Valentine's Day

They Found Love In Basic Training

Then one made a grand gesture you only see in rom coms.

Marco Govel/Stocksy, DanielBendjy, Paul Souders, Artinun Prekmoung/EyeEm, MirageC/GettyImages

Few entertainment genres are as intrinsic to Bustle's identity as the rom com. This week, leading up to Valentine's Day, Bustle is partnering with the podcast Meet Cute, which creates original audio rom coms, to explore the real-life romcoms unfolding all around us. Today's episode, "Happy...New Jersey!," is based on the true love story of Ashley Sepulveda, an army medic, and her now wife, Nicole Aveda, a staff sergeant. They found each other when they were both injured in basic training, then reunited when Ashley took a big leap.

When Meet Cute asked L.A.-based screenwriter Ashley Eskew to adapt this story for the podcast's 15-minute audio format, she was hesitant. Sepulveda and Aveda had met in the military, which Eskew knew nothing about, and then there was the risk of getting a real couple's story wrong.

After Eskew interviewed Sepulveda, who submitted the story, the writer was no longer worried. "I fell in love with her joy for life, her joy for her own story, her authenticity, her subtle humor," Eskew says. She was particularly impressed by the very dramatic gesture Sepulveda made at one point in the true story and knew it had to be in the Meet Cute, along with Sepulveda's dry wit. In the finished episode, Sepulveda's grand gesture impresses not only Nicole but also an impatient cab driver. ("'Did you always want to be the surprisingly wise cabdriver cliche? Or did that come with this nice certification I see on the partition?'" the character Ashley asks him.)

"Maybe you're cute, and you don't know it."

"I was like, 'This only happens in movies,'" Eskew recalls. "She was like, 'Yeah, that was weird.'"

Another challenge for the writer was to get the scenes and dialogue with Nicole's Colombian-American family right. "I wanted to bring honor and authenticity to that," Eskew says. She wrote those parts in English, then Meet Cute engaged a Colombian translator to render the lines in Spanish with the right tone and idioms. When it came time to find an actor to voice those parts, "Our producer reached out to seven people who we've worked with before," says Meet Cute project manager Will Nixon. "You do an audition and callbacks. It wasn't the one token Spanish speaker. We don't cut any of those corners."

For Sepulveda, turning her story into a Meet Cute was a welcome respite from the isolation of the pandemic. Aveda was deployed to Kuwait for most of 2020, so Sepulveda was entirely alone. "I saw [the call for submissions], and I was like, 'We're cute, I'm going to tell them about us.'" When she listened to the finished Meet Cute for the first time, she says, she couldn't believe what Eskew was able to create from a half-hour conversation. "The story turned out so true to the essence [of us]," she says. "It surprised me how much I really liked it."

For Eskew, it also felt good to write an authentic lesbian love story that wasn't about the characters being lesbians. "These stories are far more interesting than the beautiful woman with the job in marketing" who discovers she's gay, Eskew says. "I was happy to be able to contribute that to the cannon."

Now, with one of the most important experiences of her life adapted for everyone with a phone to hear, Sepulveda has only one piece of advice for listeners. "If you get a chance to submit you should. Maybe you're cute, and you don't know it."

Listen to Nicole and Ashley's Meet Cute "Happy New Jersey!"; subscribe to Meet Cute for more totally enchanting 15-minute audio rom coms; and stay tuned for the premier of a brand new fictional Meet Cute, "Thief of Love," on Sunday, Feb. 14.

Meet Cute is looking for more real-life love stories to turn into feel-good rom coms! You can send them the story of how you and your partner met here, or DM them on Twitter (@listenmeetcute) or Instagram (@meetcute)!