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Rafe and Michael found forever at a private wedding in their North Fork garden

Rafe Totengco’s word of advice to those dreaming this dream


Silver linings exist only beneath dark clouds. 

Or so it seemed when New York-based Filipino accessories designer Rafe Totengco met the Englishman in New York Michael Lawn in the winter of 2010 at the Boiler Room, a dive bar in the East Village. He was out on the town in Manhattan, dragged by friends, because he had kept to himself too long mourning the end of a long-term relationship.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) I am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

They met in the “old-fashioned way,” according to Rafe, but not really. As soon as he and his friends entered the bar, he spotted Michael from across the crowded room, and obviously Michael took notice of him too, but it was much later in the night that they really confirmed the connection when Michael passed him in the line to the bathroom. Not one to identify himself as shy, Rafe broke the gaze, looking down instead at Michael’s “dorky” shoes, but Michael approached him later and so they spoke to each other at last, staying at the bar caught up in conversation long after their friends had left.

They met for dinner a few days later and so began a relationship that has ended almost 10 years later… in a marriage.

“Love wins,” exclaimed Rafe, when he shared photos of the wedding in his social media accounts. Even that is a silver lining statement. After all one only wins a game that one could have lost. 

Yes, agreed Rafe, love wins. “Not always. But this time it did,” he told me in a call while he and Michael were at the airport lounge in Doha enroute to Tanzania for their honeymoon. “I never thought I’d see the day. And the outpouring of love and affirmation from friends and family has been overwhelming.”

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

The wedding was simple and low-key, and yet every aspect of it was a dream. With only an in-person guest list of five people, Rafe’s sister Tesa Totengco, his brother-in-law Michael Girman, his nephews Abe Silver and Alex Girman, and hismother Zenia de la Cruz, the small, intimate ceremony was held in the Eden-worthy garden of their weekend home in East Marion in North Folk, New York. “I wore Dries Van Noten, and he wore J. Crew. He’s not a fashionista at all. Couldn’t care less about it, which is one of the things I appreciate and love about him,” said Rafe. They exchanged 4mm platinum rings, rushed for the occasion by their friend, self-taught jeweler Catherine Jhung, who also crafted the wedding bands for Daniel Craigand Rachel Weisz. A celebratory dinner followed at the farm-to-table restaurant North Folk Table & Inn, an East End institutionin Southold.

As if represented by their platinum wedding rings, the decision to get hitched was also a silver lining. “Before the lockdown we had such crazy busy lives. I was always traveling to Europe or Asia for weeks at a time. Mike was traveling every week, only coming back on Thursdays because of his work. He’s the power and gas specialist at Bloomberg so he was in Houston or Mexico every week,” said Rafe. Pre-Covid, they would shuttle back and forth from their flat in Chelsea to theirEast Marion house, but as the lockdowns began, they sought refuge in North Folk where the idea to get wed occurred to them, right in the garden, where the wedding took place a few months later. Michael popped the question, but “we both simultaneously asked each other inour favorite corner of the garden,” said Rafe. “Being together 24/7 these past seven months made us realize that we did enjoy each other’s company, so we decided to make it official.” So, yes, forever for Rafe and Michael came out of the blue, like a silver lining to the Covid cloud.

But it wasn’t that casual. Friends from all around the world, such as Spain, New Zealand, Cambodia, Puerto Rico, the West Coast of the US, the UK, and the Philippines, witnessed the wedding on Zoom. “Surprisingly, we were both nervous,” recounted Rafe. “We both fell apart when we recited our vows. I almost couldn’t finish it.” At the wedding ceremony, Rafe’ssister, Maricar Totengco, read e.e.cumming’s “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” (whose lines I am using in this piece as subtitles). “It’s a beautiful poem, one of my favorites. I’m a hopeless romantic,” Rafe said, adding that Michael was a voracious reader too. “He has a reading nook in the garden.” To Michel, the garden is everything. “Mike is very outdoorsy. His idea of a vacation is hiking down the Grand Canyon and camping overnight. I just grew to enjoy gardening, thanks to Covid,” he said. “But Mike is English, so he had been toiling in the garden since I bought the house. The English and their gardens, it’s a real thing.”

For their honeymoon, he and Michael chose Tanzania because they are both David Attenborough fans and have always dreamed of seeing the Great Migration. “Plus, with so few people traveling, we felt it was probably the best time to go and see the animals without the traffic jam of 200 jeeps from other camps.”

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Just before he boarded his plane to Africa, I asked Rafe a few more questions. How different are things now that they are married, after almost 10 years of being together without the marriage tag? “I have to pinch myself that I can actually call him my husband,” he mused. “In fact, I have had to catch myself because I still start by introducing him as my partner and then I do a double take and correct myself.”

What does Rafe have to say to people who might be dreaming of a happily ever after like theirsonly as a fantasy? “It’s hard to say because (same-sex) marriage isn’t legal in the Philippines. But finding love and commitment is in and of itself not easy, no matter where you are. I had to be open to getting hurt and trusting again. We’ve all been burned before so we came into this relationship with baggage and apprehensions. But we were also determined not to make the same mistakes,” he said. “It took two of us to make this work. We found happiness in the chaos.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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