As most epic love stories do, it began with a thoughtfully penned letter.
Okay, a slide into her DMs—that, of course, being how things are done in 2018. But Dylan Sprouse's hopeful missive to the model he chatted up at an industry event was left lingering in cyberspace for the better part of a year.
"I was like, 'Hey, I don't know if you're in New York for very long, but we should hang out if you want to. Here's my number,'" he told W Magazine of his opening salvo to Barbara Palvin after discovering she had followed him on Twitter. "And she didn't message me for six months."
The Hungarian-bred beauty had her reasons. For all the reports attaching her to the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Justin Bieber, this was a bold-faced name she thought just might stick—as long as they didn't do anything to screw it up. "I took my time," she explained. "I knew I wasn't in a good mindset at the time, and maybe deep inside I knew that it could be something more."
She was right, of course, as evidenced by the fact that the twosome were sharing this tale at their first joint magazine shoot. Already a well-worn dialogue in the months since they'd gotten together, each knew their lines, with Palvin punctuating her last statement by turning to the actor, celebrating his 28th birthday today, and instructing, "Now say your part."
The too long; didn't read version: he didn't want to look desperate and so he booked a gig in China, where he'd spend six long months filming Xiaolong Zheng's Turandot. "I'm not one to chase," he noted. "If I get left on read after putting out my number, f--k that." The time away meant he missed the long-anticipated opening of his Brooklyn meadery, but not his shot with Palvin. Because just as he was wondering, whatever happened to that girl, she finally texted.
Now the former Disney Channel star (one half of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody's Sprouse twins, as most 20somethings would tell you) and the 26-year-old Giorgio Armani beauty ambassador have eclipsed their second anniversary en route to a potential forever.
"A few days late now due to having no service in Yosemite but happy two-year anniversary," Sprouse captioned a selfie, recognizing the June day they finally met up in Asia. "Here's to us looking more alike with each passing year until we're a single beast with four arms and four legs that runs at a top speed of 50 mph and screams like a baboon at nearby travelers trespassing into our woods. I love you."
So you could say he's grateful he took the risk.
That initial text launched an endless chain with the multilinguist (in addition to her native Hungarian, she speaks German, English, French and Japanese) quickly finding her digital footing. "There's a little language barrier for me, so I was never good with texting or flirting," she admitted to W. "With Dylan, everything seemed so easy. We had the same interests, and jokes were hitting at the right spot, and he didn't think I was disgusting or anything."
Which is apparently a problem for someone who's been selected to model for the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Vivienne Westwood and Chanel.
Eager to see if giving good text translated to IRL chemistry, Palvin booked a flight to China, deciding not to cancel even when her planned job in the country fell through. "I was like, 'Do you think that's crazy that I still want to go and see you?' because I was so excited," she recalled in a 2019 interview with People. "And he's like, 'Please come.'"
Though she initially rebuffed his requests to be exclusive, she knew she was done considering other prospects "the first minute we met," she admitted. "I just sat down, took a deep breath and I'm like, 'What am I waiting for? There's no other guy I would love more than I love him and he's got everything that I need.'"
If millennials had an answer for going steady, it'd be going Instagram official, and by August 2018, Palvin was wishing her actor love a happy birthday by gushing it was she that had received "the biggest present of all."
And with the confirmation band-aid ripped off, there was no reason not to be very public on the Internet, posting snapshots of their August trip to her native Hungary. Though the couple explored the sites of Budapest, the getaway's major attraction was one not listed in tour guides: meeting the fam.
Some boyfriends buy flowers, Sprouse studied Hungarian, taking particular note of common phrases during the earlier part of their trip and listening to Palvin's advice that he accept any offers of sausage and pálinka, a traditional liquor.
"I wasn't nervous to meet her parents," he said, "but the truth is that there is a language barrier, obviously. Her mother speaks a very tiny bit [of English], and I am not proficient in Hungarian. I'm trying, but learning is definitely an overstatement."
Mastering his role as Palvin's plus-one has been infinitely easier. Since making their red carpet debut in a very on-brand way at a New York Fashion Week party in September 2018, the couple have become step-and-repeat regulars. Most memorably, Sprouse turned up, Shake Shack in hand, to watch the 5-foot-9 pro work the Victoria's Secret runway in 2018, then hand-deliver her requested post-lingerie splurge.
That move earned him more than a few boyfriend-of-the-year declarations, plus a few offers to reprise his role. The proud owner of a Dos Toros black card (it nets the user unlimited burritos), he told W, "I'm going to be the new food guy on red carpets."
He's also the guy in the front row, offering endless encouragement, his vows to thoroughly embarrass her with his over-the-top cheering leaving her grateful her family attended the runway show's earlier viewing. But he simply couldn't help playing the part of proud boyfriend.
"You know what, it's hard to see, like, from these interviews and I guess just from the Instagram posts and stuff how hard she's really worked to do this," he told E! News. "So I think the best part for me is just knowing that like after all of that, it really paid off."
He was equally congratulatory when she was officially named one of the venerable brand's Angels in March 2019, bragging on Instagram that "the missus" had just scored the coveted gig.
"Not only am I proud of her but really I think it's a case of feeling good about the world a little bit," he said to E! News, "because this is someone who I know has worked her ass off to achieve something that she's really dreamed about for a long time and then seeing someone put in that much effort, it often times doesn't pay off. But, with her, everyone supported her and came together and then she made it happen for herself, so it just gave me hope."
So a public shoutout was a must, though he could have just as easily delivered the message in person at their shared Brooklyn flat.
Their home for the past year and change, it's where the couple of two-plus years log much of their time indulging in sweets and a shared love of Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. While Sprouse told E! News they do venture out at times, to scope out new food joints in the city (you know, back when people did that sort of thing), and that they have plans to expand their culinary scope to Iceland and Japan ("Those are the two places that we want to go really badly"), asked to name their favorite date night, he had to admit they're of the homebody variety.
"Honestly, we're pretty low-key," he said. "We like watching anime and chilling inside and eating ice cream together. That's kind of our thing."
Of course as two, young, attractive public figures, duty calls at times. In February 2019, they turned up at the Vanity Fair fete (the post-Oscars bash) to hobnob with the rest of the industry's hot young things, but mostly to hold court with one in particular: Dylan's brother Cole Sprouse, who'd yet to make Palvin's acquaintance. (Riverdale filming requirements kept him tied to Vancouver, forcing the siblings to meet up in the most Hollywood of ways.)
Though they're so loathe to be apart, their W mag profile describes them as refusing to "lose touch with each other," Palvin's status as one of modeling's current crop of "It Girls" means the occasional stretch of long-distance is a reality.
But when her work and his on-location acting gigs divide them, "We make sure we FaceTime once a day," she recently told ET. "And we just text and just send a lot of memes to each other."
And these days she never ever leaves him on read.
(Originally published Oct. 8, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)