On Love: ‘The best versions of themselves’

(Evy Mages/ FTWP ) - WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24: Wedding of Elizabeth Wilkins and Graham Lake at the Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St., SW, Washington, DC, August 22, 2013. They met in pre-k and knew each other growing up but didn't start dating until they were together in a fellowship program called Coro in New York City in fall of 2005 and started dating then. He graduated from NYU Law in 2012 and she recently also received her law degree from Yale Law this year. They were engaged last November. Both will be clerking for federal judges on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The couple after the ceremony. (Photo by Evy Mages/For The Washington Post)

(Evy Mages/ FTWP ) - WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24: Wedding of Elizabeth Wilkins and Graham Lake at the Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St., SW, Washington, DC, August 22, 2013. They met in pre-k and knew each other growing up but didn't start dating until they were together in a fellowship program called Coro in New York City in fall of 2005 and started dating then. He graduated from NYU Law in 2012 and she recently also received her law degree from Yale Law this year. They were engaged last November. Both will be clerking for federal judges on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The couple after the ceremony. (Photo by Evy Mages/For The Washington Post)

Elizabeth Wilkins and Graham Lake don’t remember when they first met.

They would have been about 5 years old, attending kindergarten at Sidwell Friends School in Washington and much too young to think about love or marriage.

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Elizabeth first remembers Graham in middle school, as a “sort of jock guy who went out with girls cooler than me.”

It was high school when they both started to have faint crushes on each other and when Elizabeth’s crush on Graham earned him a nickname.

“Graham was on the lacrosse team in the freshman year, and it was around the time that they all had these really horrible haircuts. Graham’s was just one tuft of hair on the back of his head,” Elizabeth remembers. “My friends gave him the nickname ‘Gerber Baby,’ which was so embarrassing.”

Graham’s first memory of Elizabeth is much more pleasant. The couple shared a table in math class and had wonderful conversations, and Graham thought “that this was a very nice, down-to-earth person.”

They continued to have across-the-hall admiration for one another throughout high school but went different ways in college. Elizabeth attended Yale, and Graham went to Amherst. During their senior year, a Sidwell gathering brought them together again, and they discovered that they might be seeing more of each other. Both had applied for the 2005 Coro Fellows Program in New York, a prestigious nine-month fellowship that trains young people in leadership in the fields of public service.

“I remember feeling that, even though we hadn’t seen each other in three years, I was really excited that maybe we were going to end up in the same place,” Elizabeth says.

“And that feeling was absolutely mutual,” Graham adds.

Both were selected for the fellowship and immediately began talking online about the program, and a close friendship began to form. When the program began in September, Elizabeth lived in East Harlem with a few other fellows while Graham resided in the Upper East Side.

After months of platonic friendship, Graham and Elizabeth shared their first kiss on New Year’s Eve. Shortly after, they went on their first date, which led to the first of many episodes of hyper-organization and worrying on Elizabeth’s part.

“I am both a planner and a total worrywart, and when I came to dinner, I was like, ‘I’ve thought about this. I have a really long list of reasons why we shouldn’t date.’ I think Graham asked me if I had written all this out because I had all these bullets and sub-bullets. I was so stressed out. Graham just laughed it all off and knocked down all of my bullet points. I just needed someone to tell me everything was going to be okay,” Elizabeth says.

They began a 11 / 2-year relationship that ended on amicable terms in 2007, when Elizabeth headed to work for the Obama campaign and Graham went to teach math at a Brooklyn middle school. They didn’t speak for three years but stayed on similar paths. In 2008, he headed to Colorado to work on the campaign while she was in Michigan working as a field director. After the campaign, Elizabeth got a job in the White House as a policy assistant; meanwhile, Graham traveled, lived in Buenos Aires and started law school at New York University. In 2010, Graham paid a visit to the White House, where he popped into Elizabeth’s office.

Elizabeth and Graham both still felt like something was there. After exchanging a few e-mails, they decided to meet to talk about their possible future and whether it made sense for them to get back together. Still unsure, Elizabeth went on a solo trip through Central America that reaffirmed the feeling that she wanted to be with Graham again.

“I was seeing all these things and taking all of these pretty hikes for the first time, and all I could think of the entire time was, ‘I wish Graham was here,’ ” Elizabeth says.

When Elizabeth got back and headed to Yale for law school in the fall, Graham came up to visit for a weekend. They’ve been together ever since. The couple moved into a small apartment in New Haven while she finished up her law degree and he worked for a judge, but after nearly two years of a loyal and committed relationship, Elizabeth started to get antsy.

“We had a conversation that ended with me saying, ‘I think we have the same plan, but we’ll start setting towards the tangible goals in one month if you can make up an agenda about the ring, wedding, etc.,” Graham remembers. “And true to form, she did actually e-mail me the agenda four days in advance with, like, bullet point one: what kind of ring? Sub -bullet two: wedding ring from Etsy or actual diamonds? Sub-bullet three: male engagement rings? It was amazing.”

They followed the agenda and agreed on a ring, but it was up to Graham to surprise supreme planner Elizabeth.

He decided to go for an unexpected drive to Lighthouse Point Park. It was a beautiful day to sit outside on a bench, but because it was November it was quite cold. Graham used that in his favor when he asked Elizabeth to look up hot toddy recipes while he bought time, still grappling with the right words to say.

“Then I ever so slyly pointed and told her to look over there,” Graham says with a laugh. “She turned all the way around for what felt like 45 seconds, and when she turned back I was on one knee.”

Elizabeth screamed and said yes. But Graham was about to get proposed to as well. When they got home, Elizabeth raced for the ring she had bought months before, and Graham said yes with equal enthusiasm.

On Aug. 24, friends and family members gathered for an intimate wedding between two best friends at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in the District. Elizabeth and Graham, both 30, confirmed how happy they were to share their story, bullet points and all.

“I think we both help the other person be the best version of themselves,” Elizabeth said before the wedding. “This time a year ago, I was just bursting and wanted to tell the whole world about our relationship, and I really cannot wait to be surrounded by people who know how important this relationship is to both of us.”

 
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