Across Continents, Two Doctors Find Romance
Dr. Oluwafemi Akinwale Kuti Jr. was only visiting California for a few months — but what he found was a long-term love.
It was February 2017, and Dr. Kuti, a general practitioner and entrepreneur, was participating in a start-up program for Reliance Health, a health care company he had co-founded the year before in Lagos, Nigeria, where he lived.
During this time, Dr. Kuti, who goes by Femi (and shares a name, though not a relation, with the famed Nigerian Afrobeat musician) signed up for Tinder. Which is where he came across a profile for Dr. Ugochi May Nwosu.
“I thought she was cute, and I reasoned she’d be smart since she went to Harvard,” he said.
“She was also Nigerian, and there weren’t too many in the Bay Area.”
Dr. Nwosu, 34, had immigrated to the United States with her family when she was seven years old. On Tinder, “I saw that we had mutual friends,” she said, which drew her in.
Their affinity for each other grew as they texted and talked over the phone.
“We had a lot of common interests around health care, around traveling, around politics,” said Dr. Kuti, 37.
The couple couldn’t meet face to face for about two weeks due Dr. Nwosu’s all-consuming cardiology rotation at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
But on March 1, the day after her rotation ended, they met for the first time for dinner at Bissap Baobab, a Senegalese restaurant in San Francisco.
“I think there was a spark from the beginning,” Dr. Nwosu said of the date, which ended with what she jokingly dubbed a “stolen” kiss. They would have arranged for another date soon after, but Dr. Nwosu had planned a trip to Las Vegas with fellow residents. Afterward, she was set to visit her family in Piscataway, N.J.
“But we were texting each other consistently,” Dr. Kuti said.
Dr. Nwosu said, “I was really looking forward to getting back to San Francisco to go on our second date” — which ended up being, in a perhaps subliminal nod to Cupid, an archery lesson. Afterward they saw the film “Get Out.”
From then on, they saw each other as regularly as her busy hospital schedule allowed, every other day or so, and usually in snippets.
“He would come and meet me around dinner time and bring me meals from nice restaurants as a way to make me calm when I was doing overnight call in the I.C.U.,” Dr. Nwosu said.
“I’m a little bit more prone to getting anxious,” she added. “I very quickly felt that I could depend on him — that he would sort of be my rock.”
At the time, Dr. Kuti was staying in Mountain View, Calif., and Dr. Nwosu lived and worked in San Francisco, roughly a 50-minute drive away. Dr. Kuti said, “I now know it was a bit of a schlep.” But due to his growing affection, he added, “it didn’t feel like a schlep at all.”
A turning point in their relationship came that April during a day trip to Point Reyes National Seashore, a U.S. national park about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco.
They rented a car, stopped at the Devil’s Teeth Baking Company in San Francisco for breakfast sandwiches, then headed to the park. On the way, Dr. Kuti plugged his phone into the car’s stereo system and played a playlist of mainly ’90s soft rock songs. But when the 2013 South African hit “Pluto (Remember You)” by DJ Clock and the group Beatenberg came on, the couple spontaneously began singing along together.
They both agreed that the song became the soundtrack of the trip.
Arriving at the park, the two began their hourslong trek taking in the fauna and flora of the area. There was lots of laughter and expanses of intense conversation, as well. They said they gained crucial insights into one another.
“I think we spent a lot of time talking about big things we could do that would leave our mark on the world,” Dr. Kuti said.
“I didn’t know if we both had that big mission in life,” Dr. Nwosu said. “It was in that conversation I saw how similar we were in how we thought about the impact we wanted to make on the world. Hearing him talking about that in detail, I could really see myself with this person.”
“Everything from the breakfast sandwiches, the playlist in the car, and the conversations during the hike felt just exactly somehow right,” she added.
Dr. Nwosu received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and her medical degree from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Kuti, who was born in Nigeria and raised there as well as in Portsmouth, England, received his medical training at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
In late May, about two months after their idyllic day trip, the couple faced a reckoning. The next month, Dr. Kuti would return to Nigeria. Over dinner at El Techo, a Latin American restaurant in San Francisco, they tried to sort out whether they had a future together.
“I think we were both kind of realizing that I’m going to be leaving. She’s going to be staying. What are we going to do with this?” Dr. Kuti said, referring to their relationship.
“I’ve been in long-distance relationships before that didn’t really work out,” Dr. Nwosu added. “It just sort of loses its fizzle over time. So, I was concerned that whatever we were feeling then would sort of fizzle over time with the distance. With my busy schedule, I just didn’t know if we’d be able to maintain it.”
They thought about different options: One being to split up and wait until Dr. Nwosu finished her residency a year later, in June 2018.
After some soul searching, they decided to stay together long-distance, although both were “very wary” of the prospect.
The nine-hour time difference between San Francisco and Lagos, Nigeria, didn’t help. Or perhaps it did.
“When I’m getting up, she’s turning in, and when she’s getting up, I’m turning in,” Dr. Kuti said.
This seemed like a disadvantage at first, but they figured out a routine to get the most from the time difference.
“He would give me the first hour of his day and I would give him the last hour of mine,” Dr. Nwosu said. “So it worked out.”
There were also daily text messages and FaceTime conversations which might last a few minutes or hours depending on what circumstances permitted. And every two to three months, they would visit each other in person — with Dr. Kuti traveling to San Francisco since he had a more flexible work schedule as the chief executive of his health care company, Reliance Health. Once she completed residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Nwosu visited Dr. Kuti’s home turf.
“I was thinking about joining him in Nigeria,” she said. “It was a good trip for me to see what my life would be like.”
But they endured another year apart when she was accepted as an instructor in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
Over the years, Dr. Kuti had accompanied Dr. Nwosu several times to her parents’ home in Piscataway. In June of 2021, however, the trip was different. He planned to ask Dr. Nwosu’s father, Luke Nwosu, for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
“I told him I deeply loved his daughter and wanted to marry her,” Dr. Kuti said. “I wanted his permission and to know what rites I needed to put in place before doing so,” he said, referring to the customs often required before proceeding with a marriage.
Mr. Nwosu told Dr. Kuti he would think about it.
“The next day, he shows up with a list of rites,” said Dr. Kuti, “and then says he needs to meet my parents, even if virtually.”
The rites began with the Igbo tradition of Iku Aka, or “knocking on the door,” where the prospective bridegroom and older male members of his family call upon the prospective bride’s family while bearing gifts — usually food and drinks. And so this is what Dr. Kuti did in October 2021, using beer, champagne and a malt-flavored soft drink.
The tradition is “basically where the groom formalizes his intentions with the bride’s family,” Dr. Kuti said. “Ugochi and I had discussed this, and it was important to her that this step happened as a sign of respect to her parents.”
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In December 2021, he proposed in the Western tradition, on bended knee.
Dr. Kuti reconstructed the day four years earlier when they had gone hiking at Point Reyes. He rented a car and headed toward the park, buying a pair of breakfast sandwiches at Devil’s Teeth Bakery along the way. When they arrived at the park to begin their hike, Dr. Nwosu figured something was up.
For one thing, she said, Dr. Kuti was overly concerned about timing. “Who gets anxious about arriving at a specific time and place during a hike?” she wondered. “Femi loves to plan a surprise so I was eager to see what he had in store for us.”
Sure enough, when they arrived at a spot Dr. Kuti had predetermined, the photography team he had hired was there, to record Dr. Kuti’s proposal and him presenting her with the engagement ring he codesigned with a jeweler.
Dr. Nwosu said of the ring, “I had no idea that he was designing it,” she said. Without hesitation, she said, “Yes.”
On Dec. 10, the couple had a civil marriage, officiated by Grace Odia, an official at the Federal Marriage Registry in Ikoyi, Nigeria.
On Dec. 28, they had a Christian ceremony at Crystal Lake Resort, Oguta, Imo State. A 31-member Catholic choir accompanied by traditional Igbo drums and other instruments performed during the ceremony. Dr. Adesegun Fatusi vice-chancellor of University of Medical Sciences, in Ondo, Nigeria and a former mentor to the bridegroom, officiated.
On Dec. 29, the couple had a third ceremony on the bride’s family compound in the town of Aro-Ibiasoegbe, which included both Igbo and Yoruba traditions.
The couple now resides in Lagos.
Reflecting on the journey that brought her and Dr. Kuti to marriage, Dr. Nwosu, now a senior vice president of clinical services at Reliance Health, remembers a time in the spring of 2020, when she was in New York and Dr. Kuti was in Lagos. He was supposed to visit her in mid-March, but the pandemic upended those plans.
When they finally got together in August, she said, “Going back to long distance after being together made it clear that I wanted to be with him, wherever in the world that was.”
On This Day
When: Dec. 29, 2022
Where: The bride’s family compound in the town of Aro-Ibiasoegbe.
Blending Traditions: The African ceremony, also known as the traditional ceremony, incorporated cultural aspects of Igbo and Yoruba traditions in tribute to the bride and groom’s ethnic groups, respectively. During one part of the festivities, musicians played Yoruba talking drums, and a D.J. played contemporary and classic popular music sung in Igbo and Yoruba.
Overlapping Love: The bride’s wedding ring was designed by the bridegroom and Los Angeles-based jewelry designer, Maggi Simpkins. The two overlapping curves represent love and unity in the African writing system called Nsibidi.
Three Dresses: At different parts of the ceremony, the bride wore dresses symbolizing the stages of her life: First, her “maiden” dress, which she accessorized with waist beads from her late grandmother. She wore a second outfit during her playful search for her husband among the crowd of well-wishers. Her final outfit was the one in which she made her first appearance as a married woman: formal attire in the Yoruba tradition (in deference to her husband’s ethnic group), which matched his clothes, symbolizing their unity.