Everyone knows the worst part of running for office is asking people for money. “It gets to be a grind,” says Representative Haley Stevens. “You fundraise your tail off. You’re calling everybody, you’re doing all of this outreach, and your success really depends who picks up the phone.” But back in 2017, when the Michigan Democrat was campaigning for Congress—after telling a friend when things started to go south at what was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s election night victory party, “If she doesn’t win, I’m going to run”—one of those fundraising calls changed her life.
One night in December 2017, after “two weeks of being hung up on,” Stevens was set to call people who had given via a crowdfunding campaign to thank them and hopefully turn them into repeat donors. “I get this number in front of me and it says Robert Gulley,” she says. “And I’m thinking, Rob Gulley? Like from high school?”
Stevens and Gulley weren’t well acquainted in high school, but they knew of one another. She remembers him as the boy with big brown eyes, who briefly sported a “baby mohawk” and that “his brain was almost too big for high school.” And they both vaguely remember taking the same improv class. At some point over the years, though, they became friends on Facebook, where Gulley saw Steven’s campaign fundraiser and thought, Oh, of course, I’ll donate.
So Stevens called him up that night and “did what I do with any supporter,” she says. “I was like, ‘Hey, this is my cell phone. Keep in touch.’” She asked Gulley to come to an event; he couldn’t make it, but he promised to support her campaign again—and he did. “He just kept supporting my campaign,” Stevens says. She remembers thinking, I wonder what he’s up to? Is he married and settled down? But ultimately, she says, “I was not looking to meet somebody—I was trying to get elected to Congress—so I just kind of forgot about it.” For his part, Gulley, a software engineer, says he had a bit of a “fan crush” on Stevens, but didn’t think much of it. “I mean, I was thrilled,” he says. “It felt really cool that a congressional candidate that I was pretty sure was going to win was calling me and we were talking about politics.”
As we now know, Gulley was right; Stevens did end up winning. About a month after she was sworn in in January 2019 as part of a historic class of Democratic women in Congress (“it was a whirlwind, super exciting,” Stevens says), she got a text from Gulley telling her he thought she was doing a great job. She just happened to be back home in her district so, on a whim, she invited Gulley to join her and some friends at a dive bar that night.
Unbeknownst to her, Gulley was sick in bed with a cold, but he didn’t let that stop him. “I said ‘yes’ because I was just so excited,” Gulley says. “I went to my medicine cabinet and just started stuffing everything in my face—Mucinex, Sudafed, you name it. And then I had a little moment with myself in the bathroom mirror where I was like, ‘You’re going to pull your shit together for two hours and go to this bar and pretend you’re not sick.’ And that’s what I did.” (“She’s pretty cute,” he adds, “so there was that motivating factor.”)
They ate snacks, played skee ball and a round of pool. It was a good night and Gulley says he walked away thinking he’d call her in a week or two, maybe even see her again sometime. But the very next morning he started getting random emojis from Stevens. There was a snowman; there was a sun; it was confusing. “At first, I didn’t get it,” Gulley says. “I was like, isn’t it if you like someone you’re supposed to wait a day or something? But she wasn’t playing by any of those rules.” He says Stevens would send some “weird emojis” and they’d have an exchange and then a couple of hours would go by and it would happen again. “This went on three or four times and by about midnight I figured it out, like, Oh, I think she likes me.”
Stevens and Gulley went to dinner the following week and things continued from there. They started watching The West Wing together. They went for drives, or for walks with Rob’s two dogs (Tara, 13, Hydra, 3). “I remember we were sitting in his car one day and he said, ‘Babe…’ and I was like, ‘He’s calling me babe!’” Stevens says. And by the time she invited him to her family’s Easter celebration they were calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, too. “Haley was smitten from the get-go,” says Representative Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), one of Stevens’ close friends in Congress who threw her a bridal shower. “From the moment they met, I feel like she’s been on cloud nine. She’s wearing her heels more often—really doing it up these days. She’s got more spring in her step—she’s going to marry the man of her dreams.”
Stevens was frequently off working in Washington D.C., but they made it work, sending long texts and notes, and checking off important milestones like their first Christmas together along the way. When COVID-19 hit, Stevens was in her home district and needed to get back to D.C. for a vote. In a matter of hours, Gulley had packed up the car to drive her there. “He charioted me out to D.C. literally through the night. I was the first person in town for these votes,” Stevens says, laughing. “That’s just the type of person Rob is.” They stayed in D.C. through the early days of the pandemic, living in a 500-square-foot studio basement apartment with “bad wifi and two 70 pound dogs,” taking “really long walks” at night to stay sane.
The proposal came one day in June 2020. They were in Michigan and had decided to take Gulley’s small fishing boat out on a lake. It was one disaster after another: One boat launch was closed, so they tried another, but it was too crowded. They decided to get some takeout and their food took an hour to come. When they were finally able to get out on the lake, it was almost sunset. Gulley, sweating bullets, maneuvered to a pretty spot near a little island and dropped the anchor. “I forced myself to wait in silence for maybe 10 or 15 seconds—which is a long time when you’re about to propose to your girlfriend!—and I told myself, If she doesn’t say anything or divert the conversation, then I’m just going to do this.”
Gulley asked Stevens to come sit on the bench next to him and she, clueless, said she was good where she was sitting on the other side of the boat. He finally convinced her to come sit with him, and told her he needed a granola bar, which he had stashed in his tackle box. It was a ruse, of course—it was actually the ring stashed along with his lures. When Gulley picked the box up to retrieve the ring, his hands were shaking so bad he could barely open it.
“I’m like, ‘Why are you shaking the tackle box?’” Stevens says. And then suddenly Gulley was crouched over (he couldn’t kneel in the boat), holding a ring, asking her to marry him. “I just go, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Stevens says. “I couldn’t even answer him because I was so surprised at the whole thing.” She started rambling—something about needing a Magna Carta, a treatise, some sort of documentation for this big life decision, and Gulley is like, So is that a yes? “I said, ‘It’s a total yes!’” says Stevens.
The wedding was held on September 3 at a golf course near their respective hometowns in Michigan. Stevens’ favorite part about the planning process was working with small businesses where she grew up in the Detroit suburbs. Her dress is from Elizabeth’s Bridal Manor in Northville—“a magical experience,” Stevens says; the cake is from Love & Buttercream in Birmingham, the town in which Stevens and Gulley went to high school. “These are the communities that raised me and the places I represent in Congress—and now they are helping me down the aisle too,” Stevens says.
Sometimes she still thinks back to her first bid for Congress when, even though her love life wasn’t on her mind very often, she would occasionally catch herself thinking, Can I find a partner while running for office? “It was in the back of my mind a little bit,” Stevens says. “And then I was kind of like, you know what? I’ll just be married to the work.” But now she’s found the companionship she once craved. And Gulley, who once supported her campaign, has now vowed to support her in all aspects of life—til death do they part.
Event Production and Design: Cassy Rose Events; Venue/Caterer: Cherry Creek Golf Club; Photography: Alora Rachelle; Videography: Heart and Soul Films; Florist: Violet Rose Floral Design; Rentals: Main Event Source; Linens: La Tavola; Draping: Linens and Beyond; Lighting: Elysium Experience; Shuttles: Motor City Limousine; Music: White Pines Entertainment; DJ: C4; Cake/Dessert: Love and Buttercream; Hair/Makeup: Glam by Andreea; Photobooth: Photobooth Plus; Paper Goods/Calligraphy: Leah E. Moss Designs.
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