Match Me if You Can

Near misses and almost introductions seemed to be the fate of this couple until a matchmaker friend stepped in and made the stars align.

Photography by Jen Fariello

Sometimes it’s good to know a story has a happy ending. Even two-thirds of the way through the twists and turns of how Alex Cashman came to find true love with Braden Eckert, few would have predicted its outcome without sneaking a peek at the ending.

It’s not like fate wasn’t doing its darnedest to push the two Charlottesville-area natives together. Although separated by three grades, both attended middle school at the relatively small, private St. Anne’s-Belfield. “I even had an older sister at the same school and knew other people in his class, but we just never met then—at least not that either of us remember,” explains Alex. Braden transferred to Charlottesville’s Einstein School during high school, and Alex left in ninth grade for boarding school at Chatham Hall. “It seems strange given the friends we had in common that we didn’t even know of each other,” says Alex.

College presented another spate of near misses. Braden went to the all-male Hampden-Sydney College. Alex went to the all-female Hollins University. With only about an hour’s distance apart, students at the same-sex schools frequently mix socially. But by the time Alex had warmed to the idea of visiting the boys’ school down the road in her sophomore year, Braden had graduated and left for England to pursue a master’s degree in American foreign policy at the London School of Advanced Study.

The two would once again circle closer together after Alex graduated from Hollins and returned to Charlottesville to study nursing at UVA, and Braden also returned to work as an energy account manager for SNL Financial. The pair even attended the wedding of one of Alex’s college friends to Braden’s Hampden-Sydney roommate, where, miraculously, they did not meet once again.

But the 20-something social scene in Charlottesville eventually brought them back together when mutual friend Whitney Wigton, then a clothing store manager with a gift for matchmaking, suggested three eligible men for the single nursing student to consider dating.

“Two of them I knew and didn’t think either of them would work out, but the third was Braden, and I didn’t know him. Charlottesville is small, especially given our age group, so I was really surprised … especially when she told me where he’d gone to school. I thought maybe he was odd or a recluse or something,” Alex laughs.

Several weeks later, Wigton arranged for Braden and Alex to sit next to each other at a small dinner party she was hosting at her house, then sat back and waited for sparks to fly. They didn’t.

“I didn’t know anyone beside Whitney at the dinner and assumed that they were all Braden’s friends. It turned out that he didn’t know anyone else at the table either,” says Alex. Shy around new acquaintances, Alex says Braden didn’t have much to say at dinner. Mistaking Braden’s shyness for disinterest, Alex decided to leave, making the excuse that she had to feed her father’s dog. Braden later learned from Wigton that Alex’s father doesn’t have a dog. “I thought it was definitely going to be a ‘one and done’ situation,” he recalls. “Especially when I found out her dad didn’t even have a dog.”

After she left, Alex felt a twinge of regret for having ducked out of the dinner party without really giving Braden a chance, so when she got home, she sent him a text telling him that she had enjoyed meeting him. Braden, surprised to hear from Alex, regrouped and decided to ask Alex out on a date.

But when he called her, she said no.

“I couldn’t believe it, but the night he asked me out, I already had tickets to see Cirque du Soleil with my mother … which also sounded a little made up,” she recalls with a laugh. She quickly offered up another night for their date, and a very relieved Braden said that would work. The star-crossed lovers enjoyed a great first date, and their fate was sealed at last.

“There were definitely a lot of near misses,” says Braden. “But looking back, I think the timing was actually a good thing. We met when we were ready to meet.”

By the time Alex graduated from the nursing program in May 2011 and began working as a critical care nurse at UVA Hospital, Braden had grown evermore sure of their relationship. In the spring of 2012, Braden began searching for the perfect ring. Several months into his quest, he discovered a three-stone oval diamond estate ring that he knew would be perfect in a customized platinum setting with pavé diamonds and milgrain edging. Meanwhile, Alex, who loves to travel, was eager to plan a trip, and Braden saw a plan coming together. Alex’s 28th birthday that fall would be the perfect time to propose. He suggested a favorite spot of Alex’s, the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island where her family had vacationed every summer.  

The couple arrived on Halloween, and Braden knew he would not be able to wait to give Alex the ring that was tucked into his suitcase. But like their courtship, the proposal would not come easily. After settling into the room, Braden surreptitiously slipped the ring box into his jacket pocket and suggested they “go check out the grounds.” But on their way out the door, Alex turned to Braden and said, “Why are you wearing your coat?” Braden says he left the coat—and the ring—in the room.

“The whole time we were walking around I was trying to come up with a way to get back to the room and get the ring,” Braden recalls. He finally announced that he had to take a phone call and left the bar, sprinting back to the room for the ring. With it stashed in his pants pocket, he ran back to the bar. After drinks, he suggested another walk outside. “I remember she said to me, ‘Braden, you’re being weird. What’s going on?’” he says with a laugh. “I felt like I was in middle school about to get my first kiss.”

He eventually coaxed Alex back outside and towards the oceanfront where he knelt on one knee and asked her to marry him. Alex said yes.

Braden grew up on farms near Keswick, and the place holds special memories for him and his family, so the couple chose Grace Episcopal Church for their ceremony and Keswick Hall for their reception. In fact, family was a recurring theme for the wedding, which featured floral arrangements in teacups collected over the years by Alex and her mother. Braden wore a wedding band first worn by his grandfather and engraved with his grandparents’ initials and wedding date, as well as Braden and Alex’s initials and wedding date.

The whole family joined together to make the guests’ favors: a small jar of local honey, bottled by the couple’s fathers. Alex’s mother cut lace fabric, which her sisters tied to the top of each jar. Alex and her father together created a velvet, stenciled damask table runner for the 40-foot head table. To help identify seating assignments, each table was identified by the name of one of the 14 dogs from both families.

“The tent and the décor required so much planning,” says Alex. “It was surreal to see it all finally come together.” But the couple agrees, by far the best part was seeing each other at the church for the first time.

“When I saw the doors open and saw Alex and her dad coming in, that was my moment. And then my dad leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘I’m proud of you … she’s beautiful.’”

Check out these other lovely Virginia weddings:

Julia & Luke—November 2, 2013 • Rassawek vineyard • Columbia

Jess & Teddy—June 29, 2013 • The Homestead • Hot Springs

Lacy & Sam—April 13, 2013 • King Family Vineyards • Crozet

Stephanie & Robert—February 9, 2013 • VMFA • Richmond

Cat & Teddy—June 1, 2013 • Williamsburg Winery • Williamsburg

Nitika & Shalin—May 26, 2013 • Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel

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