'You know you can't let her slip away.'
Sunday, February 21, 2010
If you ask William Milligan's mother, she'll say her son's marriage was arranged by the pope.
Which is fitting, because she'd been praying for it for so long.
And so had he -- recently, anyway.
The New Jersey native had always pictured himself with a wife and children, but years ticked by and it didn't happen. He was busy buying a condo, working on a congressional campaign, establishing a political fundraising and event planning company, taking beach trips with the disparate sets of friends he'd acquired through the years.
"It was probably when I turned about 37 that I was like, 'All right, I gotta get married -- my friends are done having kids,' " he says.
But what can come easily in those post-college years of kickball teams and group houses is often harder once a decade has passed and friendly single faces start to seem scarce. It had been several years since Milligan's friends saw him in a serious relationship. There were a lot of first dates and a few that turned into three- or four-month flings, but inevitably a red flag would go up, or it would become apparent that Milligan and his dates had different goals in life. He would be back where he began, trying to keep his chin up.
"When you date for a long time, it can be a little laborious, and you can get down," says Milligan, now 39. "My whole approach was to just keep trying to meet people. I would always be open to dates."
But it was business he had on his mind when he offered to help out with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington in April 2008.
"I thought it would be a good learning experience, good business development to work on a huge event like this," recalls Milligan, who runs WM Fundraising & Events. So the Archdiocese of Washington made him a volunteer coordinator and he "ended up working with a bunch of little church ladies for six weeks leading up to it."
On the Saturday before the pope's Mass at Nationals Park, Milligan led an effort to stuff 55,000 goody bags with ponchos and prayer cards. Standing next to him was a 20-something woman with lots of questions, including: "Are you seeing anyone?" and "Can I set you up with my sister?"
Arlyn Stokes was always doing that. Her big sister Anslie was fiercely smart, determined and successful, but also sometimes reserved. She would date on occasion, but it was never the priority her career had been. "I was like, 'Ehhhh, it'll be fine! I'm not worried,' " says Anslie, 30. Arlyn was "worried enough for me."
Arlyn arranged for a group to gather at Old Glory in Georgetown. Once Anslie met Milligan, "it was sort of like it was only us talking, and everyone else was just there," she says.