By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
Sarah and Jeremy Simmons are explorers. The Old Town couple, who moved to Alexandria last year, spends much of their free time hiking and trying out new corners of the city. They’re also avid globetrotters, having visited a large number of countries both together and separately. Recently, they honored this wanderlust by getting married in Hawaii during a weeklong celebration with close knit friends and family.
But their mutual sense of adventure also laid the groundwork early on for what would become a cornerstone of their relationship, and it began at a small coffee shop in North Carolina.
Back in February 2017, they were both students at High Point University; Sarah was a sophomore studying political science and Jeremy was a senior studying strategic communications. Their paths first crossed at a Valentine’s Day fraternity party, where after talking for a bit, they quickly realized that each enjoyed the other’s company.
The two decided to meet at a local coffee shop shortly after the Valentine’s Day party, where they discovered a shared love for traveling. At the time, Jeremy had been preparing for an upcoming trip to Spain to study abroad, while Sarah was getting ready to head to Italy, also for a study abroad trip.
Although that coffee date took place more than five years ago, Jeremy said he vividly remembers many tidbits from their first several hours together, such as Sarah describing her experience working in Florida for then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“I think it was probably the best first date I’ve ever had,” Jeremy said. “It went for over three hours, so it was a pretty solid first date.”
Both Jeremy and Sarah left the encounter feeling separately excited, and would go on to spend more time together either on campus or after classes.
However, Jeremy was not privy to the fact that two of Sarah’s friends were also present on that date.
“[They] followed us to make sure that it was going well, that kind of thing. They gave up maybe an hour in, knew it was going well,” Sarah laughed.
During those early months, the fledgling couple bonded over sharing new experiences. They embarked on many hiking adventures, a fitting activity since they lived in North Carolina, and taught one another about their respective fields.
When Sarah was campaigning, for instance, Jeremy would often tag along to get a feel for her day-to-day work. In doing so, he learned about the campaign trail – with which he was previously unfamiliar – and saw a different angle to his new partner.
“It was a good experience to learn how that went and see what her interests are, and see how she acts in a different environment than a dating environment,” Jeremy said. “So it was really enlightening to see that … I felt like that made our bonding a little faster, getting to see both sides of her early on.”
It didn’t take long for Sarah and Jeremy to determine that their relationship had real long-term potential. By the time that school year ended and summer 2017 rolled around, the pair was less than three months into dating. Jeremy’s Spain trip was imminent, in which he would be gone for two months. Right after his excursion, Sarah would be on a flight to Italy for a month.
For both Sarah and Jeremy, the idea of spending significant time apart from one other was difficult. It would require effort on both sides, but they mutually agreed at that point to lean into the relationship rather than allow it to fade and dissolve.
“It was a lot of juggling around [of] our summer. We made it work. We talked almost every evening, or morning depending on what the time change was,” Jeremy said. “I think that’s what solidified it: Both of us were really willing to work for this. [We both wanted] to stay in touch and share what we’re going through and share experiences.”
The next five years included many more hiking trips and campaign trails, as well as graduations, moves and job changes; Sarah currently works in civic engagement and Jeremy as a digital analyst. It also included a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing they were on the same page regarding life goals, but not wanting to wait several years for the pandemic to subside to plan a wedding, Jeremy decided that April 2021 was the right time to get engaged.
On Easter of that year, Jeremy proposed at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, an event that he said didn’t go as flawlessly as desired.
“But she said yes, so obviously it went very well,” Jeremy clarified, smiling.
Jeremy had corralled his family to assist with the proposal, a hefty task that included both of his parents present and one of his sisters flying in from Colorado. The goal was for Sarah to remain in the dark until the beachside proposal, but there were a couple close calls.
In her excitement, Jeremy’s mother – who he described as “not very good at keeping secrets” – almost inadvertently spilled the surprise at several different points. Sarah eventually caught on, but only right before the actual proposal.
“I would walk into a room and she would just be whispering and then be all nervous about it,” Sarah said. “It was perfect, though.”
When it came time for the big moment, a photographer hid along the beach out of Sarah’s line of sight. Jeremy brought her to the water and told her to look at the ocean, at which point she turned around to see Jeremy on one knee.
The next few months were something of a whirlwind. One month after the proposal, Sarah and Jeremy moved from Washington, D.C. – where they had been living at the time – to Old Town. It was a plan that had been brewing for a while, Sarah said, because of how drawn they were to the city’s appeal.
The couple also leapt into wedding planning mode, partly because they already had a vision but mostly because they were just eager to get started.
“We tried to truly just soak in being engaged at first, but we were just so excited to start the planning process,” Sarah said. “We had an idea already of the vision and what we wanted it to be like, so having that idea already set in stone, we just immediately started thinking about a guest list, looking and venues, and ended up jumping in pretty quickly.”
During the early planning stages, Sarah and Jeremy were on the fence about whether to have their wedding in Charlottesville, Va. or Hawaii. The pair knew they wanted it to be an intimate and multi-day affair, and even though Charlottesville would have been closer, they kept returning to the idea of a tropical backdrop surrounded by close friends and family.
“[We wanted it] almost feeling like they’re on vacation, but simultaneously celebrating our wedding, [with] that warm, tropical romantic feel,” Sarah said.
With the location pinned down, planning the rest of the wedding week – from activities like turtle watching to a sunset sail – fell into place easily. Sarah and Jeremy intentionally scheduled the event to take place over several days so they could fully absorb all that Hawaii has to offer as well as spend more time with each guest.
“Weddings go by in the blink of an eye, and if you have a full week, it feels just a little bit longer – maybe a blink and a half,” Jeremy said.
Most guests arrived on Sunday, with the wedding set for a Thursday. This enabled them to meet each other beforehand, and many ended up exploring the island together. They would get lunch or go snorkeling or watch sea turtles, and some are still friends today, Jeremy said.
“It was so fun seeing all our friends from the different pieces of our lives, and getting along so well,” Sarah said.
One of the couple’s mutually favorite aspects to the wedding was their venue. Located at Paliku Gardens on Kualoa Ranch, a 4,000-acre private nature reserve in O’ahu, the venue overlooked mountains, water and an island known as “Chinaman’s Hat.”
Beyond the picturesque landscape, Sarah and Jeremy also selected the location because it’s where Jurassic Park, one of their favorite movies, was filmed. Jeremy emphasized that while the wedding was not in fact Jurassic Park-themed, he did walk down the aisle to the film’s instrumental theme song.
“We weren’t sure if guests would recognize it, but they did,” Sarah said.
“And they all loved it. They thought it was super cool,” Jeremy chimed in.
To cap off the week, the couple hosted a sunset sail that took place the day after the wedding as a way to thank everyone for attending. A double rainbow appeared while on the sailing trip, which Sarah and Jeremy concurred was a nice bow that tied together a successful celebration.
“Everybody loved that. I think that was a great culmination of what the whole week was, and then ending on a beautiful Hawaiian sunset – it was something everybody really enjoyed and appreciated,” Jeremy said.
That was more than a month ago now. Sarah and Jeremy have been married since Aug. 11, and the strangest adjustment hasn’t been referring to each other as husband and wife – it’s hearing other people say it.
But other than that, they said married life looks largely the same as it did beforehand. The couple still makes time for exploring their new city, hiking and traveling. Since moving, they’ve made several trips to Charlottesville to visit the wineries and mountains.
They also still share the same ritual of enjoying coffee together in the morning, whether that be brewing it at home or venturing to a local shop for a cup. The activity has been a constant since their college days.
“I mean, our first date was at a coffee shop. Just continuing that [sense of] ‘This is where it started’ and enjoying that moment together has been great,” Jeremy said. “It’s not going to change.”