A young, scrappy and hungry Lin-Manuel Miranda nearly threw away his shot at dating now-wife Vanessa Nadal.
Because as good as the Hamilton scribe is with words, he can be downright awful at spittin' game when a woman he finds particularly attractive is involved. So despite being one of the more popular kids at Hunter College High School on New York City's Upper East Side, Miranda—known as the boombox-toting energetic dreamer behind most of the school's plays and musicals—found himself clamming up around Nadal, a sophomore with a love for dance and math.
"She was gorgeous and I'm famously bad at talking to women I find attractive," he explained to The New York Times in 2010. "I have a total lack of game."
Though, by then, their story had reached its happy ending, Miranda being profiled by the paper's vows section about their Sept. 5 nuptials at the stately Belvedere Mansion, some 90 miles up the Hudson River from where they met as teens. Turns out he'd found a winning cheat code: Making his first move in writing.
Always smart to play to your strengths.
Miranda's way with words has netted him three Tonys, three Grammys and even a Pulitzer for his Broadway sensations In the Heights and Hamilton. The latter of which, to the delight of fans unable to score tickets to be in the room where it happened eight times a week on Broadway, dropped on Disney+ in 2020, earning the composer-playwright-director-songwriter-actor two more Golden Globe nods. (He netted another two for the 2021 ceremony, both for his work on Tick, Tick...Boom! and songwriting on Disney's Encanto.)
But it's a brief missive the 42-year-old, celebrating his birthday Jan. 16, sent over Facebook Messenger in the summer of 2005 that may have had the greatest impact on his life, which now includes Nadal, 39, and their sons Sebastian, 7, and Francisco, 3.
"My wife's the reason anything gets done," he said at the top of the 16-line sonnet he recited while accepting one of Hamilton's 11 Tony awards in 2016. "She nudges me towards promise by degrees. She is a perfect symphony of one."
Though he certainly deserves credit for writing their love story's first scene.
Seven years after his 1998 high school graduation, Miranda was a Wesleyan University alum with Broadway dreams and a gig as a Bar Mitzvah DJ curious to see what the new social networking phenomenon TheFacebook was all about. Connecting with old Hunter pals, he came across Nadal's profile. An M.I.T. grad then working as a scientist at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, her listed interests—hip-hop and salsa—inspired Miranda to take a chance.
Sliding into her DMs before that was part of the general parlance, he invited her to see his hip-hop improv troupe Freestyle Love Supreme—who'd gained popularity for their ability to create raps on the spot, using words shouted from the audience as inspiration.
She was blown away by his skills. "When he came onstage, I thought, I really like this guy," she told The New York Times. "He was up there free-styling and weaving rhymes together. It's pretty impressive. He's really, really smart."
But his wooing skills left much to be desired. Though Nadal joined Miranda and his friends for drinks after the show, "It was a huge group so he didn't talk to me the whole night," she recalled. "I didn't think he was interested in me."
As he mentioned, he has no game. "If she'd just paid attention, she would have known from my darting, furtive glances," he explained to the Times. Too shy to get her number, he tasked a friend with snagging it and worked up the nerve to ask her back to a second performance. And after spending that evening watching her easily socialize with his collection of rapper, artist and dancer friends once more, he found himself standing with Nadal on a street corner contemplating his next move.
Cars whizzed past, sparking Nadal to remark that it felt like her favorite video game, Grand Theft Auto, a hobby that Miranda also enjoyed. Suddenly inspired, he recalled, "I very coolly said, 'All right, you're going to come over to my house tonight, and we're going to play Grand Theft Auto and watch the Jay-Z movie and listen to Marc Anthony.'"
Call it the street where it happened.
He texted her the next day and by the weekend they had solidified their relationship. "After that, we very quickly gave each other keys to our apartments," he shared with the Times. Two months worth of evenings at his Inwood apartment and her place in Brooklyn later, they were at a crowded party when he leaned in for a kiss "and he said, 'You love me,'" she told the paper. "I was like: 'How presumptuous!' I was a little angry but I couldn't deny it."
Quite simply, she continued, "He gets me in a way that no one else does. I'm a scientist at heart. I try very hard not to let my emotions cloud my judgments and he'll see through that and see what I'm really feeling."
At their wedding five years later, he knew his bride enough to plot out the perfect surprise gift.
Some time between the ceremony, officiated by New York Judge Rolando T. Acosta, and the performances by Panamanian singer Rubén Blades and Puerto Rican singer Gilberto Santa Rosa, Miranda and their families and friends serenaded the Oscar de la Renta-clad bride with a flash mob-style version of Fiddler on the Roof's "To Life" that they'd rehearsed in secret for weeks.
"What we lack in polish, we hopefully make up for in joy and love," Miranda wrote of the rendition that some 7.4 million fans have watched on YouTube. "In any event, everyone in this video has one thing in common: We'd do anything to show Vanessa how much we love her."
She'd long since proven the same.
Despite an embarrassment of creative riches, Miranda was basically broke when he'd first begun courting chemical engineer Nadal. Substitute teaching and Bar Mitzvah gigs paid the bills ("I was literally one of those guys who shows up in a black satin shirt and tries to get kids and old people to dance," he told The New York Times. "It was bleak") as he worked to perfect In the Heights, about a vibrant NYC neighborhood not unlike the one he grew up in, any chance he could get.
"I look like a crazy person on the subway when I'm writing," he said of his process, something Nadal would often happen upon when she returned home. "I sing and run around. I pace a lot. I need to move. But I wasn't at all self-conscious around her."
Nadal, by then a law school student at Fordham, would fuel his creativity with home cooked meals, a gratitude he called out while rapping his Best Original Score acceptance speech at the 2008 Tony Awards, thanking his bride-to-be "who still leaves me breathless" for "loving me when I was broke and making breakfast."
And though their fortunes had certainly shifted by the time they wed at Staatsburg, N.Y.'s elegant, river-front inn in 2010, he was well aware that he was the lucky one. "The success that comes with The Heights made me go from a normal person to the equivalent of a pretty girl in New York," he put it to the Times. "Every once in a while, someone on the subway will holler at me. Otherwise, life is normal. Vanessa's had people hollering at her all her life."
A little more than a decade and one $600 million-grossing musical sensation later, he's eked out just a bit more fame with the likes of Beyoncé, Julia Roberts and even Oprah Winfrey acknowledging his genius. But he's still singing the praises of the woman who's left him feeling just a bit helpless since their high school days.
"The only room with a view is a room with you in it," he wrote in an August 2020 birthday tribute to "my queen, my best friend and the love of my life," the woman he credits with pushing him to write sharper raps for Hamilton's female characters and the person he thinks about each time he glances down at the "V" tattoo on the fourth finger of his left hand.
True teammates, they've spent the bleakest months of quarantine divvying up virtual school duties in between Nadal's cosmetics regulation course at Fordham's Fashion Law Institute and Miranda's filming schedules for HBO's His Dark Materials, last summer's In the Heights movie and his feature film directorial debut, November's Tick, Tick... Boom!
"We learned in our family, one person can't do five days a week homeschooling," Miranda explained to People in November 2020. "You have to tag team, and we've been able to sort of do that to the best of our ability."
Along the way, they've reveled in their sons' growing friendship as Francisco audits his older brother's class "because he's just there," Miranda noted. "So even though my six year old has like homework a few times a week, my two year old is like, 'I have to do my homework.' He's there writing letters, writing numbers way sooner than his brother did just because he wants to do everything his brother does."
The even greater silver lining, he continued, is "they've gotten so close as a result of being cooped up in the house, and it could have gone the other way! But they've actually become very close friends."
As for Mom and Dad, they're every bit as infatuated as the night they bonded over Grand Theft Auto and Marc Anthony's greatest hits. Marking their 10th anniversary in September 2020, Nadal crowed in a tweet, "I love you more and in new and different ways with every moment and milestone, good or bad." Responded her groom, "Every day with you is the best day."