The Plot of a Rom-Com, In Real Life

The Plot of a Rom-Com, In Real Life

Rober Lawrence had seen Shawna Rodrigues around Phoenix High School in Phoenix, Ore., for a couple of years, but hadn’t approached her until his junior year in May 1991, when she was at her locker talking with a friend. The night before, Mr. Lawrence said, he had a dream about Ms. Rodrigues and wanted to tell her about it.

Unbeknown to Mr. Lawrence, now 49, Ms. Rodrigues, 47, had long thought he was a “hot jock.”

“When he and I met eyes, there was definitely lightning for me,” Ms. Rodrigues said. “I just never would have imagined that he had the same connection.”

The locker conversation sparked a short-lived high school romance that Ms. Rodrigues said felt like a rom-com, or, as she put it, the “theater nerd” with the “prom king.”

During their time together, Mr. Lawrence made her a mixtape full of songs by the Cure and “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. And the couple shared a passionate kiss while on a school camping trip.

But in June 1991, Ms. Rodrigues said she was both heartbroken and stunned to find out from his mother that he was away for the summer on a wrestling scholarship.

Mr. Lawrence explained that without cellphones and the prevalence of emails, the two had lost touch. He said he left a message for Ms. Rodrigues on the answering machine at her home, though she said she never received it. He returned for his senior year, and the two awkwardly avoided each other.

He then left for his freshman year at Brown, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in modern U.S. history. Ms. Rodrigues returned to finish her junior and senior years of high school.

The romance rekindled two years later, as Ms. Rodrigues was preparing for college at what was then known as Northeast Louisiana University, where she ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. She also has a master’s degree in social work from Boston University.

The two went to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory near Phoenix, where Ms. Rodrigues said they felt the romance but “we were both scared of each other because it was so real and so right. Neither of us were ready for that.”

The pair once again parted ways, but this time it would be 25 years before they would see each other in person again. Ms. Rodrigues married and divorced, living in various cities including Washington, D.C., and Durham, N.H. Mr. Lawrence, who lived in Medford, Ore., and Portland, Ore., never married.

Then, in November 2018, Ms. Rodrigues was at a Home Depot near their hometown, while visiting her family from her residence in Portland. She was shocked to look over and see Mr. Lawrence, who was helping a neighbor pick up a new water heater. He didn’t see her.

The next day, Mr. Lawrence, who then lived in Medford, ran into Ms. Rodrigues’s younger sister, Kricket Sturdevant, at a local sandwich shop. (Ms. Rodrigues also has an older sister.) “At the end of the conversation, I was like, ‘Next time you see Shawna, give her my number,’” he said.

Ms. Rodrigues texted shortly thereafter, and the two began hanging out. Over the holidays, they went to a happy hour with mutual friends and wine tasting at a local winery.

Mr. Lawrence made another big move romantically in January 2019. She had just purchased a home in Bend, Ore., and he volunteered to help her settle in.

“He was saying he was good at moving boxes and he would come help,” Ms. Rodrigues said. “So he came to hang cabinets.”

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The two hung and painted cabinets, ordered Thai food, watched favorite movies and stayed up late “talking about everything.”

“I told her I couldn’t let her go,” Mr. Lawrence said.

“It was always you,” he recalled telling her.

Three months later, Mr. Lawrence, a surgical technician at Central Oregon Surgery Center in Bend, moved in with Ms. Rodrigues, who is the founder of Authentic Connections Podcast Network. He proposed in January 2021. They later made a Spotify playlist of that high school mixtape.

The couple married April 27 at the Riverhouse, an events space in Shady Cove, Ore., officiated by Mr. Lawrence’s nephew, Caleb Lawrence, who was ordained through the Universal Life Church for the occasion.

The wedding date is meaningful, Ms. Rodrigues said. It’s a palindrome that also nods to the importance of the number 27 in their decades-long relationship, including the date of their first kiss in 27 years: Jan. 27, 2019.

Ms. Rodrigues said she has no regrets about the couple not committing to each other when they were younger. “We bring so much more into our relationship now that we never could have done at those ages and stages.”

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