Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: February 12

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Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: February 12

And we’re back after a brief hiatus. Turns out that I can’t make fun of every single marriage announcement, because, well, I’m not a heartless human. But there’s a lot to this one, so let’s just after it.

As always, original text is in quotes.

* * *

From a ‘Dating Fast’ to a Quick Proposal

Serena Powery did not know that Joseph Tillman was fasting when they met as youth ministry volunteers on a church retreat in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York in August 2014.

Just going to come out of the gates and ask what we’re all wondering — what the hell is a “dating fast”? Is that like in 2010 when I was going through a fat phase so no girl wanted to hook up with me when I’d hit the bar scene? Is it like that?

“We talked for hours that first day, and though I had been dating someone else at the time, I was immediately attracted to him,” said Ms. Powery, a 24-year-old social worker in the Bronx.

Always a good sign when your future wife was contemplating cheating on her boyfriend when she met you. That’s what you look for at a youth ministry volunteering event.

“I’m really good at being able to tell if someone likes me, but I never got that vibe from Joseph,” she said. “There was never an underlying tone of flirtation, and he made it clear from the start that we were never going to be anything more than just friends.”

Okay, okay, now I get it. This isn’t a dating fast. This is Joseph playing hard to get. And sorry, Serena, you fell for it. Hard.

Mr. Tillman, a 31-year-old associate at a Manhattan law firm, clearly liked what he saw in Ms. Powery. “She had a great sense of humor and was wise beyond her years,” he said. But having had some bad luck on the dating scene, including a tumultuous breakup earlier that year, he refused to view her, or any other woman, through romantic eyes.

We’ve all been there before, Joseph. You play the heartbroken puppy dog card and, all of the sudden, you’re the hottest commodity on the market. Love where your head’s at.

“I had been dating a person I thought I knew very well, but after two months, the whole thing just crashed and burned,” he said. “I was completely thrown for a loop, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why do certain relationships fail?’ I needed to take some time to reassess things.”

“Look at him, just so devastated. He’s so introspective and in touch with his emotions.” — Serena, probably.

Mr. Tillman consulted with his pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church.

Pastor Craig Holliday had suggested a fast, though not from food but rather from romance. It is advice he has given others in the church.

Pastor Craig probably just wanted someone to struggle through abstinence with. It’s a lot easier to pull off a 40 Days, 40 Nights situation when you’ve got a dude in the trenches with you.

“It all depends on the individual situation and what’s going on,” Mr. Holliday said. “When it came to Joseph, there were a number of things that had gone on in his social life that he and I had discussed. I recommended the dating fast as a way to clear his head. I said, ‘Don’t date anyone for the rest of the year and let’s talk around the beginning of the New Year.’”

That wouldn’t clear my head. It would make me foam at the mouth trying to find someone to date me. Being told you can’t do something is what makes you want to do something the absolute most. Everyone knows that.

Mr. Tillman took the recommendation to heart.

“It was a time in my life when I had asked God to give me some clarity in terms of what I was looking for in a woman,” he said.

Enter: SERENA.

But it was clear that Ms. Powery was everything he was looking for in a friend.

“She was so much fun to be around,” he said, “and we had so much in common.”

Oh, great, this’ll be good. Can’t wait to hear the stretches for what these two have in common.

They grew up in California, she in San Jose and he in Perris, and each stayed in-state to receive a bachelor of arts degree, she in psychology at U.S.C., and he in finance at California State University San Bernardino.

Whoa! What’re the chances! They both grew up in California, a state with the population of almost 40 million people! And they both went to in-state schools! Man, it’s like they were made for each other! Wow, such star-crossed lovers.

Mr. Tillman moved to New York in 2009 to study for a law degree at N.Y.U. In 2012, he became a volunteer member of the young adult ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. Ms. Powery, who arrived in New York in 2013 to study for a master’s degree in social work from Columbia, joined the church a year later and volunteered in the same ministry.


They made the California connection at the church retreat, after a quick introduction on a soccer field.

I need to know how long he was actually on this “fast” for before these two came across each other. I give it two weeks, max.

After an evening sermon that night, Mr. Tillman was walking back to his cabin when he spotted Ms. Powery sitting alone on a bench around midnight, gazing at the stars. They began a conversation that lasted until 5 a.m., wandering around their campsite and engaging in what Ms. Powery described as “a very deep, transparent conversation that set the tone for our friendship.”

Sitting alone on a bench just screams “thirsty” to me, and I’m not ashamed of saying that regarding two people at a ministry event. I’m under the impression that there were probably more than a few undercover freaks-in-the-sheets there.

“We talked openly about everything, including ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, I mean everything,” said Ms. Powery, who sings with a smaller segment of the renowned Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir during Friday night church services. “We learned a lot about each other on that trip.”

Again, wounded puppy strategy coming in hot for the W.

Those free-spirited discussions, Mr. Tillman said, were the byproduct of the fasting advice.

Well yeah, your mind starts going wild when you haven’t gotten a little honey on your stinger in a while. Joseph was probably reeling.

“Since I wasn’t interested in dating Serena, I allowed myself to be more vulnerable in conversation than if I had approached her in a romantic way,” he said. “So we were able to be completely honest and nonjudgmental, and we just clicked and talked for hours and hours.”

I want to have a beer with Joseph, hit him with the side-eye, and say, “You and I both know you were lookin’ to date Serena that night, right?” He’d give me a sly-ass smile back and we’d bust out laughing and high-fiving. Book it.

They talked about continuing their education, and their lives, in New York. Ms. Powery was still studying for her master’s (which she earned in May 2015), while Mr. Tillman, who had already earned his law degree, was specializing in private equity fund formation at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, overseeing general fund structure and United States regulatory matters.

Damn, these two ballin’. Private equity? Now I get it, Serena. I’d cheat on my boyfriend for him too. That screams $18 cocktails at rooftop bars in Times Square.

“The fact that Serena and Joseph were both from California was a definite factor in the two of them hitting it off,” said Juliana O’Brien, a lifelong friend of Ms. Powery from San Jose. “We’re a different breed out in California, much more relaxed and much warmer, and they found those qualities in each other.”

You know what they say, the Land of Fruits and Nuts.

Three months into her friendship with Mr. Tillman, Ms. Powery broke up with her boyfriend. Her friendship with Mr. Tillman remained strong as they continued worshiping together and often going for long walks and talks around Manhattan, where Mr. Tillman lived.

We’re still calling this a “friendship”? I wonder what Serena’s boyfriend-at-the-time would think about her staying up for hours and hours talking about life’s problems with Joseph on a bench under the stars. I’m sure he’s super understanding of the situation.

But the dating fast continued. There were no romantic overtures.

“Just hanging out and telling jokes,” she said. “Not taking life too seriously.”

Okay, Joseph. The long con is getting old. Close the deal, man.

In January 2015, Ms. Powery was aware that Mr. Tillman had begun dating again. Three months later, Ms. Powery told him that she had been accepted to the Peace Corps, in rural El Salvador.

“I didn’t mean it as if to say, ‘Well, if we’re not going to be together, I’m going to run off and join the Peace Corps,’” she said. “I was already resigned to the fact that Joseph was just going to be a good friend, but I was also of the mind-set that I was young and single, and I thought that if this is where God wants me to be, then why not pick up and leave?”

Wait, what? He started dating again and it wasn’t… her? You dog, Joseph! Also, you know it was his decision to not date before she headed to El Salvador. That’s like letting your girlfriend go on The Real World. You know you’re going to get cheated on, ten times out of ten.

Mr. Tillman was shaken by her decision. “My head started spinning,” he said. “I was like: ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I need more details.’”

They discussed it the next day over lunch, during which Mr. Tillman made a confession.

Dammit, Joseph. You’ve played this entire situation so well up until this point. Keep your emotions in check.

“I told her that since she was leaving anyway, it couldn’t hurt to tell her that I remembered thinking after our first conversation that we had a great connection, but since I wasn’t dating anyone at that time, I just sort of ignored it. I told her that I did think something was there, and though I didn’t know if it was friendly or romantic, it was something I didn’t want to let go of.”

Joseph. You idiot. This is like going to the Super Bowl and being too much of a pussy to jump on the fumble. You’ve made it so far with all of the power and now you’re just giving it all to her.

In recalling the moment, Ms. Powery offered a confession of her own.

“I’m sitting there pretending to be all cool,” she said. “Deep inside I’m shouting: Yes! Praise the Lord! We’re finally on the same page.”

You could’ve cleaned up while she was in El Salvador, Joseph. I hate you.

In June 2015, Mr. Tillman officially began dating Ms. Powery, who was then living in Harlem and working in Brooklyn as a social worker at New York Therapeutic Communities.

In October 2015, she began working in the Bronx as a youth justice social worker for the Center for Court Innovation, seeking alternatives to prison for 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanor crimes.

Fuck. That sounds… that sounds horrible. If I paid that much to go to Columbia, last thing I’d do is mess with teens going to prison.

Earlier that month, Mr. Tillman had gone back to the West Coast to cheer for Ms. Powery, who was participating in the Arthritis Foundation California Coast Classic Bike Tour, an eight-day 525-mile bike ride that began in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles. Also riding were Ms. Powery’s parents, Maria Powery and Dwight Powery, and her sister, Evelyn Powery.

“We do it every year in memory of my younger sister who died from a more complicated disease, but she also had arthritis,” Ms. Powery said.

Soon after she rode across the finish line, Mr. Tillman, who had been waiting there, proposed.

Okay, well, that’s just really sweet. No sugarcoating that. Can’t even be critical here.

Including Ms. Powery’s commitment to the Peace Corps, which was scheduled to begin in March. Though she had intended to forgo her service, she received an email two months ago from the Peace Corps, and learned that the cohort that she was to be a part of had been canceled. “It was further confirmation that Joseph and I were meant to be together,” she said.

Wait, she’s still going to El Salvador?! I legitimately just put my forehead on my desk and yelled “No, Joseph!” to myself.

They were married Jan. 31 by their pastor, Mr. Holliday, at the Kirkpatrick Chapel on the campus of Rutgers in New Brunswick, N.J.

The groom waited and watched with 160 guests as the chapel’s center doors opened wide. There stood Mr. Tillman’s best friend, clutching a bouquet of white roses in her hands.

Finally, a normal-ass ceremony that wasn’t taking place in damn Brooklyn warehouse.

“In every home, there is a thermostat and a thermometer,” Mr. Holliday told them. “Joseph, you are the thermostat. You will regulate the spiritual temperature in your new home, and based on your actions, Serena, who is your thermometer, will let you know what the temperature is.”

Man, out of all the vows you can come up with, you go with a thermostat? The only way you can save this analogy is if you leave the church while Sean Paul’s “Temperature” blasts on the speakers.

Gail Tillman, the groom’s mother, with tears in her eyes, watched her son and his wife enjoy their first dance togetherto “At Last,” by Etta James. “They’re perfect soul mates,” she said at the reception, held at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset, N.J.

But seriously. They had to play Sean Paul at some point, right?

Mr. Tillman had, at last, found in Ms. Powery the answer to a question he need no longer ask.

“The moment I slipped that ring on her finger, I knew the answer as to why so many relationships fail,” he said. “A true relationship can only last if it begins with an honest, solid friendship, like the one Serena and I have had from Day 1.”

Whatever. You’ve got a weird game, Joseph. I respect it, but it’s definitely weird.

Image via Shutterstock

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Will deFries (Twitter / Instagram) is a Senior Writer at Grandex and the world's foremost authority on Sunday Scaries (Twitter / Instagram). Email me at

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