Stephen Schellhardt remembers the first time he saw Devin DeSantis on the Northwestern University campus in the summer of 2004.
Stephen, a theater major from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was an instructor in the Cherub summer theater program at NU, where DeSantis was a voice major.
"I walked past (him) and I thought, 'He is really cute!'" recalled Stephen, now 30.
But that was the extent of it for a while. Though both pursued acting careers in the Chicago area after graduating in 2005, their paths didn't cross until mutual friends set them up on a date.
"He came to see me in 'The Three Musketeers' at Chicago Shakespeare," said Devin, also 30. "I was in the ensemble and I was wearing this really long red wig and black leather doublets and was sword fighting. And I went to see him in 'Grease' at the Marriott Theatre where he was playing Doody. Then we had our first date after that show."
That was in March 2007, and they went to dinner in Wrigleyville.
"It was a very formal date," Stephen said. "I remember I was so nervous because I really liked him and had heard so much about him, and I had come out of a serious relationship. I called my best friend because I felt like I was going to throw up, and she came over and picked out my outfit for me, and it ended up being the best date ever. It was four hours of just sitting and talking. It was so refreshing to meet someone who had the same interests, who loves music and has a love for family, love for Chicago."
"But it took him three dates before he finally kissed me," Devin said.
"That's what my sisters told me," Stephen said. "You have to wait three dates."
"Ah, so I have your sisters to blame!," Devin countered.
The connection was immediate, and they dated seriously for a few months — until they both decided to break up.
"Things were getting a little intense, and we didn't know if we were quite ready for this," Devin said.
"I also knew Devin is the kind of person you want to marry, and I was not ready for that," Stephen said. "And I didn't think that was an option, really. We were great friends, and when we broke up, that's when our friendship solidified. It's so important to like the person you're with."
The pair spent several months in the "friends zone." By November, Stephen realized Devin was "the one" and decided to call him.
"I remember being out with a bunch of my friends from college, and Stephen called me," Devin said. "And I went back into the room with my friends and said, 'Guys, Stephen and I are getting back together!' It was so amazing. I will never forget it. From that moment on, we've been inseparable."
The real test of their relationship, Stephen thinks, was when he moved in to Devin's studio apartment in 2008.
"It was the size of this table," he recalled with a laugh.
Devin elaborated: "The bathroom door didn't close all the way, and we had this tiny couch."
"I'd never really had a roommate, and it worked beautifully," Stephen said
Being together also bolstered their professional courage: A few months later, Devin said, "we shoved all our stuff in a van and moved to New York on a whim. No jobs lined up. Just an apartment in Brooklyn."
For the next several years, they lived in New York and followed their acting dreams, even getting cast opposite each other in David H. Bell's "Hot Mikado."
"We got some great scenes together, and it was the first time we were able to work with each other like that, which was really exciting," Devin said.
"We were fighting over the same woman in that show," Stephen said with a laugh.
But along with the good times, there were dry spells that tested their patience and their relationship.
"You get those chunks of time when things aren't happening and you have to scrounge for money," Devin said. "We'd go weeks or a month (hardly) seeing each other."
"You're a waiter who calls himself an actor," Stephen said. "I had three or four jobs at once, and we weren't able to make our rent. We rescued a dog in New York, and I was walking the dog and I was so fed up with New York City, and I remember screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of the street. If anyone saw me, they would have thought I was totally nuts. … But we made it through all of that and stayed true to each other. I like to think of New York as a time when we really solidified who we were as people and also as a couple."
They started talking about returning to Chicago, and after gay marriage was legalized in New York, Devin surprised Stephen with a proposal on Christmas Day 2010.
"He took me to dinner, and we went to the top of the Rockefeller Center," Stephen said. "It was snowing and freezing cold, and I remember thinking, 'Why are we up here?' And Devin got down on one knee and asked me to marry him in front of all the tourists. It was a beautiful moment."
They married on March 26, 2012, in New York City, in front of close friends and family, then moved back to Chicago three days later. Today, Devin and Stephen live in the Uptown neighborhood. They hope to eventually start their own family.
"Stephen is so good with kids; he will make the best father," Devin said.
"Our families have always been there for us," Stephen said. "I came out at a very early age. I was 14. My family was wonderful, and I take it for granted a lot, but I was very blessed with the support that my family gave me. But starting our own family is in the five-year plan. We have a baby fund. Adoption is definitely in the future for us."
Being back in Chicago has also provided a steady flow of acting jobs. Devin is starring as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in the production of "Young Frankenstein" at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, and Stephen is playing the role of Emcee in "Cabaret" at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.
"Most actors would say, 'I don't want to date another actor,' but I think it's our strength," Devin said. "We have such a mutual respect and admiration for each other. And we are able to speak to each other about anything and everything."
"Trusting someone else completely and letting yourself be vulnerable is scary. It might not work out, but if you don't open your arms and just dive right in, you're never going to know," Stephen said, taking Devin's hand and saying to him, " 'You're my friend and I love you. But I like you a lot!' That's where the trust comes in."
"When I first met Devin, I think the reason we broke up and went on that hiatus is because I didn't really know what I had to offer," Stephen Schellhardt said. "I think first you have to love yourself and you have to know what you have to give to another person. When you find out who you are and you find someone else you really connect with, you have so much more to give. So I think you have to love yourself in order to love someone else fully."