Ross Frenett remembers the first time he saw Victoria Wallace — really saw her.
They’d met dozens of times before. She was a blond American girl from Alexandria who decided to attend college in her mother’s native Ireland.
Ross grew up not far from University College Cork, where he was majoring in philosophy and had developed a special interest in terrorism studies.
Victoria knew no one when she arrived on campus in the fall of 2006 but was quickly swept up by the close-knit Law Society, which organized academic events and social outings.
Because the philosophy and law students regularly joined forces for debates, Ross and Victoria routinely found themselves at the same events. He was impressed by her grace and unfailingly good manners, and at formal balls he was struck by her classic beauty.
But their conversations remained cursory until the next year, when they lived in the same neighborhood and often spent weekend nights gathered with fellow housemates.
Ross was the head of the Philosophical Society then, and Victoria had been elected editor of the Law Review. It was a rainy night that fall when Victoria burst through the door of their shared campus office, wearing a soaked hooded sweatshirt and carrying an oversized box that she promptly threw on the floor. “I can’t deal with this [crap],” she fumed.
“Vic is incredibly nice and polite, so it was one of the first times she ever let down the veneer,” Ross remembers. And it was the moment he started looking at her in a new way.
Like him, Victoria was incredibly driven and ambitious. She was highly intellectual but shied away from the spotlight, preferring instead to work behind the scenes.
Working long hours in close quarters, Victoria came to think of Ross as a close friend, although she didn’t detect his growing crush. “He was someone I could go and have a nice evening and there wasn’t really any pressure. It was just comfortable — that was the biggest thing,” she says. “With most people, you’re trying to move the conversation along, whereas this just kind of worked.”
The two often ended up huddled together at parties. And at a Christmas gala, where Ross was dressed up as an elf, they spent the whole night chatting, to the exclusion of everyone else in the room. It was after midnight when he asked to walk her home, under the guise of “getting a cup of tea,” and finally kissed her on the sidewalk.
Victoria returned to Alexandria for the holiday and, in addition to texts and e-mails, received a couple of Christmas letters from Ross.
They reunited for a debating conference in Thailand, and by the end of the two-week trip it was clear they were a couple.
They became one another’s biggest supporters and dated steadily for the next 18 months. “I felt that no matter what came up, I could rely on her,” Ross says. “And I realized that before we ever started going out, so it was a really strong foundation for a good relationship.”
In the spring of 2009, as they prepared for graduation, Victoria’s family was eager for her to return to the States. Victoria had always planned on pursuing a career in politics, but she knew that going back to the United States might jeopardize her relationship with Ross, so instead the two moved together to London.
They rented a tiny room — “the size of two coffee tables,” Ross recalls. He pursued a master’s degree in terrorism studies, and Victoria tried to establish a career in British politics.
“It was either going to make or break the relationship,” Victoria says of the living arrangement. “But it was actually kind of nice, because you do get that bit of time together — a little time in the morning and a little time in the evening. It teaches skills to deal with work stress and home stress without going nuts or saying, ‘I want to bottle this in.’ ”
Victoria began working for the British Parliament and then became a policy adviser for a government transportation agency. Ross finished his graduate degree and did a stint as a consultant before becoming the head of Against Violent Extremism, a nonprofit network for former terrorists and survivors of attacks funded by Google’s think tank.
“We both seem to be kind of helping each other up each step,” says Ross, 26. “When I need help with my family or career or anything else, I know I can completely rely on Vic. Her strengths are my weaknesses. . . . Vic likes to say that between the two of us we’re greater than the sum of our parts.”
To celebrate the anniversary of their first kiss, Ross planned a December 2011 weekend trip to Munich. He and Victoria, now 25, had never explicitly discussed getting married, but he began to think the time was right. “My internal monologue was, ‘When did men stop proposing to women they loved? Just man up. Do it,’ ” he recalled.
He decided that if he could buy a ring without freaking out, he would propose in Munich. Walking into a London jewelry store a month before the trip, “I never felt so calm in my life,” he remembers. When they stood under a giant Christmas tree in Munich, looking up at the lights, Ross told Victoria he had an idea.
“Oh yeah, what?” she replied.
“I think we should get married,” he said, pulling out the ring. A group of Japanese tourists cheered as they embraced.
On Sept. 28, the pair exchanged vows at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria and then led most of their 115 guests on a parade to the King Street Metro station. They celebrated that night with a reception at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, overlooking Meridian Hill Park in the District.
“This is the hardest speech of my life,” Ross said as he rose to toast his bride.
Their relationship “wasn’t founded on a myth or some kind of perfect picture. It was founded on working together,” he continued. “To my soulmate, to the person who makes me the best version of me, to my best friend and to my wife — Victoria.”