Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the bride’s alma mater. She is a graduate of the University of Florida. This version has been corrected.
The joke about Ellen Shatzen is that she was the last to know.
Her family and friends were certain she’d end up with Erik Johnson, but she dismissed the idea as ridiculous.
Shatzen and Johnson were living in the same Arlington apartment building in December 2007, when Johnson and a buddy went to the top-floor clubhouse to pass time on a Saturday night. A black-tie holiday party was just getting underway, so the pair felt slightly under-dressed in sweatshirts, but they proceeded toward the pool table anyway.
As they were racking balls, Johnson heard a woman say, “Hey, Number Two.” He thought he’d been assigned a nickname; Shatzen explained she was referring to his Ohio State sweatshirt and gloating that her alma mater, the University of Florida, had the No. 1 ranking in college football.
Johnson, a Capitol Hill staffer, spent most of the night talking to Shatzen, a cute brunette who seemed to take pleasure in giving him a hard time. Before saying good night, they agreed to go out after the holidays. “We just hit it off and really got to know each other,” says Shatzen, who works in marketing. “I was like, ‘Well, this is perfect. It’s like a sitcom.’ ”
In January, he took her to dinner and a concert. They went out again. And again. Until she stopped returning his calls and told him she was busy for the next month.
“There was no other reason than he was just a nice guy and and, you know, girls like the guys who ignore them and don’t call them back,” she says.
They hadn’t dated long enough for Johnson to be devastated, but he always thought he “didn’t really get a chance to give her my best shot.”
They shifted into friendship, meeting up for barbecues and football parties. She went to him with every major problem and, more than once, called him to hang out as soon as she got home from a date with another guy. “It got to the point that my parents were like, ‘What’s going on? This is weird, Ellen,’ ” she says.
It got to be too much for Johnson. After a year of friendship, he called and asked her out on a date. She didn’t return the call.
Shatzen felt paralyzed. Her friends and family urged her to give him a chance, but she was resistant. “Because if I say, ‘Yes, let’s date, then we will get married. That will be it,’ ” she told them. “I’m not sure I’m ready yet to really, really settle down.”
When Shatzen finally contacted Johnson online and acted as if nothing had happened, he was furious. That night they had it out, yelling and crying.
For a month, they barely spoke. Shatzen made overtures, but hard feelings lingered. In 2009, she told him she’d be moving to Atlanta that summer for an internship. “I was super excited but it was so hard for me to tell Erik. And I remember that being really, really weird,” she says.
With that, Johnson decided it was time to truly move on. “And then,” he says, “I apparently started doing something that actually changed her mind about me — I started ignoring her.”
He started telling her about other girls and was nonchalant about her departure.
In Atlanta, Shatzen agreed to a date with a guy she met at the gym. But she found herself dreading it. “I’m going to tell you something you might not like,” a friend told her. “You don’t want to go on this date because you like Erik.”
“And it hit me like a Mack truck: ‘Oh my God, oh my God. I like Eric. This is it,’” she says.
A few weeks later she wrote him a lengthy e-mail, apologizing for all the hurt she caused him and asking whether she could have another chance. “I think you’re perfect,” she wrote. “And I think that you’re perfect for me. You’re my counterpoint.”
One of Johnson’s friends had hinted Shatzen might soon reach out. He was angry and resolved not to be hurt a third time. But when the e-mail arrived, he was convinced of her sincerity.
They spoke by phone the next night and he flew to Atlanta two weeks later for her birthday. When he met her at the airport curb, he pulled her in and said, “I think we’re supposed to kiss now.”
At the end of a weekend together, he asked her to read the e-mail. “I need you to say it out loud,” he told her.
“You’re my best friend,” she said after reading the letter. “And I want you to be my boyfriend, too.”
Shatzen returned to Washington in January 2010, and they eventually moved in together. In August 2011, he took her to watch the sunrise at Dewey Beach and asked her to marry him.
On March 24, they were married at Walker Chapel United Methodist Church in Arlington, where Johnson’s parents were married 30 years ago, and celebrated with a reception at DAR Memorial Continental Hall. Shatzen has multiple ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, including one who was married in Winchester, Va., on March 24, 1779 — exactly 223 years earlier.
Shatzen might have been the last to know, but no one understands more deeply how well-matched they are now.
“He’s the other pea to my pod,” she says. “He makes me just be a better person and look at the world in different ways.”