It’s a COVID-era love story.
Boy e-meets girl. They become friends. Then boy and girl zip off to quarantine in Mexico for months and fall for one another under the sun. Typical. Right?
“We know it’s unconventional,” said Kayla MacArthur, a 31-year-old life coach from Massachusetts. “But that’s what we did. Knowing both of us now, it’s not strange we did that.”
To be fair, MacArthur’s timeline with 35-year-old Oklahoma native Ryan Crain is a bit more complicated than it first seems. The pair met on a Zoom coffee date arranged by a mutual friend over the summer. He thought MacArthur and Crain were both adventurous and curious — unattached to their physical homes and accustomed to unconventional lifestyles.
The meeting came about after MacArthur had given up on finding a match during the coronavirus pandemic. She loved traveling, disliked online dating, and thought COVID-19 safety restrictions hindered her romantic future entirely, she said.
“Finding a relationship was always something that was important to me and something I struggled with for a while,” MacArthur said. “When the pandemic hit, I lost all hope.”
But then she talked to Crain. It wasn’t an immediate connection, and Crain didn’t even know either of them was looking for anything beyond friendship. The pair chatted about their travels and the possibility of living in another country until the virus subsided. They stayed in touch.
As days in lockdown persisted, MacArthur grew desperate.
“2020 was supposed to be the year I was going full-time nomadic, and I didn’t get that,” she said. “I was so depressed from being stuck at home from lockdown that I messaged him to see if he’d want to go to Mexico.”
He said yes. So the pair packed their bags, read up on restrictions, and booked a two-bedroom Airbnb in Tulum — all before they had met in real life or began dating. Each flew down to Cancun on Aug. 8, and they met face-to-face for the first time in their shared living room.
Government officials and scientists have strongly discouraged travel amid the pandemic, but MacArthur insists the pair took the necessary precautions. Each underwent a COVID-19 test days after arriving in Tulum and quarantined until receiving a negative result.
“We were safe,” she said. “Sure, we explored beaches and the downtown area. But we wore a mask when we needed to. We stayed socially distant. We weren’t like the party people [there] right now.”
It’s not uncharacteristic of MacArthur and Crain to travel on a whim. She once spent time in Bali with 14 strangers, and Crain sold everything he owned in 2018 to hop around the globe instead. (He made it to 34 countries and saw five of the Seven Wonders of the World.)
Still, neither MacArthur nor Crain expected a romantic relationship after they landed.
“I went into it as a friend connection, but I didn’t have any expectations,” Crain said. “We both wanted to go to Mexico because it was the cheapest, the easiest, and it’s a quick flight home. And we wanted to be with someone else.”
The pair stayed inside for a few days and then began to explore the city — together and apart. They made meals and had long talks about how they would support each other on the trip. In the second week, Crain asked MacArthur on a date. There, by the Thai restaurant on the ocean, a double rainbow appeared.
MacArthur took it as “a sign.”
“I was looking for a relationship, and I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to have that happen,” she said.
Mexico was far from the resort dream most people imagine though, the pair said. The couple hopped around from Airbnb to Airbnb. They survived a small electrical fire, a lost debit card, construction noise, and even a hurricane or two. At one point, MacArthur got hookworms in her feet, and Crain tended to her.
“He did nice little things to make sure I was comfortable,” she said. “He got me ice cream.”
Crain said the challenges showed the couple they are prepared for the real world — something their friends and family had questioned.
“They said things like, ‘Once this vacation is over, you may have some trouble,’” he said. “And we both just kind of laughed because this is a lifestyle for us. We want this lifestyle. We went through a lot together. We went through quite a bit of practical reality.”
Crain asked MacArthur to officially be his girlfriend in early October. Two months later, the pair came back to Massachusetts for a number of reasons. They wanted to spend the holidays with family, and visa guidelines mandate they spend only six months in Mexico at a time.
Now Crain is looking for remote work, and the couple looks forward to living in San Diego, Lisbon, and maybe Costa Rica as they gradually “slow travel” their way through the continents.
“Living abroad and living with someone you don’t know is a good way to get to know someone,” MacArthur said. “This is how I found my person.”