Falling in Love Months Before Meeting Face to Face

Nicholas Brandon Matcheck arrived with a single red rose the first time he met Chunyu Hu face to face in June 2020 on a grand marble staircase in the lobby of the Kimpton Gray Hotel in Chicago.

“There was no initial shyness,” said Mr. Matcheck, 40, who described their first kiss minutes later as “very natural.”

He had boarded a nearly empty plane in San Francisco that morning, with a one-way ticket and a suitcase, for a weeklong stay in Chicago with Ms. Hu before they moved in together in Green Bay, Wis.

“I already knew what kind of person and partner he was going to be,” said Ms. Hu, 38, who had matched with him three months earlier on the dating app Hinge while working remotely from her parents’ house in Green Bay — a temporary move during the Covid-19 lockdown after she felt hemmed in working from her small one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

Ms. Hu, who goes by Lori, came to the United States to be with her parents when she was 3 from a village outside Guangzhou, China. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s in engineering management, both from Duke. She then received a joint master’s in international studies and business administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Hu, now a managing director at Vertex Ventures Healthcare, a life sciences venture capital fund based in San Francisco, often rolled her eyes during video meetings as she and her co-workers weighed in on the latest episodes of the Netflix reality show “Love Is Blind.”

“It just felt so unbelievable,” said Ms. Hu, who was skeptical of couples who can develop relationships and become engaged before actually seeing each other.

Her tune changed somewhat when one of her first Hinge matches in March 2020 was Mr. Matcheck.

Mr. Matcheck, whose previous marriage ended in divorce, was completing a master’s in business administration at the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and also received a master’s in international affairs from the University of California, San Diego.

From 2007 to 2016, Mr. Matcheck, who goes by Nick, was a naval aviator. He flew a Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft, in the U.S. Navy, and was deployed to the Middle East and Latin America. A son of an Air Force fighter pilot, he was born in Madrid and is now based in San Francisco as a product manager at Supernal, Hyundai’s advanced air mobility subsidiary.

They began speaking daily and bonded over ’90s music like Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You.” Their virtual dates included watching nostalgic films that hit home like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” and they soon even began exchanging good, old-fashioned love letters.

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Though they had exchanged photos from their lives, “we didn’t want to do FaceTime or video,” said Ms. Hu, explaining that they wanted to save that ‘aha!’ moment for when they met face to face.

The couple planned a picnic by the Golden Gate Bridge for late April 2020, when Ms. Hu was set to return to San Francisco, which did not come to pass. On April 22, the night before her birthday, her father was rushed to the I.C.U. with Covid, and then her mother was also infected and hospitalized for a week.

“Nick would talk me through the night,” said Ms. Hu, who sometimes dozed off on the phone.

She and her mother, who recovered after a couple of weeks, often stood outside the hospital to be close to her father. After 30 days in the I.C.U., her father died on a muggy day in May.

“You never know what happens in life,” she said, quoting one of the last things her father told her.

In a surprise twist, after Mr. Matcheck graduated that spring and his lease was up, the Civil War-era brick country house Ms. Hu’s family owned and rented out became available.

“We spoke about if it made sense for him to move to Wisconsin,” she said. “He was onboard.”

Mr. Matcheck soon took care of packing up his and Ms. Hu’s apartments in San Francisco and put their furniture into storage.

“By the time I saw her apartment, I already knew I was in love with her,” he said. “I ate the soup she froze, saw her artwork and arts and crafts,” he added. “I respackled her walls.”

When they finally met in Chicago, she described it as “a week of firsts,” a sort of “rom-com montage,” and she had already prepared a picnic for the second day.

“It was a surreal feeling meeting someone you already know and you’re in love with,” she said.

In January 2022, they moved back to San Francisco.

A few days after Thanksgiving that year, when they put up a Christmas tree, he slipped a ring onto her homemade gingerbread-people ornaments featuring their names. The ring went undetected all day.

That evening he prompted her to check out the battery-powered star atop the tree. As soon as she noticed the ring, Mr. Matcheck, who had made coq au vin to celebrate, was on one knee.

On April 16, Dr. Ling Bei, the bride’s best friend, who was ordained by the Universal Life Church for the occasion, officiated the wedding before 80 guests at Viansa Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Ms. Hu’s brother played Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” on the violin as she walked down the aisle.

“It reminded me of her walking down the staircase in Chicago,” Mr. Matcheck said. “It had that same speed, the slow deliberate walk. It’s the same feeling. I knew it was the life I wanted then. I made the right decision again.”

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