‘I frankly thought I never had a chance’

The Washington Post Sunday - - E8 ONLOVE - BY ELLEN MCCARTHY mc­carthye@wash­post.com

Ryan Richardson is the type to ag­o­nize over a de­ci­sion be­tween two dresses. Whenone is fi­nally cho­sen, she’ll bring it home and start to won­der whether she should have picked the other.

De­cid­ing whom to marry, she knew, would be a tor­tured process. Again and again she’d asked her long-wed par­ents how they de­ter­mined they’d found their mate, only to re­ceive the same un­sat­is­fac­tory an­swer: “You will just know when it’s right.”

“I was not a big be­liever in that,” says Richardson, whose me­thod­i­cal think­ing has served her well as an as­so­ci­ate in the lit­i­ga­tion group at Arnold & Porter.

In the fall of 2007, she was heal­ing af­ter the end of a long-term re­la­tion­ship and started to think about dat­ing again. Be­sides the younger sis­ter with whom she lived, the core of Richardson’s so­cial cir­cle was made up of other young lawyers she’dmet dur­ing her two years at the firm. On the outer ring of that cir­cle was For­rest Dee­gan, a fel­low as­so­ci­ate who was al­ways quick with a joke or a smile.

Al­though Richardson didn’t know it, Dee­gan, 33, had been har­bor­ing a crush on her for some time. Even af­ter her re­la­tion­ship ended, how­ever, he was hes­i­tant to make a move. “I frankly thought I never had a chance,” he says. “So I didn’t want to getmy hopes up.”

But sur­rounded by friends at a happy hour be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Dee­gan sud­denly felt as though he and Richardson were “on an is­land by our­selves.” For the first time, he won­dered if the af­fec­tion was mu­tual. “It was like, ‘Okay, I am not mak­ing this up,’ ” he says.

One night af­ter the hol­i­days, he saw her wait­ing for a ride as a cold rain pounded the streets out­side their of­fice build­ing. He stopped to chat on his way out the door and no­ticed she didn’t have an um­brella. He non­cha­lantly slipped her his own.

“He man­ages to pass off the um­brella and is down the street be­fore I can even say any­thing. So he walks off and gets soak­ing wet,” Richardson re­calls. “Of course I yelled at him, ‘For­rest!’ But he just­waves and smiles.”

That night Richardson called her fa­ther at home in Cincin­nati to tell him chivalry was not dead.

Sev­eral weeks passed and both left town— heonaski vacation, she toPuerto Rico. On the night Dee­gan was sup­posed to re­turn to Washington, a storm can­celed his flight out ofWy­oming. He slept on a friend’s couch and woke up feel­ing

Ryan Richardson & For­rest Dee­gan

com­pelled to talk to Richardson.

“I don’t re­mem­ber the de­tails of the dream,” he says. “I just re­mem­ber un­der­stand­ing I had to ask out Ryan Richardson im­me­di­ately, if not sooner.”

Back in Washington, Dee­gan stopped by Richardson’s of­fice, some­thing he’d never­donebe­fore. He told her­how­much fun he’d had at a re­cent birth­day party thrown in her honor and asked if she was “in­ter­ested in tak­ing our dress code up a notch.”

“But if you want to keep it busi­ness-ca­sual I to­tally un­der­stand,” he added, still wary of re­jec­tion. She caught his drift and told him she’d love to go out. He glee­fully shot out the door, only to re­al­ize he’d for­got­ten to ask for her num­ber and needed to go back.

With the num­ber in hand, a first date was ar­ranged. Seated across a small ta­ble, Dee­gan stole a move from Woody Allen’s play­book, ask­ing if he could kiss her once their first course was served. Oth­er­wise, he told her, “we’llbe stressing about it the whole night.”

In fact, the kiss and ev­ery­thing else that hap­pened that evening — din­ner at Tabaq Bistro, jazz at HR-57 — was re­mark­ably de­void of stress. Be­fore the night was over, they’d al­ready planned for a sec­ond date. Richardson was sur­prised by the ease of their rap­port, while Dee­gan went home “ try­ing not to get too ex­cited.”

They were wary of col­leagues find­ing out about the ro­mance, but the se­cret was out once co-work­ers saw their flir­ta­tious in­ter­ac­tions at a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for Dee­gan a few weeks later. “Ap­par­ently we were not as dis­creet as we thought,” she says.

Their re­la­tion­ship quickly felt as though it was on solid ground. Richardson fit in per­fectly with Dee­gan’s friends. And when Richardson’s sis­ter moved out of the area in May, Dee­gan fol­lowed her to the air­port and hugged her af­ter the sis­ters’ tear­ful good­bye.

“I re­ally got a chance to see how sup­port­ive he could be in this time that wastough­forme,” she says. Most sur­pris­ing to her was the sense of calm cer­tainty around the re­la­tion­ship.

“He would talk about fu­ture things and those were things that — prior to that — would’ve given me a feel­ing of panic,” she says. “And this gave me a sort of ex­cited, ner­vous feel­ing of, ‘Yeah, that’s great. I see this vi­sion that you see.’ ”

“It was so dif­fer­ent than any­thing I’d ever done be­fore,” he says. “Noth­ing about it was forced . . . and there didn’t seem to be any limit to what we could do to­gether or how we could feel for each other.”

Hertem­pered­log­ic­com­ple­ment­ed­his big-dream­ing spon­tane­ity and their wits were equally matched. For three months in the sum­mer of 2009, Richardson was buried with work on an im­por­tant case in Los An­ge­les. On one of the week­ends he flew out to visit, they spent her few free hours on a jaunt to Dis­ney­land. He was ea­ger to hit all the rides he’d gone on as a child, but as clos­ing time neared, there was one left on his list.

Richardson led Dee­gan in a sprint to the other side of the amuse­ment park. They caught theMat­ter­horn’s last trip of the­day. “It­waslike, ‘ That’smy girl. That’s the per­son I want to be with,’ ” he says.

When the trial was over, Dee­gan — heed­ing Richardson’s ad­vice that a pro­posal can be a sur­prise, but a mar­riage should be dis­cussed in ad­vance — asked if she thought they were ready for a per­ma­nent com­mit­ment. With­out hes­i­ta­tion, she said that she did.

That Thanks­giv­ing, dur­ing a fam­ily visit to Ken­tucky, Dee­gan ar­ranged for the whole clan to take over a bed and break­fast for the night. (Richardson thought it was an ar­range­ment her sis­ter had lucked into.) When they were on a bal­cony by them­selves, he got down on one knee, prompt­ing her to stum­ble and nearly fall back over a rail­ing. “Please don’t jump,” Dee­gan pleaded be­fore ask­ing her to marry him.

They were mar­ried on Dec. 11 at St. Matthew’s Cathe­dral and hosted a re­cep­tion two blocks away at the Washington Club on Dupont Cir­cle.

Walk­ing down the aisle of the or­nate church, Richardson caught Dee­gan’s gaze and fully un­der­stood what her par­ents had meant.

“It was the first moment I saw him stand­ing there,” she says. “And it was just like, ‘Wow. This is so right.’ ”


WHENIT’S RIGHT: “It was so dif­fer­ent than any­thing I’d ever done be­fore,” For­rest Dee­gan says of his re­la­tion­ship with Ryan Richardson.

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