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A Helmet and a Hug Won Her Over

Neither Peter Mueller nor Vanessa Miriam Zoltan were in the best state of mind for their first date in October 2016. His mother had just been admitted to the hospital, while Ms. Zoltan had experienced an unexpectedly miserable day at work.

Over drinks at the Saloon at Davis Square in Somerville, Mass., they connected, talking about their families. (Dr. Mueller’s mother suffered from an autoimmune disease and passed away about one year later.)

But it was what happened at the end of the date, Ms. Zoltan said, that “made me melt.” When Dr. Mueller asked if he could walk her to the nearest subway stop, she demurred, and said she’d walk him to his bike. A cyclist, Dr. Mueller was unaware that this was a test.

Ms. Zoltan describes herself as being “very conscious about safety,” and said that if he hadn’t donned a helmet and lights, her interest would have ended there. Then, he asked if he could give her a hug.

The couple had connected on the dating site OkCupid. While Dr. Mueller was drawn to Ms. Zoltan’s profile, he moved on because, at 46, he was one year beyond her requested dating range. He was pleasantly surprised when she messaged him.

Their second date, for which they walked Ms. Zoltan’s wheaten terrier, Rory, they discussed her background as the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors. Dr. Mueller was born and raised in Germany.

“We have similar understandings of the Holocaust in a way that a lot of others don’t,” Ms. Zoltan said.

Dr. Mueller, now 52, holds a bachelor’s degree from the Technical University of Kaiserslautern and master’s and doctorate degrees in crystallography from the University of Göttingen, both in Germany. He is the director of the diffraction facility of the chemistry department at M.I.T. The father of two daughters, Dr. Mueller’s first marriage ended in divorce in 2014.

Ms. Zoltan, 40, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and has a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. She is the chief executive and owner of Not Sorry Productions, for which she co-hosts three podcasts, “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” “Hot & Bothered” and “The Real Question.” She is also the author of “Praying with Jane Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice.”

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

“I’m amazed and fascinated by Vanessa’s creativity and the originality of her thought,” Dr. Mueller said. “She’s always thinking of something new, and at least one out of three ideas is absolutely brilliant, which is an incredible ratio.”

Within six weeks of dating, Ms. Zoltan met Dr. Mueller’s daughters, now ages 10 and 14.

“His children and I are very much in love,” Ms. Zoltan said. Dr. Mueller also noted that “the connection they have is astounding.”

Ms. Zoltan moved from the Harvard dorms, in Cambridge, where she had been a proctor, into Dr. Mueller’s house in Medford, Mass., in July of 2019. Marriage wasn’t a consideration.

“I didn’t see the necessity of it,” Dr. Mueller said.

But as a small-business owner, eventually, Ms. Zoltan’s practical side won out.

This past August, while a friend was over to watch a movie, Ms. Zoltan casually told Dr. Mueller, “I think I want to go on your health insurance next year,” to which he responded, “We should probably get married,” and then he nonchalantly headed upstairs.

The two were married in front of 35 people on Dec. 10 at the Treadwell-Sparks House, in Cambridge, Mass., by a friend of Ms. Zoltan’s from Harvard Divinity School, Casper ter Kuile, who was solemnized by the state for the occasion.

The couple stood beneath a huppah of Ms. Zoltan’s grandfather’s prayer shawl near a Christmas tree. Bach’s Prelude in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II was performed during the ceremony in honor of Dr. Mueller’s mother, who was a piano teacher.

Ms. Zoltan and her stepdaughters baked four types of cookies for the reception, while Dr. Mueller baked an apricot hazelnut meringue pie, his grandmother’s recipe.

“Peter is the most loving and affectionate person I know,” Ms. Zoltan said. “He’s so honest and trustworthy, and such a good dad.”

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