This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 15, 2013.
Almost every Friday night for three years, Brianne McElhiney, 26, and Patrick Noonan, 28, greeted each other with a curbside kiss at the airport. By Sunday night, they were back at the curb, saying goodbye. Because they lived nearly 500 miles apart, this was their routine from the time they had their first date in June 2010 until the time they said “I do” in August 2013.
“We missed less than 10 weekends,” said McElhiney, who lives in Morgan Hill and works at Sunset magazine in Menlo Park. Noonan, who was attending University of San Diego School of Law during of their courtship, admits neither of them was looking for a long-distance relationship. But after only a few weekends together, they committed to making it work.
McElhiney first caught Noonan’s attention in 2004 when he was an undergraduate attending Santa Clara University with McElhiney’s older sister, Robyn. He remembers seeing a girl visit Robyn on campus and thinking “Whoa, who’s that?” But he didn’t speak to her until three years later, while attending Robyn’s 2007 wedding. There, they were introduced, shook hands and became Facebook friends soon after.
“It’s too bad you live so far apart,” Noonan remembers Robyn saying to him later. “You could date my sister.”
Robyn also encouraged her sister to get to know Noonan, but little came of the friendship until 2010, when Noonan commented on something McElhiney posted on Facebook, and it spurred a longer conversation. Noonan was coming to the Bay Area in June for another friend’s wedding, and he’d been asked to sing a karaoke version of the Isley Brothers’ 1959 hit, “Shout” at the reception. He suggested McElhiney join him at a karaoke bar the night before the wedding to help him practice.
She accepted, and the two had a “very fun first date.” They also made plans to spend the day after the wedding together at an all-day country music festival.
“At the end of the weekend, we started talking about this happening again,” McElhiney said.
Noonan invited her to spend the Fourth of July with him in San Diego, and they went kayaking. Later that month, they traveled to Washington, D.C. By August, they were flying to be with each other every weekend and talking daily on the phone, Skype or Google Hangout. In the entire time they dated, there were only two days when they didn’t talk – once when Noonan was in Mexico without cell reception, and once when he was up late studying for a law final and couldn’t break away.
Overcoming the distance required a lot of planning and some sacrifices. They missed activities with their local friends on weekends, and on weekdays they worked or went to class and juggled chores, errands and calls with each other. They stocked up on airfare whenever Southwest Airlines had a sale, and they kept track of all their flights on a shared Google Doc. McElhiney lived with her parents to save money for traveling, and when the couple was together, they often cooked rather than going out to dinner or went camping instead of staying in hotels.
“The hardest part was when one person was sad or had a stressful day, and the other was far away and couldn’t do anything to help,” Noonan said. But McElhiney added, “Long distance really forced our communication skills to grow.”
After two years of dating, Noonan was ready for a bigger commitment. He knew McElhiney had always admired her grandmother’s sapphire ring, so he enlisted the grandmother’s help in picking out a similar engagement ring. The jeweler had the ring ready on a Friday at 3:30 p.m., and by 5 p.m. Noonan was on a flight to the Bay Area to ask McElhiney’s parents for her hand. “You’re hired,” they told him immediately.
That night, Noonan waited nervously until McElhiney was sound asleep, and then slipped the ring onto her finger around 3 a.m. He hardly slept until 8 a.m., when McElhiney awoke and was shocked to discover why her hand felt heavier.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “It was nice to have a personal moment, just the two of us.” The moment was followed by a Champagne toast and BBQ with McElhiney’s family. “It was a very happy day,” she said.
The couple wed in August at Stanford’s Memorial Church. The 86-year-old priest who headed Noonan’s childhood Catholic church in La Jolla (San Diego County) flew in from his current home in Ireland to officiate.
The reception was at the Sunset magazine headquarters – a privilege reserved for Sunset employees. McElhiney had been the wedding coordinator for a few of her colleagues, so she knew she wanted to have a dance floor and lawn games in the gardens and use some of the flowers grown on-site in the bouquets and boutonnières. She also hired caterer Janine Godfrey, who used to work in Sunset’s entertainment department. And McElhiney encouraged the female guests to wear hats or fascinators in their hair because “they make events look so festive.”
On the wedding day, Noonan wore the same tie he was wearing at Robyn’s wedding when he met McElhiney. And the “just married” couple drove away in his parents’ green 1970 Mercedes 280SE – the same car the parents had driven on their own wedding day in 1984 and, later, brought Noonan home from the hospital in.
At the reception, Noonan continued his wedding karaoke tradition by serenading McElhiney with the 1960s song “This Magic Moment.” His three brothers accompanied him on back-up vocals, drums and guitar. Later, he brought the crowd to the dance floor with a reprise of “Shout.”
Guests waved sparklers to send the newlyweds off on their nine-day honeymoon trip to Maui, which Noonan planned as a surprise for McElhiney. And this time, when they arrived at the airport, they didn’t have to say goodbye.