Making a Move: How Chess and Cheesy Puns Brought Sam and Tom Together

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The beauty of the Marriage Pact is that it’s designed for everyone, whether you’re seeking a casual coffee chat with a new friend, looking to rebound from a tough breakup, or succumbing to peer pressure from your well-meaning friends — as was the case for Sam and Tom. The pair — both Duke class of ’23 — went into the survey with different incentives, though neither expected anything serious. But the couple came out of it with the same unforeseen outcome — and they say they couldn’t be happier.

Sam: I was just getting out of a messy relationship. But all my friends were taking the survey, and they asked me to do it, so I just thought, “Whatever, why not.” Even though I wasn’t really looking for a relationship or anything, I just filled it out because it was fun. And I was like, “Oh, Duke people are nice, so whoever I get matched with, I’m sure it’ll be cool.”

Tom: I, on the other hand, wanted no part of the Marriage Pact. I didn’t even know it existed, and one of my friends was like, “Have you heard about this thing?” And all of my friends wanted me to have a girlfriend, for reasons I don’t understand. Like, they were obsessed with the idea of it, and they pestered me until I did it. I finally just decided I was just going to meet a girl, and be really awkward — which I was — and then they would get off my back. And now, here we are.

After match initials hit students’ inboxes, Tom’s friends got right to work searching for his soulmate-to-be.

Tom: My friends were all flipping through a directory with all the people in our class, so they could see what everyone looked like. So I gave them the initials SS. And if you don’t know, Jerry Seinfeld’s daughter goes to Duke, and is named Sascha, so all my friends were calling that it would be her.

Good guess, but not quite.

Sam: For me, when I got the initials, it was a really busy week, so I didn’t think too much of it. And then the match came out, so I looked him up-

Tom: Oh, she looked up my Linkedin, it was terrible.

Sam: I mean, it was a little cringy. It was all, like, engineering, chess, karate. And I was like, “Okay… I’m just gonna let that be.” And probably 24 hours after the match, he emailed me with this bad pun, I’m not gonna lie. I can’t remember what it said. But he was like, “Really, I promise I have a better sense of humor in person. Here’s my number if you wanna text or get lunch sometime.” And he included this video of a hippo.

They both laugh as they remember Tom’s endearing — albeit corny — first message.

Tom: Well, I thought it was fun.

Sam: Okay, yeah, yeah, it was fun. But I just kind of let it marinate in my inbox, because I didn’t know what to do about it. I just got out of a relationship, and wasn’t really looking for anything. But about a week later, I replied and was like, “Hey, I’m not looking for anything serious, but we should get lunch and meet up, since apparently we’re supposed to be really similar.”

So we got lunch, and I think we talked about chess, because we ended up exchanging usernames on We probably played like once a day for about two weeks. And there was like a message feature on there, so one day he said, “You know, this would be a lot easier to play in person.”

Tom: No, you asked to play in person!

Sam: Okay, okay, whatever! So we did, and then we totally hit it off. We were super excited to see each other again. But then you got COVID.

Tom: Yeah, that was depressing.

Sam: I didn’t get it, but he was in quarantine for like two weeks. But afterwards, we started hanging out way more, and then eventually we started dating.

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The couple spent the last four weeks of spring semester together before parting ways for the summer. Tom left for his job in Philly, while Sam headed home to Gettysburg to start her summer internship.

Sam: We’re like a three hour drive apart, so we’ve been visiting each other back and forth on the weekends. We just got back this morning from Myrtle Beach with his parents. It was a really fun little trip.

Sam and Tom’s match was in the 98th percentile — one of the highest among their friends (and all of Duke).

Sam: It makes a lot of sense. I think we’re both really ambitious people, and look for that in a partner.

Tom: Yeah, a lot of our values match up. Especially with being pretty school-focused, goal-oriented, and wanting to make the most of college.

Nonetheless, Sam and Tom say their upbringings differ — and refreshingly so.

Sam: I basically grew up on a farm. I wouldn’t say I’m a country girl–

Tom: But she is, though.

Sam: I just like to spend time outside! And I just like a slower way of life.

Tom: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m an outdoorsy person yet. But I ran cross country, so we sometimes go on runs together. And she’s taken me on hikes, which is something I’ve never done before, really. But I grew up in Philly, and really like computer science and engineering. I’m very much a techie.

Sam: I think we’re different in that way, but I think it’s good.

Tom: Yeah, if you wanted to talk about computers all the time, it’d be way too much. I get enough of that from class.

Ultimately, Sam and Tom’s unexpected pairing feels like the work of fate.

Sam: I seriously think we’re really, really compatible. I swear this boy is my soulmate.

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