Finding ‘Genuine Love’ on a College Campus

When Palm Beach State College students Josh Desulme and Phabii Pierre were introduced by close friends in 2015, the encounter was a dud.

“We were both struggling with personal problems,” said Ms. Pierre, 25, who is studying for a degree in management. “Josh was recently out of a relationship,” said Ms. Pierre, who had broken up with another man not long before.

Mr. Desulme often saw her at school and thought she was attractive. “I always said hello but she didn’t respond, which was mysterious,” said Mr. Desulme, 25, who is studying for a degree in business and working as a mobile pantry coordinator for the Christians Reaching Out to Society Ministries in Lake Worth, Fla.

Both students are Haitian-American and grew up in divorced households. Both also said they suffered emotional problems. Mr. Desulme, born in New York and raised in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, Fla., didn’t have a male figure in the house to help when he needed support. “I got into alcohol and drugs until age 18 when I stopped hanging around with that kind of crowd,” he said.

Although Ms. Pierre liked to sing Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson tunes, dance and create art work, her early life was more a collage of frustrations than a beautiful painting. “I got used to people treating me differently because of the color of my skin, but I had more serious anger issues in high school,” said Ms. Pierre, who was born and raised in South Florida.

In 2016, while Mr. Desulme was playing table tennis in the student activity center, he saw Ms. Pierre and handed her a paddle. They had a good time, and began seeing each other as friends. While together in the school cafeteria one day, Mr. Desulme engaged in a heated debate with a friend about sports and life goals while Ms. Pierre quietly reacted to the turmoil with facial expressions. Later that night, he saw her studying alone and apologized for his behavior.

“I told him it’s cool, and he could talk to me anytime,” she said. “I liked his spirit and that he was on fire. He started me on a Bible study, which has helped both of us sort through our problems. We began talking on the phone every night, singing and praying. We even kept the phone on all night while we slept.”

During the next year, they continued to connect as friends. While he was sick with a cold, Ms. Pierre brought him a purple gift bag (his favorite color), filled with cold medications and Reese’s chocolates. “I was amazed because nobody had ever given me anything,” Mr. Desulme said.

After more friendly encounters, which included the musical duet of Mr. Desulme playing the guitar and Ms. Pierre the piano, dining out and enjoying movies, their vibe changed. “I gave him a tender hug, and he said that he really liked me,” she said. “When I answered that I felt the same but was fasting from romance, he got mad.”

They didn’t talk for two months, but Ms. Pierre missed him and finally suggested they go to the local zoo. He agreed, capping the day with open communication over hamburgers at nearby La Perrada Del Gordo. That meal sealed the deal. “I finally realized that Phabii constantly challenges me, and helps me think things through by asking questions so I better understand myself,” Mr. Desulme said.

Added Ms. Pierre: “Josh and I grew up together during the past few years. He is a special person, a problem solver and doer who helps others and inspires me. We went through so much before we realized that we had found genuine love.”

His surprise proposal Oct. 2, 2020 was the night Ms. Pierre thought she was planning his 25th birthday party. “I wrote her a song which served as my proposal, and she cried before saying yes,” he said.

On April 9, they were married before 40 people at the Salem Community Church of God in Lake Worth. The ceremony was led by Pastor Rodney Wilkinson of Gospel Fellowship Church.

“I am so happy to be marrying the person I belong with,” Ms. Pierre said. “We are free and limitless together, and the best part is that neither of has to go home at 10 p.m.”

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