Tired of the gig-economy grind of an L.A. television producer, Shannon accepted a new job with MetLife and came back east for training.
She grew up in Newtown Square but graduated from the University of Southern California in 2009 and had remained on the West Coast since. It would be good to spend a few weeks close to her family, she thought. And maybe to see someone from back home she'd been out of touch with for about six years.
"Hey. This is Shannon. Long time no talk," she texted Ruth in September 2012. "I'm on the East Coast. Do you want to have coffee?"
They had coffee. They caught up. They remembered the feelings they once had for each other, when the difference in their ages and life experience seemed insurmountable. The two hadn't spoken since Shannon left for her junior year of college.
Coffee seemed safe, "but sitting down and talking with Ruth again, I felt a lot," said Shannon, now 29.
So did Ruth, now 48. She invited Shannon to dinner. Shannon said no.
Ruth had moved from her native Great Offley, England, to Florida to play tennis. She came to Philadelphia in the early 1990s, playing tennis and studying sports psychology at Temple University.
She chose to fight disappointment with adventure, and booked a ticket to visit her brother in Shanghai.
Shannon later changed her mind. One night after job training in Wilmington, she met Ruth for dinner and a long walk in Manayunk, where Ruth lived.
"That was pretty much it," Shannon said. She admires Ruth's athleticism, her fearlessness, and her British accent, but it was the sense of connection between them that made her fall in love. "I had felt that when I first met Ruth, but it was hard to trust how I felt when I hadn't experienced anything yet."
Ruth, who loves Shannon's openness and her kind and caring nature, also had doubts back then. She chalked up Shannon's feelings to a crush, and hers in part to being flattered. Now things felt more balanced. "It was OK for me to let myself fall in love with her," Ruth said.
Shannon returned to L.A. Ruth flew to Shanghai. They Skyped like crazy.
Ruth was still in China when Shannon persuaded her to buy a ticket to L.A. "It became a habit - we took turns flying coast to coast every other or every third weekend," Ruth said.
"Everything with Ruth is an adventure," said Shannon, "and I was enjoying both L.A. and Philadelphia more than I ever had before."
In spring 2013, MetLife offered Shannon a sales position in Washington. She got a small apartment there but was often in Philadelphia. Last year, Shannon, who is now director of accounts management at MetLife Expatriate Benefits, moved to Ruth's place. They recently bought a house together in the same neighborhood, where they live with border collie Meg and mini-Australian shepherd Whiskey.
How does forever sound?
Ruth wanted a life partner but had always said marriage wasn't something she needed or particularly wanted. "I didn't think it would make that much of a difference."
Shannon's take: Ruth grew up in a time when marriage equality seemed nearly impossible. "It was a defense mechanism: 'If I can't do it, who needs it, anyway?' " she said.
That assessment is probably accurate, Ruth said, but what really made marriage important to her was that it was clearly important to Shannon.
Christmas season 2015 had begun, and Christmas with the Connollys is a jam-packed, daylong extravaganza, Ruth said. The sun rose Dec. 27 without Ruth's giving Shannon her biggest present.
"I got coffee, brought it upstairs to her, and said, 'I forgot to give you this gift,' " Ruth said.
Three years before, Shannon had showed her a picture of an engagement ring. "I know marriage isn't your thing," she told Ruth at the time. "But if you ever change your mind and want to give me a ring, I'd like something like this."
That day in December 2015, Shannon opened the small box to find an almost identical black-diamond ring.
No one had to ask or answer anything - the symbolism of Ruth's placing it on Shannon's hand was enough.
Shannon's parents, Paul and Priscilla, knew what the ring on their daughter's hand meant, too. "I can't believe it, two weddings in one year!" her dad said. Shannon's sister Tara had wed in fall 2015.
It was so them
The couple limited wedding planning to Sundays only. "It was sanity-saving," Shannon said, and a tactic they recommend.
Instead of rehearsal dinner, the couple and 45 friends and family members held the Just Say Yes 5K Run. Wearing matching gray-and-blue T-shirts designed by Ruth and printed by the couple's friend Adam, they started at the East Falls Bridge, stopped for champagne instead of water, and ran back upstream to In Riva, where 100 people enjoyed a casual dinner on the patio.
Shannon and Ruth spent the morning of their wedding relaxing at the Warwick Hotel Rittenhouse Square and having egg sandwiches at the coffee shop across the street. "We had coffee and kept looking at each other and saying things like, 'Oh, my God, we're getting married today," Shannon said.
The ceremony took place at Talula's Garden. Everyone gathered in the outdoor bar area for cocktails as Ruth's brother, Jonathan, and Shannon's brother, Dan, played acoustic guitar.
When all 38 guests arrived, the couple tapped their champagne glasses to get everyone's attention. "We're doing this thing," Shannon said. Officiant Naila Francis asked everyone to gather around the couple.
"We said our vows in front of a wall of vines and flowers," Shannon said. Dan read part of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Ruth's best friend, Georgia, the ring bearer, spoke of the symbolism of the never-ending circular shape of the rings.
Ruth's sister, Jill, read a passage about love as the ultimate outlaw that plays by no rules.
After the 15-minute ceremony, everyone headed next door for a dinner party at Talula's Daily. Their iPod playlist featured the songs from the sound track of their relationship, including Jamie Lawson's "Wasn't Expecting That."
Just before the ceremony, Ruth and Shannon spent 15 minutes alone at the spot where they would exchange vows. "Ruth was having the time of her life, saying, 'Why didn't we do this sooner? This is so fun!' and I was just overcome with how significant it was, personally, legally, all those things wrapped into one," Shannon said. "It's the part of the day I would relive again and again."
The day "was like a fairy tale almost," Ruth said. As the two walked together from the hotel to the restaurant in their dresses and heels, "people were tapping on their windows and clapping, and saying this great and supportive stuff to us," she said.
Ruth's parents, Alec and Margaret, were so happy to see the couple, and to see their daughter in a wedding dress. Ruth wasn't sure how the wedding would be for her parents. "They are of a different generation, and I thought it might be tough for them to understand two women getting married," she said. Alec was the last to give a toast. "My dad is a funny chap, and he talked about my competitiveness, and said wonderful things about marriage, and acknowledged that we will have a great one," Ruth said. His beautiful and pertinent words got everyone teary.
The budget crunch
A bargain: Between their brothers' guitar duet and their iPod, all the music was free.
The splurge: Shannon did not look at price tags while searching for her perfect dress. Ruth had "some serious cutting and refining" done to hers to make it suit her taste.
Two weeks in Europe, starting in Berlin, where Ruth ran the Berlin Marathon, then to Majorca and Barcelona.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Naila Francis, Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown.
Ceremony venue: Talula's Garden, Philadelphia.
Reception venue: Talula's Daily, Philadelphia.
Food: Talula's Daily.
Photography: Ian Shiver, Viva Love Photography, Philadelphia.
Flowers: Robertson's Flowers, Philadelphia.
Ruth's attire: Nicole Miller dress from Nicole Miller, Manayunk.
Shannon's attire: Jim Hjelm dress from Philly Bride, Philadelphia.
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