For four months after meeting online in November 2019, Priscilla and Steve enjoyed one fun outing a week. They saw jazz and bluegrass shows, pointed their cameras at the Mummers and other local color, and listened to each other just as much as they spoke about themselves.
“There was a potential for real connection,” said Steve. But neither was in a rush to reach it, let alone define what it might be.
They were both cautious. About a year earlier, Steve had lost his life partner of six years to cancer. He was only beginning to date again. Priscilla understood exactly where he was: Her husband of 15 years had also died of cancer a decade before.
They were both also busy. Priscilla, now 72, continued to provide leadership consulting services through her firm, Leadership Recruiters. Steve, 71, had sold two optometry practices but recently returned to work for a national vision care chain. Both have adult daughters and Priscilla has two grandchildren. She serves on the advisory board of the Reading Terminal Market, where she is also a volunteer ambassador, and is a board member of the Welcoming Center, which provides economic resources for new immigrants. Steve plays guitar in a band and, through his volunteer work with Musicians on Call, plays music for hospital patients.
In early March 2020, Steve invited Priscilla to the birthday party his friends were throwing for him. “That was the first acknowledgment I got that the relationship had some significance for him,” she said.
It would be the last party either would attend for an ongoing stretch of time.
Priscilla had planned to take Steve to dinner the next week to continue the birthday celebration, but by then, there was much worried talk about a potentially deadly disease called COVID-19.
“We debated whether it was still safe to go to a restaurant and made the decision that we should cook together at my house instead,” said Priscilla. “Our first shared cooking experience was so much fun that we began sharing additional home-cooked meals together.”
That was soon their only option.
Restaurants and most other businesses closed. Her work and his came to a halt. Their friends — most of whom are in the same over-60 risk group as they are — began to isolate. Their daughters said they could not risk visiting for fear of making their parent sick.
Priscilla and Steve were not boyfriend and girlfriend.
They had never said I love you.
Neither had spent the night at the other’s house.
But in mid-March, they gambled on potential and committed to socially isolate together rather than ride out the pandemic alone.
The two, along with Priscilla’s 15-year-old toy poodle, Ellie, began splitting their time between Steve’s West Conshohocken townhouse and Priscilla’s Logan Square condo.
Since these two extroverts couldn’t socialize, they hiked, created new mixed drinks, and shared childhood stories through photos. Steve’s musical tastes have expanded to include Priscilla’s classical music and jazz. Sometimes, he plays the guitar and she sings.
They ride bikes together. They play golf. They continued to listen as much as they talk.
Steve sees them as subjects of their own experiment. “What happens to a relationship when almost all external influences are removed — without our careers, our friends, our families, our hobbies?”
“Instant intimacy — just add pandemic and stir!” jokes Priscilla. But the couple agree that is what happened.
As evidence, they offer:
The ease with which Priscilla informed Steve that his kitchen was immaculate only because he never used it, and they could not live there in a pandemic unless he bought some pots, pans, and ingredients.
Steve’s security in asking Priscilla to “please get rid of this [expletive] couch” — a backless settee that was more style than function even when it was in solid shape.
The fact that they entered this pact thinking it would last about six weeks, but seven months in and with no end in sight, they don’t have regrets and still have fun spending time with just each other.
“While we are captive, there is little chance to hide our idiosyncrasies and we find ourselves exposed and vulnerable,” said Priscilla. “Fortunately, we share an openness to communication, value each others thoughts and feelings, and have an easy rhythm and compatibility — who would have expected that?”
There’s much to love about Priscilla, said Steve. “She is genuine, loyal, affectionate, smart, and attractive. She’s physical, she’s healthy, she’s active. She is any number of qualities that define a good person who has somehow not been corrupted by the negative, or less fortunate, things that have happened to her.”
Same goes for Steve, said Priscilla. “Steve is attentive, loyal, caring, fun, and smart. He’s open to introducing me to aspects of world I didn’t know.”
Maybe they would have eventually learned these things about each other, but without COVID-19, they would not know all of them yet.
When the coronavirus is tamed and the company of family, friends, and other human beings can be safely enjoyed again, will Priscilla and Steve choose to extend the commitment they made in March?
“We have been looking at real estate listings to buy a house together,” Steve said.