Aliza Aber and Jonathan Browning had a marathon of a first date.
After connecting on OkCupid in March 2017, they met in the afternoon at San Francisco’s de Young museum, shared an Italian dinner and then played miniature golf at an indoor course, Urban Putt. Things couldn’t have been going any better, until Mr. Browning missed the last BART train to the East Bay — he lived in Berkeley, Calif. — and then left his phone and wallet in an Uber.
Wondering the next morning how he got his older daughter to school, Ms. Aber realized that without his phone, she couldn’t text or call him to ask. That was foremost on her mind, as they were both divorced, single parents of two daughters, and had immediately bonded over that.
“I guess I wasn’t the most accomplished dater,” said Mr. Browning, who goes by Jeb.
Despite that less-than-smooth introduction, both hoped for a second date.
Ms. Aber, 44, is an instructional designer at Google. Mr. Browning, 46, is a project manager in construction for Thompson Builders. Ms. Aber’s daughters, Isabella, now 11, and Asha, 8, live with her the majority of the time in San Francisco. Mr. Browning lives with his daughters, Lucy, 10, and Willa, 4, so their children were brought into the mix early on.
Both described their falling in love as completely natural, unfolding in a series of moments. Ms. Aber recalled being completely disarmed by Mr. Browning’s goofy charm when they once found themselves square dancing. The fact that Ms. Aber laughed at Mr. Browning’s jokes was key, he said, but from the get-go, “it just felt effortless and right.”
“Jeb is such a good person at his core,” Ms. Aber said, noting that she sometimes tends to keep an argument going longer than necessary. She appreciates how Mr. Browning is able to bring it to quick resolution.
With blending families a crucial piece of the equation, each was observing the other’s parenting styles.
“I saw how good Aliza was with kids,” Mr. Browning said. “She’s so creative and loving, and such a good listener.” Ms. Aber was drawn to Mr. Browning’s kindness, not only as a partner, but as a role model; high on her list of traits she wants her daughters to embody is kindness, she said.
By August 2019, Mr. Browning and his daughters moved across the Bay to live with Ms. Aber and her daughters. A few months later, the couple went on their first weekend away together, without the girls, to Los Angeles. They stayed at the Chateau Marmont hotel over Thanksgiving weekend, where Mr. Browning proposed over dinner.
The blended family had nearly eight months of normalcy together before the shutdown; Ms. Aber said she was proud of how quickly they melded into their new normal.
“With Jeb and his kids in a new city and new schools and day care, and my kids getting used to them living with us, navigating all of this was a huge thing for us all already, and then the pandemic happened,” said Ms. Aber, who is now working from home with four children, as Mr. Browning is considered an essential worker.
They set their wedding for Aug. 8, but when the pandemic foiled that plan, they married Nov. 1 in the Shakespeare Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with 26 people present and many more, including Ms. Aber’s immediate family members in New York, watching on Zoom. Mr. Browning’s stepfather, Dr. Ronald Elson, an ordained Universal Life minister, officiated.
During the ceremony, Ms. Aber’s daughter Isabella shared a poem she wrote.
“These new hands aren’t always easy to hold, it’s hard to grasp at unfamiliar palms for the first time,” she said. “Like sour fruit, you have to wait, sour eventually turns sweet, bonds will become powerful over time. We’ve taken that time, and our two worlds have become one.”