After a Single Glance, an Unspoken Connection Blossomed

After a Single Glance, an Unspoken Connection Blossomed

A couple decades ago, the accessory designer Alexis Riyad Bittar, who had nearly a dozen tattoos at the time, added an especially meaningful one to the array: an image of a pair of thin wedding bands in navy blue ink, deliberately situated on the ring finger of his left hand.

“I got this in my 30s because I thought, ‘I’m gay — I’m never getting married,’” he said, pointing to the tattoo. “It wasn’t legal.”

Since then, of course, the laws around same-sex unions have changed, but until about five years ago, none of Mr. Bittar’s relationships led to marriage. His life changed in other ways though: In 2015, Mr. Bittar, now 54, became a single father with the arrival of twins, Sophie and Ivan, who were born via surrogate.

One morning during the spring of 2018, Mr. Bittar, who is best known for creating vibrant Lucite jewelry, went to a branch of Blink Fitness not far from the Brooklyn Heights townhouse he’s lived in since 2014, as he did most days.

He was accustomed to seeing the same set of recognizable faces there, but spotted someone new on the gym floor who stood out: John Cameron Miner, who had recently settled in Brooklyn after spending several years in Mexico City.

Mr. Miner, 34, who was working at the fashion brand Bode at the time, noticed Mr. Bittar, too.

“He’s saying hi and he knows everyone,” said Mr. Miner, who goes by Jack. He recalled thinking, “I’m not going to really give him much because he thinks he’s pretty cool.’”

Admittedly, the reaction was, in part, a reflection of Mr. Miner’s personality.

“I can be quite guarded, just as a coping mechanism for the world,” Mr. Miner said. “So I think that the sense that Alexis had was that I was a little bit aloof or something.” He added, “It’s not inaccurate. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but I was not showing any interest.”

For about six months, they saw each other during their morning workouts, but didn’t speak or interact. That changed one day in November 2018, when, Mr. Bittar said, “for the first time, Jack gave me eye contact and acknowledged me.” They chatted and made plans to meet outside of the gym.

A few days later, they got together for a late lunch at East One Coffee Roasters, which was around the corner from the Cobble Hill brownstone apartment where Mr. Miner was living at the time with his older brother Charlie, who is one of three siblings, and two friends. As they got to know one another — “It was a little awkward because I’d been looking at him for six months,” Mr. Bittar said — Mr. Bittar explained that he was a single father.

“One of the first things he said was, ‘I have twins,” Mr. Miner said. “I remember saying, ‘That’s so cool.’ I think some gay men might be scared of that, but I wasn’t at all.”

On the surface, the couple might seem quite different. Mr. Bittar, who is gregarious and vocal, grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His father, Robert Bittar, is of Syrian descent and his late mother, Helen Bittar, was of Irish-Catholic descent; both were professors. Mr. Bittar began selling jewelry on the streets of downtown Manhattan as a scrappy teenager.

Mr. Miner, who received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Bucknell University and is considerably more reserved, grew up in leafy Connecticut — first Darien, then Fairfield. His father, Charles Miner III, is a doctor, and his mother, Claire Miner, is an interior designer. His first marriage ended in divorce.

“The differences are so obvious it’s kind of ridiculous,” said Todd Parmley, a software company executive who has known Mr. Bittar for more than two decades. “They are opposites.”

Yet, as Mr. Bittar put it, “We’re very different people — like backgrounds, personality — but our core values are the same.”

On their second date, a neighborhood stroll toward Red Hook, Mr. Miner took Mr. Bittar’s hand. “I know it sounds crazy, but I felt like, ‘Wow, that really fit,’” Mr. Bittar said.

A relationship ensued, and in February 2019, it came time for Mr. Miner to meet Mr. Bittar’s twins. He arrived with a gift: bear-shaped cookies he’d noticed at the counter of the coffee house where the couple had their first date.

“I used to think to myself, ‘If and when I meet Sophie and Ivan, I’m going to bring them these little cookie bears,’” Mr. Miner said.

About a year later, with Covid in full swing, the couple and the twins left Brooklyn, first on a planned vacation to the Dominican Republic, then to a house in North Monmouth, Maine, where Mr. Bittar spent his childhood summers. During that period, Mr. Miner founded a clothing line, Interior, with Lily Miesmer, a close friend since eighth grade. In May 2021, they returned to Brooklyn, and Mr. Miner moved into the family home.

On the evening of June 1, 2021, as the children watched cartoons on television, Mr. Bittar presented Mr. Miner with a set of rings he designed, one for each of them. The sleek 18-carat matte gold bands, created to serve as both engagement and wedding rings, were made by Lori McLean, a fine jeweler and friend of Mr. Bittar’s. With the bands in his hands, Mr. Bittar whispered in Mr. Miner’s ear, “Will you marry me?”

Exactly two years later, on June 1, the couple was married by Michael McSweeney, the city clerk of the City of New York, at the chapel in the Brooklyn office of the city clerk. The location, the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Municipal Building, is several blocks from the gym where they first met.

During the ceremony, the twins were by Mr. Bittar and Mr. Miner’s sides, dressed in the sneakers and T-shirts they wore to school earlier that day. The image of Ms. Ginsburg on Ivan Bittar’s T-shirt was a coincidence.

Mr. Bittar wore a beige Bottega Veneta suit. Mr. Miner wore a Prada shirt, Brunello Cucinelli blazer, and pants by Comme des Garcons, accessorized with a cotton baseball cap from the Leather Man, a shop on Christopher Street that carries items like fetish wear. He wore it, he said by text, “as a point of pride and remembrance for the gay men who came before me, who fought and struggled so I could have the opportunities I have today.”

Afterward the couple and the twins took the C train into Manhattan for an early dinner at Grand Sichuan, a favorite restaurant in Chelsea, with Ms. Miesmer and Mr. Parmley, who were the couple’s witnesses.

Two days later, on an unusually cool June day, the Bittars, as they are now known, gathered a couple dozen friends and family members for a second, symbolic ceremony at the Fairfield, Conn., home of Mr. Miner’s parents. Strictly speaking, the event was hosted by the twins, whom Mr. Miner plans to adopt. Their handwritten invitations read: “Sophie and Ivan request the pleasure of your company at the wedding of Daddy and Jack.”

The service, led by Mr. Parmley, included a section of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 2015 United States Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

Dinner was served afterward on the property’s expansive lawn. There was salad, lasagna and a vanilla cake adorned with strawberries — a nod to a similar dessert that was served at Mr. Miner’s parents’ wedding celebration at the house more than 40 years earlier.

Now married, the Bittars are preparing themselves for another change: The birth of a daughter, due next month via surrogate.

Alexis Bittar said, “I think there was a feeling, with Jack coming into the family, that the family would expand in a new iteration.”

Binge more Vows columns here and read all our wedding, relationship and divorce coverage here.

On This Day

When June 3, 2023

Where At the home of Mr. Miner’s parents in Fairfield, Conn.

Strike a Pose As the ceremony began, Ms. Miesmer handed out disposable cameras so the attendees could document the festivities on film instead of just on smartphones.

Windy City During dinner, as the evening got progressively more blustery, blankets were brought outside for guests.

After-Party Toward the end of the evening, guests gathered in the living room for an impromptu disco dance party, with house classics like “Move Your Body” and “Bring Down the Walls” played loudly as the soundtrack.

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