Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: March 15

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Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: March 15

A little late on this week’s announcement? Yeah, but love takes time, guys. And you’re about to see that with Ricky and Sharon, who have a real ebb-and-flow tale. It’s the a doozy, so let’s not waste any time.

Per usual, original text is in quotes.

* * *

A Teenage Crush Graduates to Marriage

When Ricky Phung tried to get Sharon Zhen’s attention by tripping her in the ninth grade at San Gabriel High School in California, he was unaware that she had already fallen for him.

It’s like they wrote the line, “She had already fallen for him,” with the explicit intention of me making fun of it.

“I thought she was cute and I really liked her, but I didn’t know how to approach her,” said Mr. Phung, a 29-year-old marketing manager at Faraday Future, a company in Los Angeles that plans to manufacture electric cars.

“I didn’t know how to approach her, so I decided I’d viciously throw her on the ground in hopes she’d fall in love with me.” Alright, Ricky.

“I spent a year and a half trying to figure out a way to introduce myself,” he said, laughing as he recalled that moment in 2000 when Ms. Zhen tumbled to the floor and into his world.

You can’t make the cheesiness of “…and into his world” up, thankfully. I mean, I accidentally tripped a girl on crutches in ninth grade and I still feel guilty about it. These people are repping it like they did something noble.

“After all that time,” he said, “I still didn’t have much of a plan.”

So naturally, you just hurt someone and hope things pan out from there. Got it.

The task of meeting Ms. Zhen, which soon became Mr. Phung’s most difficult high school project, had begun the year before at Richard Garvey Intermediate School in Rosemead, Calif., where Ms. Zhen enrolled in the eighth grade shortly after her family moved from Los Angeles.

Gotta think ol’ Ricky Phung knew how to crush some group projects while everyone rode on his coattails. Dude’s a marketing manager now for a company that produces electric cars, which is the most First World Job Title in existence.

“She was the new, pretty girl in school that all the guys were talking about,” Mr. Phung said.

I’ll give it to Ricky. If you weren’t showing up to the first day of school in hopes of seeing a smoking hot new biscuit in first hour, you were destined to get left behind in life.

He was unaware that Ms. Zhen had noticed him just two months after her arrival, when she peeked into the gymnasium during a lunch break and saw him playing basketball.

“Just two months” isn’t a small period of time. I can hardly remember what I was doing two weeks ago let alone two months. I’m a different human than I was back then.

“I thought he was really handsome,” said Ms. Zhen, 30, who manages online sales of consumer products at DreamWorks Animation SKG, the company in Glendale, Calif., that creates animated feature films and television programs.

Oh, shit. I wanted to be a Disney Imagineer so badly when I was a little guy. She’s… she’s living the dream.

“Ricky has the looks of a Chinese pop star,” she said. “Who doesn’t find that attractive?”

And there we have it. The most absurd quote out of any Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement to date.

They became friends, and by the beginning of their sophomore year, Mr. Phung had hatched yet another plan designed to strengthen their relationship. He suggested they communicate more frequently and gave her what he said was his pager number.


“It was actually his home phone number,” she said, laughing. “It was an elaborate trick to get me to call him first.”

Full-disclosure — I didn’t like Ricky at first. Got a nerdy vibe from him. But he’s quickly changing things because the ol’ bait-and-switch move with the pager number just oozes game.

Two months later, a budding friendship turned to blooming romance when he asked her to accompany him to the high school winter ball.

“I didn’t know he was planning to ask me, but I was certainly hoping he would,” she said. “We had such a great time together, and a week later we started dating.”

Ricky really slow-played this one, didn’t he? Spent two months trying to hatch a plan to court her, and then finally struck gold after the Winter Ball which I’d have to imagine came after Christmas. Never say “die,” Ricky.

The children of Asian immigrants, they bonded over their heritage, swapping stories of their hard-working parents — hers from China, his from Vietnam. The families settled in the Los Angeles area in the late 1970s and established successful businesses. Ms. Zhen’s parents opened several Chinese restaurants, and Mr. Phung’s built a thriving furniture manufacturing company that they eventually sold.

Sharon’s story sounds like the plot of Fresh Off The Boat. Highly underrated and sneaky hilarious show, if we’re being honest.

“My parents fell in love with Ricky immediately,” she said. “I think they saw in him an unwavering persistence to succeed, to make something of himself.”

How couldn’t you love this kid at this point? The pager move alone makes him a clone of The Pickup Artist.

“Our parents knew firsthand that in America it was possible for anyone, from anywhere, to pave the road to their own destiny,” she said. “They were the perfect role models.”

Okay, I’m starting to think that this isn’t even insufferable, just the author is. This coming-of-age coming-to-America story is worthy of becoming a movie where the cover is littered with those plants that say, “I won a bunch of indie awards at film festivals.”

Ms. Zhen and Mr. Phung continued on a road together: In 2004, both enrolled at the University of California, San Diego.

Let’s go, Tritons!

As juniors, they went on separate study-abroad programs to China for six months, with Ms. Zhen taking a journalism course at the University of Hong Kong and Mr. Phung studying economics more than 750 miles away at Fudan University in Shanghai. Despite the distance, they still managed to visit each other three times that semester.

Oh, no. Not this again. Everyone knows what happens when someone studies abroad… they cheat. We’ve seen it in other marriage announcements, we saw it on last week’s episode of Girls.

“At that point, I didn’t look at it like I was making a forever decision in terms of being with Ricky,” she said. “But we had such great chemistry and we just enjoyed being together, every day just got better than the day before.”

If she’s skeptical about “forever decisions,” it pretty much guarantees she was fucking around in Hong Kong.

By the time they graduated in 2008, Mr. Phung’s father knew them well enough as a couple to believe that their journey was only just beginning.

Yeah, but Mr. Phung wasn’t accounting for his future daughter-in-law being a floozie in China, was he?

“I knew they would last because they take care of each other,” Tom Phung said. “When you have an argument, giving in a little is better than letting the problem grow. Ricky and Sharon understand that.”

Compromise is where no one gets their own way, Tommy Phung. You can’t raise a son that concedes in every argument, man.

Less than a year after graduating from college, Ms. Zhen and Ricky Phung were both working in the corporate offices of the Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles, she in product development and he in marketing. But in February 2011, she left to take a job as a buyer with a clothing company in Philadelphia.

Okay, I’m not one to criticize people’s life decisions, but leaving Disney to work with a clothing company in Philly doesn’t really scream “lateral move” to me.

For the first time since the winter ball, they were not in lock step.

Then why’d you leave Ricky then, Sharon? Why? You get stir crazy when you let Hong Kong float back into your head? Moving from LA to Philly is a psycho move no matter how you dice it.

“Being without Ricky, who had become my rock, became a very lonely experience for me,” she said. “During that time, I came to truly appreciate the special bond and friendship we had formed over the years, and I missed it terribly.”

Wasn’t as easy to catch it when you were in Philly as it was when you were in Hong Kong, was it, Sharon? Yeah, turns out you can’t just leave the people you love in the dust and expect to be happy for the rest of your life. SMH.

She recalled one late night in Philadelphia when she was talking on the phone with him and noticed that her car was being towed.

“I had been there for two weeks and didn’t know a soul,” she said. “I felt completely helpless.”

As did Mr. Phung.

You know in Friends when Joey moved out? And then he and Chandler were sitting in their windows with the rain falling down as they looked longingly in the distance for each other? That’s how I’m imagining Ricky and Sharon right now.

“She was freaking out,” he said. “It was extremely difficult for me to not be able to help her.”

Go to Philly, Ricky! Be the same romantic dude who gave out the pager number!

“At first, it was kind of fun and exciting,” he said. But then he realized how much he missed her.


“Every step of the way, we had been a team,” he said. “From the time we took our SAT prep classes in high school, through college and working together in Los Angeles, we were always there for each other, pushing one another to be better.”

Grow some balls, Ricky! Pack up! Go to Philly! Be a man!

He decided to join her permanently in Philadelphia, but before they had a chance to reunite, another opportunity, farther east, presented itself. Mr. Phung received an offer from Disney to work at its offices in Shanghai. Ms. Zhen, who also received an offer to work there shortly thereafter, left Philadelphia in August 2011.

Oh my God. What a rollercoaster. I was going to fist pump at my desk if Ricky actually went to Philadelphia, but I guess I can take both of them moving to Shangai. It doesn’t really have the rom-com factor I wanted out of their relationship, but it works.

Two months later, they were back together, on a plane for Shanghai, where they soon began living and working as part of a team that helped develop plans to create the first Disney store in China, and the largest in the world at 9,257 square feet. (The store opened in May 2015.)

Disney Stores were the bomb back in the day. Used to love hitting those up in the mall and trying to convince my mom to buy me a $160 stuffed animal.

“It was a major milestone in our lives,” she said. “We got to experience living together and relying on one another, and we got to explore Shanghai and travel to other cities and meet so many interesting people.”

How scared was Sharon that she’d run into one of her old flings from Hong Kong the entire time? Valid question, don’t care what anyone says.

“As a couple, all of that freedom allowed us to become pretty fearless,” she said.

When people think of Ricky Phung, they think “fearless.” That’s just a fact.

Riding a wave of confidence, they decided to leave Shanghai in June 2013 to embark on a business venture in Cincinnati, an online marketplace for boutiques that sold men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, home goods, handmade items and floral arrangements. ShopStoree, as their start-up was called, was partly funded by a Cincinnati-based program called the Brandery, which also provided mentors and advisers who assisted in the introduction of their product.

Wait, how does a “wave of confidence” take you from LA to Philadelphia to Cinci-fucking-nati? Downgrade City.

Despite their enthusiasm and hard work, the business sputtered. With money growing tighter and their workdays longer, Ms. Zhen and Mr. Phung began struggling as business partners and, for the first time, as a couple.

To say that this is the first time they’ve struggled as a couple is a bananas statement from the author of this. They’ve been struggling this entire time.

Suddenly, every day became a little more stressful than the day before.

“We had always been successful at doing things together,” she said. “It was a very frustrating time in our lives.”

Welp, that’s what you get for moving to Cincinnati.

He recognized the source of that frustration. “We were always feeling guilty about not spending enough time together on the business,” he said. “So we stopped doing the little things, like going to the movies or brunch, or just hanging out.”

If your significant other pitches that you stop going to the movies, brunch, and hanging out in general, that’s kind of where you ended it, no? Those are pretty much the only actual things that give me joy in this world anymore.

By October, they returned to Los Angeles, moving in with her parents as a way of cutting expenses while trying to jump-start their business.

Love it. Ricky just hoppin’ off the plane at LAX with a dream and a cardigan. Huge moves all around.

“We would wake up super early and work all day until the very last minute before we went to sleep,” Ms. Zhen said. “It was kind of disappointing to see each other go through such trying times, but things just weren’t working out.”

#ContentNeverSleeps, everyone knows that’s how you get ahead. Never give up the dream, guys.

So they decided to walk away, and did it together.

Oh, nevermind. I guess you just need to give up the dream altogether. My bad.

“We needed a clean break, a chance to do something for ourselves again,” she said.

In April 2014, they took a two-week trip to Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, which was followed by a week in New York, where they visited friends.

Okay, so how much were you two actually struggling financially? That sounds like “funemployment” to me, and poor people don’t do that shit.

“On that trip, we hit the reset button on our relationship,” Ms. Zhen said. “We decided we would each shift into another business, and that we would build our own home together.”

Those plans soon began settling into place. She got her current job in June 2014, and two months later they bought a home in Los Angeles.

This doesn’t add up. You’re struggling business people and you just decide to up and buy a home in LA? Something smells fishy, and I’m not saying there’s some shady shit going down at Sharon’s dad’s Chinese restaurants, but I’m also not saying he’s running an incredibly profitable human trafficking ring out of there either.

“I watched Sharon and Ricky grow up together, and never once in all of those years did I ever get the feeling that they weren’t going to stay together,” said Sandy Zhen-Yeh, the bride’s older sister.

“…except when she confided in me that she cheated on him in Hong Kong.”

“The most amazing thing about them,” she said, “is that they have lived each other’s lives.”

That sounds like a shitty Hallmark card.

Mr. Phung, who started working at his current job last September, said that while his business with Ms. Zhen failed, it ultimately paid valuable dividends. “It made us realize that we were a lot better at being life partners than business partners,” he said, “and that we needed to get back to doing what we had always done best, which was enjoying life together, as a couple.”

Must be nice, guys. But as much as I don’t want to plant the seed in your heads, I don’t see this lasting. This marriage feels like a last-ditch effort to make things work, just short of having a baby.

They were married Feb. 27 at Alcazar, a Spanish-colonial inn nestled in the heart of Palm Springs on a sunny 85-degree afternoon beneath a brilliant blue desert sky, with the San Jacinto Mountains looming in the distance.

Sounds like a pretty #chillstich, to be honest.

The ceremony took place in the center of the courtyard, where the branches of four palo verde trees intertwine to form a natural arch. With every gentle breeze, leaves the size of rice grains fell onto many of the 127 guests who were seated in a square around the couple.

Okay, take it easy there, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Don’t tell me about the birth, just show me the baby. Did Ricky do a pop star routine or not?

Alex Cho, a friend of the couple who became a minister with American Marriage Ministries to officiate, had a question for the bride, who wore a white lace dress by Mikaella Bridal, a matching custom-made veil by Kara Wedding and a pair of blush pink Laila wedge shoes from J. Crew: How did she envision herself with the groom in 10, 20 or even 50 years?

“Happy,” she replied.

Oh, that sounds positive, doesn’t it? That’s the best you could come up with, Sharon? Fuck.

While reciting his vows, the groom asked a question of his own: “How lucky am I to have found my partner in life and adventure at the ripe old age of 15½?”

She was lucky to have found you, Ricky. You’re a diamond in the rough. Never let anyone tell you any differently.

Image via Shutterstock

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Will deFries (Twitter / Instagram) is a Senior Writer at Grandex and the world's foremost authority on Sunday Scaries (Twitter / Instagram). Email me at

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