Roya and Mani at the altar on their wedding day, surrounded by colourful decorations

Real Weddings: Roya and Mani

Inside a ’70s-themed celebration captured on film

Roya Shaji, a 38-year-old doctor, serendipitously met 41-year-old Mani Rassolian, also a doctor, on an escalator at a conference in Toronto. After a speedy courtship, a private engagement in High Park and the birth of their son, the couple wed in May 2023 at a colourful 1970s-inspired party that also celebrated their Persian heritage. Here’s how it all came together.

Roya and Mani kissing in front of a large flower arrangement

Mani: In 2018, I was looking for a serious relationship. I’m a doctor, and my brother-in-law suggested I go to a conference to meet someone. I thought it was a smart way to try to connect with people in my field. I’d never been to one before, but I decided to attend a family medicine conference.

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Roya: Strangely, I was in a similar situation. I was in my last year of residency at the University of Toronto. My sister had been urging me to try something other than online dating. I was attending the same conference, and she told me it would be the perfect opportunity to meet someone.

Roya holding a small wine glass at her wedding reception

Mani: I caught a glimpse of Roya on the first day and thought she was attractive. On the second day, we happened to be riding the escalator together. I overheard her talking with her friend. She said, “I didn’t know that all of men’s health is basically erectile dysfunction.” That’s when our eyes met. I managed to slide into the conversation.

Roya: I thought he was handsome. It felt really natural talking to him.

Mani standing, holding a bouquet of flowers

Mani: I looked down at her name tag and realized she was also Persian. We walked to the coat check line together and kept chatting. By the time we left, I was learning about her family history.

Roya: My friend had told me about this “old blanket” phenomenon. It’s where, when you meet the right person, it feels like wrapping yourself up in a blanket you’ve had forever. It was like that—just so comfortable right away.

Mani: Ha—I felt like a musty old blanket, apparently. On our way out, I asked for her number. I saw her at the conference the next day, and we ended up going to the same session. We couldn’t help but chat during the lecture, even though it earned us dirty looks from some of the more studious attendees. We spent the rest of the day together, which was really nice. I offered to drive her home that evening. I didn’t make a move during the ride. It was just friendly.

Roya and Mani sitting together, both wearing sunglasses in addition to their wedding outfits

Roya: I was trying not to get too excited. I tend to get ahead of myself when dating.

Mani: We texted a bit over the next few weeks, and then I asked her out. I remember our first date like it was yesterday.

Roya: Oh gosh, really? I can’t remember it at all. Was it dinner and a movie?

Mani: No, we went to Otto’s Beirhalle on Queen West.

Roya and Mani kissing at Graydon Hall on their wedding day

Roya: I do remember us talking about everything on that date: our families, our upbringings—we have a lot of parallel experiences as second-generation Canadians. We both had parents who immigrated to Canada and strongly encouraged us to pursue medicine. It made it easy to talk.

Mani: Our first kiss was on the second date, at Bar Raval on College Street. Very early on, I saw long-term potential with Roya. I loved that we had a shared background and similar outlooks on life. Plus, she’s beautiful.

Roya: Mani went travelling that month in Japan. When he got back, in January of 2019, we decided to make our relationship official.

Roya and Mani walking up the stone steps at Graydon hall

Mani: I’d drive to see Roya in Orillia while she was doing her hospital rotations, which were part of her residency, or she’d stay with me when she visited Toronto. We spent those early dates going for dinners, seeing movies at the TIFF Lightbox and hanging out at beer halls.

Roya: Things moved pretty quickly for us. I grew up in a house where people expected I would marry a good person—that was all that mattered. Mani fit that description perfectly.

Mani: I was nervous to bring Roya home to my family. It felt like a big deal, but I was certain about her. I told my dad beforehand that I wanted to marry Roya, and he was supportive. In the end, they absolutely loved her.

Roya and Mani posing in front of a white background

Roya: After that, I moved into Mani’s apartment in High Park. He basically just cleared a space for me in his closet.

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Mani: My closet hasn’t been tidy since. When summer came around, it felt like the right time to propose. I didn’t need to buy a ring because Roya insisted that was not what she wanted. Instead, we’ve talked about getting rings tattooed on our fingers.

Roya: In June, Mani took me on a romantic picnic in High Park. I had no idea what was coming.

Roya and Mani sitting on a stone wall at Graydon Hall

Mani: We sat near this big maple tree right by a pond. I’d spent tons of time in that park as a child, so I have a lot of good memories there. I had written Roya a love letter, which I let her read to herself. I was so nervous. Then I asked her to marry me. She said yes immediately.

Roya: It was a private moment. No photographer, just us. I don’t make big decisions lightly, but this was an easy yes.

Mani: We were originally planning a destination wedding, but we couldn’t decide where to go. So we shelved it, and then the pandemic hit. It was a really tough time. As doctors, we were both working on the front lines. It was scary.

Roya: We didn’t want to delay our life plans, though. There were no parties or travel. So really, why put off having a baby? We knew we wanted children.

Roya and Mani walking up the aisle on their wedding day

Mani: It happened pretty quickly. Our son, Kasra, was born in September 2021. I cried when I first saw him. We had waited to find out the baby’s sex, so it was a surprise to learn that we now had a little boy.

Roya: Having a baby to care for made it impossible to do the classic two-year wedding-planning process. We didn’t want to juggle child care with a wedding for that long. So we planned everything in the eight months right before the big day. We had a wedding planner, Lauren Madeiros from Blush and Bowties, which really helped.

Roya and Mani standing outside at Graydon hall with foliage covering their faces

Mani: We started by choosing a venue. We wanted an outdoor space and a serene setting. Graydon Hall was really the only place that felt right.

Roya: The wedding was 1970s-themed. We’ve always loved that era. Plus, Mani looks great with a mustache. We had a very colourful wedding palette—yellow, burnt orange, pastel pinks and purples.

A burnt orange couch that was at Roya and Mani's wedding

Mani: For my suit, I went with a retro Gucci tuxedo and a bowtie.

Roya: I always knew I wanted to wear colour at my wedding—I like being unconventional. I had seen a Gucci runway shot of a woman wearing pink sunglasses, a simple pink veil and a pink silk dress. So I connected with a well-known designer, Matthew Gallagher, to make it happen. I never could have anticipated that the end result would be so amazing.

Roya in her wedding dress, standing on top of a box

Mani: On the day of the wedding, I spent the morning with my close friends and the men of the family. We ordered some food and had drinks. Roya and I each had a photographer with us to capture all the candid moments of the day.

Roya: We worked really hard to keep everything as relaxed as possible. The morning of, I went over to my sister’s home for coffee and pastries. We got our makeup and hair done together, and then my mom and my sister helped me into my dress.

Mani and Roya standing together, kissing, while they get ready

Mani: After I was ready, I went over to see Roya for our first looks. She revealed her dress while standing above me at the top of a set of stairs. It was very emotional. She looked so beautiful.

Roya: We chose to photograph our wedding in film rather than digital. I find film photos very romantic. You can only take so many, and the quality gives them this special feeling, like going back in time.

Mani: Kasra was also with us throughout the day. We took photos with him holding our hands, which was really sweet. After Roya and I had seen each other and had some photos taken, we went to the venue together.

The couple walking with their son, Kasra

Roya: We had pre-ceremony cocktails for our guests, accompanied by two instrumentalists who played the santur, a Persian instrument that’s been around for thousands of years, and the zarb, a Persian hand drum. We really wanted to celebrate our shared heritage, so we infused Persian culture into the day in every way we could.

Mani: We were able to watch the cocktail hour from a balcony at Graydon Hall. I was transported to what I imagine my parents’ wedding looked like in Iran in the 1960s. In the past couple of years, Iran has seen a lot of upheaval. The country has been through a lot. One thing that has survived is our music, literature, poetry and art. Incorporating those things into our wedding was the simplest way of showing solidarity.

Roya: When you see Iranians being deprived of their ability to engage with art, you realize that song and dance and joy are such basic human needs. At the wedding, it felt like an act of revolution to dance and sing. It’s the most powerful thing you can do.

The couple's Sofreh Aghd altar, a close up

Roya: After cocktails, the two Persian instrumentalists played us down the aisle for the wedding ceremony. Kasra walked part of the way with us. Then our close family members recited poetry and speeches from the terrace.

Mani: We gave everybody a two-minute limit. We wanted to maximize the partying and minimize the formalities.

Roya: We also held a traditional Iranian ceremony called Sofreh Aghd, which is kind of like a picnic. There’s a beautifully dressed table where the couple sits facing the audience. The table is adorned with objects that symbolize the union being made: sweets to sweeten your life together, a mirror to signify your eternity together.

Roya and Mani stting underneath their Sofreh Aghd alter

Mani: Married women in the family hold a veil above the couple’s heads and grind sugar over them to symbolize the roof you are going to build together.

Roya: Then we feed each other honey, another symbol of sweetening our lives together. Our table was designed by my sister. It was draped in rippling peach silk and covered with candles, flowers, artisanal sweets and cherries.

Roya and Mani kissing in the aisle during their wedding ceremony

Mani: It was emotional. I couldn’t believe we were finally getting married after experiencing a pandemic and having a baby together. After the ceremony, we went right into our first dance, to a lovely Persian cover of “Into My Arms” by Gelareh Pour.

Roya: From there, the party transitioned right into disco music. For the reception, we had a ten-piece band perform. They got the crowd moving with covers of ’70s hits.

Mani feeding Roya a bite of their wedding cake

Mani: People’s shoes were off. My 87-year-old dad was taking shots with us. We finished all the Mezcal before the night was over.

Roya: We wanted to maximize the partying and mingling, so there was no formal sit-down dinner. Instead, we arranged for some food to be passed around so it wouldn’t disrupt the socializing.

Mani: Drinks were flowing, the food was great and everything went as planned. It was an amazing crowd. If anything, it all went by too quickly.

Roya and Mani dancing underneath a disco ball

Roya: A few days later, we flew to Italy. We went to Umbria, Rome and then Florence for our honeymoon. It was really lovely. There’s definitely been a shift from dating to married life. There’s something so special about getting all your loved ones in a room to celebrate a milestone like that. I really enjoyed getting to commit to each other in front of them.

Mani: I agree. It feels like we have this solid framework to build our lives around.

Roya: I’m pregnant with our second baby, who’s expected to arrive in May. We’re so excited. Our life has been chaotic, but a nice chaos. We’re embracing the beauty in that.

Roya and Mani walking through a doorway to outside, backlit

Cheat Sheet

Wedding Date: May 25, 2023
Venue: Graydon Hall
Planner: Lauren Madeiros from Blush and Bowties
Photography: Ryanne Hollies Photography
Officiant: Tade the Marrying Lady
Decorator: Blush and Bowties
Staffing and catering: Graydon Hall
Cake: Crybaby Cakes
Band: Soular
Bride’s hair: Justin Rousseau
Bride’s Makeup: Brittany Sinclair
Bride’s dress: Matthew Gallagher
Groom’s suit: Gucci
Sofreh Aghd table design: Renata Kaveh
Sofreh Aghd table decorator: Shanaz Bahador
Flower installation: Tetiana Tsemko