It was a chance encounter on an August afternoon, five months into the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate Rollins, a website designer, had stopped by Caffe Greco on Canyon Road, hoping to see a friend who used to work there. Scott Bigbee had taken a break from his daily bike ride.
They were sitting alone at separate tables.
Theres a debate over who first started talking to who, Rollins said, but the point is, we started talking.
The conversation sparked a quickly flourishing romance at an unlikely time. The pandemic posed health risks that made new love nearly impossible, while time-tested relationships were being put through unprecedented trials as couples remained socially isolated in their homes, working remotely or wrangling with the economic hardships of job losses.
The odds might have been against them, but Rollins and Bigbee took a leap: They left the cafe and strolled to a nearby gallery.
It wasnt a usual first date, with the face masks and the social distancing, but it still somehow felt really comfortable, Bigbee said.
The pair, both 48, would wait until their third meeting to take off their masks for an extended period. And then they would face what has become a common dilemma for people seeking love in the time of COVID-19: How do you end a third date amid a deadly pandemic?
You cant go kiss the girl now, Bigbee said.
Rollins made the move. He looked so awkward and helpless, so I hugged him, she said.
Rollins and Bigbee, now celebrating their first Valentines Day, have had a busy six months. They have taken road trips. Theyve camped and hiked, completed 10 jigsaw puzzles, played chess, practiced yoga and cooked.
Hes not a great cook, Rollins joked, so I think I must really like this guy.
After they met the old-fashioned way, without the help of a dating app they proceeded through some of the common steps of a budding modern romance: They discovered they had a mutual friend and each asked him about the other. They checked out each other on Facebook.
A few days later, Rollins reached out to Bigbee and invited him along on a hike in Arroyo Hondo, where they could enjoy some time outdoors with less risk of COVID-19.
My dog and Scott liked each other, which was a plus, Rollins said.
Shortly after, Bigbee, asked her to join him for a happy hour at Dinner for Two. Thats when the masks came off.
The next day, they both got tested for COVID-19.
We only kissed once our COVID tests came back negative, Rollins said.
Bigbee accompanied Rollins on a work-related road trip to Los Angeles just a few days later. And when they got back, Rollins said, Bigbee came over to her house and never left.
Theyve had plenty of time during the pandemic to get to know each other.
Bigbee learned Rollins had been married for 22 years and has two almost-adult kids. She was a radio star in her native Bulgaria, where the couple plan to travel as soon as its safe.
Santa Fe-born Bigbee, who also was married but has no children, was working as a film location manager in Los Angeles. He returned to his hometown to get away from the high-stress lifestyle, he said, and now works in fitness.
He had gone through a breakup early in 2020, he said, and welcomed the pandemic as an excuse to spend time by himself, growing and figuring out what I wanted in a partner
He became the perfect man, and then I met him, Rollins interjected.
... Then Kate came along and was all that and more, Bigbee concluded.
We really lucked out and met each other at the right time and right place in our lives, Rollins said.
Its kind of crazy, Bigbee added, that after six months, I cant imagine not being with her.
A well-rooted companionship
For Pam Colgate and George Leitner, who have been married 38 years, the pandemic has offered a chance to spend more time together than they ever have not during grad school, when they met, or during their years of long commutes to consulting jobs in California, or while they were raising their two children, Nick and Julia.
Of course, with so much togetherness, there have been ups and downs.
Sometimes we need our own space, so we go on our own walks or hole up by ourselves, 71-year-old Leitner said.
We can definitely still overdose on each other, said Colgate, who is 67.
But the tensions and disagreements that occasionally flare up dont take long to blow over.
The couple have learned to come back together and readjust, Colgate said. Its a give and take, like following steps in a dance.
Colgate and Leitner met in what they dubbed the dark corridors of grad school when both were studying business at Columbia University in New York. They knew each other from classes and began encountering each other outside offices where they were waiting to interview for the same jobs.
At some point, we started going out for beers and the rest is history, Colgate said.
The pair parted ways for a time, when Leitner got a job in Philadelphia and Colgate stayed in New York.
They visited each other a couple of times, but that year apart solidified their relationship, Colgate said. Distance really did make the heart grow fonder. At some point I just couldnt imagine not being with him.
The two were married in 1983 in a little chapel in Pennsylvanias Valley Forge. For a while, the newlyweds bounced from place to place to accommodate the needs of their employers. They eventually landed in Los Angeles, where both of their kids were born.
The passion in our marriage has really been our children, Colgate said, and getting to love them together.
But those years in L.A. were busy, with Colgate leaving early in the morning and Leitner getting home late in the evening.
They moved their family to Santa Fe in 1999. Colgate had family in the area and had visited years before.
I remember saying, You know George, if we get married, we have to move to New Mexico at some point, Colgate said. My heart is here.
Nick and Julia attended the Santa Fe Waldorf School, where Colgate eventually became a high school English teacher and guidance counselor before retiring in 2017.
Colgate and Leitner have had the house to themselves since Julia left for college in 2009. It wasnt until the pandemic, however, that they both slowed down enough to really enjoy it.
We go on an hour-and-a-half to two-hour walk together every day, Leitner said.
They spent the summer working on outdoor projects, and now both spend much of their days writing and comparing notes. They read books and discuss them. Leitner does most of the cooking.
Its a gift to just sink into the comfort of really long and well-rooted companionship, Colgate said.
After 40 years of knowing each other, they now feel like they are in the right place at the right time, Leitner added.
Its like that quote from Shakespeare in Love, Relationship is a mystery, Colgate said. Just when you think you know everything about someone, you discover something new.
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