Couples find love amid pandemic whirlwind

Stories of romance reflect unique challenges, opportunities

Corinne Westeman
cwesteman@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/9/21

On Oct. 21, Chuck Coughlin was visiting his wife’s grave in a Boulder cemetery when he noticed a woman visiting her husband’s grave. He saw her name — Marj O’Reilly — on the tombstone next …

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Couples find love amid pandemic whirlwind

Stories of romance reflect unique challenges, opportunities

Posted

On Oct. 21, Chuck Coughlin was visiting his wife’s grave in a Boulder cemetery when he noticed a woman visiting her husband’s grave.

He saw her name — Marj O’Reilly — on the tombstone next to her husband’s and made a comment about how her first name was similar to his mother’s.

Not the best pick-up line, O’Reilly later joked.

The two struck up a conversation and found out they had a lot in common, and decided to meet again soon.

Before long, the two were in a relationship, and on New Year’s Day, Coughlin proposed. They recently set a date — June 11 — for their wedding.

All because they bumped into each other at the cemetery last October, O’Reilly said.

Just like their meeting, Coughlin and O’Reilly’s relationship during the pandemic has been unique.

And they’re not alone.

COVID-19 has forced couples across the Denver area to confront serious topics, such as health and politics, early in a relationship while eliminating many activities they might do on dates.

“Pandemic dating kind of expedites dating 10 times over,” said Blair Nelson of Denver, who met her boyfriend virtually last spring. “… We often joke that we’ve been together almost nine months, and it feels like we’ve been together for three years.”

Meanwhile, how to meet each other’s friends and family has varied from couple to couple, with many saying they’re taking precautions while others said they haven’t taken any.

Coughlin and O’Reilly, who live in Lakewood and Broomfield, respectively, have taken precautions by meeting loved ones virtually or outside with social distancing.

“Our families live so far apart,” Coughlin said, “I’m not sure it would’ve been any different (without the pandemic).”

O’Reilly felt that, by now, they at least would have connected more with their family members who live in Colorado, particularly over the holidays.

Nelson and her boyfriend, Patrick Marlin of Idaho Springs, have taken similar measures. Marlin met most of Nelson’s friends and coworkers virtually while Nelson met Marlin’s family outdoors at hikes and bonfires.

However, Nelson described how Marlin met her parents much earlier when her parents were in town while driving from Texas to Seattle for the summer.

Nelson and Marlin have also driven to Texas twice, and quarantined both times.

“We’ve been very careful when we’re in public or traveling,” Marlin said, adding that they wear masks and clean their hands frequently. “We haven’t gotten COVID yet, but some of that is probably luck.”

Finding things to do

Nelson said the pandemic prompted her to take a more serious look at her love life and have a greater interest in a relationship.

However, while other couples said they met through dating apps and websites during the pandemic, Nelson knew that wasn’t for her.

Instead, she took the premise behind online dating, and applied it to her professional network. She described how, in May, she sent out a very honest and vulnerable newsletter-like email about herself and what she was looking for in a partner to 110 people, asking if they knew anyone who would be a good fit.

Marlin’s cousin was one of the recipients and set them up virtually, as Marlin was actually in North Carolina.

As a someone in business-to-business sales with a part-time bartending gig, Marlin recalled spending a lot of time alone in his apartment, and getting an email one day about Nelson.

The two described how they texted for a few weeks before their first phone call.

In July, Marlin packed everything he could in his car and headed back to Colorado. The two had planned their first in-person date on July 17.

It didn’t go well.

Marlin recalled how the restaurant they went to had terrible food and drinks, so they left, got groceries and cooked at home.

“I think it was too much pressure after months of talking,” he continued.

However, things went much better after that, and because of the pandemic, Marlin described how they would spend a few days together rather than a few hours on a date.

Hiking, biking, skiing and camping have been very popular activities for Marlin and Nelson, as well as others. As for indoor activities, couples said they’ve also spent time cooking; doing puzzles and coloring books; and playing card, board and video games together.

“It’s hard to get reservations and capacities are limited,” Nelson said. “We didn’t have ballgames or concerts or the ease of spontaneity. We really had to plan and be intentional about things.”

In each other’s bubble

While they hadn’t contracted COVID-19 as of late January, Marlin and Nelson said they’d dealt with a few potential exposure scares and subsequent quarantines. They’ve discussed the likelihood of both of them getting it if one of them contracts it, and decided they’re going to support each other if that happens.

Arguably, the bigger concern has been keeping their loved ones safe, explaining that they were going to quarantine for a week before visiting family in late January.

Other individuals in relationships, especially those who live alone, consider them and their significant other as in the same bubble, so if one of them gets COVID, they’ll probably both get it.

Coughlin and O’Reilly had to confront that reality in mid-November, when O’Reilly tested positive for COVID-19. Coughlin never had symptoms but later tested positive for antibodies.

While they’ve certainly been concerned that they gave it to each other, Coughlin explained that, at that point, they’d never spent time in close quarters together. All their meetings had been outside or socially distanced. Thus, they’re not sure where O’Reilly contracted it.

All throughout their relationship, the two have been emailing and video-chatting almost every day. They also went hiking and walking together a lot.

“I think (COVID-19) made us more cautious with each other,” O’Reilly said of their initial interactions.

Now the two, who are both in their 70s, have received their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and are looking forward to getting married in June.

Both of them came from very happy marriages, and their widowhood was something helped them bond so quickly and deeply. Coughlin and O’Reilly also both lost their spouses to cancer-related complications in March 2020 and December 2018, respectively.

Finding someone who understood that loss and who was able to support them through it was providential, they described.

“I was so blessed to find this woman,” Coughlin said. “The chances of finding each other are so low.”

Likewise, Marlin and Nelson described how, after spending months alone in their apartments, they were thankful to have someone in their lives to support them, especially through job loss, stress and anxiety, and other pandemic-caused issues.

“I think we are so much stronger,” Nelson said of being in a relationship during the pandemic. “… It’s hard but it’s definitely been worth it.”

Contact reporter Corinne Westeman at 303-567-4491 or cwesteman@coloradocommunitymedia.com, and follow her on Twitter @cwesteman.

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