On Love: ‘I’d never met someone who has so much room in her heart’

(Mark Gail/ FTWP ) - Anne Gregory and Zachary Teicher celebrate their marriage.

(Mark Gail/ FTWP ) - Anne Gregory and Zachary Teicher celebrate their marriage.

by Ellen McCarthy

Throughout her life, Anne Gregory has made a lot of decisions that no one expected.

(Mark Gail/FTWP) - Zachary Teicher and Anne Gregory kiss.

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Growing up in Rome, Ga., as the daughter of a Baptist music minister, she dreamed of being an opera star. But at the University of Miami, she switched her major from music to religious studies, then she focused on Holocaust theology in graduate school at Vanderbilt University. Moved by the religion’s focus on social justice, she converted to Judaism in 2005.

By then she had become a vegan and helped open a vegan restaurant at Vanderbilt. Between stints working on Democratic political campaigns, she moved back to Georgia and opened a yoga and meditation studio.

She thought that was where she’d stay, happily spending her time helping others reach Zen states. But when a campaign friend sent her a notice about a job in Washington, she agreed to apply. “He was like, ‘It’s so you,’ ” she recalls. “ ‘It’s Southern, it’s Jewish, it’s progressive. You have to apply for this job.’ ”

Gregory was offered the job as a Southern regional director for J Street, a Jewish organization that describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” And in May 2010, she packed her bags and moved to Washington. As a blonde with a thick Southern drawl who had never been to Israel, Gregory immediately stood out among her co-workers, but she was determined to make them like her.

Chief among her targets was Zachary Teicher, a Westchester County, N.Y., native and recent college graduate who had moved to the District the previous September.

“He was a tough nut to crack,” she recalls. He seemed to talk almost faster than she could follow and was in a state of perpetual motion. But he agreed to go with her to a bluegrass night at Madam’s Organ, and soon they were exploring the city together almost every weekend.

Gregory was dating a man she met soon after moving to the city, so she was oblivious to the crush Teicher, eight years her junior, was developing on her.

Teicher had never been particularly forward with women and knew Gregory was taken, though she seemed to spend more time with him than her boyfriend. Still, he was reluctant to make a move.

But that December, he decided it was time. Gregory and her boyfriend had split, and Teicher was about to take a new job at a different political organization. “I figured I had very little to lose,” he recalls. “It was the best possible scenario. And if it makes it weird, I lose a friend and that sucks, but I’m going to roll the dice.”

They were at the office when he sent her an instant message saying he’d given his two week’s notice. “And I think we should go out on a date,” he added.

“My jaw just dropped,” Gregory recalls. “I was like, ‘What? Zach? My friend Zach wants to date me?’ ”

But after thinking it over for a minute, she agreed to consider one of their normal outings a date. “We’re together all the time,” she remembers thinking. “Let’s just see if I have any chemistry with him.”

Teicher, a vegetarian, accompanied Gregory to a happy hour for D.C. vegans. But they couldn’t find the rest of the group, so the two sat at the bar. It felt just as it always had — comfortable and easy — but at the end of the night, he kissed her.

“And it was actually really good, and it shocked the [heck] out of me,” says Gregory, now 34. The next day she flew home to Georgia for the holidays. But they talked every day by Skype, and she began to feel a rush of affection for Teicher.

They reunited on New Year’s Eve and quickly became inseparable. The age difference was never an issue. “We already knew each other so all of a sudden it was just — boom! — we’re in a relationship,” she says. “It was so natural and so awesome.”

They joined a synagogue, they hung out with her beloved dogs and he learned to make vegan meals. When they found a stray cat Gregory wanted to adopt, Teicher ran to the store to get food.

If she wasn’t fully in love already, she was then. “The most important thing to me in the world is being able to take care of animals,” Gregory says. “And he actually loved that about me, instead of going, ‘Oh, really? Another animal?’ ”

“She’s probably the most compassionate person I’ve ever met,” Teicher says. “I’d never met someone who has so much room in her heart for so many beings. It’s almost overwhelming. That’s one of the things that always draws me to her.”

In June 2011, they moved in together; by December, Teicher, now 26, knew he wanted to marry Gregory. With her mother’s help, he got hold of a diamond her grandmother had left her and had it placed in a new setting.

In February, the two went to the Kennedy Center to see the symphony. Teicher led Gregory to the roof overlooking the Potomac and asked her to be his wife.

On Sept. 2, they were married at their synagogue, Adat Shalom. Teicher’s childhood rabbi officiated the ceremony, and the minister from Gregory’s parents’ church read a blessing. They hired a bagpiper to pay homage her family’s Scottish heritage and served vegan food representing their respective home towns — tofu sliders and Jack Daniels-encrusted tempeh, New York “cheesecake” and Waldorf salad.

“Every morning, Zach says, ‘Oh, my God, you’re so beautiful.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I just woke up. My breath is bad. I have a cat draped on my head.’ But he thinks I’m beautiful and really appreciates me.”

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