The Perfect Small Gathering
Dana Sliva and Paul Alcock
Dana Sliva and Paul Alcock, Jr., of Lynchburg, Va., had originally planned an intimate June ceremony followed by what Ms. Sliva, 36, called â€œa bash in the back yard.â€ The Glencliff wedding, with its sharp one-hour turnaround time and peaceful setting, may have worked out better.
â€œPaul is not much of a talker, and sometimes going out in public can be stressful for him,â€ Ms. Sliva said. Mr. Alcock, also 36, has autism. Their two-person wedding, officiated by Carol Tyree, a Glencliff staffer who is a marriage celebrant, felt manageable in a world that can often feel otherwise.
â€œI canâ€™t handle being in big groups,â€ said Mr. Alcock, a massage therapist. â€œIâ€™ve had trouble with social dynamics and friend dynamics.â€ His courtship with Ms. Sliva, a marketing writer who was previously married and has a 6-year-old daughter, Penelope Joy Sliva, happened almost by accident. Ms. Sliva had been on Tinder two days when she saw a profile whose tagline included the words â€œartistic and tattoos.â€
â€œI was like, Oh my gosh, heck yeah, Iâ€™m going to check that out,â€ said Ms. Sliva, who was divorced after a yearslong separation in 2018. But she had misread the profile description. â€œIt actually said, â€˜autistic and tattoos.â€™â€ Ms. Sliva had no experience with people on the autism spectrum. But after she realized her mistake, she was still intrigued. â€œThe first thing I said to him was, â€˜Whatâ€™s up, Buttercup?â€™ He said, â€˜Comets.â€™ I was smitten.â€
A monthslong process of getting to know each other via phone and text took place before an in-person date, in February 2018 at Rivermont Pizza in Lynchburg, could be arranged. â€œPaul needed time to get his pregame together a little bit,â€ Ms. Sliva said. Sensory issues like competitive noises and changes in light can leave him feeling disoriented.
By late spring, Mr. Alcock had become a fixture in Ms. Slivaâ€™s life, and Penelopeâ€™s, too. Ms. Sliva was learning to experience the world from Mr. Alcockâ€™s perspective. â€œThe more questions I asked, the more I understood how he looked at things,â€ she said. â€œI can be impulsive, and when I met him I started thinking, â€˜Oh my gosh, youâ€™re the one,â€™ really fast. But what Paul had in his mind was that our relationship should develop in a slow, healthy way. He taught me to value pacing in a relationship.â€ Rethinking spontaneous displays of affection like hand-holding during movies was part of the learning process. â€œLike, maybe I reached for his hand and that sense of touch didnâ€™t feel right to him at that moment,â€ Ms. Sliva said. â€œI started to understand that he needed space in that moment, not that he doesnâ€™t care.â€