Elizabeth Jurinka and Matthew Schumaker got to know each other in classic Capitol Hill fashion — talking over coffee at Longworth cafeteria, sharing laughs at mutual friends’ happy hours and exchanging quick hellos in the halls between meetings.
Liz, then 24 and a staff assistant in the office of then-Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), first met Matt in 2007. He was 27 and the executive director of the moderate New Democrat Coalition. She thought he was cute, smart and approachable but she was his junior, both in age and position. More important, he was in a serious, long-term relationship.
“He was never the biggest talker at the table, but when he spoke, everyone listened,” Liz recalls. “His cool confidence was extremely attractive to me.”
The pair remained friendly, professional acquaintances for the next three years. When Matt heard Liz lost her job after Republicans took control of the House in the 2010 election, he asked her to lunch to check in and see how she was doing.
She was grateful for his call. She had just started a job as the health policy adviser for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and was still getting her bearings on the Senate side of the Capitol.
Making friendly conversation, Liz asked Matt over lunch whether he had proposed to his girlfriend over the holidays. He sheepishly informed her that they were, in fact, no longer together.
“I felt awkward and awful about it, but then I got back to my desk . . . and I realized I didn’t feel that bad about it,” she recalls. “All of a sudden there was an eligible, attractive Democrat — those three things never get put in the same sentence!”
Shortly after, their mutual friends arranged a number of what Matt deems “group hangs,” in which Liz’s buddies would strategically place the pair together. He didn’t seem to mind the set-up — she made him laugh, and they bonded quickly over their shared interests, such as their mutual love of Hendricks Gin.
Matt, now the managing director of federal affairs for the trade group Biotechnology Industry Organization, was familiar with Liz’s serious, smart work persona but increasingly appreciated her “fun, up for anything, in the moment” side.
In February 2011, the two grabbed a drink with friends on Eighth Street after work.
“So, are you going to use this time to play the field?” Liz inquired.
Matt’s answer surprised her. “No, I’m not interested in that. That’s a waste of my time.”
Liz said it was a wake-up call. She realized then that if they were going to go down this road, it wouldn’t be just a fling. Later that night, snuggled up near the fireplace at Lola’s Barracks Bar & Grill, they shared their first kiss.
Although they were smitten, both were wary about jumping into things too quickly. “You find people in your professional career and personal life that are really there for you and the last thing that you want to do is (a) jump into something when you’re not ready and (b) in the event that you do, and it doesn’t go well, ruin it,” Liz says.
But the time they spent together, especially shared vacations and family visits, reinforced that they shared similar priorities, goals and values.
Liz, now 29, often describes the pair as two sides of the same coin. “I’m more driven by policy and Matt loves politics,” she says. “I love drilling really deep into things, and he helps me come up for air.”
Although both juggle demanding schedules, they make a point of setting aside time for each other. “We’ve made a considerable effort that when we are together, the BlackBerry goes away, and the phone, for the most part, goes away,” says Matt, now 33. “There’s an expectation from both parties that we are there.”
In November, Matt contacted Liz’s office, weeks before he planned to propose to her, for help clearing her schedule. But unbeknownst to him, Liz noticed the open afternoon and scheduled some meetings.
Despite her busy afternoon, Matt persuaded Liz to meet him for lunch. When he showed up in her favorite suit and started walking in the opposite direction from where he said he wanted to go for lunch, she was suspicious. He held her hand as they strolled down Constitution Avenue to the front of the Capitol grotto, where Matt dropped to one knee and proposed.
She canceled her meetings for the rest of the afternoon, and he whisked her away to a surprise dinner at 1789 Restaurant and a long weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown.
A year later, on Nov. 10, the two were married at the District’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Afterward, they celebrated with 100 family members and friends at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, across from Meridian Hill Park.
While the band played “We Are Young,” Matt twirled and lifted his new bride into the air.
“Tonight we are young. So let’s set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun.”
“He reminds me often about how lucky we are,” Liz said after the wedding, “and it’s often easy to lose sight of that. We are so very blessed.”