Kathryn Stafford and Michael Strom
  • Kathryn Stafford and Michael Strom
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  • Met: August 2002
  • Engaged: June 24, 2004
  • Wedding: September 18, 2005

"My brother’s friends were off-limits,” says Kathryn Stafford, 23, as she explains the rules she later broke. “He was in a fraternity at State. I used to hang around at the frat house when I was barely legal, go to parties. I knew his fraternity brothers were off-limits as far as dating was concerned.”

Michael Strom knew the rules, too. “Kathryn was definitely off-limits,” Mr. Strom, 25, confirms.

The rules changed when love struck. “I went to UC Santa Barbara,” Miss Stafford continues. “After I graduated, I moved back to San Diego. My brother was renting a room from the fraternity.” One night, Miss Stafford’s brother, a bunch of his friends, and Miss Stafford went to Norma Jean’s, a College Area “super- dive.”

“We were singing karaoke and playing pool,” Mr. Strom remembers. “I noticed Kathryn was a really good pool player. A hustler, you might say.”

“I’m not a hustler,” Miss Stafford corrects her fiancé and punches his arm. “I just played a lot of pool in college and got to be pretty good.”

Later in the evening, Mr. Strom tried to kiss Miss Stafford. “I was, like, ‘No way. You’re off-limits,’ ” Miss Stafford remembers.

The following week, Miss Stafford’s brother intervened. “He told me, ‘Mike really likes you. Give him a chance.’ He wanted to see me with a quality guy. In college, I dated a lot of losers.”

The next week, Miss Stafford called the house to talk to her brother. Mr. Strom answered the phone. “We just fell into things,” Miss Stafford says. “I was trying to find a job. Michael was in his last year of school. Neither of us had much money. We ended up going out to bars a lot. But we didn’t go on an official, nice dinner date until we’d been together for about nine months.”

“It was weird,” Mr. Strom agrees. “For the first month or two we were together, all our friends were confused. Kathryn’s brother would introduce us and say, ‘This is Mike’s girlfriend.’ Everybody was thinking, ‘I thought she was off- limits.’”

When Mr. Strom graduated from State with a degree in business and communications, the couple took a trip to Cancún. They’ve gone on several trips to Vegas. “We love to travel,” Miss Stafford confirms. “We go to Vegas for Halloween. Last year, he was Batman and I was Wonder Woman.”

This past spring, Mr. Strom decided Vegas would be a good place to propose. “We’d been shopping for rings,” Mr. Strom says. “It always turned into a big fight. You go into these places that sell engagement rings, and they work you like used-car salesmen. It always comes down to a meeting in a little room. The salesperson is on one side of the table saying, ‘Do you want to make your girlfriend happy and buy today?’”

“I always wanted him to buy the ring right then and there,” Miss Stafford says.

“And I wanted it to be a surprise,” Mr. Strom continues. “One time she actually cried.”

In June, Mr. Strom bought the ring. Miss Stafford didn’t know. “We left that night for Vegas,” Mr. Strom explains. “We stopped and spent the night in Barstow. I was worried about either losing the ring or Kathryn finding it. I had it in my suitcase wrapped up in my shorts. When I was in the shower, Kathryn called out, ‘Do you want your shorts?’ I said, ‘NO!’ I was sure she was going to find it.”

The couple stayed at the Tropicana. “When I took my shower there, I kept hopping out and peeking into the room to make sure Kathryn wasn’t going through my stuff.”

That evening, Mr. Strom and Miss Stafford went to New York New York. “I just love the piano bar there,” Miss Stafford explains.

“It was about 8:00,” Mr. Strom says. “We were standing by the wishing well, tossing in nickels. I took the ring out of my pocket and said, ‘Why don’t you wish on this?’”

“Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him,” Miss Stafford remembers. “I was totally surprised. I cried.”

Afterward, the couple went to the piano bar. Miss Stafford told the staff that they had just gotten engaged. During the show, the players pulled Mr. Strom and Miss Stafford up on stage. They danced to Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”

“It was wonderful,” Miss Stafford confirms.

The couple plans to be married in September of next year at the Rancho Bernardo Winery. “It’ll be a pretty small wedding,” Miss Stafford predicts. “Probably about 100 people.”

When asked what she loves most about Mr. Strom, Miss Stafford doesn’t hesitate.

“He has a really good sense of humor. You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth next. He’s never boring.” Mr. Strom returns the favor. “Kathryn is super unselfish. She always thinks of herself last.” Mr. Strom pauses and shoots his beloved a grin. “And she’s pretty damn fine, too.”

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