They Broke Up Four Times. Now They’re Married.

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Long distance has been a way of life for Heather Hwalek and Taylor Washburn, who have spent more days apart than together, since meeting a decade ago at Yale.

“I don’t think I’ve ever connected with anyone like Taylor,” said Ms. Hwalek, 34, a program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. “Both of us are somewhat career-driven and very independent.”

That is somewhat of an understatement from Ms. Hwalek, who has lived and worked in four countries — the United States, South Africa, China and Japan — since her relationship began in March 2011 with Mr. Washburn, 39, a shareholder at the Seattle law firm Lane Powell.

Along the way they broke up four times.

“I never wanted to break up with her because I knew I would never find anyone else like her,” said Mr. Washburn, who was taken by Ms. Hwalek the moment he met her on the Yale campus, where she was studying for a master’s degree in international relations.

Mr. Washburn was then serving as a law clerk to Gene E.K. Pratter, a United States District judge with chambers in Philadelphia. He was considering a career change and visited Yale for a weekend as an admitted student in the same international relations program. (Mr. Washburn later received a master’s degree in advanced international studies at Johns Hopkins University.)

As it turned out, Ms. Hwalek had volunteered to speak with admitted students, and she was equally taken by Mr. Washburn, with whom she had much in common, including the fact that she is from Bangor, Maine, and he had attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The two had also attended Columbia, from which she graduated and he received a law degree. They also had a shared interest in literature, politics, and international travel.

At the end of the weekend, Mr. Washburn asked Ms. Hwalek out to dinner in Manhattan, and she accepted his invitation. They enjoyed each other’s company and by the time Mr. Washburn hopped aboard an Amtrak train back to Philadelphia, it appeared that he and Ms. Hwalek were on their way to becoming classmates.

But Mr. Washburn soon changed his mind, deciding instead to take a job teaching law as a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul and Daejeon, South Korea.

“This was the beginning of a very long period where we were rarely in the same country,” Ms. Hwalek said. “After all the stops and starts, we are both very fortunate to have remained together.”

They finally reunited in the spring of 2018, when Ms. Hwalek was flying back to Washington from Tokyo via Los Angeles, and Mr. Washburn flew down from Seattle so that they could spend a weekend together.

They were engaged on Jan. 1, 2019, at the Hotel Fairmont in San Francisco.

Looking back, Mr. Washburn seemed to be questioning his decision to take the teaching job in Seoul.

“I was responsible for some of the decisions over time that led us to not be together,” he said. “If I could go back and do this all over again, I would try to figure out a way to get us together permanently, and much earlier.”

They were married March 10 by Washington Superior Court Judge Michael Scott at the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

The couple had initially planned to be married in September 2020 at Camp Fernwood Cove in Harrison, Maine, but the coronavirus changed those plans.

“Given all the hurdles,” said the groom, “our marriage wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t the right people for each other.”



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