How to Grow an International Relationship (While Preserving International Relations)

In early March, Liana Elizabeth Cramer and Samuel Leonard Aronson traveled to a remote lodge in South Africa. Shortly after their arriva...


In early March, Liana Elizabeth Cramer and Samuel Leonard Aronson traveled to a remote lodge in South Africa. Shortly after their arrival, they met two guides dressed in green shirts, khakis and thick boots. Mr. Aronson explained to Ms. Cramer that the guides, who drove a modified Toyota Land Cruiser with rugged tires and no windows, were there to take the couple on a routine safari tour.

That wasn’t wholly true.

Mr. Aronson and Ms. Cramer had met about a year and a half earlier, at a house party in Washington. At the time, October 2018, Mr. Aronson had just finished a two-year assignment in Niamey, Niger, where he had been working as a United States diplomat. He had returned to Washington to start Urdu language training. Ms. Cramer had been interviewed earlier that day for a diplomatic position abroad. Neither she nor Mr. Aronson was looking for a relationship; each of their lives was completely at odds with the idea of settling down.

Inconveniently, they hit it off. The two bonded over stories from their work overseas. They had each spent time in Dakar, Senegal, and they discovered a mutual love for the fresh mint tea brewed by a particular creperie there. They made plans to see each other again.

About two months later, over dinner, Mr. Aronson and Ms. Cramer had what they call their “define the relationship bilateral meeting.” That isn’t a retroactive label — it was the name of a document on the Notes app of Mr. Aronson’s iPhone, where he wrote a detailed list of how the couple could make a primarily long-distance relationship work. He presented this to Ms. Cramer.

“It was written exactly like you would do State Department talking points for giving a speech or something,” Ms. Cramer said. “I was slightly embarrassed. But it was adorable.”

She agreed to give it a shot. Some months later, Mr. Aronson departed for an assignment in Nigeria. Ms. Cramer was sent to Mali.

Many of their peers had already been through the travails of long-distance love. (“It’s something that’s accepted in our world,” Ms. Cramer said.) They got some key advice: Make time for date nights. Not just phone calls; date nights.

Ms. Cramer and Mr. Aronson developed a system for remote movie dates. First, they would start a video call. Then they would queue up the same movie on their respective televisions. They would count down — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!” — and press play simultaneously, so they could react together in real time.

Sometimes, on a Saturday or Sunday, they would call each other on their cellphones, keeping one another’s voices in their ears for hours as they walked through their weekend chores.

When they could, they would see each other in person.

Their system worked. On Oct. 16, Ms. Cramer, 27, and Mr. Aronson, 30, were married by Rabbi Josh Beraha at the DACOR Bacon House, a historic building in Washington run by the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired, an organization for foreign-affairs professionals.

First, though, Mr. Aronson had to propose — which brings the story back to the South African lodge, the safari guides and the Land Cruiser.

The couple set out with the guides late in the day. As the truck wound its way past zebras and antelopes, the sun began to go down. Ms. Cramer repeatedly asked the guides to stop the truck so they could get a better look at the animals.

“Meanwhile,” Mr. Aronson said, “I have a ring box stuffed down the front of my pants.”

By the time the group got to the hilltop spot where Mr. Aronson was to propose, the sun was low in the sky. The guides parked the truck. Then they quietly stepped aside. Mr. Aronson proposed and Ms. Cramer said yes.

Moments later, the guides rejoined the couple for a toast — just as they had coordinated with Mr. Aronson. Champagne flutes clinked. The sun melted into the horizon, casting a deep reddish orange that reflected off the glassware.

“I’ve never seen the sky so colorful before,” Mr. Aronson said.

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Newsrust: How to Grow an International Relationship (While Preserving International Relations)
How to Grow an International Relationship (While Preserving International Relations)
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