On Love

Ni­cola DeAn­to­nio and A.J. Casale

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY ELLEN MCCARTHY mc­carthye@wash­post.com

For Ni­cola DeAn­to­nio and A.J. Casale, love bloomed at the White House.

In the fall of 2007, A. J. Casale was tasked with wel­com­ing the new in­terns to the White House.

At 23, he was the same age as most of his new charges, but he’d been through the in­tern­ship pro­gram the pre­vi­ous year. As an as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor in Pres­i­dent Ge­orgeW. Bush’s po­lit­i­cal af­fairs of­fice, it fell on him to goover the pro­to­col: a list of se­cu­rity mea­sures, the im­por­tance of con­fi­den­tial­ity, the need to shred doc­u­ments im­me­di­ately.

“I was just like, ‘ What is this guy telling me? Whoa, this is so weird. It’s over­whelm­ing,’ ” re­calls Ni­cola DeAn­to­nio, who had re­cently grad­u­ated from West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­sity and planned to ap­ply to laws­chool af­ter the in­tern­ship.

She was shell­shocked by the in­ten­sity of their 12-hour work­days and went home ex­hausted each night. But to Casale, it seemed the ex­u­ber­ant blonde never stopped smil­ing.

“She al­ways had en­ergy,” he says. “It was a lot of early morn­ings, but she was al­ways happy and fun to be around.”

Casale, who’d re­cently grad­u­ated from Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity, is more se­ri­ous and re­served, and the two spoke very lit­tle dur­ing DeAn­to­nio’s four­month stint. But as Christ­mas ap­proached, he heard her mak­ing plans to watch a WVU bas­ket­ball game at a bar and men­tioned that he might stop by.

It wasn’t a full-blown crush then, Casale says, but he was drawn to DeAn­to­nio’s chatty vi­tal­ity and wanted to spend more time with her.

DeAn­to­nio was happy to see Casale in a more ca­sual set­ting but didn’t think much of it un­til he left and her friend, Kelly McNeil An­dr­ey­cak, chimed in.

“She was like: ‘You re­ally need to go out with him. I think you’d be a good match,’ ” DeAn­to­nio re­mem­bers. “And she was in my ear about it af­ter that.”

“I was just re­ally im­pressed with him,” McNeil An­dr­ey­cak says. “And I could tell he kept kind of glanc­ing at her. It was re­ally cute.”

DeAn­to­nio al­ways de­murred. She thought of Casale as her su­per­vi­sor, not a ro­man­tic prospect, and an in­terof­fice re­la­tion­ship didn’t seem ap­pro­pri­ate.

Af­ter her in­tern­ship ended, how­ever, the two met up a few more times with mu­tual friends from the of­fice. Casale started to ad­mit to him­self how much he liked DeAn­to­nio, and the at­ten­tion she gave him when­ever they were to­gether made him sus­pect the in­ter­est was mu­tual. When they dis­cov­ered that they’d both be in town for New Year’s Eve, he sug­gested they have din­ner with McNeil An­dr­ey­cak and her boyfriend.

Casale made plans for the four­some to go to Oceanaire. And al­though it seemed to DeAn­to­nio that this was a dou­ble date, she fol­lowed her fa­ther’s ad­vice and brought cash to pay for her por­tion, just in case she’d mis­un­der­stood. ( When the bill came, she texted her par­ents un­der the ta­ble: “He paid!”)

Af­ter an easy meal that was full of laughs, they rang in 2008 with a first kiss.

Soon the two were meet­ing up af­ter work and spend­ing time to­gether on week­ends. Sim­i­lar­i­ties emerged one af­ter an­other, such as their shared Ital­ian her­itage and strong sense of fam­ily. Both are driven, ex­act­ing and in­cred­i­bly neat. “If he was dirty,” she says, “I would’ve died.”

DeAn­to­nio was home­sick for Philadel­phia and un­sure about stay­ing in Washington, par­tic­u­larly as the thought of law school be­came less ap­peal­ing. But Casale be­came her best friend and sup­port sys­tem, talk­ing through ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties and mak­ing D.C. life more palat­able.

And he found the guard that he of­ten put up with oth­ers seemed to dis­in­te­grate in her pres­ence. “Nei­ther of us had to try hard. It wasn’t any of that backand-forth ‘Should I call her now?’ We never had that,” he says. “It just kind of hap­pened.”

By March, when they trav­eled to Mor­gan town to watch a WVU bas­ket­ball game with her fam­ily, she thought he might be the one for her. “You just have a feel­ing,” she says. “He was so dif­fer­ent from all the other guys I dated.”

McNeil An­dr­ey­cak saw it, too: “ The way she acted around A. J. was dif­fer­ent. She just seemed com­fort­able,” she says. “I felt like she was more her­self around him than any­body else.”

The fol­low­ing De­cem­ber, af­ter a year of dat­ing, they sat down to tell her very con­ser­va­tive par­ents that they planned to move in to­gether. DeAn­to­nio’s par­ents were ini­tially skep­ti­cal, but by that point she was able to tell them “we know we’re go­ing to get mar­ried.” Be­sides, both were ready for a room­mate who could match their high stan­dards of clean­li­ness.

Casale was sup­port­ive when DeAn­to­nio threw out her plans for law school and in­stead en­rolled in an in­te­rior de­sign pro­gram at the Cor­co­ran Col­lege of Art and De­sign. Her taste for pol­i­tics waned af­ter her time at the White House, but the in­tern­ship al­lowed her to un­der­stand the long hours Casale was now putting in at a pub­lic af­fairs con­sult­ing firm. Plus, he adds, “it’s nice to have some­body to spend time with who’s not all about pol­i­tics.”

By 2009, DeAn­to­nio was lead­ing Casale to jew­elry stores and leav­ing bri­dal mag­a­zines around the apart­ment. In early fall, while they wan­dered through Tysons Corner Cen­ter, she pointed out an en­gage­ment ring she loved.

Two months later, Casale took her to New York City and hired a pho­tog­ra­pher to sur­rep­ti­tiously fol­low them around Cen­tral Park, where he gave her the ring. Within a few months of that first New Year’s Eve kiss, Casale had known this moment would come.

“I never re­mem­ber hav­ing the feel­ing like, ‘Oh my God, is she the one?’ ” he says. “I never re­ally had to think about it. It’s just been very nat­u­ral.”

On Dec. 18, they were mar­ried at Holy Trin­ity Catholic Church. A year-and-ahalf ear­lier, DeAn­to­nio, who had been bap­tized Catholic, was con­firmed there, with Casale act­ing as her spon­sor. Af­ter the wed­ding, their 146 guests gath­ered for a re­cep­tion at the Wil­lard Ho­tel, two blocks from the fa­mous build­ing where the cou­ple met.

In a toast, Casale’s older brother, Vince, joked that the pair “are lit­er­ally a match made in heaven.”

“In our fam­ily,” he con­tin­ued, “we call it a Repub­li­can White House.”

Af­ter the wed­ding, McNeil An­dr­ey­cak re­flected on the strength of the con­nec­tion she first no­ticed three years ago.

“When one of them talks, the other is lis­ten­ing, no mat­ter who else is in the room,” she says. “ They’re very cap­ti­vated by each other.”

TRACY A. WOOD­WARD/THE WASHINGTON POST

A WHITE (HOUSE) WED­DING: Ni­cola DeAn­to­nio and A.J. Casale were mar­ried atHoly Trin­ity Catholic Church and cel­e­brated at the Wil­lard.

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