When Anthony Sauler messaged Michael Chertok on OkCupid in July 2016, they were both mourning the loss of a beloved pet. Mr. Chertok had just lost Java, a Rottweiler he had for 11 years. For Mr. Sauler, it was Ash, a formerly feral cat who had wandered into his backyard and he had for seven years.
It was an instant point of connection.
“When someone shows a lot of love and care for an animal, it’s a sign they can definitely show love and care for another person,” said Mr. Sauler, 50.
For their first date, the two met in San Francisco, where Mr. Chertok lives, and spent the afternoon window shopping and chatting, ending the evening at ABV, an upscale bar with small plates.
Mr. Sauler (right), an account executive for US Foods who formerly worked as a chef, texted Mr. Chertok immediately after, inviting him to dinner at his West Oakland, Calif., loft. On the menu: stuffed pork tenderloin with cranberry coulis.
“If I’m going to cook for you, it means I really like you,” Mr. Sauler said.
A month later, they went for their first weekend getaway, to Jenner, Calif., a small town on the Sonoma coast. While it was too early to say so, both sensed they were already falling in love.
“Tony is incredibly kind,” said Mr. Chertok, 57. “I see it in how he treats his cats, his niece and nephew, and how he’s there for me. He’s also an amazing cook, and is so willing to work around all my food allergies.”
Mr. Chertok knew it was serious when he took a job as director of philanthropy at the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco. His career in international development, and the frequent trips abroad it required, had made maintaining a relationship difficult.
Mr. Sauler moved in with Mr. Chertok after two years.
As for marriage, Mr. Chertok very much wanted it, Mr. Sauler did not.
“In my 20s, I went through a painful time when I thought being gay would mean not having the kind of support and family and community that I had grown up with,” Mr. Chertok said.
Realizing he could have it as an adult was revelatory.
But Mr. Sauler had gone through a painful divorce; he couldn’t imagine potentially facing that again. Over time, he changed his mind.
“Anything that’s meaningful for him became meaningful to me,” Mr. Sauler said. “I had fallen in love with his family and he fell in love with mine.”
Mr. Chertok proposed to Mr. Sauler in March 2019 near Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. They chose Oct. 4, 2020 to marry because the likelihood of rain was low and it was a favorite holiday of Mr. Chertok’s, Sukkot. (It was the second day of the weeklong festival when Jews construct temporary dwellings outside.)
When Covid-19 hit, they considered postponing. In June, for his job, Mr. Chertok oversaw a virtual L.G.B.T.Q. Pride Seder that had people joining from many places, including the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, Calif. Mr. Chertok then knew he could pull off a successful virtual wedding, too.
They wed on their original date at Hillel at Stanford. Rabbi Mychal Copeland, of San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, performed the ceremony remotely.
Mr. Chertok belongs to the San Francisco synagogue, and now Mr. Sauler feels at home there, too.
“I love how it’s really important for Michael to have this foundation of Judaism beneath him,” Mr. Sauler said.
While the couple initially considered wearing barong tagalog shirts, traditional dress of the Philippines, honoring Mr. Sauler’s background, they wore tuxedos. Some of their remote guests watched from their sukkahs.
They now have two cats, Betsy and Kuro, and plan to get a dog.