After Hundreds of Emails, a First Date

Hannah Cha and Anthony Kim Elfering met in quintessential rom-com fashion: They were seated next to one another at a wedding in January 2019, at which both also gave speeches; Ms. Cha as a friend of the bride, and Mr. Elfering as a friend of the groom.

“I looked over at him and two things stood out,” Ms. Cha, 34, recalled. One was how calm Mr. Elfering seemed despite having nothing prepared for his speech. The other: “He was wearing white Crocs at an otherwise very nice wedding” in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, she said.

“I had never been to a beach wedding,” Mr. Elfering, 38, said in explanation. “No one told me that people were still dressing up like a normal wedding.”

They spent more time together as part of a smaller group that traveled to Tulum after the wedding. But when their time in Mexico ended, neither expected to see the other again anytime soon.

Mr. Elfering, who graduated from the University of Minnesota and later served as a linguistic specialist in the Army for five years, had just started a new job as a software engineer at CTC, a trading firm in Chicago. Ms. Cha, who graduated from Case Western Reserve and has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland, was working as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department in Seoul.

Less than half a year later, in June 2019, Mr. Elfering and Ms. Cha were each invited on a trip to Spain by their newlywed friends. There, Mr. Elfering said, he started falling for her.

That August, he decided to visit his brother, who was living in South Korea, with hopes of seeing Ms. Cha. But after he arrived, he learned that she was in the United States visiting a new boyfriend, and soon let go of the idea of the two becoming romantic.

Though they kept in touch via video chats organized by their larger friend group, almost two years would pass before they saw each other again in 2021 at a weeklong reunion of their friends in Minnesota. By then Mr. Elfering had quit his job to work on developing a video game, and Ms. Cha and her boyfriend had broken up.

On their last night in Minnesota, after all of their friends had departed or gone to sleep, Mr. Elfering decided to revisit the possibility of being more than friends with Ms. Cha.

“‘This is going to be an incredibly awkward question, but have you ever thought of me romantically?’” he recalled asking her. “And she was like — it was a very panicked expression — ‘No, no. I have not thought of you romantically,’” he added.

When she left Minnesota, Ms. Cha had promised to revisit the conversation with Mr. Elfering, who soon received an email from her. It “was literally like a bullet point list,” he said. “She was like, ‘I have questions and I need answers.’”

For the next month, they traded hundreds of emails to get to know each other better. Their exchange culminated with Mr. Elfering offering to go to Seoul for 90 days so they could give dating a trial run. But Ms. Cha remained cautious.

“I know I like him as a person and I like him as a friend, but are we actually compatible?” she said of her thinking at the time.

After he quarantined for two weeks, they went on their first date. It wouldn’t take many more before Ms. Cha was ready to make their relationship official.

While in Seoul, Mr. Elfering found a new job working remotely as a software engineer at G2, a software reviewer in Chicago. As they prepared for a trip to visit her family in Ohio at the end of 2021, they began talking about marriage. After that trip, the couple bought rings for him and her.

Ready to become engaged, it was Ms. Cha who proposed first: in February, while at a speakeasy in Seoul, she planted Mr. Elfering’s ring in his glass of champagne. Weeks later, the couple left Seoul for a temporary stay in Ohio before relocating to a new home outside Washington, where Ms. Cha will begin a new assignment with the State Department next month.

They wed on April 9 at Cedar Creek Grille in Beachwood, Ohio. Doyle Chisholm, Ms. Cha’s uncle who was ordained by American Marriage Ministries for the occasion, officiated before 32 vaccinated guests. There were no Crocs in sight.