INTERVIEWS BY BETSY GRUBER GOLDBERG AND ABBY TEGNELIA.
Stroud, 39, Bronx optician Tollie
Letlow, 38, Bronx restaurant manager Isaac: We met in 1997. One of my friends invited me to go to Jones Beach with him and his girlfriend. He said she was bringing a friend who was in a rocky relationship and was a little distraught.
Tollie: They told me the same thing about him!
Isaac: That night, we had to restrain ourselves. We didn't have to go to the drugstore it didn't go that far. We stayed in our relationships and kept the friendship going over the years. When her relationship ended last February, they were living together. I had my own place, and she needed a place to stay.
Tollie: I was his roommate. We were just friends all the way up until the end of September.
Isaac: I saw there was something on her mind for three weeks, and she couldn't say it. I was having fun with the fact that she couldn't bring it out.
Tollie: He's a challenge. He's not a "yes, baby" man I can't deal with those guys. As soon as he starts agreeing with everything I say, it'll be over.
Tornabene, 43, Manhattan insurance administrator Kathleen
Harrington, 35, Manhattan technical-sales rep Kathleen: We met through a mutual friend who felt it was important to get people together after what happened at the World Trade Center.
David: I remember getting to this thing and thinking, Oh I'm glad she's here.
Kathleen: I felt guilty for thinking he was cute since he was in one of the buildings on September 11. I was moved by how he spoke. So I organized another get-together.
David: I remember scrolling through the e-mail and seeing her name, so I decided to go.
Kathleen: Then there was another group outing, a brunch in Hoboken. And he still didn't ask me out! We ended up taking the train home together, with another guy. I said to David, "You should really get off at my stop." And the other guy said, "That's definitely longer!" I was so embarrassed.
David: I felt like I'd missed an opportunity, so I e-mailed her.
Kathleen: He wrote, "Hope to see you in the near future." I wrote back: "I'm free Thursday and Friday . . . ".
Sama, 30, Westchester County middle-school teacher Chris
Ward, 38, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, sports-facility manager Lisa: One afternoon, I bumped into one of my favorite high-school teachers, Betsy Groat, and I asked her if she knew any men for me.
Chris: I had helped out Betsy's son. She asked how she could thank me, so I said, "How about finding me a good girl?" Lisa and I met as a blind date.
Lisa: He was like, "I'm on my way back [to South Carolina], unless something happens that makes me stay." I wasn't ready for that intensity.
Chris: I called her again, and we went to see Don't Say a Word.
Lisa: I left his apartment at about three in the morning that night, shaking my head: "I'm just not ready!"
Chris: So Sunday comes, and I said, "Let me give her a call." She was home playing the piano, and I said, "How about I come over and sing?"
Lisa: Suddenly he was singing to me. That's when I fell in love with him. He never went home he just moved in. Right before Christmas, we went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and he says, "I've never seen the altar up close, let's go see it."
Chris: I got down on one knee and said, "Will you marry me?"
DiBartolommeo, 32, Brooklyn musician Shane
Powers, 25, Weehawken, N.J., style editor Dario: When everything was happening after September 11, I was alone and miserable about it.
Shane: I was tumbling out of a one-and-a-half-year relationship. I'd come into Auto in the West Village once in late August, and I recognized Dario when I came back two months later for a sample sale.
Dario: My head was shaved, and he thought it was hot.
Shane: This time I thought, "I'm gonna know him." And he offered me a CD of his music.
Dario: I had one copy of that CD that I wasn't going to give to anyone. Shane: To do that for someone he didn't know was so brave and vulnerable, so I sent him a thank-you note. He asked me out to dinner at Cafe Gitane.
Dario: I wanted everything to be perfect. I know people who work there, so I knew I'd get better service.
Shane: I wasn't even sure if it was a date. I was breaking up with someone else, so I thought, "Am I cheating?" But he respected that. My gut feeling was that it was appropriate and genuine.
Massucci, 34, Manhattan TV reporter Julia
Sullivan, 28, Manhattan marketing director Anthony: We met in '99 at Windows on the World we were sitting near each other at a lunch-slash-seminar. We've been friends ever since, but just professionally. We'd go out to lunch and wind up talking only about personal stuff.
Julia: During the last five minutes, I'd say, "By the way, I have a new client, and here's the press kit."
Anthony: I asked her out once in the beginning, but she was taken. In October, I got a new job and moved from New Jersey into the city.
Julia: I was really excited about his moving.
Anthony: She asked me to dinner, and we found out we were both single. My sister was having a party two weeks later, and I was hoping that would trigger something. She was cool with my nieces, and when we were slow dancing, I started thinking.
Julia: We've been together ever since. September 11 definitely made me rethink my priorities. The fact that Anthony was already a good friend and that I trusted him was so important to me.
Vigil, 24, Brooklyn art director Julien
Lee, 26, Brooklyn law student Daniel: I lived with Julien's best friend, who I met through a roommate service.
Julien: One night, Daniel and I invited all of our friends to a bar, but no one made it but us.
Daniel: Maybe our friends caught on to us and didn't show up on purpose. We had a few drinks and hung out. We were standing outside the bar, and we gave each other an awesome hug. It was the beginning of November.
Julien: We went dancing the next night at Exit with a lot of people. We danced all night long, till daylight.
Daniel: The two of us can dance anywhere, in the middle of the street.
Julien: We were in the same tribe. Our friends all knew each other.
Daniel: But Julien and I had never sat down together and talked.
Julien: His open-mindedness is really important to me. I've met artsy types who are egomaniacal and too wrapped up in what's cool.