After a Tragic Beginning, a ‘Happily Ever After’

Michael Sacks had only been seeing Jaclyn Katz for a few months in the spring of 2018 when she told him something tragic had happened in her past. He didn’t ask her to elaborate, and he didn’t search the internet for clues. “I thought, this is her story to tell when she’s ready,” Mr. Sacks said.

Ms. Katz, 29, and Mr. Sacks, 28, met on the dating app Hinge in March 2018. “I was practicing how to date on dating apps,” she said, after finishing college and moving home to Manhattan. She graduated from Harvard Law School in 2017 and earned a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Brown in 2014. Mr. Sacks grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. Joining Hinge was a form of training for real romance, Ms. Katz said: “I never expected to meet anyone of significance there. I just thought this is what you do for fun before you meet someone special.” Her work hours at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, where she is still an associate lawyer, kept her from dating frequently.

When she matched with Mr. Sacks and agreed to meet him for a drink at the wine bar Corkbuzz in Union Square, her thoughts about the frivolousness of dating apps changed. “Michael was tall, dark and handsome, and totally my type,” she said. “But I almost thought, this guy is out of my league. He’s so cool and really sophisticated.” Mr. Sacks, a financial analyst who worked at JP Morgan Chase, knew more about Manhattan hot spots than she did and seemed all-around hipper. But he didn’t feel they weren’t on equal footing socially. “She had this smart, sophisticated look about her,” he said. “And everything she said, you could tell she knew what she was talking about.”

Date No. 2 took a while. But at the bar at the Baccarat Hotel in late April, Ms. Katz decided she shouldn’t have waited so long to reconnect with him. “He was so adorable and so smart, and his texts to me were so thoughtful,” she said. Weeks later, on June 10, they declared themselves a couple. “It was a casual, de facto thing where we were like, I don’t think we should see other people,” Mr. Sacks said. He was by then in awe of her. “Once I knew how her life started, it was mind-boggling. I had so much respect for her values and how far she had come.”

Mr. Sacks met Ms. Katz’s fathers, Bruce Katz and Steven Matz, just after they became exclusive. He knew that Mr. Katz was Ms. Katz’s biological uncle, and that the two men had adopted her and her younger sister, Kimberly Katz, in 2002. Ms. Katz lived in Brookville, on Long Island, until she was 8. In 2001, her father, Dr. Richard A. Leopold, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the family’s garage. He left a suicide note. The poison gas caused the deaths of his wife, Dr. Rhonda Leopold, and the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Allison. Ms. Katz and Kimberly, plus the family’s housekeeper, also overcome by fumes, were the only survivors.

Mr. Katz’s devotion to his late sister’s remaining children reset Ms. Katz’s young life. “He really stepped up,” she said. “It was difficult being on Long Island, where everyone knew who we were and stared and felt sorry for me, and where having two dads wasn’t very common.” She credits her resilience to her fathers and to a lack of alternatives: “When something like that happens to you, you either crack or you move forward.”

When Mr. Sacks proposed, on Sept. 26, 2020, it was with the intention of moving forward with her forever. He also wanted to supply her with a life story whose end doesn’t match the beginning. “I thought, if anyone deserved a happily ever after, it’s her,” he said. “And I’m going to make it so.”

Their happily ever after started on July 17, when Mr. Sacks and Ms. Katz were married at Pelligrini Vineyards in Cutchogue, N.Y., by Jaimee Shalhevet, a rabbi at North Shore Synagogue. Ms. Katz’s fathers walked her down the aisle, but her mother wasn’t far from her thoughts. “I’ve tried to accomplish things in my life that I know she would have wanted me to,” she said. “I hope she would be proud of me.”

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