For a guy like Craig McDowell, time is not always of the essence.
After meeting Afriqiyah Woods one night at a party in 1997, he waited two weeks to call and ask her out. And when he finally decided she was the woman he wanted to marry, he waited three years to ask her for her hand.
"I thought I'd be an old maid before he asked me," said Afriqiyah, a physical therapist in New York City. "I had pretty much given up."
Friends see Afriqiyah as a woman of many virtues: compassion, generosity, intelligence and, most importantly, patience -- and that might have been a lucky thing for Craig.
"I told myself that he's the kind of guy who's worth waiting for," Afriqiyah said.
What was Craig waiting for? According to him, the perfect moment. "I'm a romantic," he said. "I just wanted something that would make a memory."
For Craig, a stock trader at Bear Stearns in New York City, there were plenty of unforgettable moments during his relationship with Afriqiyah, including exotic trips to Ecuador and South Africa. But to pop the question, Craig wanted suspense, surprise and a little bit of loftiness.
Last July, Craig invited Afriqiyah, a native Baltimorean, to spend a weekend at his parents' house in New Jersey. The plans for the weekend, Craig told her, included a family fishing trip. That Saturday morning, Craig and his parents roused Afriqiyah out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to drive to a nearby lake. Although she was content to join the McDowells, Afriqiyah's not the most ardent fan of fishing -- especially at the break of dawn.
"I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open," she said. The moment she got in the car, Afriqiyah fell asleep. When she woke up, the car was parked, and there wasn't a lake in sight. Instead, there was a hot-air balloon lying on its side next to a blazing fire.
"What's going on?" she asked.
Craig bluffed, telling her they had passed by a sign for hot-air balloon rides and, on a whim, decided to stop.
Fortunately for Craig, Afriqiyah was still too sleepy to catch on. Moments later, she and Craig were flying over New Jersey, the air crisp, the sky clear and the sun rising dramatically over the Manhattan skyline.
For Craig, it was the perfect moment. "It was such a beautiful morning," he said. "The moment we landed, I pulled out the ring and asked her."
"I was so stunned that for a minute I didn't answer," said Afriqiyah. "Then, of course, I said yes." Craig's parents, who watched the proposal from a few feet away, embraced the couple.
Craig was ecstatic. "Afriqiyah is so giving and emotive," he said. "She's got a huge heart." On Sept. 1, they were married in front of about 300 guests at Historic Oakland Mansion in Columbia.
Because Craig, 30, and Afriqiyah, 29, wanted their wedding to celebrate family, they decided on an African-inspired ceremony. After their vows, members of each of the couple's families introduced themselves and talked about their heritage. Craig's father told the guests of his roots in North Carolina and Detroit, and Afriqiyah's mother traced her lineage back to Tunisia.
After the ceremony, guests participated in a broom-jumping ceremony, dancing over a broom decorated with African shells to celebrate the marriage. The mansion was decorated with African flowers like Gerber daisies, and African drummers escorted guests into the ceremony. The bride, groom and their parents wore Nigerian-inspired clothing.
As a newlywed, Afriqiyah said she can now look back and see that her patience paid off. "Craig is a rare gem. He's smart, motivated and trustworthy, and he knows what he wants out of life. For all of this, I was willing to wait!"
Editor's note : The photographer for the Just Married picture that appeared Sunday, Sept. 22 is Ava Lee of Positive Proofs.