On the Eve of Lockdown, a Jam-Packed First Date

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On Jan. 28, 2020, Sharon Deckey Mussalli was scrolling through Instagram when she came upon a black-and-white photo of Shaun Robert Jenkins, a senior manager of training at Tone House, a trendy gym in New York City.

The photo was posted by a mutual friend on Mr. Jenkins’s birthday, and showed him in a tuxedo and bow tie. It “stopped me dead in my tracks,” said Ms. Mussalli, 45, the executive vice president of revenue and operations at the media company Bustle Digital Group. “He was handsome to the point where I actually thought that this might not be a real person.”

Even though they had never met, she didn’t hesitate to send him a direct message, writing, “I guess it’s only appropriate that I wish you a happy birthday.”

“I had never done anything like that before meeting Shaun,” Ms. Mussalli said, laughing, “and I know I will never do anything like that again.”

Ms. Mussalli’s boldness was well received by Mr. Jenkins. “It just exuded so much confidence and really piqued my interest,” he said.

A divorced father of two young girls and originally from Brooklyn, Mr. Jenkins was living in Jersey City, N.J., at the time. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and is studying for an M.B.A. at New York University.

Ms. Mussalli, a native of Pawtucket, R.I., was then living in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan. She graduated from Tufts University and received an M.B.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They continued to exchange messages on Instagram, in which they touched upon everything from politics to favorite films and novels. Mr. Jenkins said he was struck by Ms. Mussalli’s intellect; she said she found that “conversation came so naturally” with him.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

The two later exchanged numbers and, over the next couple of months, tried to find time in their busy schedules to go on a date. By March, the city was preparing for a lockdown because of the pandemic. On March 13, before it officially went into effect, “We got in as much as we could,” Mr. Jenkins said.

He arranged their first date to include stops at three of his favorite lounges: the New York Edition, the Seville and the Rose Bar.

Both whiskey drinkers, they felt very much at home with each other during their tour of the town. “People at the bar did not even think we were on a first date,” Ms. Mussalli said. “It was just amazing chemistry.”

Despite the impending lockdown, before the date ended, Mr. Jenkins asked Ms. Mussalli if she would go out with him again. A few days later, on a Saturday morning, they awoke to a completely different New York. With businesses closed and dozens of new restrictions in place, their options for activities were extremely limited.

So, on their second date, Mr. Jenkins and Ms. Mussalli went on a walk along the East River. Their next date was a walk along the Hudson River, and that was followed by many dates at one another’s homes, where they cooked each other’s favorite foods: meatballs, burgers and black cod.

By the time the worst of the early pandemic was over, they were in love, and had experienced many highs as well as several lows. Four of Mr. Jenkins’s family members died from Covid, and Ms. Mussalli’s father died from cancer.

“But the good times outweighed the bad,” Mr. Jenkins said. “It was like being around my mirror, I was just consumed with her.”

On Sept. 25, 2020, they made a commitment to each other — neither wanted to use the word “engagement” because, as Mr. Jenkins explained, they felt the term had an implication that “you’re not fully committed yet.”

The couple, who now live together in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, were married on Jan. 28, Mr. Jenkins’s birthday, at the Public Hotel in New York. Ramez Baddour, a Universal Life minister, officiated before 69 vaccinated guests, who with the couple celebrated what was, from the beginning, “just a raw and honest relationship,” Mr. Jenkins said.

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