Philippe Corbé almost didn’t go out that night in February 2017. He had a nonstop schedule as a New York-based correspondent for the French radio station RTL, a job that required waking up in the middle of the night to appear on early-morning newscasts in France. Covering the United States presidential election and its aftermath had left him depleted, and he also had just finished a book about the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. He had written for the first time about his own struggles as a gay man growing up in Brittany, a conservative rural region in northwest France.
“I was not only physically but emotionally exhausted,” Mr. Corbé said. He fell asleep early that evening, but not before setting an alarm for 11 p.m.
Javier Miguel Céspedes, 44, was overcoming a similar reluctance about continuing his evening. After dinner with friends, something compelled him to go out for one more drink. As he stood at the bar at Industry, an unpretentious Midtown Manhattan gay bar that draws an international crowd, he noticed a man still wearing his winter coat and silently admired his elegant profile.
Mr. Corbé had noticed Mr. Céspedes, too, and had worried that if he stepped away to check his coat, someone else would take his spot at the bar. But Mr. Corbé was too nervous to make the first move. “I’m not good at talking to men, I’m too shy,” he said.
Mr. Corbé, 40, had practice being an outside observer. He grew up in the small village of Cléder, where both his parents’ families had farmed for centuries. His father, Guy Corbé, worked as a truck driver and his mother, Denise Corbé, was as an accounting secretary for a local government agency. Mr. Corbé’s primary portal to the outside world was BBC radio, which came through more clearly than French radio stations, and which spurred his love for the English language. Realizing that he was attracted to men compounded his sense of isolation; he coped by reading Proust and memorizing poems that Jean Cocteau had written to his lover.
Mr. Corbé went on to study journalism at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Lyon and received a master’s degree from the Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme in Lille. In 2003, he won a contest for young journalists and was hired by RTL, where he worked as a political reporter for several years.
Mr. Corbé eventually moved to New York where, on June 11, 2016, he spent a muggy Saturday night dancing at Industry. “‘Dancing’ for those who know me is a bit too generous. Watching people dance, watching them laugh and live,” he would later write, “is enough for me.”
As he was heading back to his apartment that evening, he received a call from Paris informing him about the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Hours later, Mr. Corbé was on a plane to Florida. He interviewed grieving family members, Pulse regulars, and a survivor who had hidden inside the club. As a reporter, he had been proximate to tragedy before, but this time felt different. He spent a sleepless night writing an essay about the shooting and his own relationship to clubs like Pulse.
“These really are sanctuaries,” he said, “bubbles of fresh air for a few hours of relief.” The essay went viral in France, and Mr. Corbé was asked to expand it into a book. “J’irai Danser à Orlando” (“I Will Dance in Orlando”) was published by Grasset in 2017. Mr. Corbé finally had forthright conversations about his sexuality with his parents and brother, who had previously talked around the subject.
Mr. Corbé continued to return to Industry with a new appreciation for the fragility, and importance, of such spaces. Then came that night in February when he stood silently next to Mr. Céspedes. He didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Céspedes had his own journey as an outsider. Mr. Céspedes was born in Cuba; he was 5 when he and his family arrived in the United States as refugees in 1980. He lived in Texas, Louisiana and New York before settling in Elizabeth, N.J. Mr. Céspedes’s parents, Maria Céspedes Perez Bello and Célestino Rodolfo Céspedes, divorced shortly after their immigration.
His mother, who had been a child psychiatrist in Cuba, worked as a cashier, supporting two children on an annual salary of $11,000. Ms. Bello instilled in her children a fierce independence and an appreciation for hard work. Mr. Céspedes’s sister, Karina Céspedes, received a Ph.D. in ethnic studies from the University of California, Berkeley and currently teaches at the University of Central Florida.
Mr. Céspedes, who works as a project manager for a corporate office, paid off his student loans by age 29 and then bought and fully paid off an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I wanted the freedom,” he said. “If I felt like living in Paris for a year, I wanted to be able to do that.” After a two-year marriage ended in 2015, he focused on work and spending time with friends. By the time he stood next to Mr. Corbé at Industry, he felt ready to jump back in the dating pool, but felt a visceral antipathy to dating apps.
Fortunately, Mr. Céspedes was more courageous than Mr. Corbé.
“I just said, ‘hi,’” he recalled. The two embarked on a lively conversation in English, neither of their first languages, during which Mr. Céspedes, who had recently traveled to Paris, tried out his French. (“It was really bad,” Mr. Corbé admitted later.) The two eventually took the conversation to Mr. Corbé’s apartment nearby, where they played their favorite songs for each other and danced in the living room.
The next day, Mr. Corbé suggested that they go see a French film playing nearby. The following day, they watched the Super Bowl, and Mr. Corbé ate nachos for the first time. By the end of the weekend it was clear to both of them that the relationship was going to be serious.
“We don’t ‘date’ in France,” Mr. Corbé said. “We don’t have a word for it. You’re with someone or you’re not. And from that weekend, I was with him, and that was it. It was as simple as that.”
Despite the apparent differences in their backgrounds, they bonded over their small town roots. They traveled together, went to the opera, and developed pet names for each other — Mr. Corbé is “Frenchie,” Mr. Céspedes is “Papi.” They developed a tradition of always keeping a bottle of champagne in the fridge and sharing a glass on particularly good (or bad) days. Mr. Céspedes attempted to befriend Lolita, Mr. Corbé’s large, ill-tempered cat, but was largely unsuccessful. (“She’s very French,” Mr. Céspedes said.)
In January 2018, Mr. Céspedes took a job in Washington, a career move he had planned before meeting Mr. Corbé. They tried to keep up their spirits as they faced the prospect of a long-distance relationship. Mr. Corbé drove Mr. Céspedes to his new apartment and helped him get settled. On their final morning together, they had breakfast at a diner, delaying the inevitable departure. Finally, Mr. Corbé got up to go.
“I thought, that doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Céspedes said. “I had finally found somebody I knew I could be with and now because of obligations I had to go.”
Over the next six months, they spoke on the phone for hours every day. Mr. Corbé regularly took the bus or train to Washington, waking up at 3 a.m. to appear live on-air in France. “I remember when Billy Graham died, thinking how strange it was that I was doing a live story about an evangelical preacher while I was sitting in my boyfriend’s walk-in closet,” he said. By that summer, Mr. Corbé made up his mind to propose. He visited the Tiffany store in Manhattan three times, in part because he wanted to pick the right ring, but also because browsers were provided with a glass of champagne.
The couple continued to travel together, and on a trip to Paris last August, a friend lent them an apartment with an amazing view of the city. Mr. Corbé produced a bottle of champagne and presented Mr. Céspedes with his favorite dish from a Parisian restaurant, Camembert with honey. Then he proposed.
Mr. Céspedes accepted enthusiastically. A few weeks later, Mr. Céspedes told Mr. Corbé that he was heading back to New York; he let his employer know that the situation wasn’t working for him.
With their ties to many disparate places, the couple had a hard time settling on a wedding location. Paris? New York? Ultimately, they decided on a more unexpected option. In May 2018, on the way to visit Mr. Céspedes’s mother, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M., they stopped in Marfa, a small town in Far West Texas that Mr. Corbé had been visiting for the last decade. They stayed at the Paisano Hotel, famous for having lodged Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean during the filming of “Giant” in 1956. Despite the triple-digit temperatures, Mr. Céspedes was as entranced by the town’s expansive skies and vibrant arts community as his fiancé.
In April, the couple were legally married in a ceremony at the Bronx County Courthouse, because Mr. Corbé wasn’t sure whether he would be transferred back to France. (His contract in the United States ended up being renewed for one more year.) A few weeks later, two dozen friends and family members traveled to this remote spot in West Texas, 200 miles from the nearest airport, for the spiritual ceremony. It was only the second time that Mr. Corbé’s parents had been in the country. “If I had been told 10 years ago — or even five! — that my parents would be here in Texas to see their son being married to a man,” Mr. Corbé said, laughing at the improbability.
On June 1, Mr. Corbé and Mr. Céspedes were married by the Rev. Mike Wallens, the vicar at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in a ceremony that incorporated English, Spanish and French. Jérome Godefroy, Mr. Corbé’s friend and fellow journalist at RTL, translated for Mr. Corbé’s parents, who speak only French. The couple wore daisies in their lapels; when they looked at each other they began tearing up, and so they spent a portion of the ceremony gazing down at their shoes.
The reception was held in the Paisano Hotel’s Rock Hudson suite, where the guests mingling on the terrace were startled by a loud clap of thunder and a torrent of rain. Inside the suite, several French-speaking guests quoted a popular saying: “marriage pluvieuse, marriage heureuse,” or rainy wedding, happy marriage. After the storm passed, Mr. Corbé ventured outside to the balcony and beckoned Mr. Céspedes over. They stood with their arms around each other, admiring a faint rainbow emerging from the storm clouds.
Two days after the ceremony, Mr. Corbé’s mother fell ill and was taken to the University Medical Center in El Paso. Mr. Corbé spoke with her over the phone, telling her how much he loved her and how proud he had been to stand next to her at the wedding. “Je sais bien”(“I know it well”), he recalled her saying through the respirator. She died the following morning.
“I loved her so much,” Mr. Corbé wrote in an email. “And it meant the world to me to see her with me in that church.”
ON THIS DAY
When June 1, 2019
Where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Marfa, Tex.
Sweet Stuff The cake, prepared by the local baker Sylvia Norman, was red, white and blue on the inside, a nod to the couple’s three countries: Cuba, France and the United States.
The Readings Mr. Cespedes selected “It’s You I Like,” by Fred Rogers. As a child, he learned English by watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Mr. Corbé selected the Jean Cocteau poem “Un Jour,” which he memorized as a teenager.
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