In Spain, a Taste of Love and a Change of Heart
When Ariana Rueda and Nicolas Norena met in the summer of 2013 at Florida International University in Miami, they became fast friends, but nothing more. If there was any spark, the two of them wrote it off as “friendship chemistry.”
“He was talking to his ex,” said Ms. Rueda, who was in a relationship at the time. “I remember him telling me about her, and I was encouraging him.”
Once the class ended, they fell out of contact. Years passed, during which they both graduated with bachelor’s degrees in business administration and began working in Miami.
At one point, Ms. Rueda saw that Mr. Norena, who goes by Nico, had created “The Succulent Bite,” a food account on Instagram. She gave him a follow, but didn’t think much of it. “Oh cute, he opened a blog, I’m going to support him,” she said.
Today, @SucculentBite has 1.4 million followers on Instagram. There, Mr. Norena, 29, a self-taught home cook, posts videos and recipes, mostly desserts, like Oreo ice cream bars and dulce de leche lava cakes. He started the company while in college in 2015 and continued to grow it while working as a sales representative at Eli Lilly and Company, a pharmaceutical company.
In 2020, he began working for himself full-time as a recipe developer and food content creator, and in 2022, published a book called “The Succulent Bite: 60+ Easy Recipes for Over-the-Top Desserts.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Rueda, also 29, worked at several marketing and advertising agencies. In October 2020, she struck out on her own as a social media consultant and strategist for food and hospitality brands.
In April 2018, nearly five years after they first met, Ms. Rueda and Mr. Norena spotted each other at Nixon Beach Sandbar near Key Biscayne, Fla. Each of them was partying on an anchored boat with friends, a typical pastime for 20-somethings in the area.
“I looked up and I saw him,” Ms. Rueda said. She sent a text, surprising Mr. Norena, and they made eye contact across the water.
“I thought, ‘She’s cute,’” Mr. Norena said. “‘I don’t remember this much cuteness from before.’”
They waved hello, but didn’t talk that day. Over the next few weeks, they texted each other often and made several attempts to arrange a meeting, but their schedules never synced. Ms. Rueda said they weren’t trying very hard — they had both just ended long-term relationships and weren’t eager to jump into something new.
When May rolled around, they realized they would be in Madrid at the same time at the end of that month. Both have connections to the city.
Mr. Norena was born in Chicago. When he was 3, after his parents divorced, he and his mother, Patricia Arboleda, moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where they have family. When he was 6, Ms. Arboleda took a new job in Madrid, where they also have family, and they moved. They lived there for almost a decade before moving to Miami to be closer to Mr. Norena’s father, Diego Norena.
Ms. Rueda was born in San Jose, Costa Rica, and lived there until she was 14, except for the two years that her family spent in Panama City, Panama. At 14, Ms. Rueda and her family moved to Miami. While attending Immaculata-La Salle High School there, she met her best friend, Laura Carvajal, who now lives in Madrid.
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On her visit to Madrid in 2018, Ms. Rueda wanted a big evening out, but her friend wanted to sleep. So Ms. Rueda texted Mr. Norena to ask what he was up to. It turned out that Mr. Norena was hanging out with his grandmother and her two sisters, who had no plans to party. He invited Ms. Rueda to Gabana 1800, a nightclub.
“We were there until the sunrise, dancing, talking,” he said. He remembered that when the song “To My Love” by Bomba Estéreo started playing, they kissed for the first time. On the flight back, Mr. Norena couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, that totally just happened,’” he said.
When Mr. Norena and Ms. Rueda returned to Miami, they went to dinner at the now-closed House Kitchen and Bar in Coral Gables.
They were so focused on getting to know each other that they didn’t even notice that “all the chairs were up,” Mr. Norena said.
“We never had a moment of silence,” Ms. Rueda said.
Mr. Norena, whose passion and trade revolve around food, was impressed by how readily Ms. Rueda ordered different dishes. “I realized this girl is awesome,” he said.
To this day, Ms. Rueda said, they bond over good food, wine and cocktails. But there is only one cook in their home kitchen: “I do not cook,” Ms. Rueda said.
A few months after their first official date, in August 2018, they were on vacation in Bimini, the Bahamas, when Mr. Norena gave Ms. Rueda a box. Inside were photos of them and a love letter in which Mr. Norena asked Ms. Rueda to be his girlfriend.
They moved in together on Feb. 8, 2020, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began. During lockdown, they found ways to make their time special. “On Thursdays and Fridays after work, we’d put a charcuterie board out on the balcony and watch the sunset with cocktails,” Ms. Rueda said.
Over time, Ms. Rueda and Mr. Norena found that they shared many core values. “We prioritize spending good time with each other’s families and being reciprocal about it,” Mr. Norena said.
They also respect the demands of each other’s careers. “We know sometimes that the other person has to put in an extra hour or work on the weekend,” Ms. Rueda said. “His job is not 9 to 5, it’s 24/7. And when I need an extra hand or when I wanted to go independent, he always supported me.”
When they moved in together, they planned to eventually get married. At the beginning of 2021, Ms. Rueda and Mr. Norena checked out potential engagement rings and figured out which style and size best suited Ms. Rueda. But months passed and nothing happened. “This guy is never going to do it,” Ms. Rueda thought.
One day in July 2021, Mr. Norena told Ms. Rueda that they had been hired to star in a photo shoot for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Fla. The day before the shoot, Mr. Norena asked Ms. Rueda if she was ready — if she had an outfit picked out and if she had her nails done.
“I had told him before, when you propose, I don’t care if I’m in pajamas, just make sure my nails are done,” Ms. Rueda said. Nevertheless, she didn’t suspect that a secret plan was afoot.
When she and Mr. Norena arrived at the botanic garden on July 22, they were picked up in a golf cart and driven to the “shoot location.”
“As we started getting close, I was like, ‘Wait, is that Dom Pérignon?’” Ms. Rueda said. “Wow, these people really invested in this shoot.”
Suddenly, Mr. Norena took her hand and began his proposal speech. As he finished, they arrived in front of pillows strewn with rose petals and a huge sign that said, “Ariana will you marry me?”.
“For the whole 25 minutes after he proposed, I was at a loss of words,” Ms. Rueda said. “And I’m normally very chatty.”
They were wed by Marcelo Galli, a notary public, on Feb. 18 at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort in Playa Herradura, Costa Rica. Since their 126 guests live in several different countries and cities, the couple decided to have a destination wedding on Ms. Rueda’s home turf.
The only hotel that worked for their dates and group size was the same one where Ms. Rueda’s mother, Patricia Rueda, and stepfather, Timothy Gunning, had their wedding reception in 2009.
“I got to enjoy their special day with them and now they’re here for me,” Ms. Rueda said. “It was sweet.” After the ceremony, Ms. Rueda swapped veils and wore the same veil that her mother had worn at her wedding.
A friend of the couple, DJ Jax, flew in from Miami, and kept their guests dancing all evening. At one point, during the so-called Hora Loca, or Crazy Hour, waiters came out with sparklers, glasses of champagne and glow sticks, and Mr. Norena and Ms. Rueda hopped onto the stage with a hand-held CO2 machine.
But for both the bride and the groom, the standout moment was a quieter one. After the ceremony, Ms. Rueda’s maternal grandmother, Maria Auxiliadora Gonzalez, sang an a cappella rendition of “Contigo Aprendí.” by Armando Manzanero.
“It’s about how with me, she learned how to see life through another set of eyes, to see love in a different way,” Ms. Rueda said.
Mr. Norena said everyone listening was in awe. “It was so quiet,” he said. “It was very powerful.”
On This Day
When Feb. 18, 2023
Where Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort in Playa Herradura, Costa Rica
A Very Good Boy The couple’s mini goldendoodle, Pretzel, was not at the wedding, so they commissioned a 2-inch ceramic figurine of him on Etsy, and placed it on top of the wedding cake. A few crumbs of cake next to the figurine were removed to look as if Pretzel had bitten into it.
Desserts, Of Course Given Mr. Norena’s personal and professional fixation on desserts, the couple knew they had to deliver the good stuff. Alongside gluten and gluten-free brigadeiros, or Brazilian chocolate truffles, brownie bites and Key lime pie, they put out a tray of chocolate chip cookies from Subway, which Ms. Rueda used to eat after school in San Jose and remembers fondly. She claims the cookies taste better in Costa Rica.
Get Your Buzz On Instead of a typical coffee station, the wedding featured a coffee cocktail table, where guests could pick up an espresso martini, with vodka and coffee, or a Carajillo, with coffee and Licor 43.
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