Seeking a better work-life balance after a demanding work trip in Brazil, Amy Kirschenbaum decided to devote more time to her personal life — mainly her friends, family and finding a romantic interest.
After halfheartedly exploring the Jewish dating site J-Date, Amy’s friend suggested that she try her luck on OkCupid. The friend had had success with the site, and Amy was intrigued by its matchmaking algorithm.
She noticed that the name Jeffrey Swers kept popping up, topping her “suggested matches” for weeks. At 97 percent, her match compatibility with him was the highest she had ever seen. Beyond that, she was immediately smitten with his profile picture, which showed him smiling with his son, Isaac, who was a year old at the time. She also saw that he was a scientist — she had always had a soft spot for math and science majors.
It was “a true, modern romance,” she says. She clicked to his profile page to learn more about him and found a great guy with a tragic past. Jeff’s wife, Shana Greatman Swers, had died in 2010 — just five weeks after giving birth to Isaac — of peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare heart muscle disorder. A year later, Jeff lost his mother to cancer.
“I was obviously struck by Jeff’s recent history and the double-whammy tragedy he had faced,” Amy says. “Having dated online, I was impressed he was open, honest and straightforward about his situation.”
In March 2012, Amy decided to test the mathematical algorithm and drop Jeff a line. If they were truly compatible, what did she have to lose?
Jeff, a scientist at the Gaithersburg-based biotech firm MedImmune, had signed up for OkCupid just months earlier. His father had encouraged him to get out and meet women, even offering to watch Isaac so he could go on dates. He also had tried J-Date first, but after a series of so-so dates, he decided to “broaden his base.”
“The idea of being a father without having a partner was very scary,” Jeff says. “Obviously that child has needs, and I had to balance that, working and dating.” He went on a few promising first dates, but nothing seemed to click.
He messaged Amy back, impressed but admittedly somewhat intimidated by her extensive international travel. They quickly discovered they had a lot in common: Both had close-knit relationships with their families, attended Ivy League colleges and played in their public high school’s band.
The pair wrote messages back and forth and eventually exchanged e-mails. Soon, they were having hour-long phone conversations after Jeff put Isaac to bed.
Between work and taking care of Isaac, Jeff had little time for dating. He was extra cautious about his dating prospects, needing assurance that the person he pursued was worth the time and effort and understood that the relationship was a package deal.
“We were in a very different place than most couples at that stage in the relationship because we had to work through a lot early on to know if we could make this work. For both Jeff and I, the stakes were quite high,” Amy says. “We were at a stage in our lives where we both knew what would work for us and what wouldn’t. We needed to know this was really worth the investment and effort on both of our parts.”
Several weeks later, they agreed to meet for dinner at Olazzo in Bethesda. Initially, Amy had thought about somewhere more casual, but she had a gut feeling “something special might happen.”
Over dinner, they realized they were both ice cream aficionados and decided to grab dessert at nearby Dolcezza Gelateria. Engaged in conversation, the pair continued chatting until the shop closed.
Not wanting the date to end, they moved to the 24-hour Tastee Diner, where they continued their conversation until the wee hours of the morning.
“It seemed like we had known each other for a long time even though we had just met,” Jeff says.
Gradually, a deep connection developed, and the two were making the one-hour trek twice a week to spend time together. They talked openly about their goals and the future.
When the two parted ways for a week to celebrate the Jewish holiday Passover, Jeff sent her a floral bouquet and a message: “Don’t forget about me.” Later, when Amy was in Brazil on Father’s Day, she remembered Jeff, sending him a gift and a card.
On one of their early dates, Jeff distinctly remembered sending Amy off. “There’s this moment in a Clint Eastwood movie [“In the Line of Fire”] where he’s falling for someone . . . and he knows if she turns around and looks back, it means she’s interested,” Jeff says. Right before Amy slipped into the darkness of the Metro, she looked back, smiled and waved. “It was a truly Hollywood moment,” Amy says.
As the relationship progressed, Amy frequented Gaithersburg to visit and developed a close relationship with Isaac. “It takes a special woman to step into the life of a recent widower and his young child, and an extreme amount of patience and kindness to surmount the inherent challenges,” Jeff says. “I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do that, especially if they haven’t had a child of their own.”
“It takes a special man to take on dating as a single father and a great deal of perspective and leadership to pursue a long-term relationship again,” Amy says.
She considers herself lucky. “I fell in love with two people at the same time,” she says.
Both value the importance of laughter and try to keep each other smiling as often as possible. Amy loves Jeff’s sense of humor, and he admires her down-to-earth humility. “I love the ability to be myself around him and not feel like I have to be on guard,” she says. “I have the freedom to be who I am.”
In April 2013, Jeff surprised Amy with a proposal at the Tabard Inn, and the couple ended the night with celebratory gelato at Dolcezza’s store in Dupont Circle.
Amy Kirschenbaum, 36, married Jeffrey Swers, 37, on March 2 in front of 190 guests at the Four Seasons Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., Amy’s home state. Isaac, now 3, served as the ring bearer. The couple skipped the traditional cake cutting, instead sharing a “first sundae tasting.”
He serenaded her with the Duke Ellington classic “In a Sentimental Mood” on tenor saxophone.
“Rose petals seem to fall. It’s all like a dream to call you mine. My heart’s a lighter thing. Since you made this night a thing divine.”
“I am very fortunate and very lucky to have met someone to be with and love,” Jeff says. “It is a remarkable and wonderful thing to have met someone to be happy with and spend my life with and not let tragedy define my life.”