This Couple Got Engaged in N.Y.C. Before He Went Home to Sydney — and Then COVID Kept Them Apart for Two Years – PEOPLE
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Their courtship is the stuff of romance novels and Hallmark movies: an American girl and Australian guy met during a singles tour of India and wound up engaged. But circumstances would keep them apart for years.
Katie Leo, 39, and Michael Nunn, 36, defied the odds of their two-week flirtation turning into a cross-global romance that turned into forever when Michael proposed in December 2019. The couple began to plan their 2020 wedding.
Then COVID-19 stepped in to play the villain.
"2020 was supposed to be her year," says older sister Michelle Leo. "It was the ultimate high when they got engaged right before the pandemic — and then they couldn't see each other. But they definitely weathered the storm. They didn't want a life lesson, but they got one."
Australia had one of the strictest bans on international travel for much of the pandemic; initially, they had planned to extend it into 2022. But in November, they opened borders for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents.
"I was on one of the first planes that allowed the citizens to leave," Nunn tells PEOPLE. "I called Katie and said, Can you meet me in L.A. in three weeks?"
Though the couple had already planned to meet in San Diego for a family Christmas, Nunn couldn't wait when given the opportunity to see Leo a month earlier than planned.
Prior to Leo and Nunn's pre-Thanksgiving reunion, the couple had not physically seen each other in almost two years. They sustained the relationship with calls, emails and virtual chat sessions, often twice a day despite a time zone difference of 16 hours.
Leo, who lives in New York, and Nunn, who lives in Sydney, opted to meet at the busy Los Angeles airport before a romantic getaway.
It was set to be a Tinseltown-perfect reunion … except once again, life got in the way.
"If it was a movie, that romantic scene in the airport never happened," says a smiling Nunn, 36, in a Zoom interview with PEOPLE. "So you'd have to cut that out and edit it."
They both flew to Los Angeles on the same day, but Leo had popped over to her company's office to do some work before Nunn landed. As a result of three canceled Ubers and Los Angeles traffic, Leo arrived at the airport too late to make it to their rendezvous spot.
After some hectic back and forth messages, Nunn was at the luggage carousel when he spotted a woman with her back to him, wearing a jacket that he says ''looked like something Katie would wear."
He tapped her on the shoulder and she turned and the two zeroed in on their long-awaited first kiss.
"We were both wearing masks, so I missed and there is lipstick on the side of his mask," says Leo. "We cried. There was a lot of emotion in that room."
Though she blames "fate and LAX" for keeping them apart for those final few moments, it was fate that brought them together in the first place.
Leo, who now works for Facebook, had been let go from her marketing job and decided to take a year off and go traveling. One of the tours she booked was with a company specializing in boutique group adventures for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s.
"The group was mostly women," Leo says, which made Nunn stand out even more. "I was like, Who is this tall new person that was not emailed about?"
Nunn was a late addition to the group.
"Funny enough, I had been working in New York and lived in Katie's neighborhood, on the same street her sister lived, but we never crossed paths," Nunn says.
He had been in New York working on a successful but stressful project. When he returned to his home in Sydney, he asked his boss for a couple of weeks off, because he needed a break.
The India trip was the only one that fit into his timeframe, but the reservations had closed.
"They pulled a few strings in the background — and look at us now," he says.
Right away, Leo stood out among the crowd; the two became fast friends and believed there could be something more. Luckily, Leo was still on her sabbatical, so it wasn't too difficult to tack on a few weeks in Australia when Nunn invited her.
Agreeing to meet was easy for Leo. Telling her family and friends was less so.
"They were like 'Wait, you just met him and now you are going to stay with him? Do you need an escape plan?" Leo recalls.
Nunn laughs: "At this stage, the line between serial killer and nice guy is blurred."
Getting off the plane in Sydney for that first stay together was "even more nerve wracking than our reunion this [most recent] time," Leo says.
"I remember I was paranoid that I wouldn't recognize her coming off the plane and that would be really hard to recover from," Nunn says with a laugh. "But she looked exactly the same."
During their first year together, the couple averaged seeing each other about every two or three months, making the long flights back and forth during vacations and holidays. Nunn took six months off from his job to live with Leo in New York.
"It was a trial, because we knew at some point one of us needed to move," Leo says.
After getting engaged in New York in December 2019, the couple spent New Year's Eve in Sydney, then returned to their respective hometowns, thinking they would soon be married.
But once COVID-19 restrictions set in, the reality hit them that they couldn't keep flying between their countries. By March 2020, Australia was shut down for most travel.
"I'm sure, like a lot of people, we thought this would only be for about two or three months," Nunn says.
The couple started planning a wedding in San Diego for later in the year and paid the deposit to the wedding planner before it became clear that could not happen. When that plan was scrapped, they tried planning for a 2021 wedding. That too had to be canceled.
Now, the couple believes 2022 will be their year.
"Two years is a long time, but our last 48 hours together has reinforced how good we are for each other," says Nunn.
He says when they first embraced after finding each other in those first scattered moments at the airport, he knew it was worth the wait.
"I could feel the longevity in that moment and how much we missed each other," Nunn says.
Nunn has returned to Sydney, but will be back to celebrate Christmas with Leo and her family at her father's home in San Diego. Leo hopes the current situation with the Omicron COVID variant doesn't change those plans once again.
But if it does, they know they can survive it.
"It's like a movie, a total movie," says Leo's sister Michelle. "They complement each other so well. Michael is already a part of the family, so we missed not being able to celebrate any kind of milestones with him. They worked really hard on maintaining their relationship. They made sacrifices early and that will only make them stronger."
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