Douglas McTaggart first spotted Brien Convery across a crowded room.
It was Friday April 10, 1998 and Canadian McTaggart, then 32 and living in San Francisco, was visiting New York City for a long weekend.
McTaggart and his friend Nadine had spent all day exploring, ending with a nightcap at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel before turning in for the night.
A few hours later, McTaggart was woken by Nadine snoring. He looked at his watch. The night was still young. He was in a city that famously never slept, so why stay in bed?
He got dressed, leaving his friend fast asleep, and headed out into a still-bustling Manhattan. On the street, he hailed a cab to Splash, a gay bar on West 17th Street in Chelsea.
McTaggart wasn’t looking to meet anyone, but he was keen to soak up the atmosphere. Splash, which has since closed, was a sprawling, two-story venue with multiple bars and dance floors.
McTaggart ordered a drink at one of the bars, enjoying the music.
That’s when he noticed a man dressed in a white t-shirt and camouflage pants, standing with friends on the dance floor.
The white of the man’s shirt was catching the UV disco light, illuminating him among the crowd.
“He stood out on the dance floor,” McTaggart tells CNN Travel today. “I thought, ‘Oh, he’s kind of cute.’”
The DJ cycled through a couple more tracks. When McTaggart looked up again, the man with the white shirt was alone.
“I went over to him, and I asked if I could buy him a drink,” says McTaggart. “And that’s how we met.”
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Brien Convery lived in New York City, but he was never there. His job as a consultant took him to Savannah, Georgia from Mondays to Fridays.
Every year of his life until aged 31, he’d spent Easter weekend with his family up in the Hudson River Valley. But that year, exhausted from his weekly business travel, he’d called his mother and ducked out. He wanted to spend the long weekend catching up with friends and enjoying the city he usually didn’t have more than 48 hours in.
Like McTaggart, Convery says he wasn’t looking for a relationship – his work travel made it nearly impossible.
But Convery remembers seeing McTaggart for the first time, and how he felt when McTaggart approached him from across the bar.
There was “instant interest,” says Convery.
The two men spent the rest of the evening together, dancing, drinking and talking.
“We were there until near last call, they didn’t have to throw us out – we sort of knew we had to leave,” says McTaggart. “His friends had left. And that’s when I asked him, ‘Do you want to take a cab ride?’”
McTaggart loved Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In the cab ride, he told Convery a story about Capote’s rumored inspiration for his famous novella, a tale of two men who crossed paths during the Second World War, one on shore leave from the Navy. With nowhere to go when the city’s bars closed, the two went to Tiffany & Co. to gaze through the windows at dawn.
“It kind of fit in that moment,” says McTaggart. He directed their cab driver to Fifth Avenue.
Before long, McTaggart and Convery were in front of the famous store, having their own “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” moment.
“That was an experience in itself,” says Convery. “And then from that moment, on the rest of the weekend, everything was an experience.”
After their Fifth Avenue stop, Convery and McTaggart headed to Convery’s place in Chelsea.
They said their goodbyes at sunrise and arranged to meet later that morning at the Galaxy Diner, a since-closed, retro, space-themed cafe.
Back at his hotel, McTaggart told Nadine what happened while she was sleeping. She laughed, and was persuaded to join for breakfast.
Meanwhile, Convery called his friend Jesus and asked him along. Convery and Jesus came up with a “get out” plan, just in case.
“This guy seems nice, fun and interesting,” Convery recalls saying. “But if for some reason it doesn’t really connect over breakfast, I’m going to say, ‘don’t forget we have plans at Jim’s in Brooklyn,’ as a way out.”
A couple of hours later, Convery, McTaggart, Nadine and Jesus were sitting in a blue-hued booth, drinking Diet Coke and eating turkey burgers.
There was no mention of Jim in Brooklyn.
“I just felt a lot of trust in Brien – right from the get go,” says McTaggart. “And I think that his friends reinforced that, I could see how he was interacting with them. And it just felt light and free.”
After brunch, the group wandered around Manhattan together. They went up the Empire State Building, visited the Rockefeller Center, and enjoyed walking and talking.
“I actually knew a lot about New York that Brien wasn’t familiar with,” recalls McTaggart, who loves museums and spotting film locations. He recalls regaling Convery with stories about famous New York City buildings.
“Brien, on the other hand, complimented things beautifully because he knew all the places to go to dance, some of the fun places to go for dinner,” adds McTaggart.
Whiling away the afternoon, the group found themselves wandering around Greenwich Village.
McTaggart and Convery noticed a street vendor selling silver rings. After examining the wares, they decided to buy matching bands.
“It was spontaneous. But it was sort of a souvenir of the moment and of the weekend, and it was a souvenir of a friendship,” says McTaggart. “And as the relationship grew, the meaning that we attached to the rings also grew.”
On Sunday morning, McTaggart booked Easter brunch at the grand Four Seasons Hotel New York. He invited Convery to come along.
“When he came for brunch, he was in a suit, and he looked very, very nervous,” recalls McTaggart.
The suit, adds McTaggart was “a total change from dance club nightwear from the night before.”
Brunch felt more formal than any of their previous activities – white linen table cloths, swanky surroundings. But McTaggart, Convery and Nadine had a great time eating eggs and sipping champagne.
“I think it was still quite light, to a degree, because I think we were both in that mindset of not looking for a relationship, just sort of hanging out, going with the flow kind of perspective, like happy go lucky,” says Convery. “But I think there was clearly a connection.”
McTaggart and Nadine had tickets to a matinee performance of “Titanic,” a Broadway show about the ill-fated ocean liner, later that day. McTaggart asked Convery if he wanted to join them.
Afterwards, the group drank beers on Chelsea Piers, looking out over the water. While Nadine and Convery chatted, McTaggart excused himself and went to the bar to use a payphone. He called his airline and asked to push his flight back a day, to Tuesday morning.
On Monday morning, Nadine flew home. McTaggart, Convery and Jesus rented rollerblades, skating from Chelsea to Battery Park. Convery and Jesus had fun, McTaggart less so.
“I was quite balanced and, I’ll say, good at rollerblading,” says Convery. “Doug, not so much.”
McTaggart and Convery spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine in the park, laughing about McTaggart’s rollerblading attempts.
The next morning, McTaggart was flying back to San Francisco, while Convery was heading back to work in Savannah. The two traveled to JFK together.
“We held hands in the back of the cab,” says McTaggart.
Their airport goodbye was “solemn,” says Convery.
“I don’t remember exactly what was said. But I just remember feeling like, ‘I’m saying goodbye. But I want to see him again,’” says McTaggart.
And as soon as he was back in Georgia, Convery gave McTaggart a call.
He was going to Philadelphia the following weekend, he explained, did McTaggart want to join him?
“I booked a flight right away,” says McTaggart.
Reunited at the airport
When McTaggart’s flight arrived in Philadelphia the following weekend, he waited to be the last person off the flight.
“Because of homophobia,” he explains. “I didn’t want to give him a big hug and kiss him on the cheek, necessarily, in a group of people.”
But Convery, waiting at the gate alone, worried McTaggart hadn’t boarded the flight after all – neither of them had cell phones so they couldn’t communicate. Convery just had to wait and hope.
Eventually, McTaggart walked through the gate, and the two embraced. When they got in Convery’s car, parked in the terminal car park, Convery turned on his cassette player.
Convery had got hold of the song that had played at Splash on the night they met: a dance remix version of the Grease hit “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
“When I got into the car, I instantly recognized it,” says McTaggart. “And that became our song.”
Over the next few weekends, McTaggart and Convery took it in turns to visit one another. They didn’t have a conversation confirming they were in a long-distance relationship – they say the certainty they felt didn’t need to be voiced.
“I never considered dating anybody else while I was dating Brien. And he didn’t either,” says McTaggart.
A few months in, Convery suggested he could move to San Francisco. His job was such that he could be based anywhere.
McTaggart paused – was it too early?
“When is it right for a person to give a person a key to your place, let alone have them move in?” he remembers thinking.
But he concluded “there is no right – what feels right is right.”
“It just felt right,” agrees Convery.
“And it’s still like that, we’re in our 25th year,” says McTaggart.
“A Julia Roberts moment”
McTaggart and Convery moved to McTaggart’s native Canada in the early noughties. They got married in Toronto on New Year’s Eve 2004, not long after same-sex marriage was legalized in Ontario.
Both men wore black tuxes and gold ties. There was only one hiccup – on the morning of the wedding, Convery realized his tux still had the security tag attached. He dashed into town to try and fix it, but the store had closed early for the New Year celebrations. Fortunately, a suit store across the street was still open.
“I walked in and I said, ‘I need somebody’s help. I’m getting married in literally two hours,’” recalls Convery.
“Everybody in the store was all hands on the deck. Everyone’s scrambling to find the key to unlock the tag on the back of my suit – which I didn’t buy there – and finally someone found it in a box. They were able to undo it.”
As Convery ran out the store, the people working in the store shouted their congratulations after him.
“I said it was my Julia Roberts moment, because it was so like a movie where that would have happened to her,” says Convery, laughing.
For their wedding rings, Convery and McTaggart used the silver bands they’d bought that first weekend in New York.
“We wore them from then on and so it made perfect sense to use them as our wedding bands many years later,” says McTaggart.
A life well-lived
Convery and McTaggart enjoy occasional trips back to New York City and San Francisco to retrace their old steps.
On one return trip, they took photos outside the apartment Convery lived in when they first met.
It’s fun, they say, to think about that time in their life, and the coincidences that led to their encounter.
“There are so many little things that pushed us together,” says McTaggart, joking that Nadine’s snoring was “the pivotal moment.”
They celebrate their anniversary on April 10, but they always reflect on their relationship’s beginnings when Easter rolls around.
“For us, I think it’s special, because spring, new beginnings,” says Convery.
Still, Convery and McTaggart also say they try not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Instead, they focus on making the most of the present.
“We enjoy every day. Sometimes you take joy in the little things. Sometimes you take joy in the big things, but happiness is with us,” says McTaggart.
“There’s a respect in our relationship, an understanding, a curiosity,” says Convery. “He’s very insightful and feeling, and also challenges me in ways that helped me become a better person.”
For McTaggart, the goal is to live a life together that means that “when life comes to an end, there’s no doubt it was the best possible life for both of us.”
“I think, at this stage in life, I have a good understanding about what love is,” he says. “I think I’ve always loved Brien and I will always, always love Brien. And I think part of love is looking at how precious life is, and really how I can help Brien live the best and most beautiful life possible.”
Top photo: Brien Convery and Douglas McTaggart at the Rockefeller Center on April 11, 1998, the day after they first met. Photo courtesy BKC and DGM