How we met: 'I had been prejudiced about dating divorced men. John made me realise that was silly'

Lizzie Cernik
·4-min read

A soup kitchen isn’t the obvious setting for romance. But when John Warren decided to volunteer for the homeless charity Caritas of Austin in January 2006, it wasn’t long before he spotted Laura Thomas. “I was working in the kitchen when I watched her walk across the room, so I tried to make eye contact. She immediately told me to put gloves on,” he says, laughing. As soon as she left, he put on the latex gloves required for hygiene reasons and, the next time she passed, waved to show that he was wearing them.

Laura, who was responsible for arranging music events at the shelter, thought John was “cute”. “A month later, we met again and started chatting at the kitchen,” she says. Although there was a spark, the volunteer coordinator told Laura that John had a girlfriend. “I thought he was a jerk. I didn’t understand why he was flirting with me if he was with someone.” In reality, he had separated from his partner. Due to the misunderstanding, John and Laura started dating other people. “He brought a date to the benefit fundraiser event I was organising,” says Laura. “I thought that was his long-term girlfriend.”

When his profile popped up on a dating website that Laura was using, it prompted her to ask about his relationship status. “We finally realised we were both single and liked each other,” she says. In April 2006, they went on their first proper date, to a wine bar in South Austin, followed by dinner at a restaurant. “I was really interested in everything she had to say,” says John. “There was something special there.” She felt he was different because he asked so many questions: “On previous dates, most men had just talked about themselves.”

Laura had never married, but discovered that John was divorced and had two daughters, aged 17 and 20. “I had been prejudiced about dating divorced men but John made me realise that was silly,” she says. The couple bonded over their shared love of travelling, their passion for nature and their strong family values.

“We both love camping and hiking. I think I knew Laura was the one when I went to her house and realised she had more camping gear than me,” John says, laughing. The relationship became serious quickly and the pair discussed marriage. In October, they went to a music festival in San Francisco, where John popped the question. “I knew he was going to ask because he was acting weird,” she remembers. The couple had a barefoot wedding the following May in a Catholic church. “I’d previously done volunteer work in India and it was a mark of respect to remove your shoes in religious places,” says Laura. “We offered our guests the opportunity to do it too if they wanted.” It was followed by a DIY party at John’s home, where they turned the garage into a dancefloor. Instead of wedding gifts, they requested donations to the soup kitchen where they had met.

Laura moved into her husband’s house shortly after the wedding, which she admits was a “learning curve”. “It was a bit of a shock to the system as I had to move to a different part of the city, and we had not lived together before we married. But it worked and now I have a great relationship with his children, too. We spend a lot of time with our families.”

Since the pandemic started, John has worked at home as the director of a technology company, but Laura’s career as a music booking agent is temporarily on hold. She became unwell with thyroid cancer earlier this year, but has since made a full recovery after having surgery. Despite the challenges of the past few months, they enjoy spending more time together. “We bought a small ranch a three-hour drive from our home, and we hope to spend weekends there,” says Laura. And they continue to raise funds for the soup kitchen.

John is grateful that his wife keeps him grounded. “Laura has an immense sense of social justice, which I love. It was wonderful to meet someone who puts family first.” She describes her husband as incredibly intelligent. “He is Mr Fix-It and makes anything work. John is always able to laugh and gets along with everyone.”

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