When William Edwin Wildman III first saw Parker Calin Kennedy in March 2015 at the pool in the condominium complex where they both lived in Oxford, Miss., Mr. Kennedy was drinking a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne with friends.
It was around 9 a.m. and the last day of spring break at the University of Mississippi, where Mr. Wildman was a junior and Mr. Kennedy a sophomore. “My friends and I were scoffing, ‘What is he doing? It’s ridiculous,’” Mr. Wildman said. “But I was intrigued. He had this sense of occasion. I had to find out who he was.”
As it turned out, Mr. Kennedy was known for toting around bottles of champagne: He worked as an events manager for Debutante Farmer, a catering and events company founded by Elizabeth Heiskell, the “Today” show food contributor, and would often receive freebies at the end of a job.
Though the two never talked at the pool, Mr. Wildman later sent a direct message to Mr. Kennedy on Instagram. They began chatting and a couple of days later, on a rainy afternoon, Mr. Wildman came over to Mr. Kennedy’s apartment to watch films.
“He had a raincoat on with a little hood,” Mr. Kennedy said. “When he pulled it back, I thought, ‘I really like this guy.’”
Neither could remember the movie that they watched that day, but agreed that it was Disney and must have been a title from a short list. “Parker watches the same movies over and over again,” Mr. Wildman said. “He stopped watching new movies in 2010.”
“If I’m having a bad day …” Mr. Kennedy began.
“I open the door and I hear ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’” Mr. Wildman finished.
Though Mr. Wildman said he is more of a “documentary person,” he added that he will watch Disney for Mr. Kennedy.
“I don’t watch scary movies and he loves gore and horror,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I’m like, ‘OK you made me suffer through that movie night, so now we’re going to watch a Disney movie to replenish my positive good vibes.’”
About a week after meeting, the two had their first official date at Newk’s Eatery, a sandwich shop in Oxford. “It was my first time going out for a meal with a guy in Oxford,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The glory of college is that you can do what you want to do without having someone tell you that you can’t do it.”
They bonded over their upbringing in large families from small Southern towns. Mr. Kennedy, now 28, was born and raised in Kerrville, Texas, outside San Antonio, and is one of six half- and stepsiblings.
Mr. Wildman, 27, is from Laurel, Miss., where his extended family lives, and is the oldest of three. “Growing up, I wanted to get out of that town so bad,” Mr. Wildman said. “But now, I have a new appreciation for it. It’s taught me a lot of interpersonal skills that I don’t think I could have gotten elsewhere.”
The pair dated for a couple of months, enough time for them to develop strong feelings.
“I loved William from the moment I met him,” Mr. Kennedy said. One night that spring, he told Mr. Wildman that he wanted to marry him.
“I was obviously enamored,” Mr. Wildman said. “But I knew what the next few years held for me. He was ready to move quickly and I was much more hesitant, only because I knew I was moving abroad, then going to grad school. The plan I had at the time didn’t include a relationship.”
In May 2015, Mr. Wildman left for Bass Lake, Calif., where he worked as a counselor at Skylake Yosemite Camp for the entire summer. “I didn’t have a cell signal,” he said. The lack of communication frustrated Mr. Kennedy and the relationship cooled off. Both began dating other people.
Back on campus during the fall of 2015, Мr. Wildman thought about Mr. Kennedy often. In December 2015, before he left to study and intern at UNICEF in Paris for eight months, he texted Mr. Kennedy, asking him to come over.
“‘I think this is a bad idea,’” Mr. Kennedy said. But he went anyway, curious about what Mr. Wildman might say.
In his living room, Mr. Wildman bent on one knee and made a promise: “If the universe brings us back together again, I won’t fight it, but right now, I have to go.”
“It was hard,” Mr. Kennedy said. His feelings, he said, were “10 percent hope, 90 percent hatred.”
They stayed apart but in touch for some time. In May 2017, Mr. Wildman graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and French, then moved to Denver. The following year, Mr. Kennedy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi in hospitality management.
In Denver, Mr. Wildman worked as a community engagement specialist at Apple for about a year. Afterward, in August 2018, he returned to the University of Mississippi to earn a master’s degree in higher education administration, just as Mr. Kennedy left Oxford for New Orleans to be closer to his family.
Nearly a year later, Mr. Wildman joined Tulane School of Architecture in New Orleans as an assistant director of graduate admission. For the first time in about two years, he and Mr. Kennedy met in person, for drinks. They discovered that the spark between them was as strong as it had ever been. In July 2019, they decided to take a risk and move in together in a two-bedroom loft in New Orleans.
“I was nervous and scared,” Mr. Kennedy said. After all the ups and downs, and the separations and reunions, he said, “I thought this could be the breaking point.”
Cole Putman, a close friend of the couple, didn’t believe Mr. Wildman when he texted to say that he and Mr. Kennedy were moving in together. At the time, he did not even know they were dating again. But when he visited Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wildman a few months later, in February 2020, he thought their decision made sense. “They had started building this cute life and this routine,” he said. “I started falling in love with their relationship.”
Friends were one thing; family was another. Mr. Kennedy said when he told his mother, Lisa Ballay, about their plan to move in together, she was “shocked” by the pace. But she accepted the move. “My mom is one of my closest friends,” Mr. Kennedy said. “She was one of the first people I told I was gay.”
Mr. Wildman was more hesitant in sharing his decision to live with Mr. Kennedy with his parents. “My parents didn’t know we were together,” he said. For months, he did not tell them that his roommate was also his boyfriend.
“I come from a very conservative, very religious background and they had a harder time accepting me,” he said. “It had always been a touchy subject.” When he finally told his mother and father that he and Mr. Kennedy were romantically involved in early 2020, his parents struggled to accept that his interest in men was not a passing phase.
Binge more Vows columns here and read all our wedding, relationship and divorce coverage here.
But after some time, he said, they understood that his relationship with Mr. Kennedy was “forever,” and “took it seriously and became more accepting. Now I have a much better relationship with my parents.”
Half a year after Mr. Wildman and Mr. Kennedy moved in together, the pandemic began. “Then we really got to know each other,” Mr. Wildman said.
In the following months, Mr. Kennedy decided to open an interior design business. He started Piqué by Parker Kennedy in November 2020.
Mr. Wildman pivoted away from higher education and enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He plans to graduate in May 2023 with a law degree and a master of laws in health law and administration, and to join the New Orleans office of the Baker Donelson law firm as an associate.
As they made these major life changes, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wildman found strength and relief in each other. “With my world being so rigid, it’s nice to have someone who’s in a creative world who can balance me out and bring me to earth,” Mr. Wildman said.
“They support one another in building up what they want their lives to be while also having their separate ventures,” Mr. Putman said. “Neither of them has lost their personhood. It’s like if you’re mixing a cocktail, and the flavors don’t dilute each other, but bring out the others.”
Mr. Wildman proposed to Mr. Kennedy on Christmas Day 2020 on a bench in Audubon Park in New Orleans, where they often ate lunch during the pandemic. “I said something like, ‘I made you a promise a long time ago, and now I’m following through on it,’” Mr. Wildman said.
Six months later, on vacation in Tulum, Mexico, Mr. Kennedy surprised Mr. Wildman with his own proposal. “We’re a gay couple, so we can make up our own rules,” he said.
They were legally married Dec. 15 by Judge Janis van Meerveld in a small ceremony at the United States District Courthouse for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Mr. Kennedy’s mother, Ms. Ballay, and his stepfather, Charles Ballay, attended, along with Mr. Wildman’s father, William Edwin Wildman Jr., and his mother, Amy Gavin Wildman.
A few weeks later, at the Château le Chereau in Montrieux-en-Sologne, France, Mr. Wildman and Mr. Kennedy celebrated their union with 75 guests over several days of events that culminated in a black-tie New Year’s Eve bash. Mr. Putman led the wedding ceremony.
As New Orleans residents, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wildman wanted live music at the wedding, so Tomos Xerri, a harpist, played during the welcome party on Dec. 29 and Ensemble Obbligato, a string quartet, performed for the Dec. 31 ceremony and the cocktail hour that followed. Roasting chestnuts on an open fire enhanced the sense of wintry festivity, and bartenders serving cocktails out of a bright yellow 1968 Renault Estafette van added a playful element.
“It rained and poured almost all of last week in Sologne,” Mr. Wildman said. “The one day of the week it was sunny and peaceful and 10 degrees warmer was our wedding day. If that’s not a symbol for what we can conquer as a couple, I don’t know what is.”
On This Day
When Dec. 31, 2022
Where Château le Chereau, Montrieux-en-Sologne, France
Dress Code The women guests were asked to wear emerald or champagne tones to the wedding, and men to wear black tuxedos.
The Weather Outside Several of the events, including the ceremony, were held outdoors. “We really like the winter time — we really like to be cold,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That’s why we chose a winter wedding. We didn’t want to see anyone sweating.”
The Light Arts Along with musicians, performers included a fireworks artist and a fire breather. “We wanted the wedding to feel like everyone is going to a big New Year’s Eve party,” Mr. Wildman said.