Ashleigh Jones thought Brenton Howard was cute and nice, but she was 23 years old and tended to like older guys. Brenton looked to be about 18, and she suspected he used a fake I.D. to sneak into the U Street club where they met in July 2010.
Brenton, meanwhile, was captivated. “Her smile lit up the whole room,” he remembers. “I couldn’t really notice anyone else.” Normally reserved, he mustered the courage to ask for her number and texted later that night to say he enjoyed meeting her.
A few days later, when they caught up by phone, Brenton mentioned that he was 31. “I was like, ‘Oooohhh!’ ” Ashleigh remembers. “Then it all changed.”
She was nervous before their first date at Lauriol Plaza in Adams Morgan but was quickly put at ease by his old-fashioned manners and gentle nature. Chatty and outgoing, she was intrigued by Brenton’s quiet ways.
“It’s not all out there with him. You have to peel the layers back to find out what’s underneath there. I wanted to know more,” she says. “I left feeling like, ‘Oooh, I can’t wait to talk again and see what’s next.’ ”
“I would describe Ashleigh as a social butterfly,” Brenton says. “Anybody could walk up and talk to her and she makes you feel like a family member. There’s just a great energy about her.”
Their courtship developed slowly, with long phone conversations and dinner dates. Both had recently come off of breakups, so neither was interested in rushing headlong into a new commitment. Plus Ashleigh, who was finishing her degree at Howard University, thought she might move to New York to pursue a career in the arts.
But when Brenton asked her to be his girlfriend before Thanksgiving, she said yes. Still, for the next year she had trouble eating in his presence because whenever they were together, the butterflies in her stomach would overwhelm her.
“I’d have to get everything to go,” she laughs. “When you have somebody that’s nice, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want anything to go wrong.’ You have all these thoughts. And you’re guarding yourself in that way.”
In fact, they were both protecting themselves, not letting each other fully see the most vulnerable parts of themselves. Trust issues repeatedly plagued the couple until they decided to break up after a particularly intense argument in the summer of 2012.
“If one person is holding back you can feel it and vice versa, so you’re not going to open up,” Ashleigh says. But after two months apart, the pair realized they weren’t ready to let each other go. A series of long conversations followed as they each copped to the restraints they were putting on their relationship and vowed to take the risks implicit in a deeper relationship.
“I realized it really takes some inner work on yourself to let go of the fears,” Ashleigh says. “That is the toughest thing. It’s like jumping off a ledge. You have to let go.”
Once they made that shift, both felt a new sense of security and intimacy. “We had our trials,” Brenton says. “But in the end, all those things made us that much closer and our love for each other that much greater because we saw that we could go through things and make it.”
Brenton, who works on the Web team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, loved the passion and liveliness Ashleigh brought to his world. In turn, he gave Ashleigh, a government contractor, a sense of calm she’d never felt before.
“One of my co-workers says, ‘You’re fire, he’s water,’ ” Ashleigh says. “I think that’s so true.”
That fall, Brenton asked Ashleigh’s parents for permission to propose. In November, he suggested they head to Baltimore to catch a live performance by one of their favorite bands, Mint Condition. Before the show, over dinner at the Inner Harbor, Brenton gave Ashleigh a teddy bear wearing a backpack. As she opened the backpack, he got down on one knee and asked her to be his wife. As a second surprise, Ashleigh’s mom and sister were waiting at the concert to celebrate with the newly engaged couple.
On Nov. 23, the couple exchanged vows at the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel on the campus of Howard University. To honor their heritage, they invited a Ghanaian priest and drummer to help officiate the wedding. “I wanted to feel a complete connection to our past,” Ashleigh says.
At the end of the ceremony, the couple jumped the broom and proceeded outside to watch the release of a flock of white doves. After, they celebrated with nearly 200 guests at a reception at Bolling Air Force Base.
“Some people think we’re unlikely to be together because I am so out there and he is so quiet,” Ashleigh said before the wedding. “But between the two of us, it’s just a perfect harmony.”