The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Capitol Hill romance: ‘Found love in a hopeless place’

Gloria Nlewedim and Andy Eichar are engaged to be married. The couple first encountered each other as congressional staff assistants in an elevator on Capitol Hill. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Andy Eichar had just entered the wood-paneled elevator on the fourth floor of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill when Gloria Nlewedim breezed in behind him with a friend. The ride to the lobby on that June day in 2018 took perhaps 20 seconds and yet, for Andy, the memory is preserved as if in amber.

The air felt charged, the small, wood-paneled car filling with Gloria’s warm, throaty laughter. Andy, captivated by Gloria’s “beautiful full-face smile,” slyly eyed the young woman’s ID badge. “I was trying to figure out whose office I needed to stop by,” said Eichar, who was then a staff assistant to Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.).

Then the doors slid open to the first floor and the energy dissipated. The two friends headed back to the office of Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), where they worked as staff assistants. Meanwhile, Andy wondered when he'd see Gloria again.

Gloria recalled that day: She and Leigh Whittaker were returning from workplace rights training and were waxing sarcastic about the older men who had been making light of sexual harassment. “We were riffing about that and doing the whole dismantle-the-patriarchy thing.”

So Gloria doesn’t remember Andy at all. She might be forgiven. For the young, ambitious legislative staff assistants on Capitol Hill, the job could be all-consuming. For Democrats at the start of the Trump administration, work was also often an uphill slog — trying to stave off government shutdowns, resisting the border wall, withstanding the vitriol.

The dating scene on Capitol Hill had its perils, too. “Especially with the Hill, I think that there’s a culture of, like, social climbing and being really, really busy with work, never really even having the ability to turn it on and off kind of thing,” Leigh observed.

Not a place to find serious romance.

Counting on God and Hinge

Around the time Andy encountered her on the elevator, Gloria was going through a rough period. At 22, life wasn’t all she had hoped it would be. Her Dupont Circle apartment was infested with mice and her dating life was equally dismal. She confided her romantic desires to her mother and that Easter she voiced them out loud at church in a prayer request: “I’d genuinely like to find someone who, you know, might pick up a dead mouse from the mouse trap for me.”

Willing to help God help her, Gloria turned to Hinge — a dating app that bills itself as “designed to be deleted,” for young people in search of long-term romance rather than hasty hookups. She answered the prompts for her profile: “Typical Sunday: Mimosa in hand.” She went on dates, but still, nothing clicked. She was starting to think she should settle for “nice,” when Leigh — who had known Gloria since they were teens — scolded her, saying “nice should be your baseline.”

Then on a July evening, Gloria was at a going-away party for a co-worker at a karaoke bar when a notification popped up on her phone. Someone had messaged her on Hinge.

“This is gonna sound strange, but you often ride the Rayburn elevators, right? I think we have shared a few trips,” Andy, then 24, said, having quickly recognized her electric smile in the profile photo.

Gloria shuffled through Andy’s photos — there he was smiling in sunglasses as he relaxed on a boat in a lake; in another his bright hazel eyes looked into the camera as he cuddled a black cat. “I thought he was very handsome looking,” Gloria said. But was the message creepy, like he’d been spying on her? Hmmm.

She mulled a bit and decided to take a chance. “Hahaha geez, I’m gonna have to start taking the stairs if I’m becoming an elevator regular,” she jested in response.

'Made the Hill a little easier'

On July 15, Andy and Gloria went on their first date, to the National Portrait Gallery, where they lingered to admire the newly unveiled portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, then went down the block to grab a gelato. Neither wanted the date to end, so they wandered over to Hawk ’n’ Dove to get a frosé — millennial-speak for a frozen rosé. They answered each other’s first-date questions: She told him she was from Raleigh, the only daughter of an immigrant entrepreneur and a mother who prices computer parts; he told her he was an identical twin from Hartford, Conn., the son of a sociology professor and a nonprofit leader. They both love the water and prefer intimate gatherings with close friends over hitting the town. They both worked for their home state representatives and were eager to make a difference. To Gloria, Andy did not seem at all like a stereotypical Hill workaholic social climber.

And yet when she texted him that evening, Andy didn’t respond. After two days of constantly eyeing her phone, Gloria pretty much gave up.

“I take full responsibility for it,” said Andy, who, not wanting to appear overeager, took a friend’s bad advice to wait three days. “I’m glad she didn’t delete my contact.”

More dates followed — wine and cheese at her apartment, a bar hangout with Gloria’s numerous friends giving Andy a careful once-over. At work in the Rayburn building there was instant, joyful recognition. They grabbed lunch in the basement Subway sandwich shop and confided in each other about the stresses of trying to make progress in a dysfunctional Congress during walk-and-talks down the long corridors.

“It definitely made the Hill a little easier, because we always had each other,” Andy said.

In September 2020, they made the leap and bought a condo together. Then in January came an even bigger commitment — a brown Labrador named Barry (formally known as Barack Obama Nlewedim Eichar, or BONE). They spent weekends at Andy’s aunt and uncle’s house in Virginia’s Fauquier County, nested together in the pandemic and then celebrated their vaccinated freedom with a trip to Cancún. Bonded by their mutual love of family, they spent holidays in Hartford and Raleigh.

On Jan. 6, their deepening love was brought into relief. As insurgents attacked the Capitol, Gloria was locked down in the Longworth House Office Building while Andy, off from work, anxiously watched the violence unfold at home. “We didn’t know at the time whether they were going to be able to break through and get to the Longworth building,” Gloria said.

“I was just so worried about Gloria, and scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” Andy said.

When the lockdown ended at 11 p.m., Gloria said, she drove home “and gave Andy the biggest hug I could.” He greeted her with a homemade dinner of lemon caper chicken pasta.

This summer, Gloria left her job on the Hill and went to work for the YMCA of the USA as a specialist in health partnerships and policy. Last year, Andy started a new job as press secretary for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

A detour on 'date night'

With their careers moving ahead, they began to wonder if their relationship should, too. By fall, Gloria thought Andy might pop the question around the four-year anniversary of their first date, next year.

Andy, however, had decided it should happen sooner. And he knew exactly where.

He invited Gloria on a mid­afternoon date to the Wharf in Southeast on the Friday after Veterans Day, when they both had time off. The route to the Wharf conveniently runs south, in the vicinity of the Rayburn building. As Andy drove, his phone rang. It was his chief of staff. Her voice booming through the car speaker, she said Jeffries needed his passport and that everybody else was out of town. Could Andy go by the Rayburn building and pick it up?

“Oh, this really sucks. This is our date night,” Gloria said. But she knew life on the Hill.

She texted Leigh to see if she was around (of course, she was) and then accompanied Andy inside (no ID required, thanks to Andy’s prep work with the sergeant-at-arms).

Andy pressed the button in the marble lobby and the couple waited for one of the four elevators to arrive. A bell rang. It was the elevator, the second from the right. The doors slid open and Andy and Gloria walked in. By the time they got to the fourth floor, Andy was down on one knee.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

Gloria, astonished, had dropped her phone and purse.

“Yes!”

He slid the ring on her finger — three sparkling diamond circles set in platinum created with his family’s heirloom gems.

Cameras flashed. Their friends and co-workers in the hallway — tipped off by Andy — let out a loud cheer. Two weeks later, Gloria would show off the ring to Andy’s mother, aunts and uncle in rural Virginia, then again a few days later at Thanksgiving dinner with Gloria’s family in Raleigh.

The Sunday after he proposed, Andy paused to savor his triumph in a tweet: He and Gloria had defied the odds.

“Found love in a hopeless place,” he said.

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