“Sunlen has a lot of presence,” he says of the then-25-year-old TV reporter who was attending the event with a friend.
She had noticed Alexis, too: “I said to my friend, ‘Who’s that handsome man?’ . . . It was one of those things when you see someone and you know they might have an important moment in your life, and you don’t know why.”
They were introduced by their mutual friends and chatted briefly just as Sunlen was about to leave. The fleeting contact was enough to prompt Alexis to hunt down her number. He had heard that she was just getting out of a relationship, and he waited until January to call. Sunlen was intrigued by their fun, flirtatious conversation, and she agreed to meet for dinner at Firefly in Dupont.
They talked about their close families and career aspirations, and felt a connection growing between them. But the night ended without a kiss. They went on two or three more dates, including a Presidents’ Day trip to the Round Robin bar at the Willard, but still no kiss. Finally, on their fourth date, Alexis knew it was now or never. As they walked down Connecticut Avenue on their way to dinner, he stopped her suddenly and pulled her in close. “It was very sweet,” she recalls.
Although they were dating, it wasn’t quite a relationship. So when Sunlen got the opportunity to cover Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for ABC News, she packed up her stuff, sublet her apartment and hit the road for a year and a half. She and Alexis largely fell out of touch.
After the Obama victory, Sunlen returned to Washington to cover the White House. She was working out at the gym when she spotted Alexis. It had been about two years since their last date, but she felt that same spark, even as she was sweating on the Stairmaster. They chatted again, and traded and e-mail or two, but things seemed stalled. “There were a few opportunities for it to restart, but it just didn’t because of life and work,” she says.
Months went by. In February 2010, Sunlen found herself on a lackluster Valentine’s Day date. She returned home disappointed and found her thoughts drifting back to Alexis and how easy and natural their dates had been. The next day, she e-mailed him: “Would you like to take me out for a dirty martini?”
“It was pretty bold, out of the blue,” she says with a laugh now. But it worked. They met up on a rainy Monday night and sipped martinis on a cozy couch at Tabard Inn. It felt like a second first date — they were older and wiser, and full of stories about adventures from the past two years. And the romance they had experienced the first time around was still there, but it felt different, deeper.