Going the Distance After a Nine-Month Backpacking Trip


Elisabeth Claire Rivard rarely found anyone who spent as much time as she did in art museums and galleries. Alec Jason Woletz was one of those rare people.

“This is someone I’d like to get to know better,” Ms. Rivard, who goes by Lizzie, recalled thinking. It was June 2013, and the two were hanging out at an exhibit, “Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light,” at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Mr. Woletz consistently lagged behind to read each museum label carefully and to study models, photographs and especially drawings by Labrouste, a 19th century French architect.

“They were beautifully rendered with color and shading,” said Mr. Woletz, 35, who graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is now a project architect at Alloy Workshop, a design-build firm in Charlottesville, Va. He is a son of Robert G. Woletz, a retired staff editor on the Society desk at The New York Times.

Ms. Rivard, 33, was impressed by Alec Woletz’s curiosity and thoughtfulness. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art history from Northwestern and received a master’s in the history of art from Williams College in Massachusetts. She is pursuing a doctorate in the history of art at the University of Virginia.

They met in May 2013, when they both reluctantly attended a party hosted by one of Mr. Woletz’s friends. Another friend of Mr. Woletz’s brought Ms. Rivard.

The duo perked up as they chatted for hours, mostly about art and architecture. Around 3 a.m., they crashed at the host’s apartment — Mr. Woletz on an air-mattress, and Ms. Rivard on the couch. The next morning, they went their separate ways.

“I’ll admit, I didn’t take any initiative,” Mr. Woletz said, even though they had hit it off. “I was too shy. I kind of figured that was it.”

But it wasn’t. Later that day, Ms. Rivard sent him a friend request on Facebook, and then invited him to the Labrouste exhibit a few weeks later. After nearly three hours at MoMA, he took her to see one more installation: a remnant of the Berlin Wall that was next to Paley Park at the time.

“I want to have a real date with this person,” Mr. Woletz recalled thinking. But he still felt shy and asked her on a couple of casual outings instead. In August, they finally had their first “real date” at the Park, a restaurant in West Chelsea that has since closed.

“After dinner, we walked on the High Line toward Penn Station,” Mr. Woletz said. When he missed the last train home to New Brunswick, N.J., Ms. Rivard invited him to crash at her place on the Upper East Side. They had their first kiss that night and soon began dating.

That fall, when she left to begin her master’s program at Williams College, he — somewhat tentatively — agreed to try a long-distance relationship. In October, while she was in New York, they visited architectural sites open to the public during the Open House NYC weekend, including the TWA Terminal at Kennedy International Airport. Back then, it was merely a construction site. (The couple recently returned to the TWA Hotel for their engagement photo shoot.)

In November, after Mr. Woletz drove three hours to see her, they visited the Clark Art Institute, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Williams College Museum of Art. “It proved to me a long-distance relationship was possible and worthwhile,” he said.

In January 2016, they went on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia and Europe for nine months. “We would often stay somewhere until we felt like moving on,” Mr. Woletz said.

After six months, while running low on funds, they made their way through Europe, mainly France. They did odd jobs on the way — like picking apples, cooking and gardening — in exchange for room and board, courtesy of Workaway, a cultural exchange platform.

“There is an old saying that if you want to know a person, see how they react to delayed trains, lost luggage and attempting to speak a foreign language,” Ms. Rivard said.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

In August 2020, after she was accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Virginia, they moved to Charlottesville. Soon he began working as a project architect.

In the fall of 2021, when Mr. Woletz was ready to propose one Sunday afternoon, Ms. Rivard was knee-deep in papers that she needed to grade. When he insisted on a picnic, she said, somewhat annoyed, “Are you going to propose or something?” He said, “Not now I won’t.” Instead he proposed in November on a moonlit evening by a bridge in Preddy Creek Park near Charlottesville.

On Sept. 30, the Rev. Emily DeTar Birt, a Unitarian Universalist minister, led the ceremony with Rabbi Shoshana Leis before 110 guests at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in Manhattan. (Mr. Woletz had sketched an interior perspective of the neo-Georgian-style church for their save-the-date card.) A reception followed at the Harold Pratt House & Peterson Hall, a neo-Italian, Renaissance-style mansion on the Upper East Side.

“These are the kind of places we love to visit,” Mr. Woletz said. “Historic, sacred and beautiful spaces.” Ms. Rivard added, “It’s where our relationship began.”


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