Nekpen Osuan doesn’t waste time mobilizing when she finds a cause that moves her. She is a founder and chief executive of WomenWerk, a nonprofit organization that helps empower women of color, as well as an active volunteer for organizations including SEO Scholars, an education enrichment and mentoring program. But when it comes to romance she is not quite as quick on her feet.
“I’m aloof sometimes,” she said, which may account for her reaction when Eric Wilson tried to flirt with her at the Park at 14th, a Washington nightclub, in the summer of 2016. Ms. Osuan, 34, a strategy and analytics manager at the consulting firm Deloitte who lives in Manhattan, was in Washington helping a friend hunt for an apartment. Mr. Wilson, 35, an Army officer from Clarksville, Tenn., was attending a conference about military mentorship.
“She was pretty cute,” he said, so after introducing himself and making small talk, he asked for her number. Ms. Osuan, then working as a vice president at Morgan Stanley, thought he was networking. “I was like, ‘OK, I met this other Black professional, let’s keep in touch,’” she said. When he saved her contact under “the future CEO of Morgan Stanley,” she still didn’t realize he was flirting. His next attempt to woo her, in a different city, fell flat, too.
Mr. Wilson is a graduate of West Point who led a platoon of 30 soldiers as an infantry officer in Iraq in 2010, followed by deployments to Kuwait and Afghanistan. He was in the process of starting a new assignment training future military officers at his alma mater when he met Ms. Osuan. One of the requirements for his new position was completing a graduate program in organizational psychology and leadership at Columbia. A month after they met, and after several text exchanges, Ms. Osuan agreed to show him around campus. She had received a certificate in economics and education from Columbia in 2010.
Mr. Wilson successfully parlayed that tour into a dinner invitation. But when they arrived at Bettolona, an Italian restaurant, her reaction left him flummoxed. “She looked around the place and was like, ‘Nah, this is too romantic,’” he said. “With Nekpen, I was beginning to realize you had to do some work to make her understand you liked her.”
He was up for the challenge, though, and by 2017, he had won her over. “I started learning all these amazing things Eric had done in the service,” Ms. Osuan said. “He’s so obviously admirable.”
On Sept. 29, 2019, after a weekend spent with friends in the Hamptons, Mr. Wilson surprised Ms. Osuan with a proposal on the Columbia campus. “We were taking selfies and I turned around and there was a whole videography team behind me,” she said. Mr. Wilson dropped to one knee. “He said, I want to do this forever. I cried. I have ugly cry pictures. I said yes!”
The couple was planning an Aug. 8 wedding with both their extended families, hers largely in Houston and his in Tennessee, when the coronavirus hit. Instead of scrapping their plans for a big celebration, they postponed until 2021 and forged ahead with a small civil ceremony in New York. On Aug. 8, at Ginjan Café in Harlem, they were married in front of their friends Carla Harris and Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president. Another friend, Michael Blake, a New York State assemblyman and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, officiated.
For Ms. Osuan, all the missed cues early on added up to a happy ending. “I love Eric to death,” she said. “He gets me.”