After Strict Protocols, an Unconventional Relationship

Just as was likely true of the diplomatic event at which Hillary Liepa and Dwight Lin met, in November 2013 — a Beijing luncheon between then-Vice President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart — the real work of building the relationship was done in email.

Months and months of it, written at epic lengths.

“They got longer and longer,” said Mr. Lin, 40, who was then assigned to the Secret Service’s Honolulu field office and sent to Beijing to support the protection detail. That office largely conducts criminal investigations into matters like identity theft, counterfeit currency and other financial crimes. “We could both sense the vibe through the email that we were interested in each other romantically.”

Ms. Liepa, also 40, who was then the director of scheduling and advance for the education secretary, and lived in Washington, said, “We were telling each other about our days. We would talk on the phone occasionally, too.”

Their first exchange involved laundry detergent. When they had met, as they waited for the diplomatic proceedings to run their course, one of the travel tips she shared was that she always brought along laundry soap. He found her email on an event-staff list and asked if she’d share her stash.

He didn’t get the detergent (“I didn’t see the message until he had departed,” Ms. Liepa said) but the conversation had begun. And it didn’t ever wane.

“It was really easy conversation,” Ms. Liepa said.

Five months later, on another work trip, Ms. Liepa had a stopover in Hawaii and the two had a quick dinner. A few months after that, while he was interviewing for jobs in the private sector, he had a layover in Washington and offered to cook dinner at her apartment.

He made shrimp, squid and some vegetables, with oil, garlic, shallots and spaghetti.

“One of the best pastas I’ve ever made, so I lucked out,” Mr. Lin said. “When I left, I gave her a hug and she ended up saying something like, ‘Oh, almost a year of writing emails. And dinner. And a hug? Huh.’ So I kicked myself. But I didn’t kiss her.”

He didn’t make the same mistake the next time he stopped off in Washington on a layover and the two got together again.

After that, he said, “We thought of ourselves as dating.”

Within a year, Ms. Liepa began looking for a job in the Bay Area, where he had moved after departing the Secret Service.

“We’d both put our careers first for so long, we wanted to live in the same time zone and see if there was something there,” she said. She is now an independent operations and strategy consultant. She graduated from Iowa State University.

Mr. Lin, now a security manager in the San Francisco office of Google, graduated from the University of California San Diego, received a master’s degree in criminal justice from California State University, Long Beach, and received another master’s degree, in cybersecurity, from Brown University.

If their relationship began amid strict protocols, it certainly didn’t hew to that course. They moved in together in 2016, bought a house in 2017 and had a baby in 2018. (They are expecting a second child in December.)

“We obviously went the nontraditional route,” Mr. Lin said.

On June 21, the couple were married at their home in Alameda, Calif., via a video link with an Alameda County deputy marriage commissioner. Their 3-year-old daughter, Sloane Liepa Lin was the only person in attendance. (Ms. Liepa will be known by that double last name also.)

“We didn’t explain that traditionally this is what people do, we just said, ‘Mom and Dad are getting married’,” Mr. Lin said. “She’s such a happy-go-lucky kid, she was just like, ‘OK. Can I have a piece of cake?’”

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