OnLove: Tashia Gaskins and Kris Jenkins -- a Seven-Year Journey to the Altar

After seven years of ups and downs, Tashia Gaskins and Kris Jenkins finally got it right.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Tashia Gaskins's mind, there was a certain order in which things were supposed to unfold: You meet someone special, fall instantly in love, get engaged and then married, have a couple of munchkins and live happily ever after.

So it didn't sit well that life with NFL defensive tackle Kris Jenkins wasn't going according to plan.

"I'm a hopeless romantic, so he would get frustrated with me," she says about the man she married after a seven-year journey that involved breakups and the unplanned births of two sons. "We were at odds because we had to separate the reality from the fantasy."

They first met when Jenkins, a 29-year-old originally from Michigan, was a freshman at the University of Maryland. Gaskins, a Landover native and senior in high school, was on a school trip to the College Park campus. Jenkins and some of his pals started teasing Gaskins and her friends. "There was one girl out of the group who talked as much trash as me," Jenkins recalls. "Then I never saw her again."

Never, that is, until they both ended up at a mutual acquaintance's barbecue in Largo five years later. By then Gaskins had graduated from Frostburg State University and Jenkins had been drafted by the Carolina Panthers. He was back in town to visit friends and noticed Gaskins immediately when she nearly hit his truck while trying to parallel park.

Her mom, who was also at the party, invited Jenkins to their house the next day. "It was one of those things where Mom kind of gave me the back door -- 'Oh yeah, that's my daughter. She's single,' '' says Jenkins, a 6-foot-4, 360-pound Pro Bowler whose fierceness is undercut by outbursts of giggles and song.

Gaskins remembers feeling butterflies when he showed up at their house. At the end of the evening -- after several rounds of Taboo with her family -- Jenkins asked for a date. Three days later they bought Maryland crabs, sat in a park and began what would be their roller-coaster relationship.

"We definitely had an instant connection," says Gaskins, 29. "But I didn't know what I had gotten myself into."

Soon Jenkins was back in North Carolina and Gaskins returned to Frostburg to start an MBA program. After a few summertime visits they agreed to attempt to make it work. But there were questions of trust. Gaskins never expected to date a professional athlete, and didn't know what to think of the groupies who seemed to swarm Jenkins at every turn.

And Jenkins had his own worries: "For athletes, the scary part is that we are in a situation where most of the women that try to talk to us don't even really like us. They like what we represent, you know?" he says.

Over time it became clear to Jenkins that Gaskins loved him for who he really is -- "a dork and some sort of a bookworm" -- but he still wasn't ready for marriage. Frustration grew and just as she was completing her MBA and preparing to relocate to Charlotte, they broke up. She made the move anyway, having already landed a job in the area.

"It was a very uncomfortable time, because we had separated and had our separate lives but we still had strong feelings for each other," Gaskins says. They still spent time together and a few months after she moved, she found out she was pregnant.

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