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'Everything he does makes me feel special'

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; E14

In September 2005, comedian Chris White attended his friend Allyson Jaffe's wedding with the long-term girlfriend he thought he would marry.

But a few months later, after 4 1/2 years of dating, they broke up. In his stand-up routine, he compares the experience to being 25 feet away from the finish line of a marathon when a lion jumps out and bites your leg off as the official tells you to crawl back to the starting line and begin a new race -- "a race with only other crippled people. And the name of this race is: 'Your 30s.' "

White, now 33, is playing it up for laughs, of course, but the devastation wasn't minor. Jaffe, manager of the DC Improv, was among those he relied on most for support. They'd met three years earlier at an open mike competition at the Improv where they both lost to -- if White recalls correctly -- "a pot-smoking student at American University."

After that, they saw each other regularly at comedy events and became part of the same close-knit group of friends. In time, Jaffe abandoned her stand-up dreams to focus on management -- the 32-year-old is now a part-owner of the Improv -- while White redoubled his efforts to make a career out of comedy.

When he quit his copy-editing job to pursue stand-up full time in 2005, Jaffe cheered him on.

"I always liked what Chris did, so I tried to help him -- putting together packages, mailing them to management companies and just being an ear," she says. "The fact that Chris gave it a shot and tried is so admirable."

And he succeeded enough to pay most of his bills with comedy, traveling the country for gigs and sleeping in hotel rooms as often as not. But he remained devoted to D.C. and his friends here. In early 2007, when Jaffe told White that her marriage was crumbling, he rushed back to the city to sit beside her.

Talking about the sense of betrayal they now shared, "I just lost it and cried," she says. Over the next few months, as Jaffe separated from her husband and tried to re-imagine a future for herself, she turned again and again to White, who by then had a new girlfriend. "He was amazing and just kind of got me through it."

When his relationship ended a few months later, more than one mutual friend asked White if he would finally start dating Jaffe. They made each other laugh and were constantly heading off on adventures together, to Coney Island for a hot dog-eating contest, or to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his hole in Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day. Even White's mom suggested it, he recalls, saying: "You guys hang out all the time. You seem like a really good match."

His response: "No, we're just friends. That doesn't make sense."

But something was building. There were long, silent pauses and moments when it seemed they were looking at each other in a new way.

"It was like, 'Should I kiss you? What's going on?' " she says. "We have such a great thing right now. And this could ruin it. Or this could work."

Just before Christmas that year, they had lunch and went back to his Capitol Hill apartment to talk. "What are we going to do about this?" he asked.

She replied with a slightly cruder version of the phrase "to hell with it" and kissed him.

He kissed her back and then left for a week, visiting his parents in Philadelphia. It was just enough time for her to get nervous about how things would work between them and how much they were putting at risk.

"I said, 'I think as well as we know each other, it's worth a shot. Why don't we go for it and see what happens?' " he says.

And when he returned for New Year's Eve, they shifted into a relationship that felt surprisingly natural. "There was nothing weird about it," she says. "I wanted to be near him and I wanted to be with him even more than I was before."

They already knew each other's quirks and moods and secrets. The unveiling that usually takes months or years had been done long ago. "We have such a good understanding of each other's personalities," he says. "You know when it's time to try to talk or to help them, and you also know when it's time to shut up and go play your video games while they work something out."

That November, while on tour in Washington state, White decided to climb Mount St. Helens during a free afternoon. He'd been thinking a lot about Jaffe during their days apart and realized that he hoped to marry her. But he didn't want to rush things. At the top of the mountain, he pulled out his video camera and recorded a proposal.

It sat stored on his computer for the next 12 months. On Nov. 15, 2009, they had dinner at Georgia Brown's and returned to her apartment, where he said, "You don't know it, but this is a one-year anniversary for us." He told her the story and hit "play" on the proposal he'd been waiting to offer her.

"The thought of someone thinking that a year ago and then showing it to you -- there are no words for that," she says. "Everything he does makes me feel special."

The two were married Aug. 28 before 130 friends and relatives at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Their buddy, comedian Jared Stern, presided over a ceremony they wrote themselves.

A week before the wedding, as they contemplated contingencies needed to help guests navigate around the crowds expected at a Glenn Beck rally, Jaffe thought back to her first trip down the aisle. "Round one, I was nervous. I'm not nervous with this one," she says. "I think it's supposed to be this. All this stuff that we went through and that I went through -- I'm happy I went through that to be here with Chris."

Now standing at the end of his dating marathon, White is sure that what first connected him and Jaffe will also sustain them in the miles they'll walk together.

"If you have that sense of humor, it's not just a shared quality; it's a tool you use to get through a lot of things in life," he says. "When she's had hard times and when I've had hard times, we've always been able to be there for each other and make each other laugh."

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