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Ashley Rankin, an aspiring law student, was excited to further her studies in a constitutional law class at the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. Conor Shapiro, on the other hand, enrolled mainly to meet a smart and driven girl like Ashley.
The first day of class, he perked up when he heard the prettiest girl in the room went to his college in California. Just his luck, he thought to himself, and made it a point to introduce himself.
While she was chatting with a friend after class, he excitedly blurted out, “You go to San Diego State University? Me too!” Smiling, she said, “That’s nice,” then promptly pivoted and returned to her previous discussion.
Undeterred, Conor tried again. And again. Soon, he asked for her e-mail address and the pair started chatting on AOL Instant Messenger. “Online, I would be very confident and we would have these great conversations, but in person, I would get very shy,” says Ashley, now an assistant public defender for Fairfax County. “I wasn’t terribly confident at that point.”
Despite her shyness, she invited him out for drinks on his 21st birthday at the Front Page in Arlington. Both felt instant chemistry and laughed, talked and danced into the night.
A week later, Conor invited her to join him and his roommate at a concert by the rock band Everclear near the University of Maryland. “We held hands and my heart was racing,” he remembers. While his friend wound up partying with the band all night, he instead spent the evening getting to know Ashley.
He says today he knows he made the better choice.
They spent the rest of their Washington semester together — dating, grabbing drinks and dinners and exploring the city together. As the semester came to a close, it was clear they were exclusive. However, when they returned to San Diego, Conor was not ready to call it an official relationship.
“We did everything together. We would wake up, go to the gym, eat lunch, check out the bookstore . . . everything,” Ashley says. “I was clearly in love with him and he treated me like a friend. I was just lovelorn.”
They remained close until Ashley’s graduation, which was a semester earlier than Conor’s. She had decided to move back to Washington to live closer to her family and study law at George Washington University.
On their last day together, they drove down to the beach and talked all through the night. “I was crying, he was crying. It was intense,” she recalls. “We didn’t know if we would ever see each other again.”
The pair became distant during Ashley’s first semester of law school and eventually cut off communication completely. Conor encouraged her to move on and establish new relationships.
However, as time passed, he began to regret his decision. He felt like he was letting something big slip away. “This was your girl and she was there. You had her and you let her go, because of what?” he recalls thinking.
He knew he needed a grand romantic gesture to show Ashley how serious it would be this time around. “I am a big believer that if you really want something, you pull out all the stops,” Conor says. “You have to be willing to go all in and sacrifice everything.” So Conor did just that: He sold his car, broke up with his then-girlfriend and left his job and friends in San Diego to chase Ashley across the country.
Problem was, he didn’t let Ashley know his plans until he had actually arrived in the city. During their time apart, she had moved on and entered into a serious relationship with a fellow law student.
“I was two years late,” says Conor, who now works as a program analyst for the Defense Department. Frustrated, he started dating again and soon entered into a relationship.
The same situation repeated: They would start speaking, attempt to be friends, get close and then romantic feelings would return. Frustrated, they would fight and then go months without speaking.
After three cycles of breakups and backpedaling, Ashley decided that despite their volatile history, Conor was who she really wanted to be with. She broke things off with her boyfriend and e-mailed Conor with the news on his 24th birthday. He quickly admitted he still — and always — had feelings for her.
E-mails, phone calls and a final meet-up confirmed the spark was still there. They decided to stop seeing other people and commit to giving their future a fair shot. “We knew it would either go down in a blaze of glory and completely explode, or this [marriage] would happen,” Conor jokes.
Ashley agrees. “We decided our future had to be more important than our past.” After establishing a relationship, the couple faced another hurdle: Ashley had already accepted a clerkship in Annapolis.
For a year and a half, they maintained a long-distance relationship, with regular weekend visits before Ashley landed a job in Falls Church. Soon after, she moved into Conor’s home in Ballston.
Finally, after seven years of knowing each other, they were on the same page at the same time in the same place.
Weeks after moving in together, Conor decided to propose. He asked for Ashley’s parents’ permission, an experience he describes as a “two-hour interrogation.” “It was like Ping-Pong,” Conor says. “Mom on one side, Dad on the other.” After earning their approval, the couple jetted off to Europe for an eight-day vacation. Conor proposed March 13, 2013, on the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.
“I totally flubbed my lines,” he recalls. “In my head it was something sweet and romantic like, ‘Ash, I love you with all my heart, you make me a better person, a better man and I love and cherish every fiber of your being,’ [but] what I probably said was, ‘Ash I’m a better man, I love you, by the way fiber is good for you.’ ”
Ashley Rankin and Conor Shapiro, both now 28, exchanged vows April 12 at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Va. The couple’s black Lab, Leroy, wore a tuxedo and served as the ring bearer. After the wedding, the couple honeymooned for 10 days in Costa Rica.
“Our relationship is testament [to the fact that] you can have so much tumult, resentment and anger in your past and yet it’s possible to put it behind you. We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t started anew and let it go,” Conor said days before the wedding. “Since then, we have not looked back once.”