OnLove: The marriage of Michelle Snow & Todd Bracken

Michelle Snow was the consummate career girl before realizing one day that she wanted more from life than a good job and paycheck. She finally met Todd Bracken and found love.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Michelle Snow had thought about it for years: owning her own shop. It would be a boutique, maybe, or a bakery -- something creative and collaborative that would allow the 33-year-old to incorporate her first love, family, into her working life.

She dreamed of riding a Vespa to a pretty storefront where she'd work side by side with her mother. Her dad and two brothers would pop in for regular visits, give her a hard time and then groan as they were tasked with some bit of manual labor.

It was a lovely vision, but one that burst with any prick of reality.

So Snow buried the fantasy under the demands of a career in advertising. Her reputation grew as she nourished it with long hours and enormous focus. But her social life suffered, her nerves frayed, and, by the time she was 30, more than a decade had passed since the petite blonde had brought a guy home to meet her family.

For years it was worth it, she says, "because I felt challenged and I felt good." But as her 31st birthday approached, the effects of that success started to wane. "I'm a really happy person, and I just felt like I wasn't completely content," she recalls. "I didn't want my life to pass me by."

Still, it wasn't clear to Snow what, if anything, she should do to alter her existence. But that stretch of soul-searching in the summer of 2007 did provide an opportune moment for a pushy friend to get on Snow's case about signing up for an online dating service. A profile photo was snapped, and within a week Snow was -- like it or not -- a paying member of

"I was surrounded by friends and family who were already starting to marry people they met online, so I knew it worked," she says. "But I just didn't think it was for me."

So once her account was activated, she promptly proceeded to ignore it. But after working late on yet another Friday night, Snow came home to her computer and decided to see what she was paying for. She found herself staying up for hours, browsing through dozens of profiles until, on the 15th page of listings, a Springfield technology consultant with dimples caught her attention.

"I like your smile," she wrote him before going to bed.

By the time she woke the next morning for a 6 a.m. run, Todd Bracken had already replied. He was an Ohio native who'd spent all of his 20s dating a woman he met during college. When that relationship finally ended, he had no idea "how to date or even really talk to a girl." So for a year Bracken, now 36, poured himself into home renovations and martial arts, while trying to make sense of his feelings about the breakup. When he was ready to start dating, the Internet seemed like the most efficient way.

He'd been at it for six months when Snow's message popped up -- and he never would have found her: Living in Bethesda, she was outside his geographic search range. But she seemed genuine, and he was charmed by her description of the Vespa-riding-shop-owning daydream, so they decided to meet at Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda the following Thursday.

"I can't go through with this. I just can't," Snow said on the phone to a friend as she walked to the restaurant. "This is not how it's supposed to be." Her friend responded with some harsher version of "pull it together" and instructed Snow to get inside already.

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