A hard day at work resulted in more than just a happy hour for Liz Wahl and John Pavlus.
The two first met at Logan Circle’s Pearl Dive Oyster Palace one weeknight in August 2012. “We both had a stressful day at work and needed a drink,” Liz recalls.
John immediately noticed Liz approaching the downstairs bar and decided to introduce himself. “I had a drink beforehand and was looking around since I was by myself, like a loser,” he says. “I saw her walk up and was like, ‘Here’s my chance not to be a loser!’ ”
They were dressed like polar opposites. John, a Florida native, was wearing a V-neck shirt, jeans and flip-flops, while Liz, a former news anchor and now a freelance journalist, opted for a pencil skirt and a purple silk blouse.
To break the ice, John asked Liz whether she liked oysters. She said no, but he tried to convince her otherwise. “They’re an aphrodisiac,” he encouraged, as if she had never heard that line. Nevertheless, she was attracted to his charm, good looks and laid-back personality. They talked into the night and ended up exchanging numbers.
“It was a smooth, no-pressure, easy conversation,” says John, an Air Force physician and resident in diagnostic radiology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
A few weeks later, they met for a night of karaoke. It was a success, ending in a duet of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” and a goodnight kiss. Eager to see Liz again, John invited her to Pennsylvania to pick up his new puppy, a German shorthaired pointer named Dallas.
She accepted and quickly bonded with Dallas. When John was called to surgery or stuck working late, she would volunteer to hang out with Dallas.
Despite their hectic schedules, Liz and John made spending their limited time together a priority. They met each other’s close friends and parents, and gradually began building a life together. Several months into dating, they moved in together.
“I think we are our own people separately, but we are better together,” Liz says.
Over time, Liz became increasingly unhappy with her anchoring job at RT, a Russian-owned, English-language news station. Her interviews, she says, were often heavily edited to suit the network’s narrative and fit the government’s agenda.
“It was causing a strain in our relationship, because I was becoming more and more disillusioned with my job and where the station was headed,” she says. “I was bringing that stress home, and he saw it.”
Liz finally reached her breaking point, and she decided to denounce the station at the end of an evening broadcast on March 6, 2014.
Five hours before the broadcast, Liz sneaked into the bathroom to call John. She recalls telling him: “Things are out of control. . . . I think I’m going to quit on-air so people understand what’s going on. Are you okay with this?”
“If you feel like you need to do it, do it,” he assured her. “I’ll be behind you 100 percent of the way.”
That night, Liz looked directly into RT’s camera and spoke her truth. “I cannot be a part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin,” she said. “I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why after this newscast I am resigning.”
The clip went viral internationally, and soon CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and ABC’s Barbara Walters, among others, were clamoring to have her on their shows. On the flip side, there was a backlash of online abuse — insults, slurs and threatening messages — particularly on Twitter. It was a chaotic few months for both of them.
“She was being smeared from every direction over things that weren’t true . . . and I couldn’t do anything but sit there,” John says. “How do you as a person internalize that and how do you help the other person? It wears you down.”
Liz was under siege but would not be defeated. Today, she travels internationally and lectures on media misinformation and bias. “Instead of letting the trolls beat me down, they’ve encouraged me to fight back,” she says.
This challenging period cemented their relationship and proved that whatever happens, they’ll handle it together. “I think this unique event . . . taught us that if we get knocked down, we have to help bring each other up,” John says. “We are a team.”
On April 4, 2014, the two returned to Pearl Dive, the site of their first encounter. When John arrived to pick Liz up, he seemed distracted and a bit frantic. He also was noticeably dressed up — “a far cry from his ensemble the very first time” they met, Liz says.
They made their way through the crowded bar and were offered seats by two young women — the same seats they had sat in the first time they met.
Soon after, John ordered a dozen oysters on the half shell. When they arrived, Liz noticed that one oyster looked different. She dove for it, revealing a ring inside. John quickly took the ring and got down on one knee. The entire bar, including the bar’s management and friends secretly capturing the event, erupted in applause.
On Sept. 6, John, 31, and Liz, 30, exchanged vows in front of 115 guests under the marble dome of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. They left the ceremony under a traditional military saber arch and shared their first dance to the Ed Sheeran hit “Thinking Out Loud.”
Days after the wedding, the couple laughed about the sequence of events that led them down the aisle. “From walking into a bar, meeting a stranger and sharing oysters, to the whirlwind of the media storm, it’s interesting how your life can completely change without you even knowing it,” John said.
“I don’t think boring is a word to describe anything that we’ve experienced,” Liz added. “With us, you can always expect the unexpected.”