For their first few dates, Shelby Monaghan and Wes Osburn had chaperones. When Osburn arrived outside Monaghan's apartment with his roommate and a bottle of wine, the visit was monitored by Monaghan's skeptical and curious roommate, Amy Kaufman. Ever the gentleman, Osburn kept a respectable distance from Monaghan and spoke to her through a window. Their attachment deepened over their four weeks of courtship, but they wouldn't dare hold hands.
“It’s hard to be in the same space with Wes but not be able to be close to him,” Monaghan said. “There is a lot of tension, even just seeing him. I want to reach out to him, but I obviously can’t get close. I feel gravitated towards him when I see him, so it is difficult.”
Like Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe or Alexandre Dumas’ guileless lovers in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the couple has fostered a blooming romance despite an inexorable barrier. But the setting for their story is modern: The 27-year-old Los Angeles residents met on Bumble while sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to Kaufman, a Hollywood reporter at the Los Angeles Times who first started broadcasting their Puritan interactions over her Twitter and Instagram accounts in late March, their “quarantine love story” has gone viral.
Osburn was so struck by the pretty face that popped up on Bumble that he ponied up the $4 for a super swipe. (It lets the person know you are really interested.) Monaghan, a coordinator for Sony’s special events team, was partly drawn by the potential fringe benefits of good food from Osburn, a chef at the restaurant MTN in Venice. After bonding over the dating app, the couple quickly moved to text messages and phone calls. When Monaghan mentioned that she had leftover carbonara one night, Osburn offered to exchange a bottle of cabernet for some pasta outside her window.
“In a really weird way it’s kind of given us a chance to not be distracted by just going out on a nice dinner or going to see a movie,” he told me. “For me it feels a little bit more personal. ... I don’t know any other time that we would have so much availability to get to know each other.”
The tradition of doorstep gifts, accompanied by Kaufman’s digital narration for multiplying fans, continued. His third offering was prefaced by a cryptic text message instructing her to preheat her oven to 450 degrees. He arrived at her window that evening with Devil’s Chicken, a meal he had often prepped at Suzanne Goin’s L.A. restaurant, Tavern, arranged in a cast-iron skillet with leeks, potatoes and bread crumbs. Monaghan made him a blue and black bracelet with block letters spelling “Howdy,” a nod to their text message banter about his favorite colors and his Texas roots.
“It really sells the whole being-in-grade-school dating thing,” he said.
Monaghan admits that their monitored dates are a little unorthodox. They’ve drawn crowds over social media as well as gazes from her upstairs neighbors. “But Wes and I joke that there’s nothing about this that is normal,” she told me. “That’s just one of the elements that contributes to the weirdness.”
Osburn says their meet-cute parallels his own family history. One day, as his grandfather commuted to work on his old Indian motorcycle, he caught sight of a woman working through a diner window.
“He was like, ‘That’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life,’ ” Osburn said.
His grandfather started frequenting the diner, and the two ended up falling in love. In a similar way, Osburn stopped in his tracks when he first glimpsed Monaghan through the screen in his hand.
“Something that I told my dad was that I kind of understand what my grandpa felt when he rode by the window,” he said.
Osburn and Monaghan often spend each night talking to each other about what they will do after shelter-at-home orders are lifted. He dreams of taking her to the restaurant in the Beverly Hills Gucci store, which is run by one of his favorite chefs, Massimo Bottura. Monaghan can’t wait to take in simple pleasures together, like sharing breakfast, grocery shopping and going to the park. But Osburn is restraining himself from getting too far ahead of events. “I’m just getting ready for what life is like now,” Osburn said. “I’m not trying to plan months and months out. I just know that this is what I have to do to have a social interaction with Shelby.”
For Monaghan, two thoughts get her through the days she can’t be physically close to Osburn. “Just knowing that this is a situation that will pass,” she said. “Things will probably not go back to fully normal like we’re used to, but there will be a time when we can hang out together that’s semi-normal. And that what we’re doing now will benefit where we’re at then.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Wes Osburn. This version has been updated.
Leigh Giangreco is a writer in Washington.