Couple: Sam Spence and Melissa Fried
Met at: The Royal American
Years together: Four

Communication is key in any relationship — it’s also the first thing that gets lost when you walk into a bar. With the steady din of conversation punctuated by the bright ding of glasses rattling, it’s often a challenge to share a truly meaningful connection at your local watering hole.

Seated together at a small table at the Royal American, Sam Spence and Melissa Fried take turns recounting the night they met, most of their stories told in the absence of the other. The reason for having the engaged couple share separate versions of how they met four years ago is twofold: The first reason is to toy with the suspicions of Spence, the City Paper‘s unflappable web editor. The other, and far more pertinent reason, is to see where, long after the initial haze of a night out, their stories diverge — and what moments remain crystallized in both their minds as the time they met the person with which they wish to spend the rest of their lives.

The main point of disagreement seems to be over whether Spence spent most of their first encounter looking at his phone. A tall, reserved man with a penchant for puns and politics, Spence had been working at the City Paper for about six months when they met. Fried was an attorney with Joye Law Firm at the time, which was nominated for a Best of Charleston award. With neither really expecting to find love, it was a mutual friend’s farewell celebration that brought them to the Royal American that evening.

“I was dating around, not really finding anything serious at that point, and I think when I met Sam I had kind of even given up on dating,” says Fried, who is now an associate at Nexsen Pruet.

Meeting her friends at their usual table, Fried doesn’t remember there being much interaction with Spence that night because — as was said before — he was on his phone the entire time. Spence recalls things a bit differently.

“People had broken off into their own little groups, and she was talking with a bunch of my buddies,” Spence says, later describing his now fiance as “holding court” with his friends. “I was impressed with how she handled being barraged by questions by these guys who I know pretty well. I was just sitting at the table, kind of observing and piping in.”

Spence and Fried are both in agreement as to what drew him into the conversation. Fried was catching a bit of flack for watching Downton Abbey, the period drama that was very much in vogue at the time, but was likely to roll a few eyes inside a bar. Spence chimed in, showing Fried that he too was a fan of the Crawley family’s melodrama. Of course, liking the same TV show can only go so far in the way of kindling a relationship. Fortunately, for Spence and Fried, there was more to the moment.

“She introduced herself to me, which I thought was different. It was obvious that she was very smart,” says Spence. “That’s the one thing I tell people that I definitely remember. We didn’t talk one-on-one very much that first time, but of all the things I remember that.”

Almost a month passed before the two met again. Joye Law Firm managed to claim a Best of Charleston victory that year, which put Fried and her friend in an all-too-common situation.

“Because we had never been, the stupid, girl question is what do you wear?” And I said, ‘I think I know someone at the City Paper,'” Fried recalls before pausing her story as a train slowly lurches down the tracks behind the Royal American.

After their first brief introduction at the bar, Fried sent a casual email to Spence, trying to sort out the dress code for the awards party. Five minutes later, Spence responded. After a bit of debate about whether he advised Fried and her friends to wear sundresses to the event, Spence begins to search his phone for their original email exchange as Fried continues her story.

“He said something along the lines of ‘I’ll be handling ticketing at the party that night. Find me,” Fried says. “It was very intriguing and cute.”

Later, after a few drinks at the party, Fried took Spence up on his invitation. They talked. It was Spence’s birthday. Fried introduced him to her bosses before wandering off to grab something to eat — the usual type of party-guest behavior where you drift in and out of conversations. As the party wound down, they found themselves together, talking. The night continued at Rec Room, where they finally decided to exchange numbers. As they say, the rest is history. But like all history, the specifics are still up for debate.

Finally tracking down their initial email conversation from almost four years ago, Spence is able to prove once and for all that he did not instruct his future wife to wear a sundress to the party. It turns out his actual response was “dressy casual.” Looking down at Spence’s phone as he scrolls through that early conversation, they each see that it went on a bit longer than either seem to remember. Because while communication can be difficult, especially in the awkward early days of a budding relationship or during a brief exchange in a bar, for some couples it’s much easier than anyone can recall.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.