A Story of Fate and Justice: How Public Advocates Zoe and Nick Beat the Algorithm

Nick kissing Zoe's cheek, Zoe smiles.

UVA undergrads Zoe and Nick quite literally beat the Marriage Pact algorithm. Just weeks before matching through the survey, the couple found each other the old fashioned way.

As I speak with them about their relationship, I’m blown away by their authenticity and the admiration they hold for each other. Zoe and Nick not only share a rich, profound understanding and appreciation for each other’s strengths, but an ability to support each other in their weaknesses. The couple are a perfect match through and through — the Marriage Pact was just a little late to the game.

Nick was a captain on UVA’s Mock Trial team when Zoe joined during her freshman fall. Over the course of the semester, their friendship slowly evolved into something deeper.


We became really, really close friends and thought that was it. And then we slowly realized there was something else going on here. But we didn’t want to start dating at first, because we didn’t want to cause tension within the Mock Trial team.

So Nick had the wonderful idea of taking a break from being friends, to like, recalibrate our thoughts. And that lasted for a week before we were like, yeah… we’re dating.


So, I started that break thing on a Sunday night, and Zoe reached out the next day. She was like, “Can we get coffee on Friday?” So we did, and things just evolved from there. I think that night we decided that we really liked each other and wanted to take this to the next level.

To the couple’s pleasant surprise, their mock trial teammates were overwhelmingly supportive of their burgeoning relationship.


I wasn’t expecting the amount of support that we got, and it was really cool. But at first we tried to keep it really low-key, and didn’t really tell anybody that we were dating. But you know, the two of us are terrible at keeping secrets. So they figured it out pretty quickly.


On a team of 17 people, there’s only so much you can do. I thought we were doing a really great job, actually, until a teammate asked me, “How are things with you and Nick?” I was like, “What? How do you know that?”

I thought it was gonna be a big deal, but it wasn’t. I think everybody knew faster than we thought.

They set the scene for their first date — a lovely October evening spent in downtown Charlottesville — that came mere weeks before Marriage Pact results dropped at UVA.


We went to this Italian restaurant downtown. They sat us at a raised table with only two seats under this pretty tree. We had a nice dinner and walked around the downtown mall, and this jazz player was playing the accordion.


It was like one of those scenes you see in rom-com movies, with jazz music playing all around you. It was a great moment.

Whatever plan the algorithm had for their lives, Zoe and Nick beat the survey to it. They recall the once-in-a-lifetime moment when their 99 percent match was revealed.


When I got the results, I showed the email to one of my friends, and we both just started laughing. It was one of those one in a thousand moments. Like, of all the people at UVA, it’s the person I’m already dating.


I didn’t even check my email at first. I was sitting in my economics class, and just got this string of texts from Nick, like, “You gotta check your email right now, the Marriage Pact results are out!” And I was like, “I don’t know why it’s so urgent, it’s probably just a random person.”

But then he sent me a screenshot of his email, and I just thought, “There’s no way. He totally photoshopped that.” I just said to my best friend, “Can you believe that this just happened?


I think it was really affirming. It just confirmed what the two of us already knew about each other, that we just have really similar values and interests and complementary personalities.

It’s no wonder the couple matched so decisively, given their myriad similarities. Although they have different goals for the future, Zoe and Nick implement the same moral values in every aspect of their lives.


I think that integrity and ambition are big for both of us. We’re both pretty ambitious, and we really want to do things that improve the lives of other people. We’re going down totally different career paths, but we share a passion for helping people live better lives.

Zoe tells me that she’s interested in the education non-profit route, while Nick is working towards a career in law and public defense.


Integrity is the other big piece. Doing the right things, not because it best serves you or the people you care about, but simply for the sake of good.


I think both of us have a real passion for trying to help people, and putting the interests of the collective above the interests of yourself.

Not only do we try to emulate that, but we know what that looks like in our lives and have strategies to accomplish that. It’s great to have someone else understand that as much as Zoe does.

Even in their differences, Zoe and Nick make an exceedingly compatible pair.


Nick and I are seeing each other in New York in a couple weeks, and I wrote out this whole itinerary, by the hour, of what we’d be doing. I’m an over-planner and definitely an over-thinker, while Nick was just like, “You know, we can just play each morning by ear and just float around the city, see what happens.”

You’d think that it can be frustrating, but I haven’t found it frustrating. I think he just has a different, calmer way of looking at the world, which can be really helpful.


I think it’s fine to sometimes be the more unpredictable one, because it pushes Zoe out of her comfort zone, which just allows her to grow and experience new things. But I’m also a terrible procrastinator. It’s always, “Oh, I can do that tomorrow, I can do that next week.”

So on the flip side, Zoe is so responsible and holds me accountable. She gets on me to finish things, and will send me reminders, like, “Remember to buy your mother something for Mother’s Day!” She’s a very regimented person, and I’m just not.

Although Nick graduated from UVA last year, he and Zoe are still able to guide each other through the next chapters of their lives.


Nick and I are in different parts of our lives, but I’ve also worked in a professional setting for a long time. So when Nick started his first adult job, I felt like I could provide some real advice. And since I still have a few years of college, there are a lot of things that I’m learning from Nick.

And in the less romantic parts of their relationship, Zoe and Nick are still able to work as a team to problem solve and overcome challenges — a testament to the durability and resilience of their relationship.


The day we installed that air conditioning unit was especially memorable.

Nick points to the large AC unit right next to his desk.


I was so worried about it. If there was a time to learn that our relationship wasn’t gonna work, it would be while installing that air conditioner.

Nick hadn’t used a drill before, and you like, dropped stuff out the window, but we got it in. And it works. And it was great. That was a very affirming moment, where we found out that we can work together on hard problems even though we have different approaches.


I didn’t realize that the AC unit had that much bearing on our relationship.

Nick shares another especially touching memory that paints a beautiful picture of their partnership.


In my last year of college, I struggled with the idea that I hadn’t had a big impact on anything during my time here, and that I was going to graduate without a lot to show for it.

So Zoe, for my birthday, got all of my friends to send me videos of themselves saying things they appreciated about me and how I had impacted their lives. Talking about it is making me tear up. It was really valuable for me to hear at that point in my life, and I won’t forget that.

When I asked Zoe and Nick to share what they admire in each other, they answered eloquently and sincerely, displaying a rare kind of mutual understanding and respect that’s truly one in a million.


If you google Zoe’s name, there are two Ted Talks that come up, she has her own website, she has her own podcast, picture on the Washington Post, things of that nature. But you would never know it from talking with her.

She’s always interested in the other person more than herself, which is really refreshing. That humility, given her accomplishments, was really a pleasant surprise.


My favorite thing about Nick is how much he cares about other people. Mock Trial can get really intense and competitive, and as a captain, Nick was very good at making sure that everybody on the team was doing alright. Not just a debrief, but checking in with them as a human being to see how they were doing.

I think he was really key to how our team did this year, but also the way we were able to celebrate our wins together but never come at each other’s throats when we lost. He always put other people above himself in hard situations, and made sure we were functioning as a group and not just as individuals.

It takes a special kind of person to do that.

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