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Finding Love in Fits and Starts

Lauren Lazare Shell wasn’t looking for love when she met Seth Michael Ratner on a Disney cruise in February 2014.

Ms. Shell, who at the time was separated from her previous husband and casually dating someone else, had come on the cruise with her two sons. Mr. Ratner, then a recently divorced father of a son and daughter, was traveling with his children. His son and her eldest boy recognized each other from day camp and introduced the two.

“I thought Seth was cute but didn’t think anything would come of it,” Ms. Shell, now 48, said.

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She and Mr. Ratner, now 47, didn’t see each other again until the end of the cruise when Ms. Shell “pretended to accidentally run into him,” she said, and they made plans to see a magic show together. “I had butterflies because she was so beautiful,” Mr. Ratner said. After the show, “we danced and exchanged phone numbers,” he added.

After the cruise, they talked on the phone and via text message for months. In September 2014 Mr. Ratner, who was living between Manhattan and Roslyn, N.Y., asked Ms. Shell, who was living in Manhattan, for places where he could take his children over Christmas break. By then she had ended her other relationship, and when she told him that she and her family planned to stay at her time share in Aruba, he decided to rent a unit in the same resort.

“I thought he was joking when he called to say he was taking his family to Aruba,” Ms. Shell said.

Before the trip, the two went on several dates. Their first, in October 2014, was at Uva, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. As she got to know Mr. Ratner, Ms. Shell said she came to appreciate his “great sense of humor, his kindness to me and how respectful he was to waiters and others around him.”

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But soon after they started to date, Mr. Ratner, who had only been divorced for about a year, pulled away. “Lauren was smart and interesting, but I got scared and jumped off the train,” he said.

Early that December, they ran into each other at a concert. A few days later, Mr. Ratner told Ms. Shell that he missed her. They had reconciled by the time they arrived for the Christmas holiday in Aruba, where they and their children spent time together.

The next year, in April 2015, the two took a trip to the Dominican Republic. But afterward, Mr. Ratner again became fearful that they were moving too fast and “broke it off again,” he said.

Three weeks later, after one of Mr. Ratner’s friends told Ms. Shell how miserable he was without her, she texted him and they were soon back together. “I took a chance,” she said.

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In December 2015, the month her divorce became final, Mr. Ratner told Ms. Shell he loved her.

From then they dated steadily until January 2018, when he broke up with her for a third time because he felt left out at her son’s bar mitzvah. “I felt I should have had more inclusion,” Mr. Ratner said, adding, “I walked away.”

That March, they had another chance encounter at a concert, this one by Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. Both had arrived late and froze when they saw each other in the hall. Mr. Ratner then sent Ms. Shell a text during the performance. The two agreed to try dating again, and to communicate more.

“We became completely transparent, discussing everything honestly and fully,” Mr. Ratner said. “This made us stronger as a couple.”

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They became engaged in July 2020, when he proposed aboard a friend’s boat in Montauk, N.Y. Ms. Shell, who has a law degree from Yale and graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, now works as an independent lawyer. A graduate of Adelphi University, Mr. Ratner is an owner of East Hills Instruments in Westbury, N.Y., which sells and repairs equipment used at power plants.

The couple, who currently live at Ms. Shell’s Manhattan apartment, were married Sept. 10 at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, N.Y. Their friend Seth Rosensweig, who was ordained a Universal Life minister for the occasion, officiated at the outdoor ceremony before 150 guests, including the bride’s sons Devin and Justin, now 17 and 15, and the groom’s children Dean and Ashley, now 17 and 14.

“Lauren should give classes to others on how to be a great partner,” Mr. Ratner said of Ms. Shell, who is taking his last name. “When I am in a bad mood, she calms me down and never throws it back. She is my best friend, and I want her with me for the rest of my life.”

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