All sorts of things had to go right—or wrong—for Kelly Ripa to end up meeting Mark Consuelos.
It was 1993 and Ripa had been on All My Children for three years, playing Hayley Vaughan—first as a teen in a black wig, then as a young woman who couldn't steer clear of trouble if her life (or contract) depended on it.
Hayley's first big love interest, Brian, was played by Matt Borlenghi, and while drama was written into the script, it was translating behind the scenes as well.
"One time, a reporter on set heard screaming and furniture crashing down the hall. A makeup guy said, 'Oh, that's just Kelly and Matt rehearsing.' In reality, we were in her dressing room having an argument," Borlenghi recalled to Variety in 2015. "I was taking myself way too seriously and I asked Kelly, 'how did you get so lucky to be on this show?'"
Nice. No wonder Hayley's father broke up their engagement!
"It turns out it would have been a lot easier on me if I had followed her path and just had more fun at work," Borlenghi said. "But if I hadn't left, maybe she never would have met Mark."
Consuelos was a recent college grad and newly arrived in New York when he auditioned for AMC in 1995. with Ripa as his screen test partner. He obviously aced the chemistry test and scored the role of Mateo Santos, who was destined to be the the man in Hayley's life, no matter the infinite complications thrown in their way.
"My main focus was getting the job and I couldn't believe my luck, having been in New York for five minutes," Consuelos recalled in an interview with E! in 2006. He continued, "My first impression of my wife was—she was obviously extremely beautiful—but she was really funny, really intelligent, really quick. I realized that if I was ever to get into an argument with her, I would lose every single time."
He also described his wife (of 10 years at the time) as "always very, very real" and "pretty vulnerable" as someone who was willing to put herself out there, and "extremely sexy."
Despite an initial attraction to Mateo, Hayley had a few other doomed relationships to cycle through before they could finally be together.
Far less complicated was the relationship growing between the actors off-camera.
"We fell in love long before our characters fell in love...but we were around each other a lot," Consuelos said. They'd go on "safe dates," in groups, during which they had a chance to size each other up. If he had to name just one thing he fell in love with early on, Consuelos told E!, it was her extreme generosity in how she treated him and others. "I've never really met anybody like that. She's really a good person."
He laughed recalling when the two were photographed together in Jamaica not long after they started dating, which everyone thought at the time was the big reveal of them as a couple. In reality, they were in Jamaica shooting All My Children—and they were arguing.
"We had already gone full circle [as a couple]," Consuelos joked. "I mean, we got married a few months later." But for everyone who thought that was the trip that brought them together, "they couldn't be further from the truth."
Consuelos ended up popping the question over pizza and wine—"and the next thing you know, we're on a plane to Vegas the next morning."
So barely a year after meeting, before Hayley could even extract herself from her forced marriage to Alec, Ripa and Consuelos eloped. They married on May 1, 1996, at a little chapel they found in the phone book, then honeymooned in Rome and Capri for a week.
Loath to share their secret at first, they soon acquired Tiffany wedding bands and made plans to hold a small Catholic ceremony that their loved ones could witness (which may not have ever happened, though they had three weddings on All My Children).
The newlyweds sat down for their first interview as husband and wife with Soap Opera digest in August 1996. Asked when they fell in love, Consuelos said, "As far as I'm concerned, instantly—before we ever had a scene together. We've been spending 12 hours a day together for the past year and a half."
"We just understood each other really well," Ripa added. "If two people were ever supposed to be together, I'd say it was us."
And to this day, they continue to prove that love can be everlasting, even in their crazy business.
Thirteen months after tying the knot, they welcomed son Michael, whose godmother is his parents' former AMC co-star Eva LaRue.
Daughter Lola was born in 2001 and they had son Joaquin in 2003.
They were on the verge of being empty-nesters, having dropped Lola off at college last year—but they, like many, have a full house again while families hunker down everywhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Happy birthday @instasuelos," Ripa wished her husband on Instagram with a cake emoji Monday, his 49th birthday. "There's nobody I'd rather be locked down with than you."
"Grazie Amore," he replied.
"It all began with All My Children," Ripa recalled in 2015 when she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "All My Children is where I met the man that I've been married to for almost 20 years, the love of my life, the man who taught me how to be a person—really, a real person—and we have three of the most beautiful children, that I'm so proud of, on the planet."
So there you have it.
Life couldn't be sweeter for the couple who probably used to have a lot of laughs at night thinking about the ridiculous plot twists their AMC alter egos were living through.
And yet Hayley and Mateo were also meant to be. We imagine AMC fans would've strenuously objected to an unhappy ending for the devoted duo, who welcomed an onscreen son, Lorenzo, before eventually moving away from Pine Valley together.
But it's not as though 22 years have just flown by without any complications. Life must have gotten in the way at some point for the couple who first acquired cell phones so they could stay in constant communication (and which Ripa formally referred to at the time as "cellular phones").
"The only time I notice stress in our relationship is when I'm not with her," Consuelos told Soap Opera Digest in 1996. "I'm like, 'Where is she? Where is my right hand?'"
One of the ways they've battled back against the demands of their respective careers has been their enjoyment of working together and collaborating on projects.
They both remained on All My Children until 2001—and both returned for a couple of episodes in 2010. Consuelos had a guest arc on Ripa's sitcom Hope & Faith. He's been a favorite guest host on Live over the years. And in 2007, they formed their own production company, Milojo, utilizing the first two letters of each of their kid's names.
Milojo was behind the E! series Dirty Soap, the inner workings of a soap opera being a subject the couple was intimately familiar with.
More recently, Ripa had a guest role as Hiram Lodge's mistress on Riverdale, and now they're venturing into the true crime world as executive producers of the upcoming Oxygen series Exhumed.
Asked why they had turned to producing, Consuelos told E! News in 2006, "So we can be the bosses." His answer sent his wife into giddy hysterics. "Yes, the goal is to eventually get off camera, some day. Because as you can see, we are not gorgeous like soap stars are," Ripa said. "Yeah, those guys are really good looking," Consuelos agreed.
Some might disagree with Ripa's assessment of the couple's aesthetic appeal, which in reality remains impressive.
Talking about how soap stars tend to date each other because they spend so much time together on set, Ripa said of her and Consuelos, "We were the only people we knew." "Which is pretty much the only reason we got married, 'cause we didn't know anybody else," he shrugged.
"Shhh," Ripa shushed him, developing another fit of giggles. "That's not true...I'm sure it's not true. I mean, it might be true. But look, it's worked out!"
It's evident every time they're together onscreen that they continue to make each other laugh. They also still have things in common (not including Consuelos' sports-watching habit), and they've nailed that whole truly-liking-each-other thing.
"It's a very typical, normal relationship," Consuelos also told E! at the 10-year mark in 2006. "We have, you know, ups and downs just like anybody else." He suspected that, if you asked Ripa, she could point out a few moments in their marriage where "it could've gone either way." But "I think I made a really good decision."
Ripa would agree. As she told AOL.com in 2015, "The phrase 'this too shall pass' is such an important phrase when you're in your early wedding years. Every argument, every disagreement, seems like the end of the universe and it really isn't."
She also advised, in Good Housekeeping in 2010, "Don't be a bottler; you'll explode. If something bothers me, I just say it, no harm, no foul. So much of marriage is ego-based—who's right, who wins the argument. Mark and I don't really have that."
Two years later she told the magazine, "I think he would say that I talk too much—endlessly. If the two of us go out to dinner, I feel the need to talk. He thinks we can sit and enjoy the ambience of the room—just have a cocktail and bask in each other's glow. I feel the need to hash things out: 'Can you believe what our kids did today? I feel like you're not listening to me. Are you listening to me?' I'm entirely too verbal with him."
But even as the cute marital anecdotes have been largely replaced by funny stories about raising three kids and the wisdom that comes with being married for years, the couple remain refreshingly hot for each other.
"We carve out time for ourselves," Ripa told Good Housekeeping in 2010.
"I think that we're better parents because date night gives us something to look forward to, a night where we're not saying, 'Put that down, stop touching her, don't spill that.' Sometimes we'll put the kids to bed early and watch Jersey Shore on DVR. It can be that simple, just the two of us, alone, one day a week, for dinner and hijinks."
She reiterated the sentiment in 2014. "Lots of sex" is key, Ripa said on Watch What Happens Live, noting that you're either doing it a lot or, simply, you're not. (Preferably without their daughter walking in, but... "nobody knocks in our house," Ripa lamented last year in the wake of Lola's most traumatic day ever.)
"We just like each other a lot," she explained. "I love my husband. I think he's awesome. We've been together a really long time. We try to do spicy things together all the time."
Those "cellular phones," for instance, eventually became useful for sexting.
"I sent him a cute, adorable butt selfie in my underpants," Ripa revealed. "It's the only time I've ever sent a semi-nude anything, ever!" (Never mind that she accidentally sent it to her mother and father-in-law as well. Happens to the best of us.)
Ripa, who relishes sharing stories about her kids with her audience, has also stressed the importance of being on the same page with Consuelos as parents.
"We are a united front," she told Redbook in 2014. "Our kids try, and they all try to divide and conquer, so even if we disagree we don't do it in front of the kids."
Aside from the laughter, and the shared values...Ripa and Consuelos know that it's the little things that keep a marriage more than merely chugging along, so they also work at keeping the romance alive.
During their 20th anniversary getaway to Turks and Caicos (which—from the nothing's-perfect department—ironically happened right in the middle of the turmoil at Live when Michael Strahan announced he was leaving in April 2016), Ripa donned the slip dress she wore at their Vegas wedding. It still fit like a glove.
"The dress is 25 years old. My marriage is 20 years old. I didn't buy it as a wedding dress. I just bought it because it was really pretty, and I wanted to buy something from the Barneys Warehouse sale," Ripa said, showing off some old snapshots from their low-key big day on Live.
Ripa helps lessen the time apart by joining her husband in Vancouver, where Riverdale shoots, when she can. He, in turn, has been a frequent guest co-host on Live, where inevitably one of their kids ends up being embarrassed in absentia.
And the couple have done the whole long-distance thing before, so neither one is fazed by competing schedules.
"We're actors," Ripa told People in 2015 when she was in New York and Consuelos was out in L.A. shooting the Fox series Pitch. "We've done it for years. It's not hard. It's actually something we're quite good at."
They're also pros, by now, at riding out the bumps in the road.
"There's going to be times where you look at each other like 'I can't believe I live with you,'" Ripa told AOL.com in 2015, "but open communication and strong listening skills can help carry you through hard times. That's what you want in life, to have a good companion, somebody that loves you, that listens to you and is your equal in every way."
And then there's that laughter.
While Consuelos was co-hosting Live in June 2016, they had each other in stitches while discussing Ripa's expectations should something happen to her and Consuelos gets remarried.
"I would never get remarried, first of all," he said. "No, I've had all the fun one man's going to have!" With that, they both lost it. "I've had enough!" he exclaimed.
Ripa, meanwhile, has also admitted that they just got really, really lucky early on in their lives. "We're very lucky that we found each other, that's what I have to say," she told AOL. "I would say to Mark, 'Who would we have married if not each other?'"
(Originally published Jan. 19, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT)