So she was relieved when Alexander Adams gravitated toward her. They were in the same age bracket, and shared a profession as well; the 27-year-old British journalist, a feature writer for Muscat Daily, was impressed that Stephanie had left her job at Forbes for the Fulbright.
“I was just happy to have a friend. I knew integrating into the culture would be a challenge, and if anyone could help, it’d be expats like Alex,” Stephanie says. She soon fell in love with Oman and appreciated the friendly way Alex helped her navigate the expat world. He showed her how to sneak into the nearby five-star hotels to use the swimming pools and how to shoo away the stray cats that would crawl up out of the desert heat into the engine of her car, and he used his rare liquor license to contribute wine when she hosted an American-style Thanksgiving dinner for Omani and expat guests. And it helped to have a male companion to go out with, as young women walking alone were rare.
“We have a shared love of the Middle East. We just have long, engaging debates back and forth,” Stephanie says. Alex wondered if they could be more than friends but knew she had a boyfriend in the States. But the distance wasn’t working out; when Stephanie returned to Oman after a Christmas break, she was single.
Their long walks through the city of Muscat and the local beaches seemed to take on a different meaning after that. Alex’s feelings were growing stronger, and he knew Stephanie would be leaving in a few months, when her fellowship ended. So in February, he took a risk and asked her on a proper date. “I figured, I better go for it,” he says. “It was something I wanted to do to try and make it official in a way.”
Stephanie was hesitant. She, too, had felt their bond growing stronger but was wary of jumping into another relationship and afraid of ruining their friendship. “But I knew Alex enough to know he was kind and thoughtful,” she says. “I was like, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ ”
He shaved and put on his best shirt before picking her up; she traded her usual modest garb for a knee-length dress. Alex’s job as a feature writer didn’t have him “rolling in the rials,” as he puts it, but he wanted to take her somewhere special. They went to dinner at a pricey beach-side restaurant at a hotel popular with Westerners, where it would be okay for her lower legs to show and for them to hold hands without causing a stir.
Things were oddly stiff and formal — having declared it an “official date” had added a level of pressure and expectation that neither was prepared to address. Finally, Alex broke the ice: “Are you as nervous as I am?” he asked.
“Oh my God, yes!” Stephanie replied, breathing a sigh of relief. With that nervousness out in the open, they fell back into their usual comfortable rhythms. A brief spot of rain — rare in the hot, desert country — felt magical. So did their walk later on the beach, with a backdrop of cliffs and palm trees and the bright silver moon reflecting on the water. “It was just a really wonderful, romantic setting,” Alex remembers, “and I thought, if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.” He leaned in, and they shared their first kiss.
From then on, they were a couple; soon, they knew it was more than a fleeting romance, even with the end of Stephanie’s Fulbright just months away. But the end of June crept closer and closer, and finally the time came for her to return to the United States. Stephanie was fearful that their connection would dissolve after she left, but Alex couldn’t share her pessimism. “I’m going to marry you someday,” he told her.
“I was always convinced it was going to work,” he remembers. “It wasn’t arrogance. I just always knew.”
They didn’t want a messy, public parting at the airport, so they said their goodbyes at his apartment, where they could hug, and cry, and kiss. He drove her to the airport and she walked alone to her flight, fighting tears and an overwhelming loneliness.
Skype was banned in Oman at the time, but they kept in touch by e-mail and later via Gchat. A few months later, he traveled the nearly 8,000 miles between them to visit her in Minnesota and meet her mother. Stephanie found that their feelings were as strong as ever. “We really love each other, and I also really appreciate the kind of person he is,” Stephanie says.
She moved to Washington, where she’s now a publications coordinator for the Brookings Institution. Alex arrived in mid-December 2011 for a visit — and something more. They’d often shared Indian food while in Oman, so he arranged to take her to the Bombay Club for dinner. Afterward, they braved the frigid weather for a walk to the National Christmas Tree. In a quiet park just before they reached the site, he got down on one knee, produced a diamond ring and asked her to marry him.
“Are you for real?” she exclaimed before saying yes. The crowd at the Christmas tree congratulated them, and park rangers snapped their photo.
Alex soon headed back to Oman. “That was really hard, going from this high of getting engaged to this low of not being able to see each other,” he recalls. But before long, he had more good news: He had been accepted to a graduate program at George Washington University and would relocate to the District in August 2012. Stephanie was overjoyed: “It meant that we could be together and have a real, daily life together,” she says.
They moved into an apartment on 14th Street and learned how to navigate the linguistic and cultural quirks that separate American and British English. “We’re just really happy around each other,” Alex says.
On Aug. 9, his British friends and family joined her American cohort to see the couple married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Minn. Stephanie, now 27, and Alex, 30, chose not to see each other before the ceremony and took photos with a pillar between them to block their view.
“It’s a day I’m so excited about,” Stephanie said in an interview before the couple left Washington. “Getting rings on our fingers and saying the vows — it sets the foundation for whatever is next,” Alex added. “It helps us be a family.”