Remember the time Alexis Ohanian commissioned a series of billboards to be set up in Palm Springs, welcoming wife Serena Williams back to competition following an arduous maternity leave? Or when he swept her off to Venice because she mentioned that some pasta might be nice? “She had a craving, so I delivered,” he modestly shared with Glamour.
And, of course, there was his display at this year’s U.S. Open in which he trolled his wife’s opponent, Maria Sharapova, exposing his D.A.R.E. t-shirt, a nod to Sharapova’s two-year doping ban, only when it was clear that Williams had cruised to victory.
Get you a man who can be petty on your behalf. Because snagging a guy like the Reddit cofounder may be too tall an order, the University of Virginia grad so endlessly supportive, he’d likely be quick to remind you he’s the one that scored, being wed to arguably the greatest tennis player in the world and the GMOAT (that’d be the Greatest Momma of All Time) to their 2-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
Which I guess is the whole point of relationships, searching for that partnership where each half truly believes that they’re getting the better end of the deal.
Today, the 36-year-old multimillionaire investor and entrepreneur and the 38-year-old, whose major singles titles outnumber everyone else in the sport, are marking just their second wedding anniversary of their fantastical New Orleans vows. But, thanks to his parents, Ohanian says he entered into their relationship four-plus years ago with what he calls “the cheat code for partnership early on.”
And it had actually little to do with extravagant trips and public displays of infatuation. Because when asked by Glamour to share his wisdom on being that guy, the one unafraid to lean in and make the grand gesture, he said the secret to being romantic was actually much simpler than that. “You have to show up. You have to be supportive. These are the things that matter,” he wrote in his essay, published, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day of this year.
Having met and falling in love over the course of two weeks in Ireland, Anke and Chris Ohanian committed hard, his mother leaving behind her life in Germany to start anew in the United States. “It wasn’t always easy, but my parents were partners in the truest sense,” he wrote. “By watching them up close, I learned what it means to be supportive, how to make compromises without sacrificing yourself, and how to show up in the ways that matter.”
So he was ready when he crossed paths with Williams at the Cavalieri hotel in Rome. Though it may have helped if he’d seen even one moment of tennis in his life.
The athlete was there on business, prepping to play in the Italian Open. And while Ohanian was purportedly in town to speak at the Festival of Media Global conference, he had spent the night before their chance meeting in May 2015 drinking with Kristen Wiig, a friend of his cousin’s he had introduced himself to. He was a wee bit out of sorts when he claimed the table next to Williams, her agent and her pal, one they were hoping to use for other members of her team.
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They were annoyed; he was oblivious, having put on his headphones ready to get to work.
“This big guy comes and he just plops down at the table next to us, and I’m like, ‘Huh! All these tables and he’s sitting here?,'” Williams remembered to Vanity Fair. Her business partner came up with a gambit, trying to shoo him away with the suggestion that a rat was present, but the tennis champ was more straightforward.
“We were trying to get him to move and get out of there,” she said. “He kind of refuses and he looks at us. And he’s like, ‘Is there really a rat here?'” So she switched tacks: “No, we just don’t want you sitting there. We’re going to use that table.”
A meet-cute this was not.
But something about Ohanian won her over, perhaps his proclamation that in his native Brooklyn, he saw rats all the time. She invited him to join them, which is when he got his first inkling that she was actually Serena Williams, tennis star. But, as he admitted, he had “never watched a match on television or in real life. It was literally the sport—even if ESPN was announcing tennis updates, I would just zone out. . . . I really had no respect for tennis.”
Which, was okay, because when he said he was at the tech conference to speak, an in-demand personality thanks to the creation of Reddit, she claimed to totally be familiar with the networking site, having perused it just that morning.
“Oh, were you? What do you like about it?” he recalled asking.
Williams came clean and they chatted shop, the athlete inquiring about if she should set up a website for herself, but neither were really thinking romantic potential, particularly with Ohanian just removed from a five-year romance.
Still, someone invited him to watch her match, which she won, but was left largely unsatisfied with her performance. That stuck in her mind for weeks as she prepped to take the court at the French Open and she decided why not invite him along? Thus, the impetus for their first official date, strolling through the streets of Paris. As you do.
Williams texted, inviting him to join her in France so that he could see her at his best. He accepted largely because he thought that it wasn’t a real request at all.
“Even if she blows me off and we don’t even hang out, I’m still going to have an amazing time in Paris, and I’ll have an even better story for all my childhood friends,” he shared with Vanity Fair, “when I was like, ‘Yeah, I went to Paris for a weekend. I was supposed to meet up with Serena Williams, she blew me off, but I’ve got other friends there, and we had a great time.'”
Which, he did, as he and Williams spent six hours wandering, buying candies from La Ménagerie in the Jardin des Plantes and walking past some of the most famous tourist sites in the world.
While few would think to pair a world-class athlete and a tech giant, the two just work, Williams’ more passionate nature providing the perfect complement to Ohanian’s steady calm. Both equally committed to being the best at what they do, they’ve schooled themselves on each other’s interests. Williams now sits on the board of Silicon Valley-based SurveyMonkey while Ohanian has transformed himself into tennis’ most ardent fan.
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“He’s extremely smart but not a know-it-all. He’s curious about what he doesn’t know,” Williams told Vogue in 2017. “Being a Jehovah’s Witness is important to me, but I’ve never really practiced it and have been wanting to get into it. Alexis didn’t grow up going to any church, but he’s really receptive and even takes the lead. He puts my needs first.”
That much was clear with the December 2016 proposal—back in Rome at the spot where they first met with a plastic rat on the table—but it crystalized even further with the Olympia’s arrival the following September.
“My understanding of showing up and being present for my wife was taken to a whole new level when Olympia was born,” he wrote in his Glamour essay. “I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I’ve made. It helped that I was a founder and didn’t have to worry about what people might say about my ‘commitment’ to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth.”
Because while Williams, at least outwardly appears to be superwoman, even winning the Australian Open shortly after learning she was expecting, her labor was a terrifying endeavor in which she developed a series of blood clots, including one that traveled to her lung, creating a potentially fatal condition called a pulmonary embolism.
“There is a lot of research about the benefits of taking leave, not only for the cognitive and emotional development of the child but for the couple. However, many fathers in this country are not afforded the privilege of parental leave,” Ohanian continued. “And even when they are, there is often a stigma that prevents them from doing so. I see taking leave as one of the most fundamental ways to ‘show up’ for your partner and your family, and I cherished all 16 weeks I was able to take.”
Of course, with each now back at work, it’s become a more delicate balance determining the logistics of keeping their own blazing careers aflame (along with Reddit, Ohanian is cofounder and managing partner of San Francisco-based venture firm Initialized Capital) while raising their spirited toddler.
“Serena’s tennis schedule takes her all over the world, and my career also requires being on the road, whether it’s traveling to meet with founders, speaking at industry events, or spending time at my venture capital firm Initialized’s home office in San Francisco,” Ohanian shared.
The solution is ever-so-slightly inelegant, but necessary to maintain their connection. “At the start of every year, Serena and I map out our schedules so that, ideally, there isn’t more than a week that we go without seeing each other,” he said. “I brought Google Calendar into her world so we could see each other’s schedules at any time, which would also make it easier to plan an impromptu call if we’re away from each other—a day without FaceTime is rough when you’ve been away from each other for two weeks.”
And he understands that most situations call for his career to be the more flexible one, a situation that leaves him feeling neither put out or emasculated.
“Research shows that men are happy to have successful wives—until it interferes with their own work,” he wrote in Glamour. “A full 50 percent of men expect their career to take precedence over their wife’s. I know this is real, because I’ve seen the tweets and comments.”
And he’s having none of that. Perhaps it’s easy to remain confident when your career require handling billion of dollars in accounts, but he’s secure enough to point out that no matter his successes, he has a partner that collects hard-earned trophies on the regular, a situation that leaves him feeling nothing but proud.
“To me, that says more about the guy than anything else,” he explained. “If you need to make more money than your partner to have confidence, then I think there’s something more going on under the hood. If that’s where your swagger’s has to come from, then it’s probably not real.”
His comes from being able to handle his career, bring up his daughter and get his butt in the stands to cheer on his endlessly talented better half.
“I try to be the most supportive partner I can be and to have conversations with her about her career goals and what she can do to reach them,” he told Glamour. “Most of my talks with Serena about her career have come from a place of ‘What do you want to be doing?’ or ‘Where do you want to be?’ and that’s not only in sport but in life. She does the same with me. I’m far from perfect, but I try to get behind her and let her know I’m there for her and our daughter, no matter what.”
If that means setting up shop in Melbourne or Paris or London or wherever Williams happens to be competing, so be it. And his 2-year-old is a regular in his San Francisco office office, his partners, as he put it, “used to seeing Olympia jump on camera.”
They just shouldn’t expect him to pick up a call on Sunday. Those days are reserved for families and his dad’s pancake recipe, edited to allow for William’s wheat allergy and Olympia’s love of raspberries. “There are no phones, just conversation. And we’ll spend the day together lounging around the house, or playing hide-and-seek, or going for a swim in the pool,” he told Glamour of life at their California spread. “Just being a family on those days means so much to both of us—more than a billboard, a video montage, or a whirlwind trip to Italy.”
Though, uh, we’re not going to lie. Those sound pretty great, too.
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