How two independents became a family

How two independents became a family

Joe Murray met Sarah McIvor in middle school, but it took the two friends until the end of their senior year at Albemarle High to start dating. The timing was not in their favor: Sarah was about to start pursuing Government and African Studies double majors at William & Mary, and Joe was about to concentrate in Physics at UVA. But from their first date that summer before college, when Joe took Sarah rock jumping on his family’s farm, Joe knew he had found his match. “She jumped off the rock without any prompting,” said Joe. Then he turned to his wife. “And didn’t we also do mud wrestling?” “That was our second date,” said Sarah. 

Joe Murray and Sarah McIvor Murray
October 5, 2008
Photo by Jack Looney

During college, the couple gave each other the freedom to grow up separately, but ultimately their independence brought them closer together. Before Sarah went to study abroad in South Africa and then Bosnia her junior year, the two discussed taking a break. “We were all of 19 and 20 then,” said Joe. “[We wondered if] we may need to date other people. . . and have space and time before we were ready for serious commitment. But we couldn’t see ourselves dating other people.”

After they graduated from college and moved in together, Joe began thinking about a proposal. He knew that Sarah wouldn’t want a “blood” diamond in her engagement ring after seeing the South African mines firsthand. He approached both sets of parents for advice. “I have to go tractoring,” said Steve, Joe’s overjoyed dad, when Joe told him he was going to propose to Sarah. “Go talk to your mother.” Joe’s mother Merrick was moved to tears and she offered Joe two family heirloom diamonds. After creating the perfect ring, Joe hid it in his glove compartment and waited for the right moment. On a September night in 2007, after driving home from an intentionally unromantic night out (Joe felt the need to throw Sarah off the scent), Joe popped the question. Sarah was surprised enough to knock the engagement ring out of his hand when she embraced him. Then they had to dig around between the car seats to find it. “The ring had big prongs,” Joe said, “because Sarah’s pretty rough and tumble.”

Full disclosure: Joe is my cousin so I had the good fortune to attend his ceremony at Veritas Vineyard. When asked how their relationship has altered since the wedding, Sarah responded, “Nothing tangible about our relationship changed, but how people treat us has changed. It’s wonderful that you no longer have to justify or legitimize your relationship to people, but it’s also sad when you think about who can’t get married.” Hear, hear, cousin-in-law.
Sarah works at the International Rescue Committee and is soon to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins, and Joe works at Afton Scientific and takes the occasional photovoltaics course at UVA. He completes his homework in the “inventor’s room” set aside for him in a household where solar cells, Sudanese refugees, and all manner of relations are welcome. Before they married, neither one was looking for another family, but, as Sarah pointed out, “Our worlds collided in a really amazing way. We’re a unit. My family has become his family. His family has become my family.” “We’re one thing,” added Joe.