‘This could ac­tu­ally be some­thing sub­stan­tial’

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - BY RACHEL LU­B­ITZ rachel.lu­b­itz@wash­post.com

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.”

Jar­rod Gil­lam

SUL­LI­VAN PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

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