How we met: ‘None of my Indian friends had girlfriends. But I liked her too much to say no’ | Relationships

As a music lover, Emily was excited to join her high school choir on a trip to San Francisco from Riverside, California, in 2011. They attended a competition, which went well, but on the journey back she became fed up of sitting with her friends. “They were talking about boys and being a bit annoying,” she laughs. She spotted Cyril sitting on the coach alone and decided to join him. Although they knew each other through the choir, they had never spoken for very long. “He had taken over playing the piano from me and I’d noticed he was better at it, so there was a bit of rivalry,” she admits. “I did think he was cute, though.”

They spent the nine-hour return trip talking and bonding over their similar tastes in music. “I knew who Emily was before that, but she wasn’t much more than an acquaintance,” says Cyril. “The bus ride was really a turning point for us.” Emily agrees. “It sounds cheesy, but it feels like that is where we fell in love.”

Although Emily really liked Cyril, she didn’t think there could be a future. While she was from California, he had moved to the area from India when he was 10. His family were in favour of arranged marriages and dating wasn’t culturally acceptable. “I didn’t think we had a chance at building a relationship,” says Emily. Despite her concerns, she knew there was a spark between them. Not long after the bus ride, she found one of Cyril’s favourite pieces of music, Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, and printed out the piano arrangement by Franz Liszt to give to him. “We’d been talking about it on the bus,” says Cyril. “But I was still clueless that she liked me at that point.”

Towards the end of term, she and Cyril began spending more time together. They were both performing in the school play and rehearsed every afternoon. That was where they shared their first kiss. A few weeks later, Emily asked Cyril to be her boyfriend. “At the time, I thought it was a really huge decision. None of my Indian friends had girlfriends and, from my family’s point of view, it wasn’t really an option,” he says. But he decided he liked her too much to say no.

For the first month, they were undercover, only seeing each other at school. “In the end, I told my family, because I didn’t want to keep it a secret,” he says. Initially, they struggled to accept the relationship. “I was introduced as Cyril’s friend for years,” says Emily. The couple went to university in different areas of Riverside – a city of about 320,000 people – but were able to see each other regularly. “I was even able to join his university’s choir, because there were no rules saying I couldn’t,” she says, laughing.

In January 2018, Cyril told his family he was going to propose. By that time, they had embraced their relationship and were happy for them. He invited Emily to a nice restaurant and asked the waiter to place the ring in her dessert. “I’d invited friends and family to a restaurant nearby so they could come and celebrate with us afterwards. My grandparents were visiting from India, so it was really nice.”

They married in September 2019. Cyril now works in chemical engineering, while Emily studies speech and language pathology.

“I love that we’re best friends,” says Emily. “We complete each other’s sentences and we’re on the same wavelength.” As well as their shared passion for music, Cyril enjoys the fact that they both enjoy the same books and restaurants. “We’re always going out to find these little hole-in-the-wall places to eat,” he says. “We’re also both ambitious and passionate and Emily is always kind and understanding.”

Although the cultural differences and family opposition was challenging at first, Emily believes it has made them stronger as a couple. “We are still always learning about each other’s cultures,” she says. “We’re proof that it can work really well if you’re open-minded and willing to be patient.”

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