Like most people, the idea of “love at first sight” existed for Curtis Dadian somewhere between threadbare cliché and stark improbability.
That is, right up until the moment he met Ayda.
After graduating from the University of San Diego with a business degree in 1989, the college tennis star “bounced around for a couple years,” working mostly in sales. Unfulfilled, he backpacked through Europe and played in a few professional tournaments before a back injury ended his tennis career, after which he began studying to become a physical therapist. Then his life took an abrupt turn.
Dadian was leaving church one day in March of 1993 when the cleric’s wife, Araxie Tatoulian, asked if he’d like to meet a young woman visiting from Syria. He agreed, albeit with some reluctance.
“I had very low expectations,” Dadian recalls. “I walked in, looked around and thought ‘Man, what am I doing here?’”
He turned to leave — just as Ayda stepped through the door.
“I was immediately captivated,” Dadian says.
He credits Tatoulian as matchmaker and facilitator for the whirlwind courtship that ensued. Eleven days after their first encounter, he floated the prospect of marriage. Soon after, the couple was engaged.
“It sounds crazy — and maybe it was crazy — but it didn’t seem crazy at the time,” Dadian says. “I thought that was it. She’d go home, come back, we’d get married and ride off into the sunset, right?”
Not quite. Ayda returned to Syria, only to call a week later to report that her family had no intention of allowing her to marry a man they didn’t know and she’d just met.
“The only thing I had going for me was my Armenian background,” Dadian says, “but I couldn’t have been more American. I was a long-haired tennis player from L.A.”
Realizing he wasn’t making headway waiting for something to happen in San Diego, Dadian decided to jump on a plane to Syria so that he could meet his would-be in-laws in person. He flew to Damascus before taking a rickety five-hour bus ride to Aleppo, an ancient city with roots dating back to 5000 B.C. When he stepped off the bus, it was like entering a whole other world.
“It was complete culture shock,” Dadian says, “but I was young and stupid enough to think, ‘Wow, this is exciting.’”
Ayda’s family welcomed him graciously, but it soon became clear that Dadian — who had wistfully packed a tuxedo and wedding dress for the journey — faced an uphill battle earning their trust. After several days, they arranged for him to play a local pro who turned out to be Dawood Dawoodian, one of Syria’s most prodigious tennis stars. It wasn’t easy, but Dadian prevailed.
“Of all the tennis matches in my life, I look at that as one of my most critical wins,” he laughs. “My friends joke about me playing for the hand of my wife — it wasn’t that literal — but it was part of the process that validated I was who I said I was.”
Dadian eventually began to gain acceptance, if not approval, from Ayda’s family, only to dis-cover there were a lot more hurdles standing in his way.
“I went there thinking that I needed to sell myself to her mom and dad and be accepted by them,” Dadian says. “That was true, but it was also her brother, sister, aunt, uncle, neighbor and priest. It was very much a community decision.”
In addition to gaining family and community approval, the couple faced a dizzying array of bureaucratic red tape. But despite the glaring differences between their two cultures, the relationship continued to blossom.
“Things seemed so easy for the two of us,” Dadian says. “It was the storm around us that was difficult.”
After four weeks in Aleppo, it was decided Dadian would return to San Diego to make wedding preparations — with or without universal consent. Everything finally seemed to be going their way.
But, the day before Ayda’s scheduled arrival, the wedding was called off again. Weeks went by before the union was finally sanctioned. They were married on Sept. 25, 1993, six long months — and four wedding cancellations — after they had first met.
“We had to move a mountain to make it happen,” Dadian says. “But I was so drawn to this person. For us to click the way we did despite all odds was really amazing.”
Time passed, as it tends to do. After earning a master’s degree in executive leadership from USD in 2001, Dadian became owner and president of Filefax, a company that provides filing services for storing everything from athletic equipment at the Jenny Craig Pavilion to whale bones at the San Diego Natural History Museum to M-16 machine guns at Camp Pendleton.
Now, 16 years after they first met, Curtis and Ayda are still happily married and living on a large estate in Poway with their three children. And when it comes time for his two daughters to wed, Dadian knows precisely how he’ll handle the courtship.
“We look forward to impressing a similar level of pain and discomfort on anyone interested in marrying our daughters,” he says with a slight chuckle. “While it drove me crazy at the time, in hindsight it’s something we understand and appreciate. It helped define us. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
FEATURE PHOTO BY Nick ABADILLA