At happy hour one night, she gathered her things to leave, saying she needed to catch the Metro. He told her to stay, saying he’d give her a ride home. That, Owens thought, was confirmation.
When they were alone, she asked if he’d like to go out sometime. He paused and then said yes. But as they drove home, he told her he was seeing someone else. Owens was baffled.
In truth, Ylitalo had recently met a Jamaican woman while vacationing on the island and, while he thought it might be something special, he wasn’t sure where it would lead. But he thought it would be better to be honest with Owens than to have her hear about it from another co-worker.
The months that followed were awkward, but eventually they became friendly again. Owens lost interest in Ylitalo and began dating another man; Ylitalo married the woman from Jamaica.
After a couple years, Owens left the company, but she and Ylitalo stayed in touch. She even became friendly with his wife and invited them to parties at the condo she’d bought with her boyfriend.
“I liked him more once he was married and I met her. I thought, ‘Oh, she’s a sweet girl,” Owens says. “And the whole embarrassment of being the one to initiate it — I was just glad that was over.”
In 2006, when they discovered they were both working in downtown Bethesda, they started meeting up for lunch every few months. Ylitalo was always inquisitive and easy to talk to, so Owens enjoyed having an old friend nearby.
In the summer of 2007, her relationship fell apart. She didn’t mention it to Ylitalo, knowing he’d ask questions she wasn’t ready to answer.
But at lunch that November, she asked about his wife. “Funny you should ask,” he replied. “She’s gone.” For the next two hours, they sat across the table relaying the stories of their broken relationships.
A couple of nights later, they met up for drinks to continue the conversation. “All of a sudden I’m sitting across from the same person I was in the bar with six years before,” says Owens. “It seemed like things had just come full circle.”
They hung out again that weekend, and again after that. It quickly became romantic, but friends on both sides were warning them to tread lightly.
“I had all these people in my life saying, ‘So he’s still married?’ ” recalls Owens, now 37. “There were a ton of stop signs.”
But Ylitalo, now 42, was very honest about his divorce proceedings. “I knew I was dealing with someone who wasn’t hiding things from me,” she says. “And there’s the complexity of us both being just out of relationships, but there’s also the comfort of that — that it was very safe to move quickly and fall in love.”
Each month it seemed to Ylitalo that the divorce was almost finalized, but in the end, it took 21
2 years. Owens was his constant support throughout the process.