After Years as Roommates, Finally More Than Friends

In August 2017, Matthew Joseph Vella and Joel Alexander Kimling arrived in Richmond, Va., for a nine-month internship with the Virginia Repertory Theater and were assigned to the same apartment.

Mr. Kimling is an actor, singer and dancer, and Mr. Vella, a stage and lighting designer. Although they worked and lived together, they often spent their Sundays off together at the Short Pump Town Center, a local mall, followed by a brewery or distillery.

A deep friendship developed, but both were too busy dating others to think of the other as more than a friend.

“The friendship was more important to me than a relationship,” Mr. Kimling said, “and I wanted to be young, dumb and crazy.”

When Mr. Kimling spontaneously kissed Mr. Vella on a drunken evening in April 2018, both put it out of their minds by the time Mr. Kimling had left in May to work at a West Virginia theater festival for the next three months.

Mr. Kimling, 28, is now the accounting and finance manager of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. Mr. Vella, 30, is a packaging specialist for Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond. Both earned bachelor’s degrees in theater — Mr. Kimling at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., and Mr. Vella at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

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The two continued to date others when Mr. Kimling returned to the repertory theater, where they both became apprentices.

But their relationship changed in February 2019. Mr. Kimling’s boss had two tickets for the touring Broadway show “Waitress” she couldn’t use, and offered them to him; he took Mr. Vella.

That night, Mr. Kimling brought up their relationship. Each finally admitted that a year and a half after meeting, and living together all that time, they had feelings for each other.

In March 2019, they traveled to New York City — Mr. Vella’s first time — for the weekend. They saw five Broadway shows, and decided that not only were they in a relationship, but that they needed to make it Facebook official.

No one was surprised.

In October 2019, they moved into a third apartment together in Richmond, where they finally shared a bedroom. Two months later, they adopted a pit bull puppy, Kleopuptra, or Kleo for short.

In the coming months, the two began to talk about marriage. Before meeting Mr. Kimling, Mr. Vella had not thought of himself as the marrying type.

“When I look at how much growth I’ve seen in myself, and how much he’s added to my life, and how much I’ve added to his, I can’t imagine it being anything different than being with Joel,” Mr. Vella said.

“My spirit animal is a ruby-throated hummingbird,” Mr. Kimling said. “Matt can instantly calm me no matter what my stress level is, just by putting his hand on my back, and telling me to slow down and breathe. Not just anyone can do that. I recognize that I’m a lot, and he’s always been down for that.”

Mr. Vella proposed in May 2020 during a get-together with Mr. Kimling’s family in Hudson, Mich., while on a rowboat on Little Round Lake. In September, the couple moved in with Mr. Kimling’s parents in Cincinnati for nine months, to save money during the pandemic.

In January 2022, another pit bull puppy, Tony, short for Bark Antony, joined their family.

They were married Dec. 8 at the historic Mankin Mansion in Richmond in front of 115 guests by Sara Heifetz, a friend of the couple who was authorized a civil celebrant by the Henrico County Circuit Court.

Mr. Kimling is taking the name Vella, Mr. Vella’s mother’s maiden name. They both chose Vella from a number of their family surnames; Mr. Vella had changed his name from Banes earlier this year.

At their wedding, Mr. Vella wore a leather harness and bow tie, while Mr. Kimling donned a leather corset with a red velvet tie and a black lace cathedral veil. Their ceremony included a Bible reading from Corinthians and a Wiccan hand binding ritual.

The couple also read their own vows. In his, Mr. Vella said, “I don’t remember when exactly I fell in love with you. Maybe our first window shopping at Crate & Barrel, discussing how much both of our mothers would hate that lamp.”

Because they exchanged rings at the time of their engagement, they placed customized laurel wreaths on each other’s heads handed to them by their mothers.

“Just as laurels were awarded to victors in Greco-Roman times, our couple is awarding each other with the symbol of their commitment to face the ups and downs of life together,” Ms. Heifetz said, “to strive for greatness and to emerge victorious in their journey of love.”