Couple's instant attraction sparks enduring connection
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
It didn't take long for Karen Hong to know she wanted to marry Joe Saracino.
"Literally, he got out of the car and we made eye contact and I thought, 'I'm going to marry that man,' " said Hong, 32, an art registrar and graduate student living in San Francisco.
Saracino came to Hawai'i in February 2002, with his then-roommate, for a friend's wedding. The roommate, a longtime friend of Hong's, invited Hong to hang out with them one night.
Hong was instantly smitten.
"I don't know what it was," Hong said. "He just looked so kind, and he had a very nice smile. And he was the only guy I knew who wore Diesel jeans!"
They went to the Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center and Indigo Eurasian Cuisine in Chinatown. The more they talked, the more Hong was convinced he was the one.
After Saracino went back to San Francisco, where he works as the director of the ProTools application group at Digidesign, Hong showed everyone at her office his photo on the company Web site.
Little did she know that Saracino was telling everyone back in San Francisco about the cute girl he had met on vacation in Hawai'i.
"Oh, he totally liked me, from the minute he saw me," Hong said, laughing.
Over the next few weeks, they exchanged e-mail messages and chatted on the phone. In June Hong flew to San Francisco to attend an art workshop and stayed at Saracino's loft in SoMa. In August he visited Hong in Hawai'i. By the end of summer, Hong was making plans to move.
"We talked about it and we definitely wanted to give the relationship a shot," Hong said. "The only way to do that was for us to be in the same city. It was pretty spontaneous on my part."
The decision to move to San Francisco wasn't easy. Hong gave up a job working for the Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts and a cheap rental on Lanikai Beach.
"I basically left all of that," Hong said. "And I had to start from scratch."
In October 2002, Hong packed up and moved to the Bay Area. The plan was to stay with Saracino until she got settled, found a job and moved in with a mutual friend.
That didn't happen.
"Well, I found out that getting a job here is way more difficult," Hong said. "I ended up not moving out."
Saracino and Hong became an instant couple. Even though they hadn't spent much time together, they found cohabiting surprisingly comfortable.
"It was just so easy," Hong said.
THEY DO HAVE THEIR DIFFERENCES
For example, Saracino is much more organized and systematic than Hong. And she has a lot of clothes — so much, in fact, that after she took over his closet, they had to buy two extra storage units just to house hers.
"Joe's an engineer and I'm an artist," Hong said. "His house is immaculate — and I just have a lot of clothes everywhere."
In the first few months of living together, they learned a lot about each other. He realized how much she liked to go out; she discovered that he laughs at the TV and loves to Latin dance.
Within the first year of dating, they were already talking about marriage.
"He has a lot of integrity. He's a really good guy," Hong said. "He's sincere and honest, and I just instantly felt like this was the man who was always going to be good to me. And I could always trust him. He's just a solid man."
Saracino was enamored by Hong's sunny disposition and sincerity.
"Her smile brightens my day and reminds me how lucky I am to have found her," said Saracino, 32. "As far as I'm concerned, she's the cutest girl in the world."
The proposal didn't come as quickly as anticipated. Hong enrolled in the master's program in museum studies at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, Calif., which kept her busy. And Saracino was occupied by his demanding job.
So when Saracino popped the question on a beach on Moloka'i on May 13, 2005, Hong didn't see it coming.
"I was just laughing hysterically," Hong said. "I was so happy I couldn't stop laughing."
She found out later that Saracino had written her parents to ask for her hand in marriage. He even had it translated into Korean for them.
"They were super impressed," Hong said. "It was so thoughtful of him."
The couple married on March 26 — during her spring break — at the Turtle Bay Resort among about 100 guests.
Saracino's uncle and godfather, a radio journalist for the British Broadcasting Corp., was ordained specifically to marry them.
"We both said after we got married that we felt this incredible sense of calm," Hong said. "I think it's that feeling of security. We just feel really calm."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at email@example.com.