Sometimes it seems the universe is hard on you before it cuts you a break.
In early 2011, Cherlynn Bennett-Gates had just ended a 10-year marriage and was hesitant to start dating again. But a few months later, at the insistence of friends, she mustered up the courage to try eHarmony.com, an online dating site.
Little did she expect that within an hour of joining the site, her future husband, Victor Gates, would send her a message.
When they met, they realized just how much they had in common. Both grew up as single children with a parent of the opposite gender; Cherlynn with her single dad, Victor with his single mom. Both found out after the age of 25 that they had siblings they hadn't known about. They also shared interests in movies and music.
"It was kind of one of those, 'OK, this is my soul mate,' things," Cherlynn says.
After six months of dating, Victor was sure he wanted to marry Cherlynn. Out at dinner one night, still too nervous to pop the question, he asked Cherlynn, "So how does a guy propose?"
"I told him, 'Sometimes you do something over-the-top, sometimes you recreate a first date, and sometimes the moment is just perfect and you know it's right,'" Cherlynn says.
By the time dessert rolled around, Victor looked at her with tears in his eyes and asked her to marry him.
They were engaged for more than a year before marrying March, 10, 2013. During that time, Victor lost his grandfather, who had been like a father to him.
"It was difficult," Victor says. "He was in the plans for the wedding, but unfortunately he couldn't be there."
A few months later, Cherlynn was partway through her first quarter at Whatcom Community College, where she plans to get an associate degree in graphic design, when she started having trouble seeing.
"I kept taking my glasses off and cleaning them and they weren't getting clean," she says. "I cleaned them probably 15 times before I tried covering my left eye and staring at the wall with my right. There was a big black spot in the middle of my vision in my right eye."
She was diagnosed with a rare eye disease that can cause blindness. She's had to get several painful injections to the eye, which have stabilized the condition.
Many of the couple's DIY-wedding projects were underway when Cherlynn found out about her eye disease.
"I was doing the wedding invitations when it first started," she says. "After that, friends and family would come over and help, and we set up a little assembly line for our flower arrangements, gifts, center pieces and programs."
Victor's favorite color is purple, so purple and black were the colors to tie their day together.
"We had the idea of a circus wedding, but we thought that was a little over-the-top," Cherlynn says. So they settled on an "Old World-gypsy-carnival garden party" instead.
Cherlynn and Victor hosted their ceremony at Silver Reef Casino. To honor Victor's grandfather, they decorated jars to give to guests as wedding favors. Guests filled up their jars at a buffet of vintage crystal dishes stocked with candy.
"My grandmother always had a candy dish sitting out, and he always snuck candy whenever he walked by," Victor says. "She always made sure the dish was well-stocked, so it was kind of a game they had."
Victor and Cherlynn continue to enjoy weekend outings for their "honeymoon season." They've been to such places as Fort Worden and Fort Ebey state parks, Seattle, Camano Island, and a zombie fun run in McCleary.