional comment on a post.
Then, in January of 2021, “Rick happened to be in Facebook jail,” Paul said. “As he often is.”
“I’m a frequent offender,” Rick adds.
Since Paul posted a selfie and since Rick wasn’t able to comment on it, he simply messaged him to tell him it was a good picture. After that they went back and forth all day.
The two decided to meet the Mill Restaurant in St. Petersburg for brunch. Afterwards they wanted to do something else. They decided on the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum in Pinellas Park.
At the time, Paul joked, “How funny – two gay guys going to the auto museum. How butch!”
Their relationship picked up where it left off. “We were both in a much different place,” Paul says. “The timing was more right versus the first time.”
Things got serious quickly and they started spending every weekend together, alternating between Rick’s home in Seminole Heights and Paul’s in St. Petersburg.
“I knew things had changed because I literally woke up in the middle of the night from a dream where I was planning to give him a ring and was trying to figure out how to make him a chocolate box for it,” Rick says. “That’s when I knew something is really different and I was really hooked.”
He decided to propose on Paul’s birthday in May 2021. Initially, he planned a surprise trip to St. Augustine, but a difficult real estate deal kept them home. Instead, they made plans for dinner with friends.
But Rick still wanted to do something special and scrambled to get a cake, asking a baker the couple knows, Kevin Boxx, if he had any leftover Mother’s Day cakes. He managed to get a cake, but his plans hit another snag – the delivery of his specially ordered rings was running behind.
The rings actually arrived on Paul’s birthday. Rick grabbed the package from the delivery guy and quickly hid the engagement ring in a macaroon on top of the cake. Knowing they’d be going to dinner soon and leaving the cake at home, he told Paul that he needed to at least try one of the macaroons.
“Luckily, I happened to look at the macaroon before I bit down on it. I saw the plastic and took out the ring,” Paul says. “I looked at him and said, ‘Does this mean what I think it means?’”
Rick responded, “I haven’t done this in 40 years. Cut me some slack.”
They started wedding planning immediately. They hoped to have their wedding on the anniversary of their first date, but to accommodate members of their wedding party, they needed to push it to Feb. 12, 2022.
“We moved it without even thinking that we were setting it up for Valentine’s Day weekend,” Rick says. “Flowers were a challenge. Everything was a challenge because it was Valentine’s Day weekend.”
Still, they made it work, focusing on local vendors and businesses as they planned their big day. And after looking at numerous venues, they ultimately chose the Tampa Bay History Center.
“At first, I wasn’t sold on the idea, I couldn’t envision it, but Rick really liked it,” Paul says. “It was right on the water. We got married outside on the terrace level. It made for nice pictures with the sunset and everything. It turned out to be an excellent venue.”
During the cocktail hour, their guests were even allowed to tour the museum. Rick says everyone who attended had a good time on their special day.
They also know of many LGBTQ+ couples who are planning their weddings and Paul has some advice for them. “Don’t stress the small stuff because things going to go wrong,” he says. “Just enjoy the day and take it in as much as you can, because it’s going to go so fast, and the evening is going to be over before you know it.”
Engagement date: May 11, 2021
Wedding date: Feb. 12, 2022
Venue: Tampa Bay History Center
Officiant: Pastor Gabriel Morgan with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Seminole Heights
Best Men: Dennis Carnahan and Terry Shultis
Catering: Columbia Restaurant
Photographer: Dylan Todd, Hipstr photo booth
Entertainment: Shoreline DJ, Bill Kody and harpist Catie Canale Pflaumer
Invitations and Wedding Signs: Minted
Flowers: Jennie’s Flowers in Tampa
Cake: Kevin Boxx
Do you have an interesting wedding or engagement story you’d like to share with Watermark readers? If so, email the details to Editor@WatermarkOnline.com for consideration as a future feature on this page.