In December 2004, Drew Porterfield knew exactly what he didn’t need: a commitment.
He’d spent two years teaching math in Greensboro, N.C., and was ready to enroll in a photography program at Parsons School of Design the following fall. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so it was the first thing I’d tell people. ‘Great to meet you, I’m moving to New York,’ ” Porterfield recalls.
He probably said something along those lines when he met Ralph Brabham a week before Christmas. A high school friend had invited Porterfield to a holiday party at Brabham’s apartment. Porterfield thanked him for the hospitality, then moved on to catch up with classmates.
But Brabham’s attention was fixed. “It was almost like a movie moment,” he recalls. “I shook Drew’s hand and an almost inaudible voice in my head said, ‘You’re going to be with this person the rest of your life.’ ”
The party eventually relocated to a bar, where a mutual friend pointed out Brabham’s obvious interest to Porterfield. They chatted and teased each other as the group adjourned to a late-night pizza spot.
Flirtatious texting ensued. Porterfield invited Brabham, a lawyer, to dinner at his house. And on New Year’s Eve, they kissed.
Soon they were spending most evenings and weekends together. “One of the things that was really impressive to me was how confident he was in his stage of life,” says Porterfield, who was 23 at the time — five years younger than Brabham. “For me, it was a really nice rock to lean against while I was figuring out what I wanted to do.”
But it also had an expiration date — they knew things would end in eight months when Porterfield left for school. “In hindsight, it was just an easy way of trying to avoid commitment,” Porterfield says. “Rather than saying, ‘Let’s try this and see how it works,’ I could just avoid it.”
The arrangement didn’t work as well for Brabham. “My heart could never really get around the idea of investing in somebody short-term with no long-term outlook,” he says.
Tension built, and the pair broke up in August 2005 as Porterfield prepared to move. Brabham arranged to be out of town when he left, so they never said a real goodbye. But Porterfield continued to call and text, even when Brabham was in Australia and especially when he moved to Washington that October for a new job.
Rather than living up the New York single life as he’d planned, Porterfield spent much of his time pining for Brabham. “I wasn’t meeting people. I wasn’t interested. I was always wondering about what Ralph was doing,” he says. “If I had something I wanted to talk about, it was him I wanted to talk to about it. And it’s really hard to walk away from that.”
Porterfield proposed a visit to the District, but Brabham was hesitant. The clarity of a breakup, he thought, was preferable to the frustration of ambiguity. In early November, he relented. The weekend they spent together made it evident to Porterfield that he wanted a real relationship.
“It was a complete reversal of roles,” Porterfield says. “So I kept trying to figure out, ‘What do I do now to make Ralph believe me — that I realize I was wrong, and we should do what we can to see if we could make this work?’ ” He began spending most of his weekends in Washington, slowly rebuilding that trust. They drove to South Carolina together for Christmas; by New Year’s, they changed their online statuses to “In a relationship.”
He decided to leave school at the end of the spring semester and move to Washington to live with Brabham. Soon, he became the director of Long View Gallery and helped guide it to a new home on Ninth Street NW that has evolved into a popular event space.
The two bought a house, adopted a couple of dogs and fell into a happy, domestic routine. They began to envision a shared life in which they could join forces on entrepreneurial projects that might spark urban renewal. For their first endeavor, the two became co-owners of Beau Thai, a new restaurant in Shaw that has gained favor with critics.
The day of his own birthday in May 2010, Brabham decided he would ask Porterfield to marry him. As they sat across from each other at Adour in the St. Regis Hotel later that night, he proposed.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this risotto is great — will you marry me?’ ” Porterfield recalls. “I said ‘No, no, no, no. That’s not how this is going to go down. Nice try.’ ”
Eight months later, they returned to the restaurant. When a special bottle of wine they’d purchased in Sonoma showed up, Brabham, now 35, knew the tables had turned. Porterfield, now 30, presented him with a watch and then lured him back to Long View for a surprise engagement party with 50 of their friends.
“I’m more in love with him today than I was a week ago, or than I was seven years ago,” Brabham says. “Drew is someone who I feel completely confident in being myself — and wholly myself — around.”
The two were married Oct. 15 at Long View. The gallery was lit with rustic lanterns and dotted with fresh flowers in silver vases. In an outside courtyard, under the words “Because You Love Us,” Brabham and Porterfield exchanged vows.
“Through nightmares and dreams,” Porterfield said, “and everything in between, I dreamed of you.
“You made me a believer — they do come true.”