A pandemic love story.

Gina and I had been friends on Facebook for over a decade. While we’d exchanged random messages over the years, we lived vastly different lives.

I was living in one-bedroom apartments in different parts of the country, driving a two-seater car, and exploring where I wanted my life to unfold and what I wanted it to look like.

Gina had gotten married (and divorced), owned a large business, and had two children.

When the pandemic shut everything down, it affected both of our businesses, and we began exchanging innocent messages over Facebook once again. This was March of 2020.

“How’s this affecting your business?”

Eventually, it led to “meeting up” for virtual drinks over video chat…

Which turned into hours of video conversations and thousands of text messages. We’ve never gone a day without talking since.

Now, we live together with the two little girls and are building a life together.

Here’s the thing though, our relationship sprouted during a tumultuous time both in the world, and in each of our lives.

Ann, a mother of two kids trying to keep a large business alive during a pandemic — which forced it to close for months — was also building a relationship with someone new simultaneously.

Me, someone who’d always lived alone or been in kid-free relationships, was in the process of adjusting to these new dynamics that presented their own challenges.

When do you find time alone? When is it appropriate to spend the night together? When is she frustrated about something with the business — and when is it because of something I did?

When her business finally had to close, her and the two little ones moved in with me — a move we normally would’ve waited longer to make.

Bringing two children into a 3 bedroom “bachelor pad” which was very much notchildproofed was an adventure all in itself. But, we made it work.

We had to learn each others’ nuances, idiosyncrasies, morning routines, bedtime routines, how to share space together.

All of this encroached on something that normally would’ve been a focus:

Actually building our relationship together.

You see, dating during a pandemic when everything is shut down, is more like “are we going to your place, or mine?”

So, we never really dated per-se. But we spent a lot of time together getting to know each other and talking about everything under the sun.

We have no secrets. This is a big key.

Keep in mind, Gina is facing huge life transitions during this time. Losing a business she’d built for years, building a new relationship, doing what’s best for and caring for her children — trying to be a mother, entrepreneur, girlfriend, and woman all when the shit has hit the fan.

For awhile, simply put, things were difficult.

We had to adjust to and understand each other — which was often a challenge.

When I would get frustrated or discouraged, I did my best to remind myself of what she was going through and that it was my job to be there and support her however she needed me to.

Many times I fell short, but I remained dedicated to her because I knew who she was at her core and that this storm, too, would pass.

And, pass it did.

In September of 2021, we celebrated Gina’s 32nd birthday.

As birthdays are symbolic to her, she made a decision to let go of the bullshit that had been getting in the way of her happiness and our relationship.

Inthat moment, everything began to change.

We began connecting in ways — emotionally and physically — that we never had before.

It was as if we had just entered into the honeymoon phase of the relationship, over a year-and-a-half into it.

I believe the space was created for this to happen during the hard times we faced together. Why? Because no matter what happened we both kept the focus on our love for each other and the vision we were creating for our future together.

I entered into this relationship with open eyes — I understand the weight of dating a woman with children. I accept the responsibility of being a strong male figure in their lives. I know that I am the only father figure the younger of the two girls will ever know.

I do not take that lightly.

I believe that proving this through my actions every day is what ultimately made Rachel feel comfortable enough to open up and trust these parts of herself to me.

The parts that she guarded for more than a year.

“I’m trusting you…” she’ll say.

“You can.” I’ll reply.

And I don’t just tell her, I show her every single day.

I show her by being there for her and the girls as if they were mine biologically.

I show her by sharing responsibilities with her and stepping into the role of a life partner who has a family.

I show her by keeping them a priority.

And she has done the work of shedding the weight of the past and building the foundation of the life that she wants to live moving forward with all of us together.

Let me reiterate — shit got really hard at times.

This is when most people give up, or throw in the towel, or simply stop trying.

I knew though — I knew that the woman I’m with now was in there all along.

The quick, witty, ultra-intelligent, driven, relentless, and loving woman who never stops doing things for others morning, noon, and night.

I knew because I had seen her before the world started collapsing around all of us. I knew that if we got through the storm she would still be underneath all of the crap that we had to dig ourselves out of.

And — I was right.

We are more connected now than ever.

We are more intimate now that ever.

We are more open and trusting now than ever.

We are more of a family now than ever.

We are happier now than ever.

I believe that the life we are building together is one that we will look at and feel the deepest gratitude for because we know that it didn’t come easily. It wasn’t something that just “fell into place” and neither of us really expected it to — because that’s not how real love or real life work.

Real love is not something you “fall into,” it’s something you choose to build alongside your partner, as they choose the same with you.

It’s something that you work on every single day — that you make time for — that you put effort into.

Real love is something that you earn.

Will it take everyone over a year to reach the clearing in the pasture? Of course not — but whether it takes a month, or a year — I can tell you that at the end of the day it will be worth it.

It’s always worth it to see the happiness and comfort in someone’s eyes when they’re looking back at you. To share the deep, intimateconnection that you could never have on a shallow level. To feel the love radiating from them. To know that you can be a source of strength, support, and light for them.

Building a relationship is like stoking a fire — it takes time to begin burning, and you must give it the proper attention. You add kindling, you reposition the logs to find the best fit, you wait, and watch it begin smoldering.

And then, you must continue stoking it. Adding more wood, tending to it regularly.

Most people, I believe, want their fire to continue burning even if they leave the room and forget about it for awhile.

We all know it will eventually fizzle and burn out if we do that.

If we stay and tend to it, though — if we committo fueling that fire to make those flames as vibrant as possible…

It can burn forever.

Joseph A. Cornacchia