‘I’ll be be­hind you 100 per­cent of the way’

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - LIZ WAHL & JOHN PAVLUS BY ME­GAN MCDONOUGH me­gan.mcdonough@wash­post.com

A hard day at work re­sulted in more than just a happy hour for LizWahl and John Pavlus.

The two first met at Lo­gan Cir­cle’s Pearl Dive Oys­ter Palace one weeknight in Au­gust 2012. “We both had a stress­ful day at work and needed a drink,” Liz re­calls.

John im­me­di­ately no­ticed Liz ap­proach­ing the down­stairs bar and de­cided to in­tro­duce him­self. “I had a drink be­fore­hand and was look­ing around since I was by my­self, like a loser,” he says. “I saw her walk up and was like, ‘ Here’s my chance not to be a loser!’ ”

They were dressed like po­lar op­po­sites. John, a Florida na­tive, was wear­ing a V-neck shirt, jeans and flip-flops, while Liz, a for­mer news an­chor and now a free­lance jour­nal­ist, opted for a pen­cil skirt and a pur­ple silk blouse.

To break the ice, John asked Liz whether she liked oys­ters. She said no, but he tried to con­vince her oth­er­wise. “They’re an aphro­disiac,” he en­cour­aged, as if she had never heard that line. Nev­er­the­less, she was at­tracted to his charm, good looks and laid-back per­son­al­ity. They talked into the night and ended up ex­chang­ing num­bers.

“It was a smooth, no-pres­sure, easy con­ver­sa­tion,” says John, an Air Force physi­cian and res­i­dent in di­ag­nos­tic ra­di­ol­ogy at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

A few weeks later, they met for a night of karaoke. It was a suc­cess, end­ing in a duet of the Dis­ney clas­sic “A Whole New World” and a good­night kiss. Ea­ger to see Liz again, John in­vited her to Penn­syl­va­nia to pick up his new puppy, a Ger­man short­haired pointer named Dal­las.

She ac­cepted and quickly bonded with Dal­las. When John was called to surgery or stuck work­ing late, she would vol­un­teer to hang out with Dal­las.

De­spite their hec­tic sched­ules, Liz and John made spend­ing their lim­ited time to­gether a pri­or­ity. They met each other’s close friends and par­ents, and grad­u­ally be­gan build­ing a life to­gether. Sev­eral months into dat­ing, they moved in to­gether.

“I think we are our own peo­ple sep­a­rately, but we are bet­ter to­gether,” Liz says.

Over time, Liz be­came in­creas­ingly un­happy with her an­chor­ing job at RT, a Rus­sian-owned, English-lan­guage news sta­tion. Her in­ter­views, she says, were of­ten heav­ily edited to suit the net­work’s nar­ra­tive and fit the gov­ern­ment’s agenda.

“It was caus­ing a strain in our re­la­tion­ship, be­cause I was be­com­ing more and more dis­il­lu­sioned withmy job and where the sta­tion was headed,” she says. “I was bring­ing that stress home, and he saw it.”

Liz fi­nally reached her break­ing point, and she de­cided to de­nounce the sta­tion at the end of an evening broad­cast onMarch 6, 2014.

Five hours be­fore the broad­cast, Liz sneaked into the bath­room to call John. She re­calls telling him: “Things are out of con­trol. . . . I think I’m go­ing to quit on-air so peo­ple un­der­stand what’s go­ing on. Are you okay with this?”

“If you feel like you need to do it, do it,” he as­sured her. “I’ll be be­hind you 100 per­cent of the way.”

That night, Liz looked di­rectly into RT’s cam­era and spoke her truth. “I can­not be a part of a net­work funded by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment that white­washes the ac­tions of Putin,” she said. “I am proud to be an Amer­i­can and be­lieve in dis­sem­i­nat­ing the truth, and that is why af­ter this news­cast I am re­sign­ing.”

The clip went vi­ral in­ter­na­tion­ally, and soon CNN’s An­der­son Cooper and Piers Mor­gan, Com­edy Cen­tral’s Stephen Col­bert and ABC’s Bar­bara Wal­ters, among oth­ers, were clam­or­ing to have her on their shows. On the flip side, there was a back­lash of online abuse — in­sults, slurs and threat­en­ing mes­sages — par­tic­u­larly on Twit­ter. It was a chaotic few months for both of them.

“She was be­ing smeared from ev­ery di­rec­tion over things that weren’t true . . . and I couldn’t do any­thing but sit there,” John says. “How do you as a per­son in­ter­nal­ize that and how do you help the other per­son? It wears you down.”

Liz was un­der siege but would not be de­feated. To­day, she trav­els in­ter­na­tion­ally and lec­tures on media mis­in­for­ma­tion and bias. “In­stead of let­ting the trolls beat me down, they’ve en­cour­aged me to fight back,” she says.

This chal­leng­ing pe­riod ce­mented their re­la­tion­ship and proved that what­ever hap­pens, they’ll han­dle it to­gether. “I think this unique event . . . taught us that if we get knocked down, we have to help bring each other up,” John says. “We are a team.”

On April 4, 2014, the two re­turned to Pearl Dive, the site of their first en­counter. When John ar­rived to pick Liz up, he seemed dis­tracted and a bit fran­tic. He also was no­tice­ably dressed up — “a far cry from his ensem­ble the very first time” theymet, Liz says.

They made their way through the crowded bar and were of­fered seats by two young women — the same seats they had sat in the first time they met.

Soon af­ter, John or­dered a dozen oys­ters on the half shell. When they ar­rived, Liz no­ticed that one oys­ter looked dif­fer­ent. She dove for it, re­veal­ing a ring in­side. John quickly took the ring and got down on one knee. The en­tire bar, in­clud­ing the bar’s man­age­ment and friends se­cretly cap­tur­ing the event, erupted in ap­plause.

On Sept. 6, John, 31, and Liz, 30, ex­changed vows in front of 115 guests un­der the mar­ble dome of the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion for Science in Washington. They left the cer­e­mony un­der a tra­di­tional mil­i­tary saber arch and shared their first dance to the Ed Sheeran hit “Think­ing Out Loud.”

Days af­ter the wed­ding, the cou­ple laughed about the se­quence of events that led them down the aisle. “From walk­ing into a bar, meet­ing a stranger and shar­ing oys­ters, to the whirl­wind of the media storm, it’s in­ter­est­ing how your life can com­pletely change with­out you even know­ing it,” John said.

“I don’t think bor­ing is a word to de­scribe any­thing that we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced,” Liz added. “With us, you can al­ways ex­pect the un­ex­pected.”

“I think we are our own peo­ple sep­a­rately, but we are bet­ter to­gether.”

— Liz Wahl


On Sept. 6, LizWahl, 30, and John Pavlus, 31, ex­changed vows in front of 115 guests at the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion for Science in Washington. The cou­ple left the cer­e­mony through a tra­di­tional mil­i­tary saber arch. Be­low left, wed­ding guests lift the groom into the air.

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