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.’ ”
As his Fort Rucker assignment came to an end, he began to look for jobs in Washington. In October 2011, Sydnor moved to Arlington and began working on Capitol Hill.
“That was a big thing that he moved here,” says Blakely, now 32. “My whole mantra is: If you want to do something or if you believe it, you have to go after it.”
But just as he arrived, Blakely’s life went into overdrive. She and her sister were preparing to open a shop in Georgetown and baking for the holidays. Once the store, Pie Sisters, debuted in January, she routinely woke at 3:30 a.m. and worked 18-hour days even after their other sister, Cat, joined the business.
Sydnor, also 32, often woke up early to help bake or wash dishes before going to his job, and he’d welcome Blakely home at night only to serve her dinner and put her to bed.
“It was like dating a zombie for a little while,” he says. “A good-looking zombie, but still, a zombie.”
But they both believed in the endeavor — Sydnor had helped lay the floors of the new shop.
“We were just so overwhelmed with the shop and things going on, it was just nice to have that relationship,” Blakely says. “He was very understanding and laid-back.”
In March, he brought out his family’s ring and asked if she’d like to go pick out a new setting. Blakely wasn’t sure if it was a proposal, so Sydnor left the room, came back again and got down on one knee.
He thought she was nuts when she said she wanted a wedding in October, but Blakely knew she’d do things last-minute one way or another, and throwing a party seemed like a great distraction from the stress of the pie shop.
On Oct. 13, Blakely and Sydnor were married at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, where her parents had been married and her grandparents were buried. After the ceremony, their guests hopped a bus to Blakely’s family home in Great Falls, where they listened to bluegrass music, danced in a heated barn and, of course, ate pie.
At the reception, Sydnor’s sister played guitar while Blakely’s two sisters sang a song by Mumford & Sons. The song was called “Home.”
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