Patrice O'Riordan and Grant Stringham
February 23, 2018, in Philadelphia
Patrice noticed that Grant, a friend of a friend, had missed several sessions of the constitutional law class they had together in 2012. The next time she saw him on the Drexel University campus, she offered him her notes.
Grant was grateful to receive both the notes and her kindness. After growing up in Texas and Oregon, then living in Salt Lake City, he came to Philadelphia for law school. It was a rough adjustment. Grant had missed class because his car had been broken into – for the second time – and his laptop was stolen. The mechanic proclaimed his car fixed with the dash still damaged and bloody from the thief's hands.
"It was a breath of fresh air to have someone be so helpful," he said of Patrice's offer.
They became friends, then good friends, then friends who sometimes did things that friends generally don't do.
"I lived in Doylestown, and he would come up for the weekend, and we would study together," said Patrice, who grew up in that Bucks County town. "I would also stay at his place sometimes, and eventually I caught feelings for him." She was almost sure Grant felt the same.
One night in 2013, Grant teasingly accused Patrice of flirting with another friend. "I wasn't flirting with him, because I'm I love with you," she told Grant.
Grant was honest: "I don't feel the same way. I love you as a friend. This isn't going to affect us, I hope?"
Patrice was crushed. But soon everything returned to their normal, and Grant still treated her in the exceptionally caring, more-than-a-friend way he always had.
A month later, Grant persuaded Patrice, who prefers to view nature from a restaurant patio, to hike the Pinnacle Trail near Hamburg, Pa. They skipped breakfast but took a bottle of water and half-eaten roll of SweeTarts from her car. The views were stunning, but on the way back down, they took the wrong trail.
"It was really hot, and at this point, we're starving and we're very thirsty," Patrice said. Grant found a natural spring and they drank.
The compass app on Patrice's phone confirmed Grant's hunch that the trail map's N was not accurately pointing north. They changed course and he doled out a few SweeTarts for energy. "If you stay calm, we're going to be OK," he told her, adding that he had been kidding when he said there were still mountain lions in Pennsylvania. They had hiked about 14 miles in total when Grant saw the glint of moonlight on a pond he knew was near the car.
The next day, they were lying on Patrice's couch together when Grant told Patrice he was in love with her. It was a combination of seeing her in a new light as she remained strong, calm, and collected through their ordeal, and realizing what he had been feeling all along, said Grant, who is now 30 and an attorney at the Chartwell Law Offices.
Patrice, who is now 33 and works in legal sales for Veritext Legal Solutions, said, "I knew he'd come around."
They graduated in 2014 and Patrice soon moved to Graduate Hospital. In summer 2016, she told Grant they needed to figure out if what they had was for a lifetime. Soon after, Grant moved in with Patrice and Biden, the couple's bichon-shih tzu mix, to test their long-term compatibility.
"The understanding was if, in a year, we didn't think we were getting married, we would break up," he said. It went more smoothly than either even hoped. "Within two months of us living together with Biden as a little family, I started looking into engagement rings," Grant said.
In April 2017, Grant lured Patrice back to Pinnacle with promises of wine and fancy cheese. It had been raining, and the flooded trail made Patrice seriously question her decision. But Biden was having a great time, they now knew the trail route, and Grant soon removed chardonnay and champagne from his backpack.
He asked her to sit on the blanket he spread and knelt beside her. Patrice thought Grant was preparing to picnic and didn't comprehend what was happening even as he told her he loved her, and that she was his best friend.
He took out the ring to clue her in. "I promise you my friendship as long as you want it, my love as long as you'll have it, my hand as long as you'll hold it, and my heart as long as you'll keep it," he said.
The family and friends waiting at Patrice's dad's place in Center City thought they were there for a surprise birthday party. "They don't know what just happened," Grant whispered to her. She flashed her new ring, and joy erupted.
The couple wed at Union Trust with a self-uniting license. A close friend led their ceremony.
They exchanged their vows, and then Biden the Ring Dog came down the aisle. "I had hidden some salami in my pocket to make sure he would sit at the front," Grant said. Biden sat for his treat, and Grant removed the rings from the dog's bow tie.
Each guest held a candle, passing the light one to the other until it reached the couple. "It was a way to include everyone there in our ceremony, and to symbolize our friends' and families' love for us and support for our marriage," Patrice said.
Her dad welcomed everyone to the reception and addressed head-on an issue that was on everyone's mind: Yes, Grant was a Cowboys fan, but perhaps there was still hope. In came the Eagles' pep band, wearing jerseys and playing "Fly, Eagles Fly!"
Grant did not accept an invitation to stomp on a mat bearing the Cowboys logo. He was a loyal and faithful man, he told the crowd, and that extended to his team, too.
Patrice had been nervous all morning. "I scrapped my vows and rewrote them," she said. "I was so anxious and crying, just a wreck." And that was before her limo broke down. She called an Uber to get her to the front of the couple's Logan Square apartment building so they could see each other before the ceremony. "As soon as I knew I was on my way to see Grant, it felt like everything else just dropped away," she said. And then there he was. "He makes me feel so calm, and I was also so excited to see him, finally. It was just surreal."
During their vows, Grant reiterated the promises he'd made to Patrice when he proposed. He also vowed to encourage and inspire her, as she does for him, and to honor her sister Meghan, who died 11 years ago, as his own sister. Grant thought it would be easy to read these words to the woman for whom he wrote them, but it was one of the most powerful and emotional experiences of his life. "I was choking up," he said. "It was just so hard to get through them."
A bargain: The dress Patrice really wanted was way out of budget — until the store held a trunk sale. She got the sample at half-price.
The splurge: The couple made room in their budget for the FM Band. "They were the biggest splurge, but also the biggest bargain, because they brought the house down," Grant said. "The dance floor was so packed that people were dancing on the carpet."
A 12-day spring trip to Paris, the south of France, and Geneva.
Officiant: The couple used a self-uniting license. Close friend Patrick Gardner performed the ceremony.
Venue: Union Trust, Philadelphia.
Music: The FM Band, Philadelphia.
Photography: Hope Helmuth Photography, New York, Philadelphia, and Miami.
Videography: Quinn Starr Photo Video, Venice, Calif.
Flowers: Wegmans, Cherry Hill.
Dress: Marisa, purchased at Bijou Bridal, Ardmore.