‘This could actually be something substantial’
He was just her best friend’s little brother. For 17 years, that’s all he was.
Laura Haynes would see Jarrod Gillam sporadically — when he visited his sister, Amanda, at the University of Tennessee or when someone in their family got married. She would ask Amanda how Jarrod was doing — where he was, where the Army was sending him off to next — and Jarrod would ask his sister how far Laura’s degree had taken her from her Kentucky home.
For so long, they were friendly acquaintances. But then one day over dinner in the spring of 2012, Amanda had a suggestion. During all the years that Laura had asked about Jarrod and Jarrod had checked in about Laura, they had each been in some stage of a relationship, but this time, the stars had aligned and they were both single.
“You should date my brother!” Amanda exclaimed. “We’re going to figure this out.”
Laura was skeptical, to say the least.
“Jarrod’s sister . . . had always brought up the idea that Jarrod and I should go on a date,” Laura says. “But up until that point, and probably because I couldn’t, I never took it seriously. He was always just a little brother.”
Amanda’s proposition, however, had planted a seed, and Laura began to fantasize about how nice it would be to have a decent, normal date after years of treading water in the D.C. dating pool.
That same seed was planted in Jarrod’s mind as well, after a text message from his sister insisting that Laura and he would make a great match.
“At that point, I was a single guy living in a house alone in the middle of Colorado, and since I knew Laura was certainly a wonderful woman, I thought, ‘ Why not?’ ” says Jarrod, an operations officer with the U.S. State Department.
With both parties on board, the next question was how to set up a proper date. With Jarrod, a native of St. Mary’s County, Md., stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado and Laura working on Capitol Hill for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), what would set the right mood for these two casual friends who had never really thought about becoming a couple? Again, with the stars in their favor, Jarrod realized that his military ball for the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group was the next month.
After a few supportive text messages from his sister, Jarrod called Laura.
“I had always thought Laura was a great girl,” Jarrod recalls. “She was very smart, and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, so when I first asked her if I could fly her out to Colorado, it was definitely as friends.”
But over the next month, much to their matchmaker’s glee, they talked every day and began to feel a connection deeper than friendship.
“I had always thought of him as cute and an extreme gentleman,” Laura says. “But our conversations were really the first inkling I got that this could actually be something substantial.”
Their talks were easy. There was no pretense. No pressure. By the time Laura stepped off the plane in Colorado Springs, armed with a brand-new ball gown, the two could begin their courtship.
“For me, it just felt like this was the first guy in a long time that had really made an effort,” Laura says. “I couldn’t even get a guy to buy a drink for me in D.C., and then I have this guy who’s willing to buy me plane tickets halfway across the country.”
By the end of the weekend, the two had vowed to keep their relationship going, even from a distance. But Laura didn’t know that dating an Army man meant expecting the unexpected.
They had decided to try to see each other every six weeks, but the Army had other plans. Six months in, Jarrod was sent to Germany. Halfway through that deployment, it was on to France.
“It was a very ‘Welcome to the Army!’ experience for me,” Laura says. “But what that proved to us is that we can basically get through anything together.”
They were able to hold true to their every-six-weeks commitment, with Laura flying to Munich on New Year’s and Paris on Valentine’s Day. Jarrod ended up being in Europe for half of their two-year long-distance arrangement, but they made it work.
By the time Jarrod’s deployments had settled down and he was back in Colorado, the two began thinking seriously about closing the distance, which led to talk of marriage.
“Pretty much, if you’re making career plans off someone else’s needs, you’re in a very serious space,” Jarrod says.
With plans to move to Washington in June 2014, Jarrod plotted a special surprise for Memorial Day weekend. Onhis last trip to the District before his big move, he took Laura to Bluejacket in Navy Yard for dinner before strolling along the water. With no one else around, Jarrod dropped to one knee and proposed.
On April 18, Laura Haynes and Jarrod Gillam, both 39, wed at Crescent Bend Home and Gardens, an antebellum estate on the banks of the Tennessee River in Knoxville. At the reception, they cut their wedding cake with Jarrod’s officer’s saber.
“At the age we’re at now, we don’t have benchmarks to hit,” Jarrod said after the wedding. “Our life is just an adventure we’re taking one step at a time.”
“Our life is just an adventure we’re taking one step at a time.”
After knowing each other for nearly two decades, Laura Haynes and Jarrod Gillam were married in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 18. They were set up by Jarrod’s sister, who is Laura’s best friend. “I had always thought Laura was a great girl,” Jarrod recalls.