Beth Laclede didn’t see much of Dave Jackson when they lived together. She didn’t even know he was moving in until a few days before he showed up with boxes in January 2008.
But he was a friend of the three other members of her Vienna group house, so she took their word that he was nice enough. Most weekdays he worked in New Jersey, and most weekends she traveled out of town, so her impression of him never grew beyond “very pleasant.”
That August, Laclede, a government financial analyst, moved out. She stopped by the Vienna house for parties but never made a point of seeking out Jackson. When just five people showed up for a backyard gathering the following spring, however, it became “forced interaction.”
Laclede gamely laughed at Jackson’s jokes. He played along as she pointed out constellations, although he knew she was making it up as she went along.
“It was like, ‘Oh, she’s actually kind of neat,” recalls Jackson, an accountant. “She’s kind of funny.”
When she sent an e-mail asking whether anyone wanted to see a movie, Jackson was the only person who was interested. They bought their own tickets, but she still wondered whether it was a date.
Jackson assumed it was platonic, but the two had so much fun they started getting together regularly. At one point, Laclede confessed her confusion. “I just don’t know when you’re asking me on a date and when you’re not,” she said.
Jackson said he wasn’t entirely sure either but, he assured her, “we’ll know when it’s a date.”
In August, he spent two weeks in London for his part-time MBA program. He realized then that he wanted more than friendship, so he sent her a bouquet of flowers with a note that said: “Just to be sure, this is me asking you out on a date.”
“I was completely overwhelmed,” remembers Laclede. “Nobody’s ever done that before.” When Jackson returned, they arranged to meet for drinks and a movie. But the night bombed.
“I remember I was acting much more nervous than I ever did around her. Like, ‘Now it’s a real date so I’ve got to be different,’ ” Jackson says. “It was just unnatural all of a sudden.”
“After all that buildup, it was so disappointing to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe we’re not good together,’ ” she says.
They decided to go back to being friends, and the comfort between them quickly returned. There was a constant battle of wits and a long line of running jokes. Laclede could be as goofy as she wanted around Jackson; he knew that it didn’t matter how bad his puns were, she would always laugh. “Once we were ourselves, everything worked great,” he says.
Jackson invited Laclede to his company Christmas party, and that night, finally, he kissed her. The romance felt more organic this time, but they still took it slow. Laclede and Jackson had both been hurt in past relationships and didn’t want to rush into anything. In the months that followed, it often seemed that one wanted to take things to the next level while the other was hitting the brakes. Then the roles would reverse.
The next summer, after Jackson got back from an overseas trip, Laclede went to his apartment to catch up. When the evening was over, he walked her to her car. They weren’t officially a couple at that point, but as she drove away, Jackson, now 29, was surprised to find himself thinking, “I’m going to marry her.”
“I just remember being really, really happy,” he says. “It felt right.”
And something shifted in Laclede a couple of months later when Jackson invited her to visit Duke, where he was spending two weeks on campus for his MBA program. Without hesitation, she said yes. “I hadn’t really thought about it at all — ‘Do I want to drive eight hours in a weekend to see him?’ It was like, ‘Yeah, I do,’ ” says Laclede, now 29.
That September weekend, they realized they were on the same page and declared their relationship on Facebook. Things progressed quickly then — they spent time with each other’s families and talked openly about marriage.
In February 2011, Jackson invited Laclede to his place for dinner. He got up from the table to change the music but made a detour toward the door. Laclede was baffled as a string trio followed him in and began playing Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” She thought they were some strange friends of Jackson’s roommates until he got down on one knee in front of her.
In May, they bought a house and became roommates again. “We’d already done that before, so moving in was incredibly easy,” she says.
On Dec. 30, they exchanged vows at St. Louis Catholic Church in Alexandria before celebrating at the Grand Atrium in Vienna. During the ceremony, the church was lighted only by candles and twinkling Christmas trees. Once Laclede and Jackson were declared married, bells rang and lights flickered on.
“She does make me a better person and push me in some ways, but she’s never tried to change me,” Jackson says.
“There’s no hiding who I am or what I’m thinking. There’s no need to,” Laclede says.