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When Everything Was Up for Debate — Except Their Chemistry

Andrew Shepard Markoff was in awe of Stephanie Nicole Spies even before they first met. Both were debate competitors, and Ms. Spies was considered a legend for her talent, Mr. Markoff said. Mr. Markoff, also an accomplished debater, had seen her compete in high school and then in college. He was dazzled.

Ms. Spies had heard of Mr. Markoff as well. While she was debating for Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., he was doing the same for Georgetown in Washington. Each of them traveled for competitions and witnessed each other’s prowess from afar.

“He was well ahead of his peers,” Ms. Spies said, adding that Mr. Markoff’s specialty was knowing more about each topic than anyone else. Mr. Markoff said that Ms. Spies had a commanding presence — she was poised and “very intense” onstage.

His admiration led him to ask a mutual friend attending Northwestern for help setting up a date. After Mr. Markoff competed at an event at Northwestern in the fall of 2010, he and Ms. Spies met at the now-closed Argo Tea in Evanston. They found each other easygoing and affable. “I was taken aback by how much respect and kindness Steph showed me,” Mr. Markoff said.

The pair began a long-distance relationship punctuated by frequent visits. When Ms. Spies, now 33, graduated from college in 2011, she applied to jobs in Washington to be near Mr. Markoff, now 31, as he finished college. She moved there in the summer of that year.

Ms. Spies has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northwestern and a law degree from N.Y.U. She is a lawyer with Susman Godfrey, a law firm based in Houston, and works in the Manhattan office. Mr. Markoff has a bachelor’s degree in international history from Georgetown. He is the director of campaigns at Applecart, a marketing and strategy company based in Manhattan.

Throughout their relationship, the couple said their shared background in debate surfaces in positive ways. Ms. Spies described Mr. Markoff as rational and calm under pressure. He said that Ms. Spies is an effective communicator and “a natural-born leader.”

After more periods of long distance and several other moves, the couple landed in Brooklyn in January 2022. By that point, the idea of marriage was already a foregone conclusion. “We knew we wanted to be together for the long run,” Ms. Spies said.

Mr. Markoff designed a diamond engagement ring based on Ms. Spies’s tastes and proposed June 24, 2022 in Marsha P. Johnson State Park, near their home in Williamsburg. He organized a surprise party at a Brooklyn bar called Pete’s Candy Store with about 40 members of their family and friends in attendance.

The party brought together many high school and college debate friends for a meeting of the minds. “They’re some of the smartest and most fiercely competitive people you’ll ever meet,” Ms. Spies said. “People have strong opinions and they’re very good at expressing them.”

Wedding planning led the couple to Chicago. Ms. Spies grew up in Northbrook, a suburb of the city. Although Mr. Markoff was born and raised in Manhattan and jokingly called himself a “big New York elitist,” he came around to the idea of a Windy City wedding.

The event was held at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on May 20 before 150 guests. The ceremony took place outside, on the Lake Michigan waterfront, and was officiated by Daniel Fitzmier, Ms. Spies’s college debate coach, with Jonathan Paul, who coached Mr. Markoff in college, coleading the ceremony. Both men were ordained as Universal Life ministers for the occasion.

While Ms. Spies’s father, William Spies, was present at the Brooklyn engagement party, he had been sick at the time and died several months before the wedding. The couple saved a seat for him at the ceremony. During their vows, they mentioned a new addition to their lives: Willa, a puppy named after her father.

Mr. Markoff had previously been “a lot afraid of dogs,” but overcame his fear for Willa, who was born on the day Ms. Spies’s father died. “There’s something very cosmically profound about it,” he said.

The reception took place inside the planetarium. Through the building’s large wall of windows, they could see the sunny day fade into an evening lit up by the city’s skyline.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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