Andrea Anderson felt ridiculous as soon as she walked into the event. It was May 2010 and a man she’d recently met had suggested she come to this networking party for African American professionals.
But she didn’t see a single familiar face among the crowd at the Park at 14th. Shy and overwhelmed, she sought the haven of a ladies’ room.
There, Anderson, a physician at the Upper Cardozo Health Center in Columbia Heights, encountered one of her patients, who was working as a bathroom attendant. As they chatted happily in Spanish, Anderson regained her nerve.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m fine. I talk to people all the time,’ ” she says. Plus, she had pledged to get out more and meet new people without the intention of finding a husband. “I thought that maybe I should give up on trying to find The One, and just enjoy the people who are around me.”
She reentered the party and joined a friendly group. Among them was Chris Byrd, a San Francisco transplant who worked as an accountant and was still getting used to the District’s what-do-you-do/who-do-you-know mentality.
But Anderson didn’t talk much about her career or her social connections. “I liked her energy,” says Byrd, now 31. “I was like: ‘She’s just herself. She’s unassuming. She’s doing her thing, not worried about what’s next or what’s coming around the corner.’ ”
Anderson heard him say his age and realized he was six years younger than she was. She started to think of other women she could set him up with. But as they exchanged cards, Byrd looked her in the eye to say, “I’m going to call you.”
Two days later he sent her a text, and the following weekend they met for dinner at Spices in Cleveland Park. He walked in wearing woven sandals, they talked for hours and after parting ways at the Metro, he texted to say, “I dig your vibe.”
“I was like, ‘Well, he’s a little odd, but at least he’s not intimidating.’ He was someone that I could just talk to,” she says.
They met up with increasing frequency, but he never so much as held her hand. “I assumed he [liked me] because we were going out and he was inviting me places,” she says. “But I couldn’t tell if he was being my friend or what.”
Byrd was just going slow. He was busy at work and was still getting over a breakup. “So I didn’t want to put myself in a situation with baggage,” he says.
But when one of her friends (who’d had a couple of glasses of sangria) asked Byrd why he hadn’t made a move, he decided to rectify the situation. The next day, on a rooftop overlooking U Street, he finally kissed Anderson.
After that, she began opening up in new ways. She introduced him to her faith community, which is at the center of her life, and brought him along to a Bible study session. She expected him to say it was too much; instead, he embraced the scene and told her of his own faith.
Anderson, now 37, confessed that she wanted the relationship to be serious, that she wasn’t interested in killing time. Again, she thought he would leave. “Each one was kind of like a yardstick to say, ‘Here’s your time to go,’ ” she says.
But he stayed. And in July, after a Nationals game where he met many of her friends, she found the words, “I just love you,” slipping out of her mouth. That night, he texted to say, “I love you, too.”
“Once we decided, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ he was very much like, ‘All right, you’re with me,’ ” she says. “I never had to question, ‘What is my role here? How are you feeling?’”
Byrd hadn’t been in the market for a new relationship but was drawn in by Anderson’s “ability just to be open to who she was and be authentic — no matter if that meant that I may not like it.” And, he adds, “she embraced everything about me.”
Anderson was relieved by his steadiness and acceptance of all facets of her life. She’d been praying for years to find the right guy. “I just told the Lord: ‘I want your best choice for me. I don’t want my choice, I want your choice,” she recalls.
Back in 2005, she’d even written a list of qualities she wanted in a mate and stuck it behind a framed Scripture reading. She forgot about it until she met Byrd. “And it was Chris,” she says. “To a T.”
In July 2011, during a visit to the West Coast, Byrd took her to the beach at dawn. They took turns flipping through the Bible to read verses chosen at random. She didn’t realize he’d put a place holder on one in particular. After saying the words “Love is patient, love is kind,” Byrd dropped to one knee and asked Anderson to be his wife.
On Feb. 19, they were married at the Carnegie Institution for Science. In an emotional ceremony in the rotunda, the two exchanged vows, sang hymns and listened to testimonials from relatives and friends.
Their faith, they say, is the glue that binds them. “Even when we argue and we’re upset, we have similar grounding to go back to,” she says. “Our coming together was planned from eternity, I think, so we can let go of the small things and focus on things that are more important.”
Anderson stood before Byrd, with a white flower pinned in her hair. “I know that God was listening,” she said, as tears rolled down her face.