After a storybook romance, Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls and journalist Chloe Angyal are engaged

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Zach Wahls closed out his Birthday Brunch, which featured speeches from five presidential candidates, with a story of how he met Chloe Angyal. Joseph Cress, Iowa City Press-Citizen

DES MOINES, Iowa – Whatever you do, don’t refer to Iowa state Sen. Zach Wahls and his new fiancee, Australian-born journalist Chloe Angyal, as a power couple.

“I really don’t like the term ‘power couple,'” Angyal said in an accent held over from her childhood in Sydney. “We’re living together for the first time. I think we’re less figuring out how to be a power couple than just figuring out how to be a couple.”

If a romantic comedy meant to capture the cultural moment of the past decade was to be made, a producer wouldn’t need to look further than Wahls’ and Angyal’s hall-of-fame-level meet-cute. 

In 2011, a 19-year-old Wahls gave an impassioned speech about how his family, which included his sister and two mothers, was no different than any other in Iowa in protest of an attempt in the Iowa House of Representatives to amend the state constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal.

The video was shared widely across the internet, including on the progressive website Feministing, for which a 23-year-old Angyal was writing. She blogged about the video under the headline: “Marry Me, Zach Wahls.”

“It wasn’t a question,” Wahls said.

“It was an instruction,” Angyal said, finishing his sentence, though she was adamant that the blog post was unremarkable and the headline a joke.

First, Angyal and Wahls sat down for an interview.

In April 2013, the two met again, this time in New York City, where Angyal still lived and where Wahls was visiting for an event while campaigning to end discrimination by the Boy Scouts. Both were seeing other people at the time, but she reached out to him after seeing a press release for the event he was attending, and they got breakfast at a Cuban diner.

They stayed in touch. The next summer, Wahls began interning at the Obama White House. He and Angyal were now in the same time zone, the closest they’d ever physically lived, and their relationship began in earnest. 

In time between writing that blog headline and beginning to date Wahls, Ayngal had inadvertently prepared herself by writing a dissertation on romantic comedies – seriously – as part of a doctorate in media studies.  

“One thing that is true about a romantic comedy is that, in order for it to be complete, the couple has to break up and get back together,” Angyal said. “And so far, knock on wood, that hasn’t happened to us.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in ‘The Truman Show’ and this is all some big rom-com the powers-that-be orchestrated around me,” Wahls added. 

Several years of long-distance courtship followed – years spent crossing the country, utilizing every form of transportation available, traveling back and forth between Washington, D.C., New York and, of course, Iowa. The closest they lived to each other during this time was when Wahls was in graduate school at Princeton in New Jersey. 

In the summer of 2018, after Wahls ran a successful primary campaign and received the nomination for Democratic state senate in Johnson County, Angyal left New York City and joined her boyfriend in Coralville. Wahls would go on to win the general election and become a state senator. 

After spending most of her life in Sydney and New York City, both beach-side, metropolis-sized cities, she found herself suddenly alone in a landlocked state, living in a suburb of a college town with the boyfriend she’d met by proposing to him as a joke seven years before. 

“I spent almost a decade in New York City, and in order to survive there, I think you do have to convince yourself that you couldn’t live anywhere else,” Angyal said. “And the process of leaving becomes really daunting.”

Though the transition has been easier than she thought, the couple reminisced about the”shock and horror” when the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature readings converged somewhere below zero in the depths of the polar vortex of the past winter. 

As their relationship has grown more serious, the couple has also thought about the ethical guidelines and possible problems they could face as a journalist and a politician who are romantically intertwined. They’ve considered a stringent set of ethical guidelines and even consulted with the Society of Professional Journalists on the do’s and don’ts of their potentially conflicting careers. 

They’ve also received advice from Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who’s managed a career as a politician while his wife, Connie Schultz, made a name for herself as a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist. The couple follows the “Sherrod Brown Rule”: Wahls never tells Angyal she can’t write about something. 

Transparency and ethics matter to them on both personal and professional levels. Angyal attends political events with Wahls as his significant other but never conducts herself as a journalist simultaneously. She’s also written about the trickiness of that aspect of their relationship at Marie Claire, where she’s a contributing editor. 

After nearly a year of living together, Wahls and Angyal were ready to take things to the next level. Though he got close to proposing at a very public birthday brunch recently, Wahls to decided to save it for a more intimate moment, out of respect for Angyal’s preference.

Last Thursday, at their home in Coralville, Wahls proposed over champagne and take-out pizza with a ring procured from Angyal’s 105-year-old grandmother .

“I got really lucky that it’s a great story and he’s a great guy, and we’re a great couple,” Angyal said.

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