Tying the knot: Simmer to boil

Tying the knot: Simmer to boil
John and Monika Chapman were married at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Monika and John Chapman’s love story is a slow burn. Though they married in 2019, the couple had known each other for about a decade prior to tying the knot. Theirs is a story crafted with binged television shows, local politics and the benefit of time.

After years of gradually getting to know one another, their kindling grew into a hardy fire and it simply made sense for them to finally wed.

John is a fourth-generation Alexandrian who graduated from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and St. Olaf College with a bachelor’s degree in social studies education. Meanwhile, Monika, who is a lifelong Virginian but moved to the city in 2006, earned her bachelor’s degree from George Mason University in government and international politics and master’s from George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.

Both are civically engaged, with John currently serving his fourth term on City Council and Monika having served for many years on the city’s Human Rights Commission and Commission for Women.

John and Monika attend many Wizards basketball games while dating.

Although John and Monika do not remember exactly when they first met since they knew of each other for a while before dating, it occurred when John was involved with the Alexandria Young Democrats. The two would see each other and chat at events around town – several of which were hosted by Rob Krupicka, who at the time was a city councilor.

After one event John and Monika hung out with some friends at Los Tios, a local Del Ray restaurant, where something surprising happened that the couple now looks back on with amusement.

“That’s the one I always mess with her about because one of our mutual friends had tried to talk to her and kind of push me out of the way,” John said, laughing.

“We were sitting beside each other, and I remember his friend actually pulled up a chair from another table and put it in between us,” Monika added. “I mean, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh I really want to sit beside John,’ it was just really awkward because there were other seats available. It was intentional[ly] putting the seat there.”

Despite the temporary road bump, John and Monika still found their way to one another and began dating. Early on, they found common ground in their mutual political activation and affinity for binge watching television shows.

For example, one show that captured their attention was “Breaking Bad,” which they would eagerly watch episode after episode. Another was “Game of Thrones;” after catching up to the current season, John would go over to Monika’s every Sunday evening to watch the most recent episode.

“We really bonded over some of the T.V. shows,” John said.

The courting process was aided by the fact that John and Monika had shared friends who were able to vet and vouch for both of them.

“We had folks that knew each other so I was able to be like, ‘Tell me about this John guy,’” Monika said.

Monika and John dated on and off for five years before getting engaged in May 2017.

Gradually, those dates tipped from casual and fun to committed. After dating off and on for about five years, John decided it was time to propose. They had officially entered a more serious phase of their relationship, solidified by a Google Drive Monika had sent to John with suggested rings.

“I was surprised but, you know, I was waiting,” Monika said. “We had definitely talked about it, but I was surprised that day. I had no idea what was happening that day.”

The day in question also happened to be a Wizard’s game. John and Monika were in attendance as they had season tickets, but little did Monika know, John also had the ring in his pocket.

However, there was one hiccup: John remembered that Monika previously mentioned that she did not want to get engaged in front of thousands of people at a sporting event.

“I thought about that but then I was like, ‘Oh no, she might say no, because of all these people,’” John recalled.

So instead, he waited until they returned to her apartment after the game. They talked for a bit, and then after John felt that the mood was right, he got down on one knee and in May 2017 asked Monika to spend the rest of her life with him. She said yes.

Much like the early phase of their relationship, the wedding planning process unfolded slowly. Over the next two years, they looked at a variety of florists, oscillated between a couple of potential wedding dates and perused several locations.

The big day finally took place in Richmond in March 2019 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. There were no wedding crashers, which was one of John’s concerns had the wedding been in Alexandria.

“Honestly, one of my worries was that if I had it in Alexandria and people knew where it was, people would just crash the wedding and crash the reception and do all that stuff,” John said. “… You could have people just drop by because it’s a council member or whatever reason people choose to do stuff they do, so getting it out of Alexandria wasn’t a bad thing.”

Monika and John still receive birthday cards from their wedding cake designer.

In a comical yet bemusing turn of events, the couple’s wedding planner moved from assuming the role of coordinator to full-blown guest over the course of the wedding day. According to Monika, she had done an excellent job when it came to planning, communicating and being proactive, but as the day progressed, the wedding planner paid slightly more attention to the party than to her duties.

“She took a liking to some of the guys at the wedding and transitioned from planning wedding to being guest of wedding to meet people,” Monika said. “… This was at the wedding. She was on the clock. We looked back at the pictures and were like, ‘Oh, yep, there she is!’”

Overall, though, the wedding was a roaring success. Part of the art museum was open for exploration during the cocktail hour, which proved to be popular among guests, and after the marriage ceremony everyone danced the night away for hours. To this day, the couple receives birthday cards from the person who designed their wedding cake.

“I will say, we had a beautiful wedding,” Monika said. “We loved it and everyone was so great, so it worked out.”

It has been almost exactly four years since John and Monika got married, and Monika said she hopes that this is the year they’re finally able to catch their breath. The months following their wedding were a whirlwind, as they had just moved in and learned they were pregnant with their first child, John II, who would be born a year later on Feb. 8, 2020.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, which shut down Alexandria and the U.S. for several months and continues to cause disruptions.

“I felt like every six months there was something big that was happening, and not like someone [getting] a job promotion or something like that, but a global pandemic and [having] a child,” Monika said. “So, I think we’re hopeful in year four that we’ll not have the big major [changes] and we can just enjoy family and things like that.”

Between raising their three-year-old son, full-time jobs – John as a career educator for Fairfax County Public Schools and Monika as a civilian managing international programs with the U.S. Department of Defense – and John serving on City Council, the pair has their hands full.

The Chapmans’ son, John II, was born on Feb. 8, 2020.

“With any relationship it’s really about time spent with somebody, so if you’re balancing city meetings and even events that we went to took a different feel. When some of us go to these bigger events or galas we’re there meeting people, shaking hands and having conversations – it’s a lot different from being there with your significant other, and you two enjoying the event,” John said.

But in their down time John and Monika found a way to prioritize their relationship, and it looks a lot like it did when they first started dating: bonding by watching television shows together. It might sound small to some, Monika noted, but it’s a big deal for them due to the constant running around that is their daily routine.

They’ve also determined that a foundation of trust and empathy is integral to the success of their relationship. Because John and Monika lead exceedingly busy lives, they often try to put themselves in the other’s shoes and come from a place of understanding.

“If there’s activities or events that are pulling some attention away on days, understanding what that means and what your partner is doing and being supportive of that is really important,” Monika said. “… We all have stressors and things that are impacting, and [we have] understanding that it’s a temporary thing and not [get] stuck on it.”