Jill Hanley and David Owen
Aug. 17, 2019 in Philadelphia
Jill, an American woman studying British literature, kept gazing across the Oxford University classroom at David, a British man studying American literature.
For six weeks in the winter of 2016, she noted his good looks, his intelligent and eloquent classroom presentations, and his kindness and wit when he spoke with their professor.
After the final session of the only course they would ever have in common, Jill, who grew up in Malvern, knew it was now or never.
“David!” she yelled across the parking lot. “Would you like to go out for coffee or a drink sometime?”
David, who is from Holyhead, Wales, was intrigued.
“It was a brave move, and not something I would have felt confident in doing,” he said, admiring her moxie.
They planned to meet when he returned from a trip to Scotland, but after a weekend of good texting banter, he suggested they get together before he left. At Turl Street Kitchen Bar, they had drinks and split a plate of baby potatoes — the only item on the menu that worked for then-vegetarian Jill.
“We talked for four hours,” she said. They discussed their classes and their families, and discovered a common love of music.
“I play the guitar, but kind of badly,” said David, who is now 26 and teaches English as a second language at Lewisham College in Lewisham, the London borough where the couple now lives.
“He plays it very well!” Jill interjected. “He also plays bass guitar, banjo, ukulele, and piano.”
Jill, who is 29, sings. She is now finishing her third master’s degree — in musical theater performance — at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.
Their second date included an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and a viewing of The Ring. “I was into really cheesy horror movies,” said Jill. “Now I am, too,” said David.
The serious feelings they had after a couple of weeks were confirmed by a weekend trip to Copenhagen after dating for just six weeks.
Love came quickly, David said. “It was just this feeling like you’re comfortable with somebody. You don’t have to put on airs, or pretend or act. She was someone I could just be myself with. And, she is funny, smart, and really good looking.”
Jill said she fell in love for similar reasons. “With previous boyfriends, I always felt like I was presenting a version of myself that they would like, that I was censoring myself. With David, whatever I woke up as that day, he liked me.”
Jill adds that a shared fondness for weird, dark humor also keeps them laughing together.
In September 2016, the couple moved to Palermo, Sicily, where David got a job teaching English. He lived there for a year, but after three months, Jill’s visa was up, and she had to return to Pennsylvania. From then on, it was months together, then months apart, as required by her visa. During the gaps, they saw each other mostly on Skype, but David visited during school breaks.
David spent Christmas 2017 with Jill, her mother, Kitty, stepfather, Bobby, and the rest of her family. Before he left the States, Kitty suggested he surprise Jill by joining their family Disney World vacation that March. David decided to double-surprise her.
When he told his parents, Angela and Emlyn, of his plan, Angela offered David’s late grandmother’s engagement ring, which she had inherited. His grandfather was delighted.
On that March Disney trip, Kitty told Jill she had forgotten her phone charger at the hotel and asked Jill to go with her to retrieve it.
Jill couldn’t figure out why her mother would need her charger when she wasn’t even using her phone, but agreed to take the small boat from the Magic Kingdom back to their hotel with her mother and her brother Matt.
“That looks like David,” she said as they approached the dock.
Then, she realized it was.
“She was still reeling from the surprise, still in shock, when I gave her a letter,” David said.
Jill read that David loved her so much, and that this had been the best year of his life. “I really want to be with you forever,” he had written. “Will you marry me?”
When she looked up, he asked again in person.
“I was still a little shocked that he was there at all, much less that he was asking me to marry him,” said. “I managed to choke out, ‘Yes! I love you!’”
Within what seemed like seconds, Disney staffers materialized and gave the couple special Disney celebration badges.
David landed his current job in September 2017. In 2018, Jill was accepted at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned her second master’s in creative writing, and moved back to London with David.
The couple held both the ceremony and reception for 200 at the Union League. They chose to be married by someone who knows them well: Jill’s stepbrother, Daniel, who became a registered minister years ago. He wove their story into the ceremony. Daniel’s wife, Carly, was Jill’s matron of honor.
Friends read from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. After the short ceremony, guests enjoyed a summery seafood dinner at simple wooden tables decorated with wildflowers and candles. The decor also included a paper cutting of Oxford, Orlando, and Philadelphia — key cities in the couple’s life together. Guests received a bookmark of the Philadelphia portion. Jill surprised David with a Star Wars groom’s cake.
Everyone danced as band Jellyroll played Motown and soul, plus a little pop. Jill’s Mom Mom Cosima danced a mean tarantella.
Jill was surprised how nervous she felt when she heard her cue: The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” “It was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God, this is my wedding day! It’s happening!'” she said. “Then I walked out and saw David standing at the end of the aisle, smiling really big. He was looking at me with so much love and happiness that I wasn’t nervous any more. I started speeding up to get to him. My stepdad, who had me by the arm, said, ‘You have to walk slow!’”
Walking into the reception to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was “a completely different vibe than all that had come before,” David said. As they began to sway together, “We were surrounded by family and friends, and I was realizing, ‘They are here for us,'” he said. “It all solidified for me then, and I was so happy.”
A bargain: Wanting to be comfortable dancing, and realizing no one would see her shoes, anyway, Jill wore the Capezios she bought for dance class.
The splurge: The band.
Two weeks in Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Dubrovnik.
Venue and food: The Union League of Philadelphia
Music: Jellyroll, BVT Live!
Guest MC: Anthony Vennera, Philadelphia
Photography: Sarah DiCicco, Philadelphia
Videography: Atomic Tangerine Films, Philadelphia and Los Angeles
Flowers: Ilonka Floral Decorator, Malvern, Pa.
Jill’s attire: Reem Acra
David’s attire: Distante Philadelphia
Planner: Christiane Lehman, Truly You Events, Philadelphia
Event Design: Christopher Carlson Designs, Philadelphia, Bermuda and New York
Lighting: Synergetic Sounds & Lighting, Bensalem, Pa.
Live Event Painter: Celebrations Paintings, Orefield, Pa.
Paper cutting artist: Béatrice Coron, Chambéry, France and New York.
Hair: Jason Matthew Salon, Philadelphia
Makeup: Beke Beau, Philadelphia
Invitations + Calligraphy: The Papery of Philadelphia