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.
“She’s so smart. And always had the right thing to say,” he recalls. “She was my rock. She’s the most capable, supportive, loyal person in the world.”
The lengthy divorce proceedings weighed on them both, especially as it became clear that their relationship was heading for a permanent commitment. “The closer we got to [the divorce] being done and over, the more solidified it was for us that we wanted to move forward,” Owens says.
They celebrated when the divorce became final in April 2010, and later that year Owens moved into Ylitalo’s home. As Ylitalo recovered financially and emotionally in the year that followed, he and Owens began to talk about marriage.
In May 2012, he showed up at the office where Owens works as a human resources executive and brought a fancy lunch. Not knowing Ylitalo planned to propose, Owens invited a co-worker to join them. Once they were finally alone two hours later, Ylitalo closed Owen’s office door and got down on one knee.
“Timing is a big part of it,” Ylitalo said as he described what makes their relationship work. “And I think it helps that we’re older. We’ve been through whatever we’ve been through, and we’re pretty realistic.”
On Nov. 4, the music-loving couple exchanged vows at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Their names lit up on the marquee outside the concert venue, and guests were greeted by drag queens dressed up as Patti LaBelle and Tina Turner. Before the ceremony began, a video of the couple recounting their relationship played on a big screen. As they told their story, the video cut to clips of the couple dressed up as Michael Jackson, Prince, Slash and Axl Rose, illustrating the story. Guests ate popcorn and sat in the balcony sipping cocktails as they watched the ceremony on the stage below.
“We’re both really equals,” Owens says. “I’ve been in a lot of relationships where I’ve had to adapt to someone’s dominant ideas. We both want to drive and explore, but we can do it together and really enjoy it. I don’t feel any limitation in our relationship.”