His mohawk, while tame as far as such hairdos go, clued Jessica in that this Pawel guy was a little different. That and his professed love of history - the subject that's also the object of her geek love - led Jessica to say hi through Match.com.
Pawel's response included a question: What would Jessica do with a million-dollar windfall? "When the first thing she said was she'd donate a chunk of the money, I knew there was potential," he said.
And so in May 2011, Pawel, a project manager who leads historical renovation projects for Dan Lepore & Sons, and Jessica, a history major who is a mortgage loan officer at Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors, met for drinks at a Conshohocken Italian joint five minutes from her then-home and his office.
The bar was packed, so a server asked whether they wanted a table. That made Jessica nervous. "If a first date goes bad, you don't want to be stuck through an entire dinner," she said. But with no openings at the bar, they took a table at 7 p.m.
They shared surprisingly similar stories of growing up in tight-knit families with two siblings, she in Blue Bell, and he mostly in Jamison. They each eventually cautiously ordered food, and discussed current events and the craftsmanship of objects and homes created long ago.
"The next thing I knew, the waitress was tapping my shoulder, because it was 2 a.m. and they were closing," Pawel remembered.
Their third date included their first kiss and marked the end of Match.com searches for both.
"He is funny, just really silly in a kid sort of way," Jessica says. "He seemed very genuine and kind. And he's also cute."
Pawel was awed by their easy, enjoyable conversations, as evidenced by their seven-hour first date. "It resonated with me that I might have met someone I could spend my life with," he said.
Along with their similar values and interests, Pawel, who is now 30, and Jessica, now 32, discovered a shared anxiety. Both have digestive issues that they always worried would interfere with things they otherwise enjoy, such as elaborate meals out and, especially, travel.
Their mutual understanding removed the stress from eating out, and with each other's encouragement and support, they began to travel. Road trips to Ocracoke Island, N.C., where Pawel's family vacations, became a favorite excursion. Two years ago, the couple traveled to Poland with Pawel's parents, who are originally from Warsaw. Last year, they did Disney with Jessica's family.
It's been life-changing. "We've had so much fun on these trips," said Jessica. "Learning to travel has been our biggest learning curve, and it's one of the things that's brought us closest together, too."
How does forever sound?
The couple took Pawel's 2000 Jeep Wrangler on one of those North Carolina vacations in July 2014. Jessica had no idea what was inches away from her knees in the ashtray.
A few days into their vacation, they were searching for seashells and sand dollars when a pile of seaweed inspired Pawel. He took the ring from his pocket and knelt beside the tangle of plant and shells.
"Jess, look at this!" he said. She was close by, but the breeze and her shell-focused attention conspired to keep her from hearing him. "Jessica!" he tried again. Nothing.
Feeling a little frustrated, Pawel stood. Simultaneously, Jessica turned toward him, finding the ring right in front of her face.
"Here ya go," he said, his poise and plan gone. "Do you want to marry me?"
Jessica said yes, then began to laugh. At her prompting, Pawel knelt again and asked again. She said yes again.
It was so them
Not wanting a ceremony as formal or long as their Catholicism calls for, the two, who live in Plymouth Meeting, opted to wed in a winter-theme wedding at the HollyHedge Estate. They asked nondenominational officiant Diane Smith-Hoban to include elements of their faith, including the Prayer of St. Francis. Jessica wore one layer of her mom's multilayered veil. The couple honored all of their grandparents, remembering those who have died and giving a shout-out to Jessica's grandma Olga, who attended.
As Diane spoke of the symbolic nature of light, groomsmen lit small candles held by guests at the back of the room. The guests lit their candles from each other, passing the light forward until it reached the bride and groom's parents in the front. The maid of honor and best man lit their candles from the parents and brought the light to the bride and groom, who used their small candles to light one larger one, symbolizing that their lives had joined together.
Pawel is fluent in both English and Polish. When he gets nervous, he sometimes speaks in English, but switches word order to Polish syntax. "I did not screw up my vows!" Pawel said proudly.
Jessica didn't exactly screw up, but when Diane prompted her to tell Pawel, "I accept you for the unique person you are," she paused just long enough that the guests giggled. And so did she. She aced the line on the second try.
A Dixieland jazz band played for their 105 guests during the ceremony and cocktail hour, setting the mood for fun. The couple and their guests sat at long, farm-style tables decorated with white tablecloths, burlap runners, flowers arranged by the bride's aunt and cousin, and old wood the groom salvaged from a restoration project. The DJ played John Hyatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me" for the couple's first dance. Jessica danced with first one brother, then the other to "My Girl," and Pawel and his mom to Lady Antebellum's "Never Alone." Outside, the groom smoked cigars with those who wished. The couple got a tiny cake from Whole Foods for the photo op only; they served Pawel's favorite dessert, pie, in chocolate, apple, pear-cranberry, and pecan.
Before the ceremony, Jessica stood in the courtyard, waiting for her cue to walk toward Pawel for their first sight of each other that day. From out of nowhere, a ladybug landed on her dress. Jessica immediately thought that bug was her Pop-Pop, the beloved grandfather who had died seven years ago. She called Pawel and told him about her tiny, spotted visitor. "I bet it's Pop-Pop," he said, unprompted.
"Pawel had never met Pop-Pop, but he knew exactly what I was thinking," Jessica said. "They are so much alike, that I often joke Pop-Pop sent Pawel to me."
The wrought iron gate opened and Jessica walked through. "We were giddy," she remembered.
"When I saw her in her dress for the first time, I couldn't do anything but smile ear to ear," Pawel said. "I was ready to say, 'I do' right then and there."
A bargain: The floral design and setup were a gift.
The splurge: Having a jazz quartet was the bride's dream.
The getaway: A week in Turks and Caicos.