“This never, ever happens,” says 33-year-old Jessica Rice. “Who meets someone for the first time and knows they are going to marry this person? It’s pretty crazy.” As outrageous as that may sound, it’s exactly what was going through her mind when the five-hour first date with her husband, 34-year-old Jordan, came to an end. Jessica wasn’t the only one caught off guard by cupid’s arrow. “It was a special moment, and I knew this opportunity wasn’t going to roll back around,” adds Jordan.
It was love at first sight. Well, kind of. The twosome had exchanged several messages over Facebook prior to their first tête-a-tête. But sitting across each other in a restaurant in D.C., talking for hours discovering each other’s past, present and hopes for the future, added an entire new element to their already budding friendship.
“It was one of those great conversations where you are talking and listening to someone and they are using the same vocabulary you would use. The way we expressed ourselves was very similar. He was funny and witty,” says Jessica, who works as a communications consultant and author, and writes the lifestyle blog Storied + Styled.
Neither she nor Jordan were prepared for the unforeseen chemistry that sparked on their date.
Although Jordan does admit to “feeling nervous” about meeting Jessica for the first time, he thinks their chemistry was a definite hint that this wasn’t going to be a “regular date.” Their second date took place the next night.
Even before meeting in person, through exchanges over Facebook messages, Jessica and Jordan bonded over a shared loss during their 20s. Two and half months after they got married, Jessica lost her first husband to a tragic motorcycle accident in 2009; and Jordan’s first wife lost her battle with cancer in 2011, a year and a half after they married.
In fact, it was a couple of shared friends who suggested to Jordan and Jessica that they should meet. One of those friends sent Jordan a link to Jessica’s blog, hoping it would help him through his grieving process. But he never bothered to look at it until a year and a half after his wife had passed.
“I read her blog for four hours. When people go through grief and mourning, you generally find people who are either in denial and they aren’t dealing with their issues, or they are so morose and depressed they have given up on life and are wearing sweatpants with no pockets,” explains Jordan, a former lawyer turned pastor. Jessica was living in the moment, and that’s what drew Jordan to her blog. “She was like, ‘this is how I feel,’ and she is not going to apologize for having a good or a bad day. She was full of life without neglecting the reality of what happened,” Jordan points out.
Both Jessica and Jordan had dated other people since their partners died. But for a while, it seemed to both of them that they may never find the kind of relationship they lost with their first loves. Where do you go from meeting the love of your life?
“In my mind, I was preparing to be single. I had my chance at love, and some don’t get one in a lifetime,” recalls Jessica. The week after she’d resigned herself to singlehood, Jessica had her first “incredible” date with Jordan.
After spending two nights falling in love with Jessica, Jordan went back home to Westchester, New York, where he was working as a lawyer in his family’s law firm. It was near impossible to get Jessica off his mind, and he wasn’t shy about sharing this with her.
“What is great about Jordan: he was very up front about his intentions with me,” says Jessica. “I knew early this was going to be serious. After that weekend, I went home and told this young lady that I met someone else and I am going to pursue it,” says Jordan. “Jessica is just so cool. A very easy, fun-loving person to be around. I enjoy being around her.” Every chance he got, Jordan was taking the bus to D.C. to spend time with Jessica.
While their shared loss played a part in their initial connection, what binds these two extroverts together goes beyond the trauma they’ve both endured, as evident by the compatibility test they took during pre-marriage counselling.
“We were off-the-charts compatible. Being spiritual is cool, and the widow stuff was good in the friendship-building perspective. But ultimately, Jess and I are far more compatible than we were to our late spouses. I’ve met many widows and Christian people and never experienced this,” says Jordan.
Yet they can’t deny the advantages of their shared circumstances.
“We both could understand fully loving our late spouses and fully loving each other at the same time,” says Jessica. “Both of us have low grade PTSD from the trauma of losing a spouse. I do think a great deal of healing was done by both of us prior to meeting. It was great to be able to connect on awkward complexities of being widow[ed] in your 20s,” shares Jordan. On his late wife’s birthday, Jordan and Jessica visited her grave together. “It was cold, snowy, and I was crying on the grave. It wasn’t like Jessica felt weird about it. She’s cried about her late husband with me too.”
After dating for 10 months, the couple wed on June 22, 2013 in Baltimore. Despite their whirlwind romance turning into a committed relationship, they’d strongly advise anyone not to get married after a mere 10 months. They didn’t want a big wedding. They’d done that before. For their union, they decided to keep it low-key and celebrate with close friends and family. “I didn’t think I’d ever get married,” reveals Jordan. “If I did, I wouldn’t love her as much as my first wife. I thought I’d feel bad for her, but Jessica was such a surprise.”
The newlyweds moved to Harlem to start life together. On May 5, 2015, they welcomed their son Jameson to the world. “He just added so much simple, pure joy to our lives,” says Jessica.
When she met Jordan, she learned about his dream to pursue pastoral work. She wasn’t sure what that meant at first. But over time, she realized that Jordan’s plan to build a church that does away with “the fluff, the traditional stuff that gets in the way and speaks in a plain voice and is actively out in community” was an idea she could fully get behind.
Neither Jessica nor Jordan grew up in religious homes. Their relationship with Jesus began to take shape for both of them in college. “But I never imagined myself marrying a pastor!,” Jessica says. Jordan adds: “Jess and I, we have a big undertaking starting a church together. She has been my rock and a steady presence during a very unsteady time in my life.” Renaissance Church, a non-denominational, diverse, down-to-earth church, opened its doors on September 2014 in Harlem.
“We were both blessed to know how love feels when it is right. We are so lucky to be able to find that again with each other,” explains Jessica. “Marriage is beautiful, because it’s this place you can be fully yourself and fully loved at the same time. You get to show all your flaws and know that you created this commitment that makes it a safe place to do these things. And it makes you want to improve yourself.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at [email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.