And she was particularly surprised to hear from one guy who looked handsome enough but lived in Alabama.
Turns out Charles Sydnor hadn’t been searching within any geographic range. Sydnor, a 6’5” a lawyer who also flies helicopters for the Army, had different parameters: He was looking for women six feet or taller.
Blakely, who is 6’1”, responded and got a lengthy note in return. After a few more exchanges, she asked to move the conversation to the phone.
They began to talk a few times a week and then almost daily. Blakely learned that Sydnor had grown up in a small town in North Carolina and, like her, had spent most of his childhood outdoors, playing sports and making up games. They seemed to come from similar families that valued togetherness and nature.
And the long-distance romance seemed strangely perfect for what she needed at that point in life.
“Since I was so busy, it was nice to have someone to talk to and look at their pictures and get excited about, but not have to drop everything and get ready and try to go out to dinner,” she says. “And I think getting to know someone through phone conversations and e-mailing is not as much pressure as being face-to-face. You can kind of be more of yourself.”
In November, Sydnor, who was stationed at Fort Rucker in Alabama at the time, offered to fly to D.C. to meet in person. Blakely was nervous that he might not look like his photos or that the chemistry would be different in person, but she was impressed that he’d booked a hotel room so she wouldn’t feel put out.
When they met at the airport, both were relieved that the other looked as they’d imagined. Blakely took him to lunch and then to Great Falls to check out her home turf and meet her sister. At first, both felt shy, but soon the rapport they’d established over the phone reemerged.
After a fun night out, Sydnor flew back the next morning. “I was really happy,” he recalls. “I liked her a lot and there was a sense of relief — she was just like she was talking to her.”
“It was nice to finally meet him,” Blakely says. “And it was amazing that after two days I didn’t have that feeling like, ‘Yeah — that’s not gonna work out.’ ”
Sydnor returned to D.C. twice in December; in January, Blakely flew to North Carolina to meet his friends and family. For Sydnor’s birthday in May, his mother gave him a diamond ring that had been in their family for generations.
“I was like, ‘Well, I guess you guys approve — very subtle,’ ” he recalls.
But, he was already contemplating a commitment. “I was always just enjoying my time when I was with her. I had great friends, but I found that I’d rather be here, rather be with her,” he says. “Alli is a little bit shy at first, but once you get to know her, she has a big personality. I haven’t ever introduced her to any of my friends who haven’t come back and been like, ‘She’s awesome.’ ”