Rachel Wilson and Bhavik Pathak had been central characters in each other’s lives since the beginning of high school.
The two, along with another girl, were a constant trio during their years at Laurel High, always eating together, hanging out after school and analyzing their respective teenage romances.
After graduating in 2001, Wilson and Pathak commuted to College Park to attend the University of Maryland but, with their hectic class schedules, they fell out of touch.
Still, they promised to help each other move into their on-campus apartments the summer after their freshman year; soon, they were joining forces for nightly parties with roommates and other friends.
“It was a new beginning for both of us. And it was very exciting, but it was also a challenging time. We were adjusting to college life,” Wilson says. Having Pathak around, she adds, “was very comfortable.”
“It was our first time living on our own,” he says. “So I’d call her and say things like, ‘Do you know you actually have to buy dishwashing soap? It’s not just here.’ ”
It was a summer of long, unstructured hours, and for the first time, it was often just the two of them. Wilson noticed that the mischievous kid she used to know was now focused on politics, being good to his family and building a successful career.
“I don’t know if he had matured or what, but I just saw him in a different light,” she says. “It was like, ‘Wow, this is Bhavik? He’s such a different guy.’ I just found myself really attracted to him all of a sudden.”
Though Wilson thought the new attraction might be mutual, she didn’t know what to do about it. Confessing her feelings would mean risking one of her oldest, closest friendships.
But one night after the rest of their friends had left a small gathering at Pathak’s place, he kissed her.
“What was that?” she asked when he pulled away.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “It just felt right.”
“It did feel right,” she agreed.
The two soon became a serious couple, a move that shocked some of their old high school buddies, but seemed obvious to college friends. The relationship was immediately so intense that it surprised them. “It was going so quickly and we were so young and just in college, so it was kinda like, ‘I’m not supposed to be doing this. I’m supposed to be doing something else,’ ” he recalls.
After nine months together, they agreed to take a break, a move that Wilson regretted. “I missed him like crazy. And I missed the friendship, not just the relationship,” she says. “I just found myself really sad, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can live without him like this.’ ”
Pathak was still unsure until he went on vacation to Miami with some buddies. “I realized that most of my friends, every night they go out, all they’re trying to do is find somebody,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Well, I already have somebody, and I would have more fun if she was here with me.’ ”
They got back together soon after he returned to Maryland. They celebrated their one-year anniversary at a cottage near Catoctin Mountain; that night, for the first time, Pathak told Wilson he loved her.
“Rachel’s the most in-tune person I’ve ever met in my life,” he says. “She’s in tune with how you feel without you even having to tell her.”
After college, she began nursing school in Baltimore and he started work as an information technology consultant in Washington. During the next few years, there were long stretches when they’d barely see each other, as he traveled during the week and she worked 12-hour shifts on the weekends.
Though Wilson told Pathak she didn’t want to marry until they were established in their careers, it became increasingly clear they were in it for the long haul. By their early 20s, their lives were inextricably linked.
“My interests and personality kinda rubbed off on him a little bit and vice versa,” says Wilson, now 27. “And in that sense we kinda shaped each other into who we are today. Because everything we did was together.”
Last year, after they’d bought a home and adopted a dog, Pathak blindfolded Wilson and told her they were going away for the weekend. A 90-minute car ride later, she took off her blindfold to see a room filled with flowers and candles. He asked her to marry him in the same spot where he first said he loved her.
The two wed on June 25 at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington. They decided to have both Hindu and Christian ceremonies to honor Pathak’s Indian heritage and Wilson’s roots as the daughter of an Indian mother and German father.
Pathak, now 28, rode across Woodrow Wilson Plaza on a horse and was led by a party of relatives to the building’s atrium, where his uncle presided over the Hindu ceremony. After a refreshment hour with Indian dancers, their guests retreated to an upstairs ballroom, where Wilson’s grandfather, a pastor, led the couple through Christian wedding vows.
Though the two had dated for nine years and were friends for five years before that, the wedding still felt momentous.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Wow, this is forever,’ ” he says.
“Yeah,” she adds. “We’re family now.”