Julia Young was introduced through a mutual friend to Paul Hodum in the fall of 2008 while working the front desk of American University’s honors program office. Both were undergraduate students, and Paul spent the semester making excuses to visit the office so he could get to know her better.
So much so that for a year, she was convinced he was actually in the honors program. He wasn’t.
Through mutual friends and a shared involvement with university clubs, the two became fast friends. Both had recently returned from South America and were new to the university. Paul, a junior transfer student from Syracuse University, had studied abroad in Chile while Julia, a freshman, studied abroad in Argentina while in high school.
“When we came to [American University], we were both still really excited about South America,” recalls Julia, a senior analyst at the management consulting and technology firm Accenture in the District. “I think that was part of what drew us together. We both understood the culture and what it was like to assimilate back home.”
Both were fluent Spanish speakers and had a deep appreciation for Latin American culture, travel and philanthropy. After Julia broke things off with a long-distance high school boyfriend, Paul became her go-to confidant for sharing her college dating “horror stories,” she says.
“They were all laughable. I mean these guys . . . they had no game,” Paul jokes. “I would tell her, ‘You got to get back out there and get somebody better!’ ”
Paul was convinced he could change her unlucky streak. Meanwhile, Julia realized how much she looked forward to seeing Paul.
“I just kept telling my girlfriends, ‘I don’t know, he’s just such a nice guy,’ ” Julia says. “My friends were like, ‘That’s the point. He’s a nice guy!’ ”
She was hesitant to jump into another relationship and wanted to keep things casual. However, Paul’s views were much different. “It needs to be something serious and substantial,” he remembers telling her. “We are too close and too good of friends.”
She agreed, and they began dating in April 2009. They met each other’s family during school vacations and the relationship quickly turned serious.
“Within six months of us dating, I felt like I was part of his family,” she says. When Paul shared his ambition to join the Peace Corps after college, Julia was supportive. Both were committed to making the relationship work despite the distance.
For two years, Paul, now 26, and Julia, now 23, communicated primarily through handwritten letters. No texts, no e-mail. Snail mail and the rare Skype call were the only ways the couple conversed while Paul served in Micronesia. Communication became even more challenging when Julia spent her junior year in Nairobi.
When they said their goodbyes in the United States, she gave him a stockpile of notes: one for each month of his first year in the program, a special birthday card and several emergency letters for especially trying days.
“I just had to learn to trust his feelings for me and my feelings for him,” Julia says. “You can’t get in a fight today and deal with it tomorrow. You can’t hold things against each other. You just have to be at peace with your relationship and try to build it when you’re apart.”
After he left, they patiently waited, sometimes up to three months for a postcard or letter from one another. “It was just like Twitter . . . except imagine reading those [same] 150 characters for a month straight every night because it was all we had,” recalls Paul, who begins an MBA program at Kennesaw State University in Georgia this August.
“It was when we learned we could last,” Julia says. “If we could get by two years without communicating [in person], we can do anything.”
In August 2012, when Paul’s volunteer service ended and he returned to the District, the pair openly discussed marriage and their future together.
He planned to propose on their four-year anniversary, secretly inviting her family and close friends to Washington to be a part of it. Everyone arrived and everything was ready, except for the custom-made ring the jeweler had promised. It was not finished yet.
“It was a great weekend, but I was just waiting for [the proposal] the entire time and then nothing happened,” says Julia, who now laughs about the experience.
Instead, he proposed several weeks later, skipping the public proposal and keeping things simple. After a day of relaxing and celebrating their anniversary at Tysons Corner, he surprised her by leaving the engagement ring box on her pillow.
On May 31, Paul Hodum and Julia Young exchanged vows at the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Dayton, Ohio, her home town. After the ceremony, they celebrated with 85 guests at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. The caterer used Paul’s grandmother’s personal recipes to create authentic Spanish cuisine for their guests, including gazpacho and Tortilla Española.
After their European honeymoon in July, they plan to move from Arlington to Atlanta for Paul’s MBA program.
After their first kiss, he knew “this was the woman I was going to marry and be in love with for the rest of my life,” said Paul, days after the wedding. “She makes me so unbelievably happy.”