Although Katharine Friedrich and Christian Harkna grew up in the same Evanston neighborhood, went to the same high school and attended the same university, it wasn’t until after college that the two began dating and declared their love for one another.
“How we met is actually a tough question,” said Harkna. “We went to rival grade schools, and then at Loyola we had similar social circles, and that’s when we got to know each other a little bit.”
Friedrich and Harkna both graduated from Loyola Academy in 2008 and from Marquette University in 2012. At Marquette they had overlapping friend groups, and even lived right next door to each other in Milwaukee for two years.
Post college, each found themselves living in their childhood homes and it was then that they “became close platonic friends,” said Friedrich.
Friedrich is the daughter of Dr. William Friedrich and Dr. Barbara Velsor Friedrich of Evanston. Harkna is the son of Erik Harnka and Tonise Paul Harkna, also of Evanston.
While most of their college friends were living in Chicago, the two were comfortable with their suburban setting and spent a lot of time together taking in local Evanston restaurants and bars, as well as cooking meals together at home.
On one particular evening, while Friedrich was staying at her brother’s apartment, Harkna came over and “made an elevated meal of steak, mushrooms and red wine,” she recalled.
It was that night that Harkna said, “I’m in love with you.”
Friedrich was a bit surprised. “I paused and then said, ‘I think I’m in love with you too.’ His ‘I love you’ came out of nowhere. We were just best friends and I hadn’t thought of him that way.”
Friedrich continued to be stunned by his declaration, despite having similar feelings for him. “I didn’t really see past [our friendship] at that time,” she said.
Their love for each other quickly found its way into a committed relationship, even though they kept it a secret for several weeks.
With a similar social circle the two “didn’t want to divide our friend group if it didn’t work out,” Friedrich said. “Our friends were shocked and didn’t believe us at first.” But after their friends were briefed on the specifics of the romance, they said it made sense the two were together.
By 2016, Friedrich and Harkna moved into an apartment together in downtown Evanston. Soon, however, Harkna announced that he wanted to move to Miami to attend graduate school at the Miami Ad School.
As a declared homebody, Friedrich was forced to make a decision. “I knew we wouldn’t be able to date long distance, so I went with him,” she said.
Her parents weren’t too keen on the idea of such a big move. “I had to make a pro-con list for my mom and dad because they really didn’t want me to go.”
After getting accepted to the University of Miami in a master’s in mental health counseling program, the two moved to Miami together.
Friedrich is a mental health counselor for adolescents. Harkna is a freelance advertising copywriter for Beam Suntory.
Although the plan was to live in Miami for two years, the couple extended their stay an additional six months.
“It was awesome living so close to the ocean,” Harkna said. “But the people there don’t have the Midwestern vibes of friendliness.”
In 2019, the couple returned to the Midwest and into an apartment in Chicago to be closer to friends. When it came to discussing marriage, Harkna was the one holding back. “Katie was more than ready to get married. I wanted to wait until we were more settled down,” he said.
Ultimately, however, he decided to propose in November 2021. “By then my work was very steady and I felt comfortable buying her a very nice rock for her hand.”
The proposal was definitely a surprise to Friedrich – until she received two texts from family members prior to the actual event. Harkna had told Friedrich’s parents about his plan and the word leaked a tad too soon.
Her sister sent a text saying, “You couldn’t have even gotten your nails done?” and her brother sent a premature “Congratulations!” text. “So then I kind of knew something was up,” she recalled.
“My mom was so excited and couldn’t keep her mouth shut,” Friedrich said. “She thought Christian had already proposed!”
For the actual proposal, Harkna lured Friedrich on a fake errand to mail some tax returns. After late-afternoon drinks at Farmhouse, the two went to the harbor lookout in Gillson Park in Wilmette, site of their first date. It was there that Harkna asked Friedrich to marry him.
Friedrich and Harkna were married Dec. 17, 2022, at St. Joan of Arc, where the bride went to grade school. The Rev. James Barrett officiated, with the Rev. James Hyde from St. Athanasius taking part.
“She was stunningly beautiful and calm. When we were finally united, all the anxiety melted away,” he said lovingly.
An impromptu dance broke out at the altar following the ceremony. “We were just so happy that we were dancing without music,” Friedrich said.
A wedding reception for 253 guests followed at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago. Guests dined on steak and lobster and danced to the Ken Arlen Band of Arlen Music Productions in Evanston.
When Arlen and his band played Vampires by the band The Midnight, “we were dancing with the saxophone player and then my friends lifted me up and we body-surfed on stage,” a very excited Harkna said.
Due to illness, Harkna’s father was not able to attend the wedding. To honor her future father-in-law’s Estonian heritage, Friedrich had an Estonian crest necklace made for her groom. “The Estonian necklace was the best gift I’ve ever received,” Harnka said.
As both relished in the telling of their love story, Harkna was emphatic when he declared, “Our wedding was easily the best day of my life.”
The Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present They Do, a glimpse into the love stories and commitment celebrations of local readers and their relatives. Please contact us if you have a wedding announcement you’d like to share, and include your name, the name of your partner and an email address. We’ll be in touch to spread the love.