The next time they met, at another Polaris event, he cornered her for two hours talking about a recent romantic breakup. But when Brad, who had also been working on human trafficking issues, started spending his nights volunteering at Polaris and then joined the group in April 2005, Kat began to see a different side of him. “Okay, he’s a hard worker, he’s smart, he’s thoughtful, he’s a great relationship builder,” she remembers thinking. “But I still didn’t see much in common.”
Brad, who, like Kat, was in his mid-20s at the time, constantly cracked jokes, loved going out and wanted to be around people all the time. Kat was introspective and quiet, preferring to be alone in the rare hours she wasn’t working.
But in late 2007, Kat decided on a New Year’s resolution: She needed to start spending time with people who were very different from her. Similarly, Brad had come back to the office from an appointment with his therapist — Polaris required all staffers to see a therapist to deal with the vicarious trauma absorbed by working with victims of such horrifying crimes — with a new assignment. The therapist had deduced that while Brad was superficially friendly, he rarely let people into his life enough to be truly open and vulnerable.
Kat proposed that they spend time together as a way of trying to achieve their respective goals. “So we were both each other’s personal growth project,” says Brad.
Once or twice a week, the two made dinners together, went on long runs or watched movies. They discovered that beneath their vastly different exteriors were very similar core values. They were both dedicated to living life with a purpose, making society better and remaining close with their families.
Kat admired Brad’s swirl of constant energy and his ability to connect with everyone he met. Spending time with Kat, Brad came to understand that “there were people who live their lives — Kat specifically — holding themselves to a higher standard of decency and care and thoughtfulness.”
By spring, Kat was beginning to realize her feelings for Brad ran deeper than just friendship. She worried that a romance could interfere with their professional dynamic — by then Brad was the deputy director of Polaris — and that it could be disruptive to the organization. But after much thought, she decided there was potential for a lasting relationship. So in May, on a flight to Los Angeles, she rested her head on his shoulder.
Brad was taken aback, but happily so. By August the two decided to date exclusively. Both continued to work extraordinarily long hours — helping victims, working with law enforcement officials, weighing in on public policy discussions and managing the rapidly growing organization. “There wasn’t any oxygen beyond keeping things afloat,” recalls Kat, now 33. “It wasn’t the best soil to have a blossoming relationship.”
The next fall she took a sabbatical to study at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Boston. The distance was hard on the relationship, and neither knew where it was headed.
“There was a sense of uncertainty,” remembers Brad, now 34. “Of, ‘This could go the distance, but it could flame out for whatever reason.’ But it could go the distance, and we knew that from early on — you could sense that the ingredients are there.”
Besides geography, the couple faced religious and cultural hurdles. They weren’t sure how his extroversion would ultimately mesh with her need for alone time or whether they’d be able to fully drop the dynamics of their professional relationship in exchange for a personal one.
“I think there were about 20 boulders in our way,” Kat says. “You always conceptualize, ‘Oh you meet someone, maybe you start off as friends, but immediately you’re lovey-dovey and there’s a honeymoon phase.’ It wasn't like that for us. So it didn’t follow expectations or scripts.”
“We’re like a cactus that survived the winter,” Brad jokes.
Because by the time Kat finished grad school and returned to Washington in the fall of 2010, “the boulders started to be more like pebbles,” she says.
Brad had taken over as chief executive of Polaris, and Kat began doing consulting work until she was named senior adviser on human trafficking at the Department of Health and Human Services.
It was clear then that they were both in it for the long haul. “A friend gave me some advice,” Brad remembers. “He said, ‘Does the union of the two of you help make the world a better place because you’re together?’ ” Both were convinced that it does. They spent New Year’s Eve of 2012 at a party with friends, and just after midnight, Kat felt a blindfold slip over her eyes. Brad led her to a limo that took them to the Lincoln Memorial, where he proposed on the 150th anniversary of the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
On Nov. 16, more than eight years after they first met, the two exchanged vows at the Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, Md.
The path that brought them there, Kat said before the wedding, “gives us confidence that we’ll survive whatever trials come our way.”
“There are so many things that could have broken us apart,” she continued. “So I just feel there’s a reason, some higher purpose, for us being together that goes beyond just the two of us and the life we’ll share to whatever we’ll be able to create with this.”