Walter Smith-Randolph said he was interested in LeAnne Armstead from the moment he met her at a barbecue held in 2005 by the Black Cultural Society at Villanova University.
But it took a long, long, long time before anything happened.
“I was a 12-year-old friend,” he said.
The two became friends, a little closer than acquaintances, Ms Armstead said, but also not best friends. They regularly dated people from their social circle and had a class together. Mr Smith-Randolph, 34, had a car at school and recalled picking up Ms Armstead, 35, from her family home in Brooklyn as she returned to college from her own home family run in Queens Village, Queens. (“She says it only happened twice,” he said.)
He never moved, however.
“She was beautiful, tall, gorgeous, and I thought she was out of my league,” he said.
After both graduating – her in 2008, he in 2009 – they continued to see each other sporadically. When Mr. Smith-Randolph, who received a Masters in Journalism from the City University of New York, then moved to Elmira, NY, for his first job in broadcasting, Ms. Armstead and another friend visited him.
The two have also often met with other people in New York for game watches, which are essentially informal gatherings of alumni during Villanova’s basketball games.
Ms Armstead said that in November 2017, when Mr Smith-Randolph traveled from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was then working, to New York City for a family event, something changed.
They planned to meet at Mist Harlem, which was then a bar, restaurant and event space. She was attending with a group of friends, but the two still ended up making it a near-solo night.
“My girlfriends would ask me, ‘How come you’re not dating him?'” Ms Armstead said. She replied, “It’s a trap, but I don’t want to ruin a friendship.”
The evening made her think, however. She texted Mr Smith-Randolph, who returned to Michigan right after they met, later that night to make sure he got home. In her mind, she was telling him that she was thinking of him more than casually.
Mr. Smith-Randolph remembers a little less subtlety during the evening.
“When we started talking one-on-one, she grabbed my thigh,” said Smith-Randolph, who is now investigative editor at Connecticut Public Broadcasting in Hartford. “I was like, Oh wow, this is something.”
The two began texting every day, “about the tiniest things,” said Ms Armstead, now ecommerce marketing manager at Kroger Company, a grocery store and retailer. When Mr. Smith-Randolph returned to New York the following month, the two anticipated that their relationship could evolve.
They had brunch together on New Years Eve and, Ms Armstead said, “We were kind of flirting, touching our hands.”
As they walked back to her apartment, she remembers, “He said: You know, you’re going to be my wife.
But first, she became his girlfriend. On December 31, 2017, Ms Armstead said: “He asked me to be his girlfriend. And then we had our first kiss. They dated for over two years before getting engaged in May 2020.
The couple, who will both use the last name Randolph and now live in New Haven, Connecticut, married Nov. 6 at St. Thomas of Villanova Roman Catholic Church on their alma mater’s campus. Reverend Peter M. Donohue, who is the president of the university, performed the ceremony in front of 160 guests, all vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Of the longtime friend who became his wife, Smith-Randolph said: “She is one of my biggest supporters, she holds me accountable and she is loyal. Even when you mess up, she won’t let you down or miss you. She will stay with you through this. And she is beautiful.