Melissa Butler and Ryan Joyce
September 22, 2018 in Doylestown
In 1998, they deconstructed an old computer together in kindergarten at Cold Spring Elementary School. Two years later, the friends enjoyed Goldfish crackers and Nintendo 64 during a playdate at Melissa’s house.
Class assignments separated them through the rest of elementary and middle school, when Ryan saw Melissa only on a video screen, reading the morning announcements TV newscaster-style.
Then, in sophomore year, the Doylestown residents were partners in English class at Central Bucks East High School, assigned to write a new scene for The Crucible. The due date approached with plenty of work remaining, so they had to get together after school. Neither was allowed to have opposite-sex company when parents weren’t home, but they saw no way to avoid it. Melissa sneaked Ryan into her house so they could finish their homework on time
The scene was finished and Ryan was leaving when Melissa pulled him toward her and kissed him on the lips.
“It took me completely by surprise,” Ryan said. “Me, too!” Melissa said.
Their first official date was Halloween night. Because Ryan played ice hockey and Melissa loved ice skating, they headed to the local rink. No one was there, so they sat outside on the curb, talking until one of their moms came to pick them up.
“I probably knew within a month that I could quite possibly marry Mel one day,” Ryan said. “She is extremely caring and is exceptionally good at talking to people — even people she doesn’t know,” he said. She’s really smart, and she makes him laugh.
Melissa fell in love with Ryan twice. He’s always been “a pillar of calm” who centers her, no matter how overwhelmed she feels. She’s always admired what a great friend he is to her and so many different people. But in high school, Ryan was more emotionally mature than she was, Melissa said. She wasn’t fully able to comprehend, or fully ready to accept, the kind of love he offered her.
The Atlantic Ocean separated them when Ryan studied aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland and Melissa studied art history at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. They Skyped and saw each other over summers and holidays.
Several times, Melissa called things off.
“I couldn’t see what direction I wanted my life to go in,” she said. Melissa wasn’t sure whether she would stay in the U.K. or go elsewhere and didn’t feel equipped to make any major life decisions.
In 2013, their junior year, Melissa broke up with him for the last time. His heart needed to heal, Ryan said. He asked her for some space.
They had no contact until February 2014, when Melissa woke up in an unprecedented panic. “I felt like I was going to fall off the earth — like there would be no more gravity — if I didn’t see him.” she said.
Without thinking about the potential consequences, she booked a flight for the next day. At 11 p.m., local time, she called Ryan:
“Hey, are you in your room right now?”
“Yeah. Why are you calling me?”
“Are you doing anything right now?”
“I’m about to go to a party.”
“What do you mean ‘here?’ In the U.S.?”
“Yes. But I’m in Maryland. I’m at the University of Maryland. Can I come over?”
“I haven’t heard from you in nine months, and now you’re here?”
But Ryan agreed to see her. Melissa was hungry, so he got Tater Tots, and she sat on the floor of his dorm room, eating them as they tried to figure things out.
“You cannot mess with my feelings again. It is not fair to me,” Ryan told her.
Melissa promised she would not. She understood, finally, who Ryan is, and what their lives would be together. She loved him. She wanted to be with him. And she was ready.
After they graduated in 2015, Ryan stayed at the University of Maryland to earn his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, Melissa enrolled at UMD to earn her master’s in historic preservation, and they got their first place together.
Ryan is an aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va. Melissa is an architectural historian with Dovetail Cultural Resource Group in Fredericksburg, Va. The couple, now both 26, live in Williamsburg, Va., with their dog, Luna.
In June 2016, the couple took a long-planned trip to Scotland to attend a friend’s St. Andrews graduation and the graduation ball. Melissa went a few days early to hang out with her college chums. They met in St. Andrews one morning at 11. Ryan looked so awake for someone who just got off a red-eye. “Do you need coffee?” she asked. “Do you need food?” Nope. He needed to visit the top of St. Rule’s Tower. Melissa had never been at the tippy-top and had told him she’d like to do that together.
Up the winding stairs they climbed. The view of the town and countryside was lovely, but many, many other people were climbing the stairs to see it. “He keeps telling me all these nice things, about me and about us,” Melissa said. They were at the top for about 30 minutes when she asked if he’d like to see other sites.
Realizing that time alone at the top was just not possible, Ryan agreed. But partway down the stairwell, they had a small landing and a small window to themselves. Ryan knelt quickly, and just as quickly asked, “Will you marry me?”
Melissa said yes, and the two met her old college crew at Melissa’s favorite restaurant to celebrate.
The couple’s friend Rory played the bagpipes as their 220 guests entered Doylestown United Methodist Church. The ceremony began with a warming of the rings. “We tried to incorporate our friends and family in as many ways as we could through the whole wedding,” Melissa said. Their wedding rings were placed in a little bag, and everyone was asked to hold them for a moment, think of well wishes for the couple, then pass them along to the next guest.
Melissa and Ryan gave roses to his mom, Lori, and Grandmother Meredith, and her mom, Bernadette, and Aunt Tina.
When she was in college, Melissa was part of a Scottish ceilidh band called Gaelic Sea. Two of her former bandmates, Rosemary and Craig, provided the ceremony music.
Ryan’s dad, Tom, and Melissa’s dad, Mark, welcomed the guests to the reception at the Michener Museum. The couple’s friends sat at a single long table. The dancing part of the reception was a ceilidh, a traditional Scottish style in which a caller guides the dancers through their steps.
The couple’s first dance was a Gay Gordons, a style of ceilidh. Melissa and Ryan danced alone at first — but not for long. “After a few rounds, I could see my college friends joining in. And then Ryan’s family from Buffalo, who had all practiced this dance,” Melissa said. “Seeing all of these people we love joining in on something that means so much to us was incredibly powerful.”
At dinnertime, the couple thanked everyone for coming, then sat back to enjoy their meal and listen to the speeches. “We looked out at everybody sitting around us — our friends and family — and it was really surreal and special to see them gathered there together at this one point in time, for us,” Ryan said.
The couple spent a few days in a cozy cabin at the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm in Sperryville, Va. In February, they head to Ottawa to ice-skate down the canal.
Officiant: Pastor Michael Murphy, Doylestown United Methodist Church, Doylestown.
Ceremony: Doylestown United Methodist Church.
Reception: James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown.
Food: Catering by Design, Philadelphia.
Ceremony music: Craig Martin and Rosemary Hall of Gaelic Sea, St. Andrews, Scotland.
Reception music: Celtic Music for Your Wedding.
Photography: Ashlee Mintz Photography, Havertown.
Dress: Rue de Seine from Lovely Bride, Washington.
Hair: Brandy at Essentials Salon & Spa, Doylestown.