“Well, look who’s back from China,” said her new colleague as he introduced her sports segment on the air.
“Oh, hello, Craig Melvin,” she responded. “I’ve never met you before. Good to meet you!”
Czarniak, a Centreville native who’d become a darling of the local sports world after legendary anchor George Michael brought her to NBC4 in 2005, thought Melvin seemed like a cool guy with good energy.
Melvin thought she was beautiful. “I need to get to know her,” he decided.
Though their desks weren’t close, Melvin, who had spent six years working at his hometown station in Columbia, S.C., found reasons to bump into her. After a month, Czarniak mentioned a charity gala she was hosting and suggested he come along with others from NBC.
There, they walked through the silent auction together. Wow, this guy is genuinely fun, Czarniak recalls thinking. “It was easy to be with him there.”
He gave her a ride to the after-party and then back to her apartment near Dupont Circle. She demurred when he asked whether he could walk her to her door. “I’m from South Carolina,” he explains. “That’s what you do.” She relented. In the kitchen of her apartment, he kissed her.
Czarniak woke the next morning filled with angst. She’d never had an office romance before. As she left for work, she noticed the tuxedo jacket he left behind. “So I’m on the sidelines at Redskins park, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. What . . . did I just do?’ ” she remembers.
Melvin was equal parts excited and anxious, and left her a message checking in that afternoon.
For the next six months they saw each other casually, meeting for drinks or hanging out at home. “It was always fun,” Melvin says. But they never defined the relationship.
“I think for a long time the work factor was more of an issue for me than it should have been because A., I didn’t realize what the possibility [of the relationship] was, and B., I had not been in that position before,” Czarniak says. “I didn’t want to screw anything up.”
In April 2009, Melvin called Czarniak and told her he wanted to take things to the next level. “I made up my mind,” he recalls. “And I said: ‘Listen, I want this to work. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work.’ ”
“He was basically was like, ‘Either you’re in or you’re out,’ ” she remembers. “And I was like, ‘Then I’m out — ’cause I can’t be in.’ ”
“At that point, I had dated some women. I didn’t get smitten too often. But I had gotten into this young lady, and she wasn’t into me,” Melvin says. “And that was burning me up.”
They kept their distance, but soon Melvin began calling Czarniak again. They would talk about their families, their careers, even other people they were dating.
“It was sort of like we started over, just being really good friends, and there was nothing else with it, because we both knew where we stood,” says Czarniak, now 33.
But none of the other women Melvin dated made him feel the way Czarniak did. “They’re not her,” he thought. “So I’m gonna go after her.”
In July he asked her to meet him for a drink at Bar Pilar. With some hesitation, she said yes.
“That night when we met, there was something that clicked. And it was wasn’t necessarily that I knew, ‘I have to be with this guy.’ But it was like, ‘I don’t want to be with anyone else that I’d hung out with,’ ” she says. “It felt like being with the person that really gets you and that you’ve known for a really, really long time.”
They both needed to unravel situations with other people they were dating, but in October 2009, Melvin asked Czarniak to go on a date. When he picked her up for dinner at Cafe Atlantico, he was wearing corduroys and a pullover sweater and carrying an umbrella. “He looked like Cliff Huxtable,” says Czarniak, referring to Melvin’s favorite television program, “The Cosby Show.”
From that night on, they were together whenever possible, though they kept the relationship a secret from colleagues for months. “We just wanted to hang out all the time,” she says. And whenever she was with him, she felt calm and cared for. “Craig’s the kind of guy that, when you’re talking to him, he has this gift of making you feel like you’re the only person in the world that matters.”
She brought passion to his life and pushed him to try new things. “She loves life,” he says. “She stops. She smells the roses. She picks a few, and she shows them to me — ‘Here, smell these!’ ”
Melvin, now 32, began to think the relationship could last. “She is a very good friend. She’s a very good daughter. And it’s easy to be in love, when you’re 28, 29, 30, but when you’re 60, 65, that’s when it’s tested,” he says. “And she’s the kind of person that I could see changing a diaper — mine!”
In March of this year, they spent a long weekend in Miami, and he chartered a late-afternoon sailboat. On the water, he asked her to be his wife.
Both knew when they got engaged that their contracts with NBC4 would be up in a few months. Each loved the station and felt like part of a family there, but they decided to move on to grow in their careers. In May, Czarniak got an offer to become an anchor for ESPN; a few weeks later, Melvin was hired by MSNBC.
They live in Westport, Conn., and commute about an hour a day (she to Bristol, Conn., and he to New York City). “It was very stressful because [working at NBC 4] wasn’t just a job, it was a lifestyle and a family for both of us,” she says. “But it’s been amazing. Because we are both in similar situations in different places, so that we can both support each other.”
Last week they returned to the District and were married at the Church of the Holy City on 16th Street NW before traveling by vintage Bentley to a reception for 200 at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Many of the couple’s former colleagues, including Jim Vance, Doreen Gentzler, Wendy Rieger and Dan Hellie (who suspected the romance) celebrated in a room bathed in gold light and dotted with huge centerpieces of orange roses.
Czarniak wore a strapless Kenneth Pool gown down the aisle as she held the arm of her father, USA Today editor Chet Czarniak. After exchanging vows, they were serenaded by Lee Anne Myslewski, who sang the Miranda Lambert song, “Makin’ Plans.”
Nothin’ would feel just right
If I wasn’t by your side
’Cause I’m not easy to understand
But you know me like the back of your hand
I’m your girl and you’re my man
And we’re makin’ plans.