Molly Wilkinson was once told that you need to go on at least 50 first dates to know exactly what you want out of a relationship.
So Molly began going on dates — and compiling a list. She would jot down the names of memorable ones. For others, a quick note of a distinctive feature, such as “the one with the weird hair,” would suffice. Some were identified simply by location or clothing, such as the gentleman from the bar or “the guy with the Members Only jacket.”
Robert Horne, she estimates, was date No. 98.
The pair were introduced through the dating site
eHarmony in 2014. Robert, 42, a former Capitol Hill staffer and now a health-care consultant for Horizon Government Affairs, stumbled across Molly’s online profile that April and made the first move.
Molly, 38, a Sylvan Learning STEM program product manager, had joined the dating site two months earlier when she moved to Baltimore after 12 years of living and dating in New York.
One of the first things Molly noticed and appreciated about Robert was that his messages were well written, sans spelling errors, and had proper punctuation. More important, however, he asked the right questions — “the questions that I was looking for,” she says — about her family, morals and values.
But after several weeks of steady messages, Robert became disenchanted, albeit briefly, with the idea of meeting his future partner online.
“I got to a point where I started to think that it wasn’t going to happen and that was okay,” he says. “I decided that if it came down to marrying the wrong person or not marrying the right person, I would choose the latter.”
So he took a short break from eHarmony and online dating in general. As Molly recalls, “He just fell off the face of the Earth.”
But a few months later, Robert returned to the site to try again. “My mind-set was . . . if it doesn’t work, that’s okay, but at least I’ve checked that box,” he says.
Molly was surprised, yet pleased, to hear from him again. They renewed their correspondence and soon planned a date to a Washington Nationals baseball game Aug. 16.
It was only after Robert had invited Molly to the Nats game, suggesting he already had tickets, that he discovered it was sold out, save for a few pricey seats, because of a free postgame concert by Martina McBride.
But having already arranged the date, he tracked down two suite tickets — for $250 each.
“Working on the Hill wasn’t glamorous — I wasn’t there to make my millions — so it hurt a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Robert says of the ticket purchase.
Molly drove in from Baltimore and met him near the entrance of the old Bullpen, an outdoor area next to the stadium with bars, food trucks, picnic tables and games.
“Walking up, I thought, ‘Oh, no, what if he’s wearing jean shorts or . . . a fanny pack or something,” Molly says jokingly. Luckily, he wasn’t. They hit it off immediately, and both describe that first date as comfortable, easy and enjoyable.
“It felt like we had been dating for a long time and we were just going to the game to enjoy it together,” Robert says. “It didn’t feel like a first date.”
After listening to some of the concert, they decided to keep the evening going with a nightcap at Union Pub on Capitol Hill. But there weren’t any cabs, and the Metro was swarmed with fans.
Robert spotted a limo parked nearby and asked the driver if he was available. The sharply dressed man nodded. For $20, he said, he would take them where they needed to go.
When the driver, named Don, asked how long Robert and Molly had been married, Robert disclosed that they were, in fact, on their first date, and then proceeded to share how well their date was going.
“I was smiling and laughing, thinking, ‘Oh, he likes me so much!’ ” says Molly, chuckling.
Don was encouraging, telling them, “You guys are going to get married — mark my words!”
They ended the evening excited for their next outing. But a second date days later didn’t go nearly as well, leaving them both wondering whether their amazing first date was a fluke.
“I don’t know if it was that the expectations were so high, because we had such a great first date, but . . . it was not jiving,” Molly says.
Robert agreed. “It felt forced [and] mechanical.”
But he couldn’t get their great first date out of his mind. He decided to give it another shot and texted her about making plans.
For several weeks, they texted back and forth and developed a strong foundation. “I started forgetting about our second date and focused on our first,” Molly says.
Lucky for both of them, sparks flew again during their third date, at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Baltimore. They quickly discovered, Molly says, that they were in sync about what they wanted in life and how they thought about life.
From that point on, things progressed swiftly and organically. “We never had to have long talks about taking the next step,” Robert says. Over time, he says, he began living life from a “we” perspective, rather than a “me” perspective.
“We didn’t overthink it,” Molly adds. “I think we both had a feeling that this was right.”
On May 18, 2015, the pair returned to Nationals Park and Robert proposed at the spot where they first saw each other. Dropping to a knee — in front of friends and crowds of fans — he told her he loved her and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.
But that wasn’t all. They headed to the game, and afterward, Robert had one more surprise up his sleeve. Leaving the stadium, Molly saw a familiar face in the parking lot — Don and his stretch limo, waiting to escort them home.
“I think she cried harder after seeing Don then she did after the proposal,” Robert says with a laugh. “It just completely blew her away.”
On Dec. 19, the Rev. Ezio Marchetto married the couple at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Washington. About 150 friends and relatives packed the pews of the church, which was decorated in red poinsettias and green wreaths for the holiday season.
During the vows, Molly choked back tears as Robert dabbed her cheeks with her grandmother’s handkerchief. They exited the ceremony to the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” and were greeted by none other than Don, who transported the newlyweds to their reception at the historic Whittemore House near Dupont Circle.
“We were joking that when I go into labor one day,” Molly says, “he’ll have to drive us to the hospital.”