From ‘Adventure Buddies’ to Her Phone Background

Amrit Malothra wasn’t thrilled to have to take out her headphones. But when Aaron Dornbrand-Lo approached her in May 2017 at the Cliffs at Dumbo, a now-closed climbing gym in Brooklyn, that’s exactly what she did.

Ms. Malothra was wearing a sweatshirt from her college dormitory at the University of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2013. Mr. Dornbrand-Lo also attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with the same degree in 2009, and he lived in the same dormitory, Fisher Hassenfeld College House, for a year. So he decided to say hi.

After a brief interaction, Ms. Malothra immediately put her headphones back in.

“She basically was like, ‘Please stop talking to me,’” he said. “I’m pretty extroverted. She’s pretty introverted.”

After they first met, they saw each other often at different locations of the Cliffs in New York. They occasionally climbed together in the same group once they realized they had mutual friends at the gym, but it would be a few weeks before they exchanged phone numbers to coordinate sessions.

For the next two years, they had a “very platonic relationship,” she said. She was focused on her career as an associate at an investment company and applying to business schools, and he was in various short term relationships during that time, which he would “vent” to her about, he said.

In December 2017, they started skiing together. None of their other friends were interested in taking a four-hour bus ride to ski resorts in Vermont at 3 a.m., but as morning people, they both loved it.

“We were basically adventure buddies,” Mr. Dornbrand-Lo, now 35, said. They later started mountain biking and hiking together as well. “It was fun having someone who was always willing to explore and try something new.”

Only when Ms. Malothra, now 31, moved to Boston in April 2019 to attend the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management did they realize that there may be something more between them.

“It was a lot more effort to spend time together,” Mr. Dornbrand-Lo said. “That was when I realized I really like spending time with this person and I’m really willing to make the sacrifices to make this happen. Maybe there’s something else here.”

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They were on a mountain biking trip in Mountain Creek, N.J. in July 2019 when they had their first kiss at their hotel room. Ms. Malothra could not fall asleep that night, so Mr. Dornbrand-Lo stayed awake and told her jokes to keep her company.

“It felt more intimate,” he said. “That just felt like the moment."

“It felt very natural,” she added about their first kiss.

After that night, Mr. Dornbrand-Lo started calling her every day. “Up until then, he was still on my phone as ‘Aaron from the Cliffs,’” she said.

Two months later, during Labor Day weekend, they became an official couple. During a trip to Cape Cod, he changed her phone’s wallpaper to a picture of the two of them.

“He said, ‘Oh, it would be really weird if the person who’s your phone background is not your boyfriend. That means I should be your boyfriend, right?,’” she said.

As a couple, their adventures continued, including after Thanksgiving in 2020 when they went on a two-month cross country road trip from Washington to California, and back to Washington.

“I don’t think I could ever have imagined my introverted self being stuck in a car with anyone for eight hours a day,” she said.

In May 2022, he proposed in their apartment in Brooklyn. Ms. Malothra, who is from Washington D.C., is a strategic finance manager at Instacart. Mr. Dornbrand-Lo, is from Berkeley, Calif. He is a vice president at Goldman Sachs.

The couple were legally married in the Marriage License Bureau in Washington on Valentine’s Day in honor of Mr. Dornbrand-Lo’s parents, Dr. Laurie Dornbrand and Dr. Bernard Lo, who got married on the same date, 36 years ago. The couple self-officiated, which is allowed by District of Columbia law, and had no witnesses.

They also had a Sikh ceremony on Feb. 17 at the National Sikh Gurdwara in Washington with 25 guests. In Sikh culture, it is common for grooms to carry a sword on the wedding day, a tradition Mr. Dornbrand-Lo was ecstatic to adopt.

“I held on to that sword all day — at the hotel getting ready in the morning, at the restaurant getting a coffee,” Mr. Dornbrand-Lo, who is Chinese and Jewish, said gleefully.

On Feb. 25, the couple had a reception at the JW Marriott Essex House New York with 96 guests.

“We’re having a barat with Chinese lion dancers doing a dance to ‘Jai Ho,’ and a hora,” Ms. Malothra said. “We’re combining Indian, Chinese and Jewish traditions in the most fun ways.”

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