LOVE: Leah Miller & Jonathan O'Brien

Posted: May 03, 2012

Hello there

In August 2003, Leah, who works in IT for an international pharmaceutical company with local offices, persuaded her employer to send her to London for nine months. The move was her second trip outside North America.

About eight weeks later, she and a friend went to a cheesy dance club in West London. Leah had had just about enough of the place when across the dance floor, she saw a handsome man who also looked like he’d rather be somewhere else.

Jonathan danced up to Leah and introduced himself. He grew up in West London, but is of Irish descent. Jonathan figured with Leah’s dark, curly hair and light skin, she was Irish, too.

“I’m not Irish at all,” said Leah. “English, German, and Polish.” But “we had a good little dance.” Jonathan loved Leah’s American accent — she grew up in Freehold, N.J., but sounded Texan to him.

Leah didn’t want to leave the club anymore, but her friend did. Jonathan followed her to the door and asked for her phone number. She told him she couldn’t remember it.

“I thought she was giving me the brush-off,” said Jonathan, a finish carpenter.

Leah took his number, with no intention of using it. What was the point when she would return to the States in a matter of months? But later that night, her friends persuaded her to text him. His messages were cute. A few weeks later, they went out for Italian.

The two became travel buddies. Together they saw Prague, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Budapest. Somewhere along the way, their mutual effort not to lose their hearts to someone who really lived thousands of miles away began to fail. Neither wanted to do the long-distance thing. They broke up when Leah returned to the States.

“I felt like a piece of my heart was still in London,” she said. They talked on the phone every day, and soon were essentially dating. Leah requested a transfer back to London, not mentioning there was more than a job involved. “Professionally, I didn’t want to seem like some lovesick puppy,” she said.

They saw each other four times during that year, and met each other’s families. Then Leah was offered a permanent IT position in London.

Jonathan picked her up at the airport. They’ve been together ever since, but not always in the same country.

Leah took a three-month assignment in Shanghai, when her company was opening a new research center. Jonathan visited and they traveled in China and Japan. Six months later, she was offered a two-year position in Shanghai, and they moved there together.

Unable to work full-time in China, Jonathan threw himself into teaching English and volunteering. When Habitat for Humanity started in Shanghai, refurbishing homes for the elderly and disabled, he was the project’s technical adviser.

“He’s being modest,” Leah said. “He trained the local staff, and won the Shanghai Rotary Club’s Volunteer of the Year award.”

When not working or volunteering, the two traveled all over Asia, going to a different part of China or a different country each month.

How does forever sound?

One June evening in 2010, Leah returned to their Shanghai apartment to a trail of rose petals that swirled from the front door to the living room to the bedroom. On the bed, Jonathan had made a mosaic heart out of red, white and pink rose petals. One half of the heart was a U.K flag, the other, a U.S flag. As Leah stood agape at his handiwork, Jonathan sneaked in behind her, and got down on one knee.

Leah and Jonathan decided to live in the States. Leah got another work transfer, and moved back in July 2011. She found them a home in Conshohocken. It took longer than anticipated for Jonathan to get his fiance visa, and the two months apart was hard on them both. But as soon as Jonathan got here, wedding planning began.

It was so them

Jonathan, 33, and Leah, 32, chose a vineyard venue: Laurita Winery. But it was the building itself — whose timbers and exposed ceiling beams were reclaimed from old barns — that made it the right place for them.

Leah is Jewish, and the couple were wed in a Jewish ceremony. Cantor Wayne Siet has been a friend of Leah’s family for many years, and also officiated at her sister’s wedding. The canopy of their chuppah was a needlework tablecloth made by Leah’s great-grandmother.

The couple has lived in several countries and traveled in 40 of them. About 120 people they love from China, England, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and across the United States attended their wedding.

Rather than go on a honeymoon, Jonathan and Leah took a week off to show the regional sites to their visiting friends and family.

This was unexpected

After the reception, the couple and about 60 others piled into a rented bus for the 25-minute ride back to their hotel — except this time, it took more than an hour. “I’m pretty sure the driver got lost,” Jonathan said. And it was the best thing that could have happened. “It kept the party going,” he said.

Awestruck

Leah will never forget hearing Jonathan read his vows to her. “I just felt like the luckiest person,” she said. “This man that I had all these adventures with, we had our whole future together, too.”

Jonathan and Leah both loved seeing elderly relatives dancing with young friends, and people from Shanghai dancing with Pittsburghers. It felt like it wasn’t just their future that had been woven together, but their pasts as well, they said.

Discretionary spending

The bargain: The Reel Time Band was fantastic, and charged half of what other bands quoted.

The splurge: Photographer Rebecca Barger’s bill was about 50 percent more than the couple had budgeted, but they loved her work. “I never would have thought we could look so good!” Leah said. To Jonathan, the money spent to purchase invitations and programs was a splurge — he would have preferred DIY.

The getaway

At some time in the future, the couple intends to see Machu Picchu in Peru.

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