Finding Love and All Its Quirks, Even If 2,654 Miles Away

“Radical honesty” on Sarah Lenz’s dating profile, along with no geographical restrictions, led to Stephen Paskey road tripping for love.

By Alix Wall

In the summer of 2019, Stephen Paskey was on vacation, sitting in an Istanbul cafe, smoking a hookah. As much as he had hoped to meet a life partner by then, it just wasn’t happening. In a few years, he thought, he would retire and maybe move to South America.

Eight months later, back home in Buffalo, he connected with Sarah Lenz online. Given how well they clicked, both say that under normal circumstances, they probably would have met within a day or two.

But things were anything but normal. It was late March 2020, two weeks after the country shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then, of course, there was another obstacle: 2,654 miles.

Ms. Lenz, 57, who was in Santa Rosa, Calif., at the time, had recently moved from her home in Philadelphia across the country to live with her father Peter Dodge, who had Alzheimer’s disease. She changed the parameters on her OkCupid account to show the highest matches possible, regardless of geography. Mr. Paskey, 60, registered as 99 percent.

Ms. Lenz had already learned a thing or two from online dating. The first time she tried it was after the end of her marriage — she and her former husband had been together for 30 years and had two children — and she felt she had nothing to lose. Embracing what she called “radical honesty,” she felt she would rather be up front about who she was from the start. She followed that approach this time, too.

“He, too, put some really vulnerable stuff in his profile,” Ms. Lenz said.

“Sarah’s willingness and fearlessness in being honest is what brought us together,” Mr. Paskey said.

Ms. Lenz is a graphic designer and artist. She grew up in Berkeley, Calif.

Mr. Paskey was raised in Kalamazoo, Mich., and is a lecturer in law, legal analysis, writing and research at the University at Buffalo School of Law. He spent more than a decade working in the Department of Justice bringing former Nazis, and the American citizens who helped them, to trial. He began his career working in desktop publishing and typesetting, the field in which Ms. Lenz also began her career.

Between the shutdown and the distance, there was plenty of time for long, rambling conversations by phone or online. Mr. Paskey shared about his two short-term marriages and other relationships, while Ms. Lenz had a more recent story. Ms. Lenz had met her husband when she was 17; theirs was an open marriage. In 2013, she left her husband, taking a few years to be on her own for the first time as an adult. She moved to Philadelphia, where her first grandchild was born. Urged by one of her sons to go on OkCupid, she met someone and fell in love. They were living together in June 2019, also in a polyamorous relationship, when he was diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer. Six weeks later, he died.

Ms. Lenz said that one of the last things he said to her was, “I’m not worried about you. You will find love again.”

Ms. Lenz believes that he not only gave her permission, but he willed it to happen. Ms. Lenz flew back to Philadelphia for his memorial service in March 2020, only to turn right around and fly back. It couldn’t be held because of Covid-19.

Ms. Lenz went on OkCupid for the second time after she returned. Within days of Mr. Paskey and Ms. Lenz connecting, they were talking and texting numerous times a day.

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