Take Heart! Stories of Love Going Right When the World is Going Wrong 

Morgan and Webb

Morgan Stewart lives alone. A self-described workaholic, she likes it that way — or she did until the coronavirus upended the world last March. "I was lonely and bored," she says. "Before, I had the excuse of, 'I don't have time to date.'"

Webb Hunt works at a Covington Pike car dealership. He was having no luck meeting people. "I thought, maybe I just need to go outside of my bubble and date people. But I don't know how to do that."

So, in April 2020, Morgan and Webb both decided to download the dating app Tinder. "I matched with her because she was cute, and she liked charcuterie and Sailor Moon."

Morgan and Webb
  • Morgan and Webb

"I thought he was a little bit too cute for me," says Morgan. "But in one of his pictures, he had a carrot butt in his eye like a pirate, and was kind of scowling. That made me think he's silly enough for me. The thing that got my attention about Webb when he started messaging me — and I feel like men on dating apps don't do this — he asked me personal questions about myself based on the information I provided in my pictures in my biography. There was a lot of witty banter back and forth between us, then I gave him my phone number."

"From my perspective, that was the most important part of it — letting her decide," Webb says.

For date nights, Webb would have a meal delivered to Morgan, and they would watch You've Got Mail and the Sharknado films in their respective homes. Morgan sent Webb chocolates from Phillip Ashley, and they started exchanging love songs on Spotify. They were on FaceTime every night. "We read a book together," Morgan says. "We have a lot of overlapping nerdy interests. He's a sci-fi person and I'm a children's book person. So we read a sci-fi children's book."

"It was just really cool," Webb says. "It seemed like an active relationship, even though we'd never met in person yet."

Finally, in May, they decided to take the next step. "I had a lot of anxiety about deciding to meet each other," says Morgan.

They took COVID tests, and then he came over for grilled cheese sandwiches. "I'm adding one person to my household," Morgan says. "For as long as this thing is going on, I have one human being in the whole world who I'm allowed to touch."

Lyncola and Markus

"I will tell you the truth," says Lyncola Odell. "I was just dating little fuckbois, who didn't want to grow up and be a man."

One night, she told her friend Angela Field she was ready to start dating seriously, and asked her to "please pray to God to send me the right one."

"She said she prayed and saw my face," says Markus Seaberry.

Lyncola and Markus
  • Lyncola and Markus

Markus had met Angela while acting in an Anwar Jamison film. He was going through a rough patch. "I'm going to be real — 2009 sucked," he says.

Markus had had an allergic reaction to a medication, which laid him up for a while. His work was suffering. His love life, nonexistent. "I'm a nerd. I'm weird. I have no game with the ladies," he says.

Lyncola friend-requested him on Facebook, followed up by a message from Angela. "Yo, that was my friend, and you should meet her. Y'all should go out, and you're welcome," Markus remembers.

Markus thought Lyncola was cute, and they went on a date to Chili's in Southaven, then to see the Steve Carell/Tina Fey movie Date Night. They started seeing each other regularly. "I think it was Memorial Day 2010. She was like, 'If you want to tell people that we're boyfriend and girlfriend, that's okay.' I was like, 'Wait a minute! New information!' I felt like I was Charlie Brown, and I finally kicked the football!"

They dated for almost four years before deciding to get married. Lyncola, whose grandparents were married for 70 years, says she was thinking long-term. "I was collecting data. I can see us being husband and wife someday, and him being a great father. We don't have children yet, but eventually we do want to foster or adopt and mold a young mind. My parents will be married for 50 years in June, so that's what I wanted. One thing both of them told me, they said, you gotta communicate with your spouse. If you don't communicate with him, it's not gonna work. Even if there's something you don't want to tell him, it will eventually come out."

The pandemic hit the Seaberrys hard. Both were forced to change jobs during 2020. They lost three members of their extended family. Lyncola went back to school to earn an education degree. The isolation started to wear thin. But they had each other. "There were just moments where I honestly had to tell Lyncola, 'You know what? I am not okay.' Thankfully, my severance pay did include a little therapy. I really need Black people to get off their hang-ups. They say in the Black community, 'Just pray.' And I'm like, 'Perhaps God made therapy.'"

Michaela and Mitchell

It was the fall of 2019, and Michaela Walley was done with Tinder. "I hate this app. It's trash. I don't want to use it. Then I pulled it back up, for whatever reason."

When they opened the app, Michaela found a response waiting. It was from Mitchell Carter, and it said: "Out of all of the people on here, you look like you're having the most fun."

Their first date was to the Black Lodge Halloween Ritual — even if they didn't quite know it was a date at the time. "It was a really interesting dynamic, because I'm very much an extrovert, and he's an introvert. I'd want to go out all the time, and he would be very shy, and didn't know how to talk to people. We'd even discussed it. 'Hey, if you want to stay in, we can.'"

Michaela and Mitchell
  • Michaela and Mitchell

Michaela was successful at pulling Mitchell out of his shell. "I still remember the date, weirdly. It was March 13th, the Black Lodge goth party. We got all dressed up in makeup and stuff, went out, and had a really great night. Then the pandemic hit, and we all had to quarantine. It was fun getting to experience that with this person, like having that outward fun in public. But then I felt like, when we had that time to be alone with each other, it made us a lot closer."

In November, Michaela's roommate, Lisa Michaels, a comedian and beloved figure in the Memphis trans community, died suddenly. "He's helped me in getting through that loss. I know that I've put a lot of stress on him, but him showing me that he's there to stand by me no matter what is really all I needed to know. Even though it hurts, I don't have to go through pain alone. ... Dealing with heavy grief in the midst of a relationship, that's also the atmosphere of 2020. Everybody's stressed, everybody's upset, everybody's grieving their losses."

Mitchell doesn't know their relationship is being featured in the Flyer. Michaela wanted it to be a Valentine's surprise. "I have definitely picked a person who I want to love for a very long time."

M ❤ M

Matthew and Joy

Matthew Marseille met his future wife because he skipped a training session. In the summer of 2014, he was a counselor at a Christian sports camp. "We were working with kids between ages nine and 12. ... I missed the staff training weekend. So to kind of bridge the gaps and fill me in on things I missed, Joy decided to reach out."

Joy was his counterpart on the girls' side of the camp. "From there, we sparked the whole conversation," she says. "It was very clear, I think, to both of us that we would hit it off, at least as friends. I don't think either of us were looking for a relationship at all. ... That's when you tend to find your spouse, I think."

Their jobs threw them together for eight to 12 hours a day. "Everyone picked up on our chemistry," says Matthew. "It was hard to deny it."

Matthew and Joy
  • Matthew and Joy

One person who noticed their attraction was Joy's father. He came to camp for a birthday visit. "It was just me and my dad in the car," Joy recalls. "He said to me, 'I think Matthew is in love with you.' And I was really thrown."

The next day, on a boat in Missouri's Table Top Lake, Matt made his move. "I was like, 'Yeah. So you're my girl now.'"

"Do I have any say in this?" Joy responded.

"Sure, what do you have to say?" Matthew said.

"Oh my God. Okay!" says Joy. "We decided to keep it a secret for the rest of the summer. I think it was pretty obvious to most of the staff, but we were trying to keep things on the low key."

The couple pursued their careers while keeping up a long-distance relationship before eventually landing in Memphis in 2018. When the pandemic hit, the busy couple found themselves thrown together once again.

"Our biggest struggle has been wanting to hang out, hanging out a lot, annoying each other, and then having to take some space, and then being like, 'I want to hang out again,'" Joy says. "We've done that in three- to 14-day cycles throughout the quarantine."

But the crisis has been good for their marriage. "I think there's physical evidence of a baby that would argue that it has drawn us closer together," says Joy. "We had been talking about having kids. We had not planned to have them now, but potentially starting a family in the next year or two."

Matthew says the pregnancy in the midst of a pandemic is a blessing. "I really wasn't concerned about the pandemic. Joy does a great job of keeping away from people during the shut-down. She gets on me when I don't wear my mask when I'm out. I knew she wouldn't put herself or the baby at risk. This is just another part of life that we have to figure out and navigate around, as opposed to freaking out about it."

Mark and Ben

"My stepsister Ruth was getting married," says Ben Helm. "I was living in San Francisco at the time, so I flew home to Memphis for the wedding. It was one of those weddings where there are a lot of parties. The maid of honor threw a party, and I didn't really know anyone there, so I was just standing there awkwardly. Then Mark comes up to me and introduces himself. Within a few minutes, he's like, 'Oh, I'm gay, by the way.'"

Mark Jones' friend group in Memphis was full of actors and filmmakers, including Ben's stepsister Ruth. "Ruth had told me that Ben was coming, and she did try to play matchmaker. She had us sit next to each other at the rehearsal dinner. She knew me a lot better than she knew Ben."

"We were a newly blended family," Ben says. "It was a family joke for a good decade that Ruth had fixed up her new, gay stepbrother, but not her sister."

Mark and Ben
  • Mark and Ben

Nevertheless, something clicked, and when Ben moved to New York City for graphic design school, Mark followed. "It was a double whammy," Mark says. "I went from living in a 1,600-square-foot house on Roland that I owned to a two-room apartment on the fourth floor of a five-story walk-up. And we moved there in the coldest of winters."

The couple bonded through the hard times by going to Broadway shows. When Ben graduated, they decided to return to Memphis, where there was less competition in his chosen field, and Mark was preparing to direct his first film, Fraternity Massacre on Hell Island. "I love New York, but living in New York was rough for me," Ben says.

Now, years later, the experience prepared them for COVID life. "We've been together a lot more. It's kind of like New York during the day," says Mark. "Thankfully, we're not sharing the phone line for the internet."

They are comforted by memories of their 2019 wedding at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. Mark proposed with a replica of his Christian Brothers high school ring and a shower of white rose petals. "Looking back, that was the last time we saw so many people before COVID hit," Mark says.

Ryan and Xanthe

Ryan Saucier met Xanthe Mumm just as he was about to move to Miami. His band was playing a farewell gig at Murphy's when she walked up to him at the bar. "I thought she was kind of crazy, or already too drunk, because women like her don't usually approach me."

The next night they met up at the P&H Cafe. "We talked and talked and talked, and she just blew me away. It was karaoke night, and she got up and sang a couple of songs, and my jaw dropped. Of course I'm meeting this amazing woman right before I'm leaving!"

They closed down the bar, and kept talking on the back patio until early in the morning. "We left, giving each other the most awkward hug, and that was basically it."

Ryan and Xanthe
  • Ryan and Xanthe

They kept in touch, and Xanthe flew to South Florida for a visit. "Everyone thought I was crazy," she says. "'You're flying to see a man that you've met twice?' We had been talking almost every day. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. We obviously liked each other in a romantic way, but because he was living so far away, that wasn't even an option. We were just so much ourselves. We weren't trying to impress each other. We were just real and raw."

Ryan took her to a romantic spot on the beach to watch the sunset. "That's when I almost kissed her. We were such good friends, I don't want to ruin that."

After less than a year, Ryan returned to Memphis. They went to a Blink-182 show, and later that night at Murphy's, Xanthe made her move. "At the time, we were still drinking pretty heavily, and I guess that kind of helped with it all, because I decided to kiss him."

Five months later, they moved in together and started a band called Lipstick Stains. But their drinking was becoming a problem. "Long story short, it caught up with us," Ryan says. "It was definitely having a negative effect on our relationship. We decided, if we're going to be together, both of us are quitting drinking, or we're going our separate ways. For me, that's all I needed to hear."

They had been sober about six months when the pandemic hit. "It was definitely hard at first, because there were a few moments when I thought I was going to break," says Ryan. "She was like, 'No, you're not doing that.'"

The couple had originally planned on throwing a big wedding in June 2020. As the pandemic dragged on, the date was pushed back to October. "I think around August we said, 'This is clearly not gonna happen,'" says Xanthe.

Instead, they had a small ceremony with only family present. "It was an awesome wedding. I would tell people to keep it as small as possible, even not during a pandemic. It's just so much more chill."

Now, the Saucier-Mumms are ready for normal life to resume. "We're testy with each other sometimes," Xanthe says. "And we're bored a lot of times, but I'd rather be bored with him than anyone else."

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