Sarah Schooler and Mary Busker both considered skipping a mutual friend’s holiday party in December 2008.
Schooler, a pediatrician, was in no mood for socializing. Earlier in the year, she and her partner of 13 years, with whom she’d had a commitment ceremony and a child, split up. Plus she’d worked all day and could hear her bed calling.
Busker, meanwhile, was still in the midst of a breakup with a woman with whom she’d exchanged vows two years earlier. Though they were living in separate cities, the two hadn’t said their final goodbyes.
Still, each heard some version of “Come on, you should get out” from friends who would be at the party in Ellicott City.
Busker noticed Schooler as she walked in, and before long the two made their way to each other. Busker was immediately captivated by Schooler’s beauty and her voice, made husky by laryngitis.
When Busker, a social worker and singer, was prodded into taking out her guitar, Schooler took a seat on the couch next to her. “It wasn’t a concert. But I was treating it like a concert,” she says. “Once she started playing, I didn’t leave.”
Neither was sure the other woman was a lesbian, but when Schooler started to leave, Busker followed her across the lawn to her car. As the women sat in the front seat talking, a rush of electric tension grew between them.
“I want to kiss you,” Busker said after Schooler gently touched her face. But they parted ways before anything happened.
“Oh my gosh,” Busker told a friend that night. “I’m in trouble. This is huge.”
Schooler was taken aback by the strong attraction. She didn’t think she’d find love again after her breakup and figured her life would be devoted to parenting her 2-year-old daughter, Parker. “But I had all those heart flutters,” she says. “And it had certainly been a while since I felt that way.”
The week that followed was a frenzy of text messages and late-night phone calls. “We were getting no sleep that week, but you know how at that point you don’t need it?” Schooler recalls.
Both were surprised by the intimacy and raw honesty of their conversations. “From the beginning, we were like, ‘This is all my baggage,’ ” Schooler. “Neither one of us was just putting our best face forward. I got to know what Mary sees as her vulnerabilities and weaknesses just as early as her strengths.”
The next weekend, they met in person. The chemistry was as strong as it had been on the phone — strong enough for Busker to tell Schooler that she wouldn’t be able to see her for a little while, until she was able to fully exit her last relationship.
“Neither one of us wanted this to be an affair,” Schooler remembers. “And, of course, I was a little guarded, having a kid and everything.”
They stayed in touch but didn’t see each other for the next few weeks as Busker resolved things with her former partner. When Schooler learned that a friend, singer Catie Curtis, would be performing at a ball for President Obama’s inauguration, she e-mailed Busker with the news and invited her to be her date. The night was magic; soon, the two embarked on a romance.
“We just match each other at this emotional level,” says Busker, now 45.
“Parts of me would’ve felt like I was being especially emotionally hungry or needy in other relationships,” says Schooler, 37. “But Mary really matches me that way, so it feels balanced. It’s just really emotionally accessible.”
In their first year together, they heard Parker calling from another room: “Mary! Mommy!” but to both of them it sounded like, “Marry Mommy!” But Schooler didn’t feel any urgency to tie the knot. “I just had this sense that, ‘Well, this is gonna last, so there’s no rush,’ ” she says.
By last summer, they were talking about moving in together. When they came upon a pink house on a corner lot near Tenleytown, they started planning a purchase. And as they closed on the sale, the women began discussing having a child.
Schooler had always hoped that Parker would have siblings, but she assumed that wouldn’t happen once she and her ex broke up. Still, she continued to pay the $30 monthly storage fee to preserve a few vials of the donor sperm used to conceive Parker.
She and Busker decided to try for a baby. On the first attempt — “because Mary is so virile,” Schooler jokes — she became pregnant with a biological sibling of Parker’s. In March, after considering the legal advantages, including the right to have Busker listed as a parent on the baby’s birth certificate, and deciding that they wanted to publicly celebrate their union, the two started to plan a wedding.
On June 12, they decorated the sidewalk outside their home with romantic quotations — “Love is what turns pulse to song” and “I love the handful of earth you are” — before exchanging vows in the back yard. The couple gave Parker a bracelet to symbolize her importance in their marriage and announced in the wedding program that the baby, due in November, is a boy. Schooler’s ex, who remains a close friend and who was among their 60 guests, will be his godmother.
Curtis officiated at the nuptials. In the middle of the ceremony, she paused to serenade the couple with a song. It was called “I Do.”