All Adam Johnson was looking for was a place to live.
In May 2009, he was new in town and desperate for a spot in a Capitol Hill home he found on Craigslist that had a room available for under $600 a month — a steal by Washington standards. When he showed up for a tour of the house he was “laying it on thick,” he remembers, trying to charm the two women living there.
A few days later, he got a “nicely-worded three-sentence rejection letter” from one of the roommates, Sarah Gillespie. Recalling the attractive blonde who laughed at his jokes, Johnson, a lawyer, dashed off a witty reply. When Gillespie and her housemates decided to host a barbecue the next weekend, she invited Johnson, thinking, “He was funny, why not?”
But she didn’t have romantic designs. The day before she met Johnson she’d broken up with a boyfriend of two years. Besides, she figured he was a “typical D.C. lawyer,” which had never been her type.
The party started at 5:30, but Johnson and his pal showed up after midnight, when all the other guests had gone home. Still, they were invited in to hang out and played beer pong with Gillespie and her roommate until 2 a.m. At one point Johnson reached under a dishwasher to fetch a stray ball and cut his finger. He put his hand in his back pocket until somebody said, “Adam, your butt is bleeding.”
Gillespie rushed to get a stain-remover. The next day Johnson e-mailed: “Thanks for Tide-penning my butt,” he wrote. “Let’s do it again sometime.”
He invited her to a Washington Nationals game against the Boston Red Sox, her favorite team. As he got off the Metro, it was pouring so hard he could hear the rain from inside the underground station. The stadium-side exit was jammed with people taking cover, so he found another exit and made a run for it. The rain fell so hard he couldn’t see street signs and took off in the wrong direction.
When a drenched Johnson finally made it to their designated meeting spot, the sun broke through. He looked down to find that a Sharpie pen in his backpack had burst, leaving him speckled from the chest down with black ink. Gillespie, having walked from Eastern Market, was equally soggy.
Still dripping, they roamed the stadium waiting for a game that never started. “But it was great,” she says. “At this point it was like, ‘What else can really go wrong? Who cares?’ ”
The next day Johnson e-mailed the comedy of errors to a friend, who forwarded it to Post sports writer Dan Steinberg; he, in turn, shared the story on his blog.
Johnson called Gillespie: “We’re kind of famous,” he said. She proceeded to read the posting out loud to a colleague. “We were just hysterical,” she says. “And that’s when I was like, ‘I like this guy. I definitely want to see him again.’”
They began seeing each other regularly. In August he asked her to be his girlfriend — and was taken aback when she said she wasn’t ready. He hadn’t realized how recently her last relationship had ended. “Your plan after you go through a breakup is, like, ‘I’m gonna be single for a while. Then I’m gonna meet a nice guy and things will be fine,’” says Gillespie, now 27. “But you don’t ever want to jump right into something, ’cause then you feel like you’re not doing it wisely.”
For a while Johnson, now 30, was okay with keeping things casual, but eventually he decided he didn’t want to invest in the relationship if she wasn’t willing to.
He cut it off. Two days later, after consulting with “anyone who could have an opinion,” she told him the split didn’t feel right and “that this is what I wanted.”
The relationship progressed quickly from there. In Gillespie, who worked at a nonprofit and was applying to divinity schools to become a minister, Johnson found a woman who was fun but also purposeful and deliberate. And he was able to help her relax and enjoy life without taking it so seriously. So when the woman who won the spot Johnson had wanted in the house moved out in March 2010, he moved in — prompting jokes that the whole affair was a ruse to get the room.
Gillespie’s anxiety about cohabitation dissolved when Johnson told her he was confident in their ability to work through whatever issues arose. No problem could come between them that wasn’t fixable, he said. “And I was just like, Ohhhh. This is real,” she recalls.
In September, while the pair were visiting his hometown in Maine, Johnson proposed. (Plans to pop the question at a baseball stadium during the trip were deterred by — what else? — rain.)
They’re still surprised at the way their union developed. “You just don’t know who you’re gonna meet and how fast things might happen,” Gillespie says. “There’s no prescription for the way a relationship can happen.”
The two, who will move to Boston this fall so Gillespie can start divinity school, planned an outdoor wedding for April 16 in a park near the Capitol Hill house that brought them together. It felt like deja vu when meteorologists called for driving rain for that Saturday. They wavered on whether to move the ceremony inside, but ultimately decided to forge ahead.
So the bride wore green galoshes as they exchanged vows under an arch of umbrellas. After the wedding, Gillespie concluded she “wouldn’t have had it any other way.”