It was hardly a sweet setup for Courtney Gaine and Chris Cuddy: The couple lived more than 700 miles apart and were involved in a $1.5 billion lawsuit.
But as they say, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and Gaine, the president and chief executive of the Sugar Association in Washington, and Cuddy, the former president of sweeteners and starches at Archer Daniels Midland, were able to outlast their expected shelf life.
The pair met on a blind date at Sotto D.C. after being set up by a mutual friend, Beth Holzman, in March 2015.
Days before being set up, Courtney had decided to heed her mother’s advice and “put it out in the universe” that she was looking, and ready, for a serious relationship.
“I thought that if I put half as much energy into meeting someone as I did my job, that I would be married, maybe even a few times, by now,” says Courtney, 39. “No one was going to walk into my office and say, ‘Do you want to go on a date with me?’ ”
So she took to the Internet and scheduled a first date.
But then fate — or, rather, Beth — stepped in and offered to match her with a tall, ambitious and handsome colleague in town on business from Decatur, Ill. She said yes without hesitation.
Chris, a divorced father of three (7, 11 and 12) had a similar reaction to the suggestion. “Between work and kids, my dating life was nonexistent,” says Chris, 43 and now the president of Archer Daniels Midland’s corn division. “I was picky and certainly not keen on anyone else until I met Courtney.”
At the restaurant, their attraction was immediate (“His nickname in my phone is Malibu Ken,” Courtney jokes), and they continued talking until closing time. Courtney, a former University of Connecticut basketball player, also noticed his height — he is 6-foot-3 — a nice complement to her 5-foot-10 frame.
“It wasn’t your typical D.C. chatter — this is who I work for, this is what I do, et cetera. It was a nice and easy conversation,” says Courtney, who grew up in Bethesda, Md. “I felt like I had known him forever.”
Optimistic about where things might lead, she canceled her online date. Chris, equally smitten, decided to book a return flight to Washington two weeks later.
“I just couldn’t wait to get back to see her,” he says.
His second visit solidified their connection, so much so that on the last night of Chris’s trip, he rebooked his flight for the next day at 5 a.m. to allow for a few extra hours together.
By their third date, a trip to the Kentucky Derby, Courtney was feeling confident and comfortable in their budding relationship.
As she shopped at Bloomingdale’s for a derby outfit, a saleswoman told her, “We can’t help but notice that you’re glowing.”
“Everyone — even strangers — could sense how happy I was and how much joy he brought me,” she says.
By April, Courtney and Chris were devoted to seeing each other every two weeks. They managed to honor that pledge despite their ever-changing, hectic work schedules.
As Courtney notes, “I’ve come up to Chicago on a Wednesday, met him for dinner and flown back Thursday morning.”
“Both of us are committed to one another in a way that just doesn’t make sense to other people,” she adds. “But it’s easy when you trust that the other person in the relationship wants to be in it as much as you do.”
Chris agrees. “Although it is a lot of work at times, crisscrossing the country to make our relationship work, it never feels like work.”
They continued to meet at different locations across the country, and, in early June, Chris asked Courtney to accompany him to a family funeral in Ontario. Nearly a month later, on July 4, he introduced her to his three children.
“I couldn’t ask for a better role model, personally and professionally, for my daughter and also for my two sons,” Chris says.
But, as in any relationship, there were obstacles, like that $1.5 billion lawsuit.
In late November 2015, their respective food companies went to court over a false advertising claim. Both Courtney and Chris were asked to testify and, for a month, had to limit their communication to avoid a conflict of interest.
It was a “hurdle that most couples don’t have to go through ever, let alone during their first few months of dating,” says Courtney, “but we got through it.”
The parties eventually settled.
Things progressed swiftly and organically from there, and over time, Chris realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Courtney.
“I have a lot of baggage — I live in a different place, I have a job that’s demanding and I’ve got three kids,” he says. “And yet, she’s seen it all, overcome it and keeps coming back. She’s very dedicated to me, warts and everything, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
In mid-November 2016, the pair traveled to Charleston, S.C., for a weekend getaway. After spending the morning exploring the city, Chris dropped to a knee and surprised Courtney with a diamond ring in Hampton Park. Without pause, she said yes.
Just a few months later, on St. Patrick’s Day, the couple exchanged vows in front of about 240 guests at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. The bride’s younger brother, John Gaine, officiated, and Chris’s children were in the wedding party.
As Courtney and Chris shared their first dance to a slow version of the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” guests enjoyed a sugary rush of their own in the form of shamrock cookies, as well as carrot and red velvet wedding cake. Two days after the festivities, the pair jetted to Hawaii for a 10-day honeymoon.
For now, they plan to continue to manage the distance between Washington and Decatur. “I’m sure there’s going to be sacrifice here and there, and we are both okay with that,” Courtney says.
Before their wedding, the bride reflected on the circumstances that brought them together. “Sometimes I just have to laugh at how I managed to find this person in the middle of seemingly nowhere,” Courtney says. “But it’s all been worth it. Or, rather, he has.”
When asked where he hoped to see their relationship in five years, Chris deadpanned: “Hopefully [we’ll be] in the same city — and not in court.”
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