It was love at first sight for Michele D'Alpaos, 38, who remembers the exact moment he laid eyes on Paola Agnelli, 40, as she walked across the terrace of her apartment in Verona.
"It was the afternoon of March 17, when I was forced to work from home because of the lockdown," D'Alpaos told CNN. "I saw this beautiful girl, Paola. I was immediately struck by the beauty of this girl, by her smile. I had to know her."
The pair had lived in buildings across from each other almost their entire lives, but were never aware of each other's existence. But that afternoon, while her sister played the violin on their balcony as she did every evening to cheer up the quarantined neighborhood, Agnelli caught D'Alpaos' gaze.
"I immediately thought, 'What a beautiful boy'," Agnelli told CNN. "I believe he was sent to me from heaven."
While the two were strangers up until that moment, fate still found a way to bring them together.
Agnelli happened to know D'Alpaos' sister because they use to visit the same gym and followed each other on Instagram. Moments after discovering this, D'Alpaos quickly created his own Instagram profile just to reach out to Agnelli.
"One message after another, we ended up chatting until late at night," D'Alpaos said. "By then I was just waiting to wake up in the morning to be able to talk to her again. We had so many things in common, from food to politics, she was very nice, she always laughed at my jokes, even the most stupid ones."
Romance in the neighborhood
Close enough to smile at each other from their balconies but too far to embrace, the two spent their days and nights talking, laughing, and learning about each other until they said it felt like they'd known each other forever.
As Italy remained under lockdown because of the pandemic, Agnelli and D'Alpaos had no choice but to remain apart. But that didn't stop D'Alpaos from finding ways to remind Agnelli of his love for her.
One example of his romantic tactics is when D'Alpaos surprised Agnelli one summer morning by writing her name in big letters on a white bedsheet and hanging it from the top of his building for her to see.
"The greatest difficulty of a courtship from the balcony compared to a normal one is to woo a person by stimulating them in the soul and not simply relying on physical appearance. You have to get their attention and never fall into monotony," he said.
"You don't get a chance to set the mood by going out to a nice place or anything like that. Everything is centered only on the two of us."
Their first kiss
On May 4, nearly two months since the beginning of their love story, Agnelli and D'Alpaos were finally able to meet at a garden near their homes.
"We didn't even talk, we sat on a bench and kissed for half an hour like two teenagers," D'Alpaos said.
While many people would have feared their chemistry would not translate in real life, the pair immediately fell into rhythm. They spent the summer surprising each other at the beach, spending their birthdays together, and planning dates that began in the morning and bled into the night.
While the two said they're engaged, the details have been kept private and there are currently no plans for a wedding date or location, but what they know for sure is their shared hope to start a family.
D'Alpaos noted that Shakespeare's tragedy is based on two rival families and the story of Romeo and Juliet "ends in tragedy with the two of them committing suicide."
"Let's hope our story has a better ending than theirs."