Love: Katherine Forringer Barker & Elizabeth Barker

“That’s not 6 feet, that’s 5 feet!” Kathy called out to the Yardley driveway where Beth was talking with their neighbors. “You need to stay 6 feet away from my wife!”

The couple found each other on a same-sex dating app. “She just had this light about her, this energy,” said Kathy, now 52. “When I read her profile, it had substance to it.”

Their first date lasted three hours, their second, 10 days. On their third date — Valentine’s Day 2016 — Beth and her Chihuahua, Makayla, moved in with Kathy. “She is affectionate, she is sweet, she is intelligent,” said Beth, now 54. “Everybody’s always in a rush, but not Kathy. We could just sit around and talk.”

That comfort, that ability to relax and just be with someone, had evaded both women for most of their lives.

Each had survived difficult childhoods, especially Beth. Born in Trenton, she was raised in a series of foster homes until she was adopted by a loving Haddonfield couple at age 13. In 2003, her adoptive mother was murdered. Her adoptive father died a few years later.

Both women had also experienced difficult marriages to men. Beth, who was married for 10 years and has an adult daughter and son, said that deep down, she always knew she was gay. Kathy, who was married for 21 years and has an adult daughter, said she did not know, only learning this about herself in postdivorce therapy.

Beth’s childhood inspired her to become a therapist for children with reactive attachment disorder, a condition that makes it difficult for them to form bonds with or trust anyone. In her first years with Kathy, she traveled the country for weeks at a time to work with kids and their families.

Kathy, a consultant with Capgemini, works in logistics for Penske’s Reading office. Because the turnpike commute is roughly 90 minutes on a good day, she usually stays in Reading Monday through Thursday. Despite sharing an apartment, they spent most days apart.

Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker on their big wedding day in June 2017 Beth (left) and Kathy
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Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker on their big wedding day in June 2017 Beth (left) and Kathy

They married in a tiny ceremony three months after their first date, for love, and also so Beth could be on Kathy’s insurance. A second ceremony and reception for 80 in June 2017 allowed friends and family to share their joy. Besides, Beth really wanted a chance to wear a lacy white dress and Kathy really wanted that for her.

Their relationship has always been right and good, the couple say. It has not always been easy.

When Kathy was 2, her father left her family, taking her older sister with him. Both were out of her life completely for seven years. Her stepfather adopted her, but while they now have a friendly relationship, it was strained during her childhood and beyond.

“I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me, that I didn’t deserve to be loved,” Kathy said. Even after they married, disagreements with Beth would cause panic. “I thought, ‘If I upset her, she’s going to leave.' ”

Ironically, it was Kathy who left during those arguments. “I didn’t know how to deal with intense emotions, and I didn’t really know how to have a conversation when I was angry,” she said. “I would get in my car and stay away for hours.”

Her therapist wife helped Kathy understand why she was running instead of talking. Beth assured Kathy again and again that nothing she could say would make her leave, but Beth also said if Kathy wanted to stay married, she needed to stay put and say something. Kathy’s long, silent drives triggered Beth’s own abandonment issues.

Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker Kathy (Left) and Beth
Courtesy of the couple
Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker Kathy (Left) and Beth

“We have been married for four years. It took me two and a half to get to a place where I knew she would not leave,” Kathy said. “It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever felt that certainty.”

The couple have added another Chihuahua, Mackenzie, to their Bucks County household, which is usually chock-a-block with members of their giant, blended family: Siblings and half-siblings. Nieces and nephews. Beth’s and Kathy’s children and their families, including two beloved grandsons who call them Mom Mom and Grandma Kathy, respectively.

In typical times, their home is where family gathers. But these are not typical times for anyone, and Beth and Kathy are among those for whom the times are especially worrisome.

Beth had successfully managed lupus for many years when, soon after the couple moved in together, something else went wrong. A lover of cooking and eating, Beth suddenly felt nauseated by food. That Thanksgiving, she prepared an elaborate meal for Kathy and their guests, but ate none of it. Shortly after the couple’s first wedding, she was diagnosed with gastroparesis — a condition in which the nerves that control her stomach don’t work properly. Her stomach always hurts. On some days, she can’t eat at all, and she has lost a significant amount of weight. A nurse comes to the house to administer IV fluids. Beth had to stop working.

“I know if I get it, I’m not going to survive it,” Beth says matter-of-factly of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Beth has health issues that require her to take extra precautions to avoid COVID-19.
Courtesy of the couple
Beth has health issues that require her to take extra precautions to avoid COVID-19.

And so Kathy, who now runs Penske’s big data logistics division from their townhouse, also oversees a highly detailed protocol for keeping Beth safe.

Visitors can’t come inside. Beth doesn’t leave the yard. Kathy takes hand wipes to the grocery store and pharmacy. She wipes down her cart, and wipes down any item before placing it in her cart. Once home, the bags stay in the garage and the individual items are taken in, where some are wiped again. The car interior is cleaned. Shoes stay outside.

The worry can be overwhelming.

Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker Kathy (left) and Beth
Courtesy of the couple
Katherine Forringer Barker and Elizabeth Barker Kathy (left) and Beth

And video conference is not really the ideal way to work, let alone to celebrate family milestones and watch grandsons grow. The couple yearn for a normal life.

Kathy and Beth's chihuahuas, Makayla and Mackenzie
Courtesy of the couple
Kathy and Beth's chihuahuas, Makayla and Mackenzie

And yet, there is one abnormal brightness: This together time has been divine.

“Typically, she’s an hour and 20 minutes away in a hotel three or four nights a week,” Beth said. “You can’t portray through text how you’re really feeling. An hour of FaceTime at night isn’t the same as being able to kiss goodnight.”

Said Kathy: “My entire life, I hated being home. I avoided being home. Now, I want nothing more than to be home with her.”