Love Lessons

Andrea Alvarez and Tony Pacini say a mutual love of volunteering will help them build their future. "Since we met doing something where we felt like we were giving back, that's part of our relationship now," Andrea says. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)

When Tony Pacini saw 27-year-old law student Andrea Alvarez across the dodgeball court in early February 2011, she definitely made an impression.

"She was hit with a ball and got out right away," remembers Tony, who was 29 and working in sales for AT&T in Chicago. "And I was by the front line where she was walking, and I said, 'That was quick!' "

"I'm not really good at dodgeball," admits Andrea, now 29. "My hand-eye coordination isn't there."

Not that it mattered. Like many of the players that day, Andrea attended less to win a game than to have fun for a good cause. The match was organized by LTS (Live to Support) Chicago, which helps raise awareness for charities through sporting and social events.

"After that game I was interviewed on NBC, and they had my full name in the video, and he saw the interview and then was able to find me on Twitter," Andrea says. "We connected there, then he sent me a message, and we became friends."

A few days of connecting on Twitter turned into Facebook exchanges, which quickly switched to emails.

"We would talk on Google chat every day," Andrea says. "But we were just friends. We both were involved with other people, so we would just talk about whatever and stay in touch, but we never saw each other."

Their G-chats continued through the spring. By May, Andrea's relationship had ended. Tony offered to take her to lunch to see how she was doing, but then, they said, both decided not to follow through because Tony was still in a relationship.

"Neither of us wanted to be shady," says Tony, now 32. "We were more focused on building a friendship, I think."

Nevertheless, that started to change: In November of the same year, Andrea told Tony as much.

"She said we couldn't be friends because I had a girlfriend," he recalls.

"I was a second-year law student at University of Chicago and I was stressing about finals," Andrea says. "But I also was starting to have feelings for him, and I didn't think we should be in touch if he was still involved with someone."

Their cyber breakup was brief, lasting only a few weeks. And then, by the end of January 2012, Tony and his girlfriend had broken up.

"I kind of made the move at that point," Andrea admits. "I called him up to make sure he was doing OK, because he had done that for me. So we ended up going to lunch a week later."

"This is the one time we saw each other in person since we'd seen each other almost exactly a year earlier at the dodgeball game," Tony adds. "All of our communication until that point had been on the phone or the computer."

Their in-person chemistry was so intense they made a date for Valentine's Day a week later. Still dedicated to LTS Chicago's charity dodgeball events, Tony was scheduled to play Feb. 14. (Andrea was now "happily retired" from the sport.) They made plans to see each other before and after the game.

"That night we had our first kiss, and I was like, 'OK, this is it,' " Andrea says. "I think we said 'I love you' within two weeks of dating. And in March I went on spring break with my parents, and I told my dad, 'I'm going to marry this man,' and he thought I was crazy."

They started living together in May, and the speed of their courtship raised some eyebrows.

"My best friend was very freaked out," Andrea says. "She was like, 'You have lost it!' But she got on board as soon as she met him."

"My friends were like, 'What are you doing?!'" Tony says. "They probably took longer to come around."