By Sara Gaynes Levy
In fall of 2020, Danielle was swiping on Bumble in the waiting room of her doctor’s office near Fredericksburg, Virginia when Zack’s profile popped up. She was grabbed by the cute dog in his picture, but then she noticed his location: 98 miles away in Norfolk, Virginia. She swiped right anyway—the dog was just too cute—and they matched. Danielle’s father is retired from the Navy, and she noticed Zack was currently in the Navy, so she reached out and asked what his role was.
When the message came through, Zack was a bit shocked to see Danielle had started a conversation. “I had swiped on her, but I didn’t think anything would actually happen,” he says, “I was like, oh, she’s way too pretty. She’s not gonna talk to me.” Zack responded with his role in the Navy (I.T.) and the conversation took off from there. While Zack doesn’t remember exactly what they talked about, he did notice how quickly their repartee built. “With Danielle, the messages were just back and forth, and back and forth, and it never stopped,” he says. The next day, Danielle gave Zack her number, and a few days later they hopped on their first video call. “My dad was outside my door and he was like, who are you talking to? It sounded like you were interviewing each other,” Danielle says with a laugh. “We were just rapid-firing questions: do you want kids? How many kids do you want? How did you grow up? What about religion?” The good news? They were in total alignment: they both were looking for marriage, and wanted to have kids. In fact, they both were previously engaged and were now hoping to find the right person. So far, signs were indicating that they had.
After their successful video date, they both wanted to meet in person, but Danielle had a couple of reservations. For one, there was the distance: they lived two and a half hours apart. But most importantly, Danielle’s health is fragile. She’s immunosuppressed and has several chronic illnesses including lupus and scleroderma that make her a bit wary of meeting new people—not just because of COVID, though that was a big concern too, but in general. “I’m disabled, and I’ve had guys tell me before that [my medical needs] are too much work,” she says. “Someone actually said to me ‘why leave me? No one else is ever gonna love you.’” Understandably, she was terrified to tell Zack about her health concerns. “I thought he was going to say, whoa, you’re too much for me.” Thankfully, Zack’s not that kind of guy. “I don’t judge people based on what they look like or if they have disabilities,” Zack says. “It’s all about the person to me.” So, they decided to meet up.
When the first in-person date finally arrived, Zack drove two and a half hours to Danielle and met her at her favorite sushi restaurant. He was so nervous he spilled soy sauce all over himself. “I thought I was gonna get judged or made fun of, and I look up, and she’s just smiling at me,” says Zack. He instantly felt at ease. Then, as they were driving back from the restaurant, they had a moment that sealed the deal for both of them. “He looked at me and he said ‘what would you do if a dragon crossed in front of us right now?’” Danielle remembers. “And instead of being weirded out, I said ‘A European dragon or an Asian dragon?’ I’m Japanese. In my culture, dragons are good luck and in European culture, they aren’t. So it’s very important what type of dragon it is.” Zack was taken aback. “That answer was like— wow, okay, this girl is awesome.” It was clear: they completely got each other’s quirky senses of humor and were going to be able to share their interests with one another, no matter how niche.
Dating long distance wasn’t easy, but Zack drove up as frequently as he could get away from his duty station, which was sometimes a few times per week. Their bond was undeniable—even Danielle’s dad, who was initially worried about the relationship, had to admit it. “One day Zack and I were dancing in the kitchen to a favorite movie soundtrack playing on my phone,” she says. “And my dad looked at my mom and was like, yeah, he’s just as goofy as she is. I think this is gonna work out.” Danielle thought so, too. “He always supports me in my goals, and being disabled, when I’m at my weakest moments and struggling, he is always there for me. I know I can lean on him when I need to,” she says, whether that’s struggling with a low-energy day or helping take care of her service dog, a goldendoodle. (Zack used to be a vet tech and is excellent with her dog!)
“I know I can fully trust and rely on him with everything; my health, my safety, and my future,” she says. “He loves me for who I am and does everything he can to be there for me and take care of me.” That included making sure that as they thought about their future, the Navy would be able to take care of Danielle and “give her the resources she needs in case I ever went on a deployment or something,” says Zack. Especially considering Danielle’s health, Zack wanted Danielle to know he was thinking about getting this set up for her (in Navy parlance this is known as being included on “the orders”— in other words, being considered when it comes to future work assignments). And that meant it was time to talk about taking the next step.
“We talked about it and he explained that to make sure I was included on the orders, we’d have to get married,” Danielle explains. They didn’t want to rush into anything, but they had both felt since that initial video call that marriage was where their relationship was headed. In fact, early on, Danielle had made a joke about how most of her family had gotten married at a courthouse because of their military affiliations and she assumed she would do the same, and Zack piped in that he planned to be at her wedding—as the groom. So in late spring 2021, Danielle moved to be with Zack. About two months later, they got married in a courthouse wedding in Virginia Beach—just as they both predicted. Zack’s updated work assignment allowed him to stay in Norfolk, where they happily still are.
Zack looks back on signing up for Bumble and can’t believe his luck. “I was stuck in a barracks room for six months and I was just trying to talk to people,” he says. “I didn’t expect to meet the love of my life. I don’t care what kind of broken road I took, because I got to her. I wouldn’t change a single thing on that path because it all ended in finding my soulmate.”