Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: March 4

This is a recurring PGP series. Catch up with all installments of Insufferable Marriage Announcements by visiting the archive.

Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: March 4

I know, I know. We had to skip last week. As it turns out, not all love stories are so cheesy that you want to barf. Luckily for us, we’re back with a doozy this week.

Let’s not waste any time because there’s a lot to cover here.

As always, original text is in quotes.

* * *

From Roommates to ‘Will You Marry Me?’

In ordinary geometry, two parallel lines on the same plane will never connect, no matter how closely their paths travel. For several years, that appeared to be the fate of Ashley Swiggett and Code Sternal.

Friend zone alert! Friend zone alert! Just the headline alone got me excited for this one. But real talk, I’m not sure which name goes with which gender here, so we’ll have to sort that out as we move forward.

It wouldn’t happen during the three years they overlapped on the men’s and women’s rowing teams at Trinity College in Hartford, despite sitting in the same position in their respective boats and often racing along the Connecticut River just feet apart. Or in the boathouse the teams shared, where members spent inordinate hours training. Or when they both moved off campus and lived just two doors apart from each other. Or when their teams traveled to England to compete in one of rowing’s most prestigious events.

The beautiful thing about these announcements is how truly WASPy they are. Rowing teams at Trinity College? You just can’t make that up. But at first glance, this sounds like a real stalker situation from the male perspective. Like, I’m sure he “loved” rowing and all, but I can see him watching her from afar in the boathouse only to be like, “What are you doing for living next year?”, hear her answer, and respond, “Me too!” before moving in right next to her.

It wasn’t until they occupied the same Manhattan apartment, with only a wall separating them, that their proximity created an opportunity to at last connect. But not right away.

I would love to see this guy’s internet history. It was probably different variations of “how to get out of the friend zone” and dating tips from GQ.

Their eventual convergence may seem even more unlikely if you consider the distance from which they started.

…or he Stockholm Syndromed her into a marriage. Either or.

Mr. Sternal grew up in Minnesota, where his mother, Nancy Gibson Sternal, was a founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely, near the Canadian border. Noting her son’s “great gift with wildlife,” Ms. Gibson Sternal said he raised sled dogs, bathed with a wolf pup, wrapped himself in a boa constrictor, and had a pet bat he took to first grade with him.

Okay, so Code is the guy. Got it. But wait… WHAT. Raised sled dogs? Bathed with a wolf pup? WRAPPED HIMSELF IN A BOA CONSTRICTOR? HAD A PET BAT?

If this guy didn’t have a serial killer vibe to him before, he definitely does now. This has Swimfan written all over it, but you know, for rowing.

Ms. Swiggett’s upbringing in Basking Ridge, N.J., was more conventional — playing field hockey and soccer and joining the Y.M.C.A. swim team — but she had unexpected talents as well, from sewing her own clothes to refinishing old furniture. Her nursery-school teacher described Ashley as “a plunger,” meaning she would enthusiastically dive into any school task. Her mother, Jane Swiggett, noted that “Ashley was no stranger to working hard, always trying to make something happen.”

Be more white, Ashley. Seriously. There’s a one-thousand-percent chance that she enjoys remodeling old dollhouses.

That attitude led her to join the crew team at Trinity her freshman year, though her rowing experience had been largely limited to a summer camp program at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Sternal, 6 feet 2 inches, was also a rowing novice when he arrived at Trinity the year before, but he was approached by the crew team’s coach, Larry Gluckman, who spotted his tall frame during freshman orientation.

Code probably saw Ashley at orientation wearing a long sleeve TRINITY ROWING tee-shirt and finagled his way onto the men’s team in a desperate effort to have a common bond with her.

In short order, Ms. Swiggett, who is 5-8, and Mr. Sternal would be part of a true glory era for Trinity’s crew program. From 2004-8, the men’s team won the Head of the Charles Regatta and the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships twice each and the New England Rowing Championships four times, while the women won the Head of the Charles in 2007, and were the New England champions and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III champions in 2008, going on to capture the G P Jeffries Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England that summer.

I…I can’t even imagine how pretentious their conversations sound when they’re discussing their crew championships. Like I bet they beat out some Kennedys and British royalty on their path to winning the G P Jeffries Cup in England, but brush it off because they come from the same amount (or more) of old money.

Despite their relative lack of experience, both Ms. Swiggett and Mr. Sternal found themselves occupying the critical Seat 5 in their eight-person, 60-foot-long boats. “It’s the middle of the boat, so it’s pure power and strength,” said Stephanie Apstein, who was the coxswain in Ms. Swiggett’s boat and served as her maid of honor. “It’s not always pretty, but it’s all about getting there.”

Okay, maybe it’s because I’ve never rowed, but they’re getting a little too into the logistics of their rowing careers. No one cares about the fact that they were both in Seat 5 or that they exemplified power and strength. Let’s move onto the part where this psycho finally courts the figment of his imagination.

That could also describe the two rowers’ circuitous route to becoming a couple. For a long time, most members of their tight-knit rowing community did not envision Mr. Sternal and Ms. Swiggett together. Neither did the couple themselves.

Yeah, sure, buddy. I’m sure you never imagined her walking down the aisle with the same look on your face as the creep from Love Actually that wanted to marry Keira Knightley.

Ms. Swiggett mostly viewed Mr. Sternal as a friend. “Code was a good dancer, and he’s such a nice, easygoing person,” Ms. Swiggett said. “I liked to talk to him, and knew he wasn’t one of those guys who was always going to be hitting on you.”

This is a script for being in the friend zone. “He’s so nice and easygoing” is what you say about someone when you’re afraid of breaking their heart. But you have to respect how Code played the whole thing — didn’t come off as too creepy, slow played it, and got his woman. Mad respect.

Mr. Sternal, 30, said he harbored a crush early on but didn’t think he had a chance with Ms. Swiggett, 29, whom he described as “very beautiful.” (It didn’t help that she was dating a fellow rower throughout most of her college years.)

Uh huh, sure, Code. That’s exactly the type of endearing modesty that’ll get you out of the friend zone into relationship. She might not have seen right through it, Code, but we all do. Don’t mistake that.

“We were friendly,” he said. “We weren’t passing ships in the night. We were ships that said hello to each other.”

Alright, you’re trying a little too hard here with the nautical references, bro.

Their passing ships got a little closer when both teams went to England in the summer of 2008 to compete at Henley, an international rowing event that draws thousands of spectators to the banks of the Thames. The Trinity women’s first-place finish and the men’s second-place finish were reasons to celebrate. It was at an after-party that Mr. Sternal, seizing a drunken opportunity, captured his first kiss from Ms. Swiggett. It would be the only kiss for some time.

I legitimately busted out in laughter at this situation. Code clearly clearly knew that being in romantic London would be the perfect opportunity to swoop in after a night of drinking. He probably sat sleepless in his bed plotting the perfect way to go about their first kiss. Classic.

After Henley, Ms. Swiggett returned to finish college, then moved to New York, where she took up baking, working under pastry chefs at Jean-Georges restaurant and the Hurricane Club. Mr. Sternal, meanwhile, had gone on to Cambridge University, where he continued to row and earn a master’s degree in economics, returning to Minnesota after graduating in 2010.

So she went to Trinity only to become a fucking pastry chef that lived in New York City? If that doesn’t say, “My parents are funding my life” then I don’t know what does.

After landing his first job in New York the following spring, Mr. Sternal, who was short on cash, moved in with Trinity rowing mates to a first-floor two-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. The apartment had been converted to three bedrooms by dividing the larger bedroom with a makeshift foam core wall, making room for the apartment’s six occupants.

Six people? What is this, a fucking hostel? This situation gets creepier by the moment. Putting in a foam wall in this apartment is 100 percent so he can hear anything and everything that Ashley’s doing in her every day life. Phone conversations? Yup. Sleeping? Yup. Her breathing? YUP.

Looking for a new place to live, and also short on cash, Ms. Swiggett moved into the rowers’ apartment later that summer, replacing a rower who was moving out and taking a spot in half of the divided bedroom while Mr. Sternal slept on the bottom bunk in the third bedroom.

“Short on cash” while living in New York Fucking City as a pastry chef? Who would’ve thought. You could be making six-figures and have zero student loans and you’re still going to be short on cash there. I’m sure her financial situation was similar to that of Things Girls Do After Graduation.

Her arrival rekindled old feelings, Mr. Sternal said, which he saw as “an opportunity, but also a challenge.” Tired of New York’s singles scene, Ms. Swiggett recognized the potential but was more cautious, noting that “the living situation made it tricky. I figured we were going to be friends, and that was that.”

Unfortunately, Code had other plans. Muwahahaha.

The two went to the movies and had dinners together, which Ms. Swiggett said were increasingly feeling like dates but not labeled as such. The situation finally came to a head one Friday night when they found themselves in line at the Corner Bistro in the West Village, on dates with other people, an awkward situation that drove Mr. Sternal to seek out another restaurant.

If you don’t think Code talked to his friends about this situation and mastercrafted that they’d have to go to a different restaurant, you’re out of your damn mind. I feel like this is a poorly written Woody Allen movie.

On their next outing together, to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, Ms. Swiggett decided it was time to address their relationship. “I said, ‘Either we’re dating or we’re not dating,’” she said. “‘If you can tell me that if you came home on a Friday night and found me out on another date, it wouldn’t bother you, then so be it. But I know if you were out with someone else, it would bother me.’”

It’s like they put the phrase “Big Gay Ice Cream Shop” in here to distract me from the actual situation at hand. Nope. I’m too experienced of a blogger to get caught up in those details. Nice try, New York Times.

But really — how psyched was Code when he finally realized that he broke her down to the point of where she said all of that too him? As creepy as this bat-carrying, python-wrapping dude is, I’m kind of stoked for him.

And, like that, they became a couple, a move that took many in their tight rowing community by surprise.

Except for the men’s team, who clearly saw this from a mile away.

“Looking back, I think, ‘Why didn’t this happen a whole lot sooner?’” said Henry Habgood, who rowed with Mr. Sternal and shared an apartment with Ms. Swiggett off-campus at Trinity before living with both of them in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment. “It made so much sense. They’re so similar, they’re both very driven, very athletic and very smart, but they’re also complementary. Ash picks up on the small details, and Code is the one who pushes through.”

Ol’ Henry ain’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, eh?

Describing her best friend as “so independent, and normally pretty flippant when it came to dating,” Ms. Apstein said she knew Ms. Swiggett felt differently about Mr. Sternal because “she became very quiet about Code. She didn’t want to say anything, which to me seemed like it might be the real thing.”

I’m not buying her whole schtick. I think she started realizing that her time was running out to bring a husband home to her parents that were funding her life, and she had to go with the sure thing in Code. This is pretty black and white.

As the number of apartment dwellers dwindled to just three, Ms. Swiggett and Mr. Sternal took down the apartment’s makeshift wall and moved in to the big bedroom together, relegating Mr. Habgood to the smaller bedroom.

Fuck. How much did Henry hate his life at this point? Poor sap.

By the end of 2014, Mr. Habgood had left the apartment, saying he “wanted to let them explore what they had by themselves.”

That’s a really creepy way of putting it, Henry. Stop. Like, we get it, they were banging a lot and you finally snapped.

In November of that year, Mr. Sternal’s parents took the couple on a trip to India to visit tiger reserves. He saw more of her “plunger” personality, as they all got up at 5 a.m. for tiger viewing expeditions. “If you can travel with someone in India, that is an absolute test,” Mr. Sternal said. “She was great, and it became a no-brainer.”

Wait, so you were finally sold on this broad because she got up at 5 a.m. to look at Tigers with you? Call me crazy, but that sounds awesome. I probably wouldn’t sleep the night before if I knew I was about to embark on that type of journey.

After that trip, he began shopping for engagement rings.

And early in 2015, the couple had also disembarked to Jersey City, where they now live. Before leaving New York, however, Mr. Sternal thought it was time to cement their union.

Jersey City? Weird move, but okay.

“We had gotten through the first part, of being all starry-eyed, and I was still in love with this person and I knew we were built to last,” said Mr. Sternal, who is now a vice president for investment strategy at Bank of New York Mellon.

Oh shit, Code is banking. I bet that ring was an absolute hoss.

He proposed right after he asked Ms. Swiggett to help him move a couch in their apartment on Super Pi Day, 3-14-15, a sign of both Mr. Sternal’s mathematical and romantic natures, according to his father, Ron Sternal. “Pi is the radius of a circle, a circle of life and a symbol of never-ending love,” his father said.

NERD ALERT. Just real talk here — if you’re admitting to proposing on Pi Day, you’re a square. And that’s not just a pun, that’s a fact, Jack.

In proposing, Mr. Sternal presented Ms. Swiggett with a tin band covered with glued-on rhinestones, which he fashioned after a “nightmare” Ms. Swiggett described having had about his proposing to her. Before she had a chance to answer, he quickly replaced the homemade ring with a radiant cut diamond set in platinum.

“I assumed the ring was a joke, and I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was a joke,” recalled Ms. Swiggett, now an assistant vice president in corporate banking for Citibank. “I didn’t want to say yes and have him say, ‘Just kidding.’ And then he pulled out the real ring.”

I bet she was ready to rip his fucking heart out of his chest and throw it in his face. That just sounds like ever girl’s worst nightmare. If anyone has a link to her Instagram where she obviously posted the ring, hit me up. I won’t publish the link. Promise.

On Feb. 27, before about 100 family members and friends, the couple exchanged vows at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Spring Lake, N.J. The Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton performed the ceremony, which was followed by a reception at the Mill, where a late-winter sun shone off the pond outside the windows of the cocktail room.

Legitimately shocked the turd didn’t wait until Leap Day to officially tie the knot. That would be so Code of him to do.

A preponderance of rowers in attendance at the wedding was obvious not only by the various school boat jackets several guests wore — dark blue and gold for Trinity; light blue, or multicolored stripes for Cambridge — but also by the crowd’s stature.

Dammit. Move on, guys. You’re not rowers at Trinity anymore. You’re two insufferable, star-crossed lovers that are a product of Code’s lustful freshman year love for Ashley.

“There are a lot of rowers here,” said a Cambridge teammate, Geoff Roth, who is 6-4. “It brings up the average height in the room.”

Not sure why they included Geoff’s random quote to finish out the piece, but good for Geoff getting his name in The Times with that wisecrack.

Image via Shutterstock

Email this to a friend


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

35 Comments You must log in to comment, or create an account

Show Comments

For More Photos and Content

Latest podcasts

Download Our App

Take PGP with you. Get

New Stories

Load More