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Still together, 10 years after arranged mall marriage

First comes love, then comes marriage — so goes the children’s song. But David and Elizabeth Weinlick have sung a much different tune for a decade now.

The Minneapolis couple were introduced and married at the Mall of America after David publicly recruited a bride and relied on his friends to choose from the candidates.

Today, the Weinlicks — all five of them, counting their three kids — are celebrating David and Elizabeth’s 10th anniversary, commemorating a successful union founded on unfamiliarity. What's their secret?

“I don’t think it’s that much of a secret,” David Weinlick told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Ann Curry on Friday. “It’s really about how we make it work together. Committed to being together.

“And honestly, it’s not something that special. I mean, people arrange marriages all over the world, right? And it works really well.”

Elizabeth is equally nonchalant about the success of the union. When everyone was asking “Why?” 10 years ago, she was asking “Why not?” Or, at least, “Why knot?”

"You never go into marriage thinking it will only last few years,” she said. “Yes, we thought it was going to last this long. Dave was not doing it as a publicity stunt, which a lot people were saying at the time.”

Nervy nuptials It all started with a random comment from David in 1994 that somehow snowballed into a self-fulfilling prophecy. While a senior at college, he told friends he would get married on June 13, 1998.

That foretelling hit a bit of a stumbling block in the spring of 1997, when David broke up with his girlfriend.

With the date of destiny drawing closer, David’s friend, Steve Fletcher, suggested he run a campaign to seek a qualified bride. Leaflets were distributed. A commercial was made. A Web site was established. And the press reported on and publicized it all, resulting in more than 300 applications from prospective Mrs. Weinlicks.

“I don’t have a girlfriend, but soon enough, I’ll have a wife, right?” David told Lauer on TODAY 10 years ago.

The number was whittled down to 28 candidates, all of whom were interviewed by more than 60 of David’s friends and family members as part of the “bridal candidate mixer” at the Mall of America in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington, Minn.

Their final selection, by an overwhelming margin, was one Elizabeth Runze — a 28-year-old pharmacy student.

After an hour or so of dressing up, Elizabeth and David stepped up to the altar and got married in front of the world. Their only previous introduction was a five-minute conversation the previous Monday, when she picked up a candidate survey on a Minneapolis street.

David was proud to say afterward: “Our first kiss was on the altar.”

Disproving the doubts
The Weinlicks certainly had their early doubters — from Lauer to David’s own dad.

While he wished his son well, David’s father, Herman, was quoted as saying: “I am not particularly happy with this event, which I think makes light of something which, to me, should

be taken more seriously.” And a family counselor told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “There's a high probability he's going to get the wrong person.”

David said he could relate to everyone’s uncertainty.

“I understand why people would think it would fail,” he said. “Because you see all of these other things that happened afterward — ‘marry a millionaire,’ that kind of thing. Clearly, they were looking at the wrong parts of it and not really getting it.”

The Weinlicks, unlike so many of their doubters, took their marriage seriously. While many viewed their mall wedding as a mere publicity stunt, they applied for a marriage license the following Wednesday and made their vows legal.

Love came rather suddenly, the couple said.

“I said [it] very quickly afterward,” David said. “In fact, we were actually out here in New York just a few days later, and it was really scary to me because I said, ‘Wow. I don’t mean to freak you out, but I think I love you.’ At that point, [the marriage] was not even finalized legally.”

“Well, I certainly had those strong feelings right away as well,” Elizabeth added. “But I don’t think I really labeled it [love] until maybe a couple of months into it. But certainly strong feelings right out of the gate.”

The baby carriage
Elizabeth says she is often asked what makes for a successful life partnership. She advises people to “think outside the box” and “get out of your comfort zone” when choosing a mate.

“Dave was a smoker,” she said. “If I had seen him in a bar smoking, I would have ruled him out.”

Some say their 10 years together have been “dating years” — time they needed to get to know each other.

“I don’t agree,” she said. “Marriage is marriage.”

Strengthening David and Elizabeth’s bond has been the arrival of three children. Eldest child Emily turns 7 next Friday, followed by Charlie, 5, and Zoey, 2.

Elizabeth describes David as a dad who is “silly and engaged” but “firm when he needs to be.” She said she made a willing leap of faith when thinking of her stranger/husband as a future father.

“It’s funny, the day we got married, the topic of family and children didn’t come up at all,” she said. “But you shake his hand and he’s charismatic and he kind of just exudes joy and happiness.”

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