“Oooh, what’s this Match thing?” asked Sarah Apgar’s mom as she looked at the computer screen over her daughter’s shoulder in January 2008.
A message from a 5-foot-8, blond-haired, blue-eyed guy had just arrived, but Apgar was inclined to ignore it. She had specified that she was looking for a guy over 6 feet tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. Besides, she’d just been rejected by another man she’d met on Match.com and was starting to sour on online dating.
“But he’s so cute!” her mom prodded. “Just read the message.”
Apgar shooed her mother from the room and pulled up Alex Painter’s profile. He was cute; he also seemed smart and likeable.
She fired off a series of conversation-starting questions: “If you were a superhero, what superhero would you be?” “What three things would you bring with you to a desert island?” “What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?”
Painter had written because she seemed fun and quirky. One photo showed her wearing antlers at a Christmas party; in another, she held a bright pinata.
He gamely answered her questions and posed some of his own. Soon they were corresponding daily. After a few weeks, he decided they needed to move things offline and asked her out for coffee.
She suggested Starbucks in the Tysons Corner Borders bookstore — but that Borders doesn’t have a Starbucks. At the appointed hour, he sat at Starbucks in Barnes and Noble while she waited at Seattle’s Best Coffee in Borders. When they finally figured out the mistake and he came to see her, they were both flustered. After 25 minutes, the store closed.
They left a little deflated, but they agreed to meet for dinner the next week. Over Thai food, and then drinks at a sports bar, they chatted for hours.
They began seeing each other regularly, but Apgar, a school psychologist, was torn. She’d also started dating an old friend. The friend was perfect on paper, and they’d promised to get together if they were single at the same time. This was their chance.
But there was something intriguing about Painter, an analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, who made her laugh. Once, when a bar was too loud, they spent four hours at a CVS, doing Cosmopolitan magazine quizzes and sword fighting with plungers.
In early March 2008, as they prepared to meet for an afternoon date, she made up her mind that this would be the day she’d decide between the guys. She and Painter made their way to Dupont Circle, stopping to throw snowballs and make angels before walking to Kramerbooks and having dinner at Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant. Ten hours passed without a break in conversation. Over dinner, when he shared memories from his childhood, she had to stop herself from blurting out, “I love you.”
“I went on the date thinking, ‘I’ll decide between the two.’ I leave, and I’m like, ‘What was the other person’s name?’ ” she recalls. “It was like, ‘Wow, I’m sharing these things that I would usually just share with close friends, but, with this person, it just feels so natural.’ ”
That night, Painter told a friend, “I think this might be something really special.”
To him, Apgar, now 28, seemed like a “ball of electricity.” He’d always considered himself a busy person, working long days and playing sports at night, but her schedule was more packed than his, mostly with volunteer work he found inspiring.
Apgar broke things off with the other guy; by the following week, she and Painter were a couple. A year later, he asked her to move in. Painter, now 29, is rigidly organized, lining up guests’ shoes by the door the minute they arrive. Apgar is not: He once walked into her apartment, which looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane, to find a high heel sitting on the dining room table. When she had kicked it off, that’s where it had landed.
In previous relationships, she felt anxious at the one-year mark; this one continued to feel comfortable and exciting. Painter had never been able to visualize a future with past girlfriends, but he could imagine a life with Apgar — assuming they didn’t want to throttle each other in the first year of their lease.
“They say when you meet the right person, you find yourself changing into a better person and you don’t realize it,” Apgar says. Once they were under the same roof, she got into the habit of keeping an organized closet and started to need a clean space. And though both consider themselves highly driven, type-A people, their home became a place where they could let their guard down and relax.
“When I’m with Sarah, I can kinda just roll back,” Painter says.
On their third anniversary, after dinner at Marcel’s, Painter walked Apgar to Dupont Circle and asked her to be his wife.
They were married July 9 at Meridian House in the District. Painter wore a kilt to honor his Scottish grandparents, and the bridal party’s entrance was accompanied by a bagpiper.
“I was feeling nervous I would fall because my shoes were really tall,” Apgar said after the wedding. “I was holding onto my dad, and all these people were staring. It’s kind of overwhelming. Then I remember seeing Alex and feeling really calm. He said, ‘You look so pretty!’ That’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
“That was the emotional highlight for me,” Painter added. “Everything just felt right.”