By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Kristen Gratton and Patrick Sullivan turned a long-distance shot-in-the-dark into a lifelong commitment.
The couple met briefly at a conference during their last semester of college. Fast forward about five years, they’re now married and living in Del Ray with their two golden retrievers.
Gratton, 26, was studying hospitality at James Madison University and Sullivan, 28, was studying the same thing at Michigan State University when they were both invited to a conference in San Diego after receiving job offers from Marriott.
“Marriott wanted everyone in our age group, graduating college and everything, to know people from all across the country,” Sullivan said. “They encouraged us to always sit with someone new. I sat by Kristen once [during a presentation] and I talked to her real briefly, and I got the vibe that she thought I was attractive. Then I said to myself, ‘That’s so cocky. Get yourself in check because that’s just ridiculous. You’re at a work thing.’”
After the brief interaction, the two bumped into each other at a bar later that night.
“We just talked from like 11:30 p.m. until 2 a.m., bar closing time, and then we took an Uber ride back,” Sullivan said. “It was the most awkward Uber ride of our lifetime. There was us – Kristen and I – and then two other people, and those two other people were like–”
“Making out in the backseat,” Gratton supplied.
“Like Titanic-going-down making out,” Sullivan laughed.
When they got back to the hotel, Sullivan and Gratton continued to hang out at the hotel’s outdoor patio.
“They had a nice gas patio fire kind of thing, so we just talked, and actually we talked for so long that we almost missed our bus to the airport,” Sullivan said. “We had like 15 minutes to pack all of our stuff when we realized what time it was.”
“Well, I had packed in advance because I’m a planner,” Gratton said.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Sullivan joked.
After they went their separate ways, the couple continued to stay in touch.
“From the point that we met and left the airport, we just kept in touch over Facebook messenger,” Sullivan said. “It’s funny – the messages were so long between the two of us, how much we talked, like you needed to carve out time in your day.”
Despite talking every day, Gratton was hesitant to dive into a long-distance relationship.
“He kept wanting to come and visit and I was like, ‘No, don’t come and visit. I’m not doing this long-distance thing. It’s ridiculous.’”
After a few months, Gratton gave in and invited Sullivan to visit her at James Madison.
“We spent four days together at JMU, and I guess it was the second to last day you were there, we were like, ‘Are we going to date?’ And I just cried the whole time so we never got the answer,” Gratton said.
“Because long distance never works out, right?” Sullivan said.
About a week after Sullivan left, the couple decided over video chat to officially start dating.
Upon graduating, Gratton went to work at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott. Sullivan, having turned down the Marriott job, began working at a country club in Detroit, Michigan.
The couple dated long-distance for about a year and a half, frequently meeting in Pittsburgh, the mid-point between Detroit and D.C.
Eventually, Sullivan decided he wanted to leave the restaurant industry and find a job closer to Gratton. He temporarily moved in with Gratton in Reston while looking for an apartment of his own.
“It was just going to be for a month, and then he was going to find a place, and we were going to make sure we liked each other,” Gratton said. “Like, let’s like each other separate, but in the same place.”
“Exactly,” Sullivan said. “And also, if things don’t work out, it’s real awkward.”
It wasn’t long after Sullivan moved into his own place in Ballston that the couple decided to move back in with each other.
“It was at the point where it was just like, ‘Okay whose place are we going to now?’ And it was just more of a pain than anything else,” Gratton said.
“It was honestly a bad idea,” Sullivan agreed.
“I mean, it made sense. We wanted to be responsible, [but] it was a terrible idea,” Gratton said.
After living separately for about a month, they moved into the 1111 Belle Pre Apartments in northwest Old Town, above Sugar Shack Donuts.
A year later, Gratton and Sullivan introduced a new addition to their family – Teddy, a golden retriever who is now almost three years old.
Around the same time, the couple started working for Rover, a dog-sitting company, to earn some extra money.
“I’ve always loved dogs, but I never foresaw myself at an apartment having four dogs on a leash because we’re watching all three of them plus Teddy, but it was great,” Sullivan said.
After talking about marriage for a while, Gratton and Sullivan got engaged in February 2018. Going against tradition, they both got each other engagement rings.
“It didn’t seem fair that I got something and he didn’t get something,” Gratton said. “I don’t know, it just didn’t seem fair. So egalitarian – ‘I’m going to get you an engagement ring, too.’”
After getting dinner in D.C., Sullivan proposed to Gratton in front of the Washington Monument.
“She told me her personal hell would be if someone proposed to her in a restaurant,” Sullivan said. “So we were at the Washington Monument, and I tried to find the most secluded place possible. There were like two people sitting on a bench. So I proposed to her there and I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m sure it was nice.”
“I can vouch. It was very nice. I don’t remember what you said either, but it was very nice,” Gratton said.
They got married about a year later, on May 19, 2019, in Waterfront Park. The reception took place at Virtue Feed & Grain.
“It was such a great day. It was really hot though,” Gratton said.
“You were in the long flowy dress, I was in a black tux. If you look really close at the photos, you can see … I was sweating so much,” Sullivan laughed.
Three months after their wedding day, the couple moved into a house in Del Ray. When they were looking homes, their priorities were a home with two bedrooms, since Sullivan works from home, and a yard for Teddy.
“We definitely wanted to buy in Old Town or Del Ray, and when we were looking at places in Old Town, the issue was just the yard,” Gratton said. “So we decided on Del Ray. It’s a little quieter, but we’re super close to Mount Vernon [Avenue] so we can walk to Stomping Ground or Pork Belly, Cheesetique, so there’s a lot of stuff within walking distance, which is exactly what we wanted.”
Committed dog parents, Sullivan and Gratton recently added another dog, a golden retriever puppy named Ellie, to the family. Working from home, Sullivan has been able to help train and acclimate the puppy.
Beyond raising their dog family, the newlyweds said they balance each other out in many ways.
“You’re the one that keeps the ship going when I’m gone from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Gratton said.
“But at least we have a destination of the ship with you,” Sullivan said.
“There you go. That’s a good way to put it,” Gratton said.
“We’re like a ship,” Sullivan concluded. “I keep the engines running on the daily basis, you make sure we have a destination. I think it’s a really good balance. I’m so glad we both took a chance in saying we’ll try this long-distance thing that nobody says ever works.”
(More Tying the Knot: Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and his wife Linda share their hometown love story)