On Love: Tina Wei and Kevin Smith


Tina Wei and Kevin Smith were married July 12 at the Princeton University Chapel. (Melanie Mauer Photography)

Tina Wei and Kevin Smith worked for political spouses — she for former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and he for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — in 2008. They were members of the same church on Capitol Hill. They attended the same political fundraisers, White House Fourth of July parties and young politico events. They even attended those events with the same group of friends, but they still never met.

They would have to wait until the perfect moment, which finally came two years later, in 2010, when Kevin was giving his all in a passionate rendition of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” at a karaoke bar in Annandale, Va.

The two were there with mutual friends, so when Tina entered the scene, she started asking her friends about him.

“I guess you could say the performance was enthusiastic,” Tina, an administrator at Asbury University in Kentucky, says with a laugh. “It was just like he didn’t have a care in the world. He was this handsome, preppy guy that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed before, all those years later.”

After his performance, they were introduced, and they meandered to a nearby bakery to chat in a quieter setting.

“The conversation kept on reminding me of the C.S. Lewis quote from ‘The Four Loves’ where he talks about how friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too?’ ” says Kevin, a law student at the University of Kentucky. “That was our entire conversation. Just realizing how parallel our lives had been.”

Tina mentioned her interest in public policy graduate programs, which she was applying for at the time. Kevin, who was at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., for its policy program, took that as a chance to sell her on his school.

A few weeks later, he looked up her e-mail address on the karaoke event’s e-mail group and mentioned that he’d love to show her around campus. Tina, a New Jersey native, agreed to head up from Washington, and on Veteran’s Day, he took her around campus for an extensive tour. Unbeknownst to him, her interest in the school was all a guise for her interest in him. While Kevin thought she was checking the school out, she was actually checking him out.

By the end of the tour, she was smitten but still holding on to her secret. As any good mentor would, he called her on the day applications were due in December. She confessed that she had never wanted to go and that she didn’t apply. That’s when he asked her out on a date.

They watched a University of Kentucky basketball game at a friend’s place in Georgetown before escaping to his favorite D.C. restaurant, Georgia Brown’s. It was the holidays, so they were due to be back in their respective home towns, but they continued the getting-to-know-you process through texts and e-mails.

“By that time, I already knew that we had something special. All those missed connections had to mean something,” Kevin says. “And I felt that so deeply that I ended up leaving home early to spend time with her on New Year’s.”

They considered themselves official by January and began a long-distance relationship, with Kevin in Princeton and Tina in Washington.

Although they had handled the distance well through the semester and summer, with a knack for knowing how to maximize their weekends together and not minding a three-hour drive, things changed in the fall with Tina’s acceptance to the University of Michigan for grad school. That move placed them more than nine hours apart, which proved too far. For just the school year, they decided to take a break.

“It was all about time and place and wanting, desperately, to be in the same place,” Tina says. “So we thought it was more respectful for the relationship to take time off that school year and trust that everything would work out. It was about being patient.”

Their time apart proved to be a necessary maturation period. When they reunited the next summer, Kevin was set to move back home to Kentucky for law school, which meant they were only a five-hour drive apart, a distance they certainly thought their relationship could withstand.

Stressful exam periods were punctuated by surprise visits, dinners and dates. Kevin learned how to make Tina’s favorite pork belly over rice, and Tina learned how to make Kevin’s favorite chicken and dumplings. With both in the academic world, they learned how to comfort and encourage one another. When he lived in Princeton, Kevin had frequently visited her family. Tina, now closer to Kentucky, could finally bond with his.

By the next summer, Tina was free from school. The long-
distance aspect of their relationship, something she says she “wouldn’t recommend to anyone,” came to a close.

But before she made the move down south, Kevin needed to propose. He took her to the place along the Hudson River where they had had their second date, set up a picnic and did just that.

On July 12, Tina Wei, 29, and Kevin Smith, 30, wed at the Princeton University Chapel. During the ceremony, the couple asked for a few meaningful Bible verses to be read, including 1 Corinthians 13:4, which begins, “Love is patient.” Tina and Kevin know they have a patient love to thank for their marriage and life together in eastern Kentucky.

“It’s all unfolded the way it was meant to, between work, school, life transitions and just simply maturing in our own faiths,” Tina said after the wedding. “It has all come together more beautifully than we could have ever imagined.”

The reception touched on both of their pasts in Washington and their mutual love of politics. Guests were given red, white and blue windmills, and Kevin was gifted cuff links from Tina that read “Tina and Kevin 2014,” symbolizing a union brought together not just by political ideology and chemistry, but by love.

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