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Love in the Time of COVID

Local tales of socially distanced dating, wedding pivots, and breakups during the pandemic
Photo illustration by Tania Roulston

Wedding Woes


What better way to start a marriage than being on the fence about whether you should even get married? This was the reality for most engaged couples in 2020. My partner, Colton, and I were one of them.

The first weekend of the spring stay-at-home order, we naively mailed our save-the-dates for November 14—a 100-person shebang at The Pearl Hotel. Within weeks we were addressing “change-the-dates.” Postponing our celebration was an easy decision. Breaking it to our families that we still intended to get legally married on our

original date—and that we didn’t feel it was safe for them to travel for it—was difficult. Colton and I had been together for a decade. Nothing was going to stop us from finally signing those papers.

So, as the 2020 adage goes, we pivoted, landing on an elopement to Joshua Tree, stripped of all the usual wedding frills. Colton didn’t even bother with a suit. I donned my mom’s prom dress. Our ceremony music was played on the same phone that took our wedding photos. It felt freeing to take the pressure off the whole ordeal and instead focus on ourselves. The best part of all: Our families supported it.

The pandemic has forced many couples to rethink their weddings; read on to see how three other 2020 newlyweds navigated their nuptials. The consensus? Love is not canceled, and life must go on.

–Sarah Pfledderer


Love During COVID / Amy Truong and Leilani Gobaleza

Amy Truong and Leilani Gobaleza

“We had our first dance in our living room.”

—Amy Truong & Leilani Gobaleza

Amy and Leilani still remember the first day they met, during a study-abroad trip in Yokohama, Japan. They were surrounded by sakura (cherry blossoms). Exactly ten years later—April 11, 2020—they were determined to marry. And so they did.

Of course, it wasn’t the wedding they had envisioned—a celebration at the Bankers Hill Club, themed after the Japanese custom of hanami, or flower admiration, surrounded by 150 loved ones and complete with a custom tea they created (they’re cofounders of Paru Tea Bar).

“When guests from Paris and Tokyo retracted their RSVPs due to travel restrictions in March, we knew we had to cancel,” they recall. “Then a few days before our original date, we both started to feel strongly that we should still get married. Members of the LGBTQ community haven’t been allowed to get married for very long. We wanted to exercise that right to celebrate our love and honor the trailblazers who paved the way for us.”

In a matter of days, they cobbled together a ceremony. Leilani’s uncle, a retired pastor, officiated in front of her childhood home. Her family, who watched through a screen door, surprised them with handmade signs, flowers, and a makeshift aisle runner. All the while Leilani’s wedding dress and Amy’s tux stayed hung in their closet.

“Confronting what was most important to us as a couple and as individuals, and dropping everything else, felt cleansing,” says Amy.

Case in point, their reception: “It was held at our apartment in Bankers Hill. The guest count was four: the two of us and our dogs, Benji and Sylvester.”


Love During COVID / James “Vick” Waters and Christina Causland

James “Vick” Waters and Christina Causland

“We tried to keep it our own.”

—Christina Causland & James “Vick” Waters

Christina and James were this close to putting down a deposit on a wedding venue in Rosarito, Mexico. Then, COVID-19 threw a wrench into their plans.

Determined to keep their October 10 wedding date, they took up a friend’s offer of holding a small wedding at their Del Mar home. “One of the most challenging things was being flexible and realizing it wouldn’t be exactly as we thought it would. But at the end of the day, it’s about you and your partner,” Christina says.

So, they controlled what they could and put a south-of-the-border spin on the big day with barbacoa and agua fresca for dinner, bright flower arrangements, and more festive touches. And while the guest list had to be slashed by more than two-thirds, loved ones Zoomed in to the ceremony and even ordered Mexican takeout to feel a part of the celebration.

Even though there were tradeoffs—no dancing, and their high-risk fathers couldn’t attend—the couple found many a silver lining in their pared-down wedding. Most important, Christina says: “No one got sick from our wedding. We did it in a respectful and safe way. We all have to keep that in the forefront of our minds.”


Love During COVID / Matt and Kendall Davidson

Matt and Kendall Davidson

“It’s not about the party.”

—Kendall & Matt Davidson

Last year, Kendall and Matt planned a wedding not once, but three times.

The couple were living as nomads when their first wedding, a 200-person “toes in the sand” celebration in August, fell through. Once our new reality set in, their nomadic lifestyle no longer made sense and they opted to hunker down in San Diego.

“We did not want to push it to 2021,” Kendall says. Instead, they delayed plan B as long as they possibly could—to New Year’s Eve.

By early September they had to face the music once more. “We did not want to be a super-spreader event. It brought us down to ‘What are weddings truly about?’ It’s not about the party. It’s about you and your partner.”

So they found a date when all of their previously signed vendors were available, and set plan C for October 16, 2020 at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Which meant they had a mere three weeks to prepare.

Event planner Robyn Fallon, owner of Ivory + Stone Event Co., created an elevated outdoor party, complete with a string light pergola, lawn games in lieu of dancing, and lounge areas for their shortened guest list to enjoy.



LockDown Love Stories


Love During COVID / Shelby and David

Shelby and David

When Shelby Met David…

“When the stay-home order was issued, I decided to join a dating app because I knew I’d be bored at home. David was one of my first matches. We talked for four hours straight on our first FaceTime date! I felt like I’d met my best friend. The shutdown allowed us to get to know each other in an authentic way. I ditched my makeup and he’d be in sweats—no fancy date looks here! And given the pandemic and the election, discussion on those big issues was a must. We knew how each other felt from the start and that really helped solidify our relationship.”


Love During COVID / Danikka and Brian

Danikka and Brian

When Danikka Met Brian…

“I first saw Brian two years ago at Fernside—he’s the brother of a bartender I knew—but never said anything. Flash-forward a year and we matched on a dating app! Only ten days after our first date, the stay-home order was announced, I was furloughed, and we were suddenly in an unprecedented set of circumstances. We spent our time catching up on movies, doing our own liquor store bar crawl, and braving crazy Costco lines. But we also dealt with the hard stuff that most couples don’t tackle until they’re years in. The pandemic has turned our dating life upside-down, but it gave us a much more real experience.”



Love During COVID / Divorce Dilemma

Love During COVID / Divorce Dilemma

Photo illustration by Tania Roulston

The Divorce Dilemma


Not all happily-ever-afters held up in quarantine. Despite a spring shutdown that saw most of San Diego’s family court proceedings come to a ten-week standstill, local divorce lawyers report an uptick in business of up to 20 percent since the pandemic began.

When the courts closed on March 17, couples already in the middle of a divorce were hit with trial postponements and a processing freeze. Those driven to the decision by quarantine life had to wait until family court reopened on May 26 before they could file.

But file they did. By the end of summer, new divorce filings faced a four-week backlog just to be entered into the system. “I am turning down cases because there are so many,” says attorney Kristen A. Holstrom of Holstrom, Block & Parke.

A similar pattern emerged for the firm of Goldberg Jones. Managing attorney Zephyr Hill explains that their business saw “a three month dip, then a three month spike that completely wiped out the dip.”

But most divorce lawyers don’t want to pin the increase in filings to those initial months of social isolation. “Happy marriages are still happy, and bad marriages are still bad,” Hill insists. But they’ve definitely seen clients initiate divorce after losing jobs or otherwise having their relationships impacted by the corona­virus.

Conversely, some lawyers speculate that the lockdown created an opportunity for unhappy spouses to finally get around to making it official. “You’d be amazed how many people procrastinate on divorces,” says A. Stephen Rocha, a private practitioner who works in amicable, flat-fee divorces as well as contested splits. “People have more time to deal with it.”

Amicable or otherwise, they’ve been handling cases outside the court system as well. Amanda Singer, co-owner of the San Diego Family Mediation Center, confirms that business is up nearly 25 percent. “It usually slows down by Thanksgiving and holidays,” she says. “We didn’t see that this year.”

If holiday divorces sound ugly, early in the pandemic was uglier. San Diego Family Court’s toughest challenge during the pandemic has been adjudication of child custody issues, especially during the spring shutdown.

“There were people taking advantage that the court was closed,” Hill explains. His firm represented several clients whose exes denied their custodial rights. Holstrom, who’s also the cohost of Custody Queens, a radio show devoted to custodial topics, saw it too: “It’s been a really challenging year with respect to custody.”

Many cases involved a co-parent withholding custody from an essential worker—including emergency room doctors and nurses—under the pretext that they were risking exposing their children to the virus. Parents have also claimed that their ex was not adhering to public health guidelines. “Any scenario you could possibly think of came up,” says Margo Lewis Hoy, assistant presiding judge of San Diego Superior Court’s family law division.

There have been some upsides to pandemic divorce, including lower cost. When family court resumed, it did so with online video hearings. Because lawyers no longer have to drive to the courthouse, search for parking, or wait through other hearings, they now bill clients for minutes, instead of hours. E-filings were already slated to begin by the end of 2020, but the San Diego Family Court used its spring downtime to launch the service sooner.

There is still no substitute for in-person hearings in some cases—when viewing evidence, for example. But, Hoy suggests that some aspects will remain virtual even after the pandemic has ended: “COVID has taught us that we can do things differently.”

–Ian Anderson

Love During COVID / Feature

Photo illustration by Tania Roulston

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