After a year of trading online messages, Jonathan LaFleur decided it was time for him and Brian Bayerle to meet.
The two first encountered each other on a gay social networking site after Jonathan was stationed in Washington as an Army medic in 2008. Sometimes they’d exchange notes daily, sometimes just once a month. Brian, who lived in Baltimore, was wary of setting up dates with men he had met online.
But over time Brian grew to trust Jonathan, and in September 2009 he invited him up for a visit. Jonathan showed up with a six pack of Yuengling in honor of Brian’s Pennsylvania heritage, and any remaining nerves quickly disappeared.
The two intended to watch a movie, but wound up chatting instead. Jonathan slept on the couch, and the next day they went to brunch and then to the movies. The weekend ended with a quick kiss.
“So we figure our first date was more like three first dates,” says Brian, a 31-year-old actuary. “I didn’t know where it was going to go at that point, but I was happy we finally met and thought we should definitely hang out again.”
Jonathan, now 33, promised to call in a few days, but he couldn’t wait that long. He left Brian a voicemail the next night.
“He was a little geeky, a little nerdy,” Jonathan remembers. “But I kind of like that. It was more interesting because I don’t know all that stuff he’s into. And I’m like, ‘We could either be really good friends or I could really see myself dating him.’ ”
Two dates later Jonathan, an enthusiastic chef, made a meal for Brian, who turned out to be an enthusiastic eater. A beef roast that would normally last Jonathan a week was gone in one sitting. Jonathan started to think he had found his match.
Three weeks into their relationship, it was Brian who said, “I love you.”
“When you’re fairly early in a relationship, you know you might be feeling it but you kind of want to save that for later on,” Brian says. “But it slipped out. I didn’t mean to say it.”
Jonathan, who was taken aback, responded only with a hug. The next morning, watching Brian brood over his breakfast, he decided to relieve his misery.
“I said, ‘For the record, just remember you said it first.’ I’m like, ‘I do love you.’ It looked like he had an elephant on his shoulders, and when I said it, it got lifted off,” Jonathan says.
By then, they were spending every weekend together and talking each night by phone. Brian bought Jonathan a cat for Valentine’s Day and, after a year of dating, Jonathan moved into Brian’s house in Baltimore.
Living together brought their lives into balance.
“I love that Jon is a serious guy, but realistically he’s a big kid at heart. It shines through in everything he does, from cooking and playing with the cat to his love of cartoons and anime,” Brian says. “When I’m being way too serious, the big kid in him will help take me down off the crazy and help me not take things so seriously. That’s a huge thing for me.”
Even when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, Jonathan didn’t come out to his colleagues at Walter Reed. He had always been a private guy and thought it might make some of his more religious co-workers uncomfortable.
But by 2012, he and Brian were talking about marriage. They had adopted a second cat and settled into a life both wanted to make permanent. In New York that March, they wandered into Tiffany’s and Jonathan picked out a ring.
But they didn’t start planning a wedding because there were several issues in flux. Same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Maryland, and Brian’s father was battling lung cancer. Life became even more complicated in July when Jonathan found out he had orders to be transferred to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii.
In November, Maryland legalized gay marriage and Brian’s parents told the couple to go ahead with the wedding, no matter his father’s condition.
They set a date for late February, just a week and a half before Jonathan would be leaving for Hawaii. When Jonathan’s colleagues found out, they cheered the news and offered to throw him a shower.
But early in the year, it became clear Brian’s father would not make it to the wedding. When he became bed-ridden, Jonathan showed up in his scrubs with pillows and baby wipes to help care for him.
“Jon will do anything for anyone,” Brian says. His father died in early February, but Brian knew his dad would want the wedding to go on. “He loves Jon and even told me how lucky I was to have him at the end. He was very accepting.”
On Feb. 23, the pair exchanged vows in front of a fireplace at Chase Court, a Gothic-style former parish house in Baltimore. Almost 70 friends and relatives watched as the couple held hands and strode down the aisle to a hammered dulcimer.
Less than two weeks later, Brian took Jonathan and one of their cats to the airport for a sad goodbye. Brian will keep an eye out for actuarial positions in Honolulu, but if he doesn’t find one, they’ll treat Jonathan’s two- to three-year stint in Hawaii as a deployment — albeit one on a tropical island that Brian plans to visit frequently.
“We’ll do anything to help each other out,” Jonathan says.