Near Castle Ruins, a Wedding with a Dash of ‘Game of Thrones’
Kristen Sanders thought her chances of a relationship with April Hill were pretty slim when she spotted Ms. Hill’s profile on the dating app Bumble in January 2020.
“April’s 5-foot-10 and covered in tattoos; I’m 5-foot-2 and I look like a super goody two-shoes — clean cut, no visible tattoos, preppy dresser,” Ms. Sanders said before naming other differences between the two that stood out. “She’s atheist. I’m Christian. April is a vegetarian. I’m a meat eater.”
Though she figured Ms. Hill would “take one look at me and say, ‘No way,’” Ms. Sanders said she swiped right on Ms. Hill’s profile anyway because “she was anyone unlike I had ever seen or dated.”
To her surprise, they were declared a match. Ms. Hill, after seeing Ms. Sanders’s photos on Bumble, had swiped right on her profile, too. “I’m just a sucker for long dark hair and light eyes, and Kristen has these piercing green-hazel eyes,” Ms. Hill said.
At the time, Ms. Sanders was about two months away from finalizing her divorce from her ex wife, whom she had married in September 2019. She said that Ms. Hill “was my only match” on Bumble.
The same was not true for Ms. Hill. She had matched with other people on the app, but Ms. Sanders, 33, quickly became “the only one that mattered,” she said. “Once Kristen and I matched and we had our first conversation, I really felt no desire to talk to anyone else.”
Also divorced and 33, Ms. Hill wed her former husband when she was 18; their marriage lasted 18 months. Following her divorce, Ms. Hill continued to date men, including the father of her daughter Jaxyn, now 10. She came out as gay at 27. “It took a long time to feel comfortable and to come out to my family,” she said.
A couple of weeks after matching on Bumble, the women, who live in Fort Worth, had a first date. It began at True Food Kitchen, a restaurant in Dallas. “Kristen had hummus for dinner because it was the only thing she recognized,” Ms. Hill said. Afterward, they joined a few of Ms. Hill’s friends for a drag show at the gay dance club Station 4 Dallas. “We sat and talked and had drinks before her friends came,” Ms. Sanders said.
Wanting to be completely upfront with each other from the start, both came to the date prepared to discuss their past relationships.
“I was nervous to talk to her about my divorce,” Ms. Sanders said. “She asked if I still had any feelings for my ex and I said no.”
Said Ms. Hill, “We were both ready for love.” She added, “It was a really good conversation for a first date.”
So good was their conversation that a second date came the next day. After meeting for brunch, the two visited the Dallas Museum of Art, where Ms. Hill’s nervous excitement became evident to Ms. Sanders when she took Ms. Hill’s hand in her own. “She claimed the museum was hot,” Ms. Sanders said, but her hands “were clammy from being nervous.”
From then, their relationship quickly progressed. “We truly just never wanted to stop talking or getting attention from each other,” Ms. Hill said.
As the two grew closer, they discovered that their senses of humor meshed. “We find the same things hilarious and spend so much of our days together laughing a ton,” Ms. Sanders said. They also introduced one another to new hobbies. “April definitely reignited my love for the outdoors,” Ms. Sanders said. “She took me on my first hike and camping trip since I was a small child.”
Within a month of their first date, Ms. Hill introduced Ms. Sanders to her daughter. “They played with kinetic sand together,” Ms. Hill said. “I remember Kristen being pretty nervous to meet her. It was cute.”
The introduction “made it a lot easier to hang out,” Ms. Hill added. “She enjoyed and accepted my kiddo no questions asked and is extremely supportive of co-parenting with Jaxyn’s dad.”
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Ms. Sanders, who was raised predominantly in Weatherford, Texas, and graduated from Sam Houston State University, is a deputy sheriff for Tarrant County, Texas. But when she met Ms. Hill, she was working as a special agent for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Police, after previously serving as an investigator in the human trafficking-child exploitation unit at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
It was while the two were dating that Ms. Sanders had the realization that “I wanted to go back to ‘real’ policing and get back into investigations,” she said, adding that she knew “it takes a very strong person to be a police spouse.”
Though Ms. Hill, who grew up in Waco, Texas, supported Ms. Sanders in her career, she admitted to it causing some anxiety. “The not knowing what can happen on a daily basis can be scary,” said Ms. Hill, who works as a makeup artist and also sells handmade sterling silver and gemstone jewelry on Instagram. “I had reservations about it when I first met Kristen and learned she was a police officer, but she genuinely has a servant’s heart and wants to help people.”
Any reservations Ms. Hill might have felt were not strong enough to stop her from falling in love with Ms. Sanders just a few months after their courtship began. “I couldn’t picture my life without her,” she said.
Ms. Sanders fell for Ms. Hill just as fast. “I remember pretty early on a moment in April’s living room,” she recalled. “We were sitting on the couch holding hands, and I had just met Jaxyn not long before. She was playing with kinetic sand on the table, and I just remember being in that moment and thinking, ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted.’”
A year after they met on Bumble, in January 2021, Ms. Sanders moved into Ms. Hill’s apartment in Fort Worth. Two months later, Ms. Sanders proposed while the couple and Ms. Hill’s best friend were camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas.
“I told Kristen that she had to propose to me on a mountain or not at all, and she definitely delivered,” Ms. Hill said. “We hiked a total of nine miles that day and she proposed to me at the Lighthouse,” a famous rock formation in the park.
On June 18, they married cliffside on the grounds of a private property they had rented in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, near the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Emma Bailie, a wedding celebrant with Humanists UK, officiated before five guests, who included Jaxyn and Ms. Hill’s mother, Kathy Hill.
After seeing photos online of other weddings near the castle ruins, which date to the late Middle Ages, the couple said they knew that they wanted to get married there, too. But they soon learned that the property can’t be rented because it is a public space, and that many events instead take place on nearby farmland. With help from a videographer they had found online, the couple contacted the owner of that land, Sean McKinley, and had a wedding date booked days later.
Ms. Sanders said that the location, which was also chosen as a nod to her Irish heritage, “was giving off the ‘Game of Thrones’ vibes, and we’re super into ‘Game of Thrones.’” (Dunluce Castle, in fact, was used as Castle Greyjoy in the HBO series.)
“It felt fitting for us with all of the lush green landscape and castle ruins,” Ms. Hill said. “We say our love is like a fairy tale and Ireland looks like a fairy tale.”
Both brides wore dresses by the designer Maggie Sottero. Ms. Sanders donned a black lace ball gown, while Ms. Hill had on a fitted white dress with a halter neckline. Each revealed their ensemble to the other at a “first look” on a rock that jutted out over the North Atlantic, accessible only by a bridge.
Ms. Bailie then led the couple in a ceremony that included a traditional Celtic handfasting, in which their hands were wrapped in a handmade cord with a Celtic heart in the middle. “A traditional handfasting ceremony symbolizes entering into the bonds of marriage,” she said. “Two partners join hands and their wrists would be tied, symbolizing the binding together of their individual lives.”
“It is from this practice we get the term ‘tying the knot,’” she added.
The brides ended the ceremony by both drinking from a quaich, “a silver cup with two handles that represents love and friendship,” Ms. Hill said. “It was perfect.”
Afterward came more drinks, this time with Mr. McKinley, the owner of the land they were married on, near the castle ruins. “He had glasses of Jameson for us,” Ms. Sanders said. “We stood at the castle and soaked it all in.”
Later, they headed to the Central Bar, a nearby pub. “We ordered Guinness,” Ms. Sanders said. But after a waiter took their order and went to the bar, he quickly returned to their table.
“The waiter told us that the manager said, ‘You can come behind the bar and pour your own,’” Ms. Hill said. And so they did.
On This Day
When June 18, 2022
Where A private property in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, near the ruins of Dunluce Castle.
Needle Needs The day before the wedding, Ms. Hill’s veil still needed to be finished. But the couple lost the needle they had packed for the task. With the local sewing store closed, they visited a thrift store, where they found what they were looking for. The store employees “insisted on knowing why,” Ms. Sanders said. “‘One thing about the Irish,’ the ladies at the store told us, ‘We’re nosy.’”
Irish Inclusiveness The brides were delighted by the welcome they received as a same-sex couple. “The people of Ireland are so nice,” Ms. Hill said. “Everyone was toasting us, even the old ladies that you think might be hesitant said, ‘Oh how lovely. So romantic.’”
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