When Tommy Goodwin wants to sum things up quickly, he puts it this way: “It’s a very basic story of boy meets girl. They fall in love. Fifteen years later they did it again, and this time they’re getting married.”
But he actually met Jessica Strassner more than 15 years ago. It was almost 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, when they merged into the same high school near Daytona Beach, Fla. For the next few years they overlapped in classes and clubs, occasionally catching each other’s eye, but never sharing more than short flirtations and quick conversations.
“I always thought he was cute,” Jess says. “And as we got older, there was definitely a crush there. But there was always bad timing. He was dating somebody or I was dating somebody.”
Tommy was a freshman at George Washington University in the fall of 1997 when he flew back to Florida for a U2 concert. Knowing Jess was enrolled at the University of Tampa, he e-mailed her to meet up, eager to see a friendly face.
That afternoon on campus, something sparked. Jess blew off her classes, and their simmering attraction led to a kiss. When Tommy flew back to Washington, they talked via phone and e-mail, trying to keep the romance alive. But by the following February, it was clear it wouldn’t work.
“We were 18 and in our freshman year of college. It was like, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’ ” Jess says.
A couple of years later, they ran into each other again. The connection was still there, but so was the distance. Nothing happened. “There were definitely times over the years where I thought, ‘Where did things go wrong?’ And, ‘What could we have done?’ ” Jess says. “But there were no hard feelings.”
Jess, a teacher, married soon after college. Tommy followed suit a bit later. Every couple of years, one or the other would send an e-mail to catch up, and they heard updates about each other from mutual friends.
In November 2011, Jess sent an e-mail wishing Tommy a happy birthday. As they traded messages, Tommy revealed that he was separated from his wife, waiting for a divorce to become finalized. Jess confessed that she was just starting the same process.
“So it was like, ‘Wow, after all this time we’re in the same place,’ ” Jess says.
Soon they were texting and e-mailing almost daily. “Our situations overlapped and were in different stages,” says Tommy, a senior adviser at AARP. “So it was, ‘Oh, you’ve been through this part?’ ‘I’ve been through that part.’ ”
When a friend offered Tommy tickets to the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando the following February, he invited Jess to meet for an afternoon. Face-to-face for the first time in more than a decade, the old attraction came rushing back. “It was like, ‘Oh, yes, I remember you,’ ” Tommy says.
But once again, after a few hours together, Tommy flew back to the District. “It was really hard,” Jess, now 34, says. “And the fact that it was really hard made me think, ‘What’s going on here?’ And ‘What’s going to happen?’ It was like, ‘Okay, this can’t be the end again.’ ”
They continued to talk daily by phone, discovering common interests and taste in music.
In June they arranged to spend a weekend together in Orlando. It was the first time they’d ever shared a meal.
“We hadn’t spent a whole lot of time together,” Jess says. “But it was always so easy to hang out with him that I wasn’t worried about spending dinner or a night or a weekend or anything.”
Two weeks later Jess flew to Washington. They found themselves finishing each other’s sentences and cracking the same jokes at the same time. “It was strange, ’cause it was like, ‘We haven’t hung out that much to be on the same wavelength,’ ” Jess says.
They began taking turns hopping flights up and down the coast, although neither was sure where the relationship was headed. During a September trip to California, Jess found herself laughing so hard she could barely catch her breath. “I was just kind of like, ‘Well, that’s how it should be all the time,’ ” she says. And at the end of the vacation, she cried, knowing they would have to say goodbye at an airport once again.
When Tommy came to Florida for her birthday a few weeks later, she told him she’d sent her résumé to the Falls Church school system. At dinner on the last night of his visit, her cellphone buzzed with an e-mail asking her to come for an interview.
“It was like, ‘Wow, okay, this is really happening,’ ” she says. At the end of October, she flew to Washington for the interview and was hired almost immediately. Even as she was on the phone accepting the offer, Tommy began clearing out space in his closet for her things.
“In my head I was coming for a visit, but they wanted me to start immediately,” she recalls. Her father drove to Washington with her belongings, and together she and Tommy quickly settled into a routine. “Once my stuff got here it was just very comfortable and very easy,” Jess says. “I have a friend who said, ‘You got a do-over. You got to move up here. You’re with the right guy. You have a great job.’ ”
“We just have this connection on so many different levels,” says Tommy, 34. “I would rather spend time with her than do anything else — whatever that anything else is. I just cannot imagine a life without her at this point. And that happened instantaneously for me.”
In March they traveled to Ireland during her spring break, and as they stood near the Lakes of Killarney, Tommy proposed.
On Oct. 26, the pair exchanged vows before 80 guests at a cocktail reception at Potomac Point Winery.
“If it was anybody else, I can see where people would be like, ‘Wow, you guys didn’t waste any time,’ ” Jess says. “But I feel like we’ve known each other for so long. And this is a relationship that has built and snowballed for many years into what we have now, that it seems like this is exactly where we’re supposed to be — finally.”