It was an awkward first encounter. In March, 2011, when Jennifer Chu was 19 and the single mother of three-year-old daughter Orianna, she was introduced to Charonton Barber, a 2002 U.S. Naval Academy graduate.
Feeling insecure because Orianna’s father had been Ms. Chu’s only previous relationship, she was unusually quiet when Mr. Barber entered the Prado Spa & Salon in West Palm Beach, Fla., where she worked as assistant manager while attending Florida Atlantic University. “I was blown away by Charonton’s good looks but so nervous I barely spoke,” said Ms. Chu, now 29, and a real estate agent with Chu Barber Group at Exit Realty Mizner in Boca Raton.
Mr. Barber was born in Lansing, Mich., and raised in Georgetown, S.C., where his father, Brendon M. Barber, Sr., is currently mayor. He lived in Miami working as a project manager for Critical Path Construction when a mutual friend encouraged him to meet Ms. Chu.
“I thought she was attractive and sweet but I spoke more to her work associate,” said Mr. Barber, now 44, and a real estate agent/project manager with Ms. Chu’s team at Exit Realty Mizner, as well as a lender with Paramount Residential Mortgage Group in Tampa, Fla. “Since my friend spoke highly of Jennifer, I texted her the next day.”
Born and raised in Boynton Beach, Fla., Ms. Chu was ready to meet someone after the end of her relationship with Orianna’s father, yet concerned about the 15 year age difference. After two weeks of texting and phone chats, she felt comfortable. “He was polite and didn’t act his age,” said Ms. Chu, who was living with her parents.
In June, after several group dates, they had their first dinner alone at the Grand Lux Cafe at Sawgrass Mills Mall near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We really hit it off talking about our backgrounds and families,” said Ms. Chu, whose mother’s side moved to the U.S. 30 years ago from Taiwan and opened restaurants.
That summer, Mr. Barber introduced her to the charms of Miami: they explored unique neighborhoods and restaurants and sampling foods that Ms. Chu didn’t typically eat, including avocados and edamame.
By September, they were a couple, and Ms. Chu introduced her daughter Orianna to Mr. Barber during a dinner at Bonefish Grill in Boca Raton. “Orianna was smart, sweet and asked lots of questions,” Mr. Barber said. “After dinner she said, ‘I love you.’”
At the end of 2011, Ms. Chu left college and moved into Mr. Barber’s Miami apartment while Orianna stayed in Palm Beach County with her grandparents. Instantly, the couple’s differences created challenges. Ms. Chu is creative, picky and impatient; Mr. Barber is patient, compassionate and discreet. Living in the other’s space took some work. “Since it was Jennifer’s first time away from home we had fights about how to run the apartment,” he said. “I was used to living alone and had to adjust.”
After two years, Ms. Chu moved back with her parents to be closer to her daughter (now 13), work on her self-confidence and learn the real estate business. “We returned to a dating relationship,” Ms. Chu said.
They kept the romance alive with surprises. In 2014, the night before his 37th birthday, Ms. Chu set an old iPhone alarm for 6 a.m., the time he was born. She taped a note to the back leading to locations of six gifts (fancy knives and kitchenware) hidden around the apartment. “It was awesome,” he said. “Jennifer couldn’t be there so she got creative.”
Not long after, Mr. Barber surprised Ms. Chu with a red bag containing a sunglasses case. Inside was a Valentine’s Day cruise itinerary for the Bahamas.
During the next few years, they worked on acknowledging their personality differences and being open about the habits that bother one another.
Constant communication, compromise, and allowing the other space for personal growth made their relationship grow stronger. “Working on myself has helped eliminate my past challenges and focus on positivity like building our empire as a family,” Ms. Chu said.
Mr. Barber agreed: “As Jennifer gained confidence, I respected her more and was ready for a commitment.”
On Jan. 19, 2019, during a trip to Las Vegas for Mr. Barber’s birthday, he dropped to his knee on the Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck of the Paris hotel and proposed. “I teared up in surprise because I thought the trip was only for his birthday,” Ms. Chu said.
They were married Aug. 22 at the THesis Hotel in Coral Gables. Their mutual friend Barbara Diaz, a notary, officiated an outdoor nonreligious ceremony before 59 guests. The hotel reception included a three-tiered vanilla cake with dulce de leche and vanilla buttercream fillings.
“I loved Jennifer before but I am happier now,” Mr. Barber said. “After 10 years together we just bought a house in Palm Beach County. I am excited to start a new chapter.”