Do you believe in fate? Is there a supernatural power that determines our course? The relationship between Tyler and Lireika presents a compelling argument that it exists. The week before their wedding, they shared the details of a long pattern of coincidental encounters that led to their recent trip down the aisle.
Bride: Lireika Cabello Colon, 33, registered nurse, native of Cayey, Puerto Rico
Groom: Tyler Owens, 31, senior military analyst, native of Charlotte, North Carolina
Current Residence: Glen Arden, Maryland
Wedding Date: March 25, 2023
Venue/Location: Le Meridien Hotel – Charlotte, North Carolina
(Tyler) My first recollection of meeting Lireika was when I was six or seven years old. My family lived in Charlotte’s University neighborhood, and Lireika’s Aunt Ruth was our next-door neighbor. My mother was one of the first people Ruth met when she moved to Charlotte from Puerto Rico, and they became good friends. I went to elementary school with her children, and we were close friends. Lireika spent that summer visiting with her aunt and cousins, and I had the opportunity to interact with her for the first time. I moved to Georgia when I was ten years old, where I finished high school.
(Lireika) I used to come to Charlotte one month out of every summer so that we could practice speaking English with my cousins. In the second month of summer, my aunt would send my cousins to Puerto Rico to spend a month with us so that they could learn Spanish. That is how Tyler and I became friends as kids.
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Tyler even visited Puerto Rico with my cousins once and spent the whole summer with us. We would meet at family events, Quinceañeras, and baby showers throughout the years. Eventually, we lost communication when I was 17, and he was 15.
(Tyler) We were Facebook friends and maintained a passive association as just family friends. The next time we saw one another was seven and a half years later at an army training event at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
It was the summer of 2014. Neither of us had a clue that the other was in the army. She was in college, and I was about to graduate. I spotted her from a distance and thought, “Wow, that girl looks familiar.” I just took a chance and yelled her name. To my surprise, it was her.
She turned around, and I ran up, and we spoke briefly. It was a two- or three-minute conversation between two people who had not seen each other for a long time. We were just shocked at having run across one another in this environment. After that brief encounter, we did not see each other or speak again until 2019.
(Lireika) We were in the field, staying in tents. None of us looked cute. Walking from the shower back to my tent, I heard somebody calling my first name. In the military, everybody calls you by your last name. It caught my attention because I did not think anyone knew my first name. I started looking around and saw someone running towards me. I did not know who he was. To my surprise, it was Tyler.
(Tyler) My mother saw Lireika at a baby shower in 2018 and sent me a photo of them and a note that said, “Look who I’m with.” I was then stationed in Bowie, Maryland, and my mother said that Lireika would soon be stationed in Maryland as well. She said I should show her around, suggest the best places to live and hang out, and help her familiarize herself with the Maryland and DC areas. I said, “Sure, we can get in touch whenever she gets here.”
I wrote Lireika via Instagram near the end of January 2019 and asked if she had made it to Maryland safely and was settled in. She told me yes; she had already gotten a place. I asked if she wanted to meet up sometime to catch up. I could show her around some cool places in DC. We agreed to meet at a bar in DC during the first week of February, right before my birthday. So, we started conversing and catching up.
(Lireika) I am three years older than him, and when we were younger, I would always call him Little Tyler. When we met up, I said, “Little Tyler, you’re so grown.” He was like, “I am a full-grown man now so you can stop calling me Little Tyler.” The following weekend was his birthday and he invited me out to celebrate. We went out a couple of times as friends then things progressed.
(Tyler) We went on our first date on Valentine’s Day. We went to a Spanish restaurant in DC and got tapas. I said, “Wow, our connection is amazing, and we have chemistry.” Our conversations flowed during our previous meetings, and everything felt natural. We knew one another’s families and had a long history of engagements and interactions. It just felt right. So, I took a chance and surprised her.
I was surprised when she agreed to go out on a date. It’s funny because I did not feel nervous during those first meetings. I was meeting an old friend. It felt exciting to catch up. When I realized that I could be developing feelings for her, I started feeling nervous. After all the years we had known each other, and the times we had spoken to one another, that was the first time I felt butterflies. The circumstances had changed.
(Lireika) He picked me up and made it a full Valentine’s Day thing. I cannot recall exactly what, but he did something that made me feel special. I was like, “Whoa, wait a minute. This is a real date.” But in the back of my head, we were just going out.
(Tyler) Even though I asked her on a date, she was still unconvinced. She still was looking at me as Little Tyler. She agreed to go out with me, but I don’t think she was as optimistic as I was.
(Lireika) When I saw him, I was like, “Wow, Tyler grew up, and he is very handsome.” We had a lot of chemistry from our first outing. I was physically, intellectually, and personally attracted to him, but in my head, I still did not want to see him as anything other than Little Tyler. If we crossed the line from being friends to something else, we might ruin this, which might be awkward. So, I wanted to set boundaries, but the attraction was evident. We fell for each other quickly.
I was in Maryland for four months of training, not stationed there. At the end of the training, I would be stationed in Texas. By that time, we were in deep with each other. I did not want to have a long-distance relationship. But Tyler, being the person he is, pulled out a pro/con analysis sheet to convince me to continue the relationship.
We agreed that we would alternate flying each month. He would fly to be with me for one month, and I would fly to him the next. We did that for a little over a year. Then I voluntarily separated from the military and moved to Maryland with him.
(Lireika) I knew I liked him a lot in the first four months and wanted to be with him. We had actual potential. But I was nervous because I knew I was leaving for Texas. Up until I left for Texas, I was still on the fence.
He is attentive to my needs and did things I had never had anyone do for me. He took time off from work to drive me to Texas and ensure I made it there safely. He did little things that made me feel special. These were the things I wanted in a person, and Tyler met all the criteria. So why was I holding back or being hesitant? When he showed me that cost/benefit analysis and I saw the effort he was putting into our long-distance relationship, I realized this is my person.
(Tyler) We had a history together. I had known her family since I was young. Not to mention that I thought she was absolutely beautiful. But when I began peeling the onion’s layers back and got to know her, she was extremely caring and compassionate. She listened to me better than any person I have ever met. She cared about the things I told her. I could be my complete self around her; there was no façade. I had just returned from a 10-month deployment to Syria, and some things were associated with that. I could be honest with her about myself, which felt so comforting.
She paid attention to small things. When I got my master’s degree from the University of Louisville, she and my mother planned to surprise me. Taking the time to attend my graduation let me know that she was really into me. Seeing her selflessness, compassion, love for others, and attention to my needs when I was going through things showed me this is the person for me.
(Tyler) I proposed to Lireika on October 16, 2021. I had considered proposing for months, but we had a lot going on in 2021. More than a year into the pandemic, she worked as a traveling nurse. I purchased her engagement ring in September, two weeks before we closed on purchasing our house. Lireika was on a five-month assignment in Charlotte and had no idea what I had done. Now I had to plan the proposal.
Had there not been a pandemic, I would have planned an extravagant proposal, like traveling to Petra in Jordan or Havasupai Falls in Arizona. But because of lockdowns and restrictions, they were not viable options. My plans finally came together while talking with a friend.
It was October 13, 2021, and I told him I felt like I was spinning my wheels trying to plan the proposal. He reminded me that Lireika and I were planning to travel to Charlotte and then on to Lake Wateree for her aunt’s 60th birthday party on October 16th. My parents had already moved back to Charlotte, and her family was coming from Puerto Rico for the party. Since everyone would be there, that would be the perfect time and place to propose.
I did not want to infringe upon her aunt’s birthday party without permission, so I called her aunt who was hosting the event. She was overjoyed and offered to help me make it happen. Within two days, the plan to execute the proposal was complete. We would go to the party, act normal, and at the appropriate time, I would surprise them.
On the day of the party, I tried to give Lireika subtle hints that she might want to get a manicure, but she would not. I spent a lot of time at the mall looking for outfits and accessories for us because she was dressed very relaxed. As a result, I arrived at the party late. Then I could not convince her to wear the outfit I had purchased because she believed she was just going to a party at the lake.
(Lireika) I could not get my nails done. They had given me a timeline, and my aunt asked me to help set up the birthday party. I was blowing up balloons and everything. I did not have time to get my nails done; I was freaking out. So, I ended up decorating for my proposal.
Tyler got there a little later than everyone anticipated. Then, they were trying to get me to go down the dock with him.
(Tyler) A photographer was there taking pictures of the birthday party. She suggested Lireika, and I walk out on the dock and take pictures overlooking the water. I had created a huge sign that said, “Lireika, Will You Marry Me?” The other guests stayed at the house to position and reveal the sign. They had placed candles on both sides of the dock. As we walked along Lireika said, “I set up all the decorations today, but I don’t remember setting up candles.” That was the moment she started to get curious.
I was getting nervous. I am sure I was acting shaky. She was starting to feel concerned, not knowing what was going on. When we reached the end of the dock, I pointed over the lake and said, “Isn’t that a beautiful sunset? Let’s sit here and let her take some pictures from behind.” Lireika was so curious she turned around before she was supposed to and saw them unraveling the sign. Her mouth dropped wide open when they opened it all the way up.
I told her, “I have not felt so certain about anything in my life.” I got down on one knee and proposed and gave her a ring. The family was in the background with fireworks and balloons. It was awesome.
(Lireika) At first, I was surprised. They got me. Usually, I catch on to these kinds of things. Then everything clicked. How the day had gone and what I was asked to do made sense. I got nervous to the point that I felt weak in the knees. It was pure butterflies and excitement.
We had talked about marriage but nothing serious. Certainly not to the point where I was thinking, any day now, Tyler could propose.
(Tyler) There was never any solid talk about it. I never said, “Hey, would you want to get married next year? How would you feel if I propose?” I just took a chance.
(Lireika) Wedding planning is going well. We started a year in advance. Shawon, our planner with SDS Events, has made the process easy. We had a couple of hiccups at the end, but that is normal. It happens. It has been an exciting process.
I never thought I would be getting married and having a big event. If it were up to me, I would have had something smaller. But Tyler is very traditional and was adamant that we would do the entire process. I went along, and I do not regret it. I am very excited.
It is going to be an evening wedding with 198 guests. We have six bridesmaids and six groomsmen. We are writing our vows.
We are not doing the typical slow first dance. We have a choreographed salsa and Bachata dance as a presentation of my culture.
(Tyler) When we were young, Ruth always said she loved me and that I was a great person. She would lightheartedly say that I was so awesome that she wanted her daughter and me to get married one day. Over the years, we realized she was earnest about her desire for me to be in their family.
As we got older, Ruth realized her daughter and I would never be more than friends, and she started to say, “Well, I have five daughters and a ton of nieces.” When Lireika and I started dating and eventually got engaged, she proclaimed that her dream had come true. Ruth is likely the most excited about this union.
We are going to Alicante, Spain.
(Lireika) Tailor the wedding to you and what you want to do, rather than trying to think of what people want or expect. People-pleasing can take over during your planning phase, and that can lead you to some regrets later.
(Tyler) Get a real sense of the cost of vendors and understand holistically how everything comes together. It is one thing to hear an amount, but when you get a contract, you have to incorporate taxes and think about all the stipulations and the number of vendors that you have. It is important to set a hard budget that you will not budge from.
Make sure you are doing everything that you as a couple want to do. If you have room in your budget to incorporate things that will be fun for your guests do that. I did not have a good feel for the number of vendors and how all of that would come together. Take your time and do not feel pressured, even if a wedding planner, team, or somebody sets deadlines. It is your wedding at the end of the day. So, make those decisions for yourself and your future spouse.
When they met it wasn’t love at first sight, but he was only six years old.
Wedding Planner: SDS Event LLC – Shawon McClure
Photography: Dorn-Long Photography
Videographer: J Alexander Videography – Justin Clark
Venue: Le Meridien Hotel – Charlotte, NC
Florist: Xpression Florals – Valerie Brooks
Event Rentals and Design: Charlotte Luxury Event
Stage: Pom Posh Event Rentals
Floor Wrap: Red Pen Graphics
360 Booth: Ade Imaging
Linen and Cutlery: Curated Events
Saxophonist: Chris King
DJ: Loso Sound
Stationary: The M design shop LLC
Dance Instructor: Gonzalo Zambrana
Officiant: Forever is Fate LLC – Chris Copeland