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Coronavirus outbreak couldn't stop this couple's engagement: 'If we didn't do it soon, I don't know when we'd be able to do it'

Sean O'Connor and Kaleb Leija wore masks for engagement photos during coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Laura Corinn)

Not many people are finding reason to celebrate during the confusing times surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. However, one couple in New York found a way to commemorate their own perfectly imperfect relationship with an engagement just prior to self-quarantining — masks and social distance included.

Sean O’Connor and Kaleb Leija have been together for two years and recently started planning for a 2020 spring engagement. But when O’Connor received the pair’s rings just as the outbreak was starting to get serious, he quickly realized that the time to propose was now or never.

“We kind of got lucky,” O’Connor tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the timing of the March 15 proposal. “I told Kaleb [the rings] would arrive sometime around May. They actually arrived last Monday, which was Kaleb’s last day in the office before quarantine measures starting getting strict in the city. And when they arrived, I texted a friend who’s a Brooklyn-based photographer and asked her if she might be game for planning a fake brunch on Sunday because I figured with the way things were going, if we didn’t do it soon, I don’t know when we’d be able to do it and have someone take photos.”

O’Connor, who Leija describes as a “bit of a schemer,” planned the entire moment around a specific mural painted by an artist named Tony “Rubin” Sjöman, who holds a significance in the pair’s relationship. “We were both fans of this artist for some time independently,” Leija explains, noting that the pair has since commissioned a piece from the artist and even inscribed it onto their rings. “His work has taken on a new meaning for us.”

And although O’Connor was able to get the backdrop that he wanted and the photographer who he wanted, the proposal still didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, the restaurant that he had wanted to take Leija to for brunch was already closed as a result of the coronavirus, and social distancing was quickly becoming a standard throughout New York. But, it all worked out for the couple who wore masks for their day out and were photographed by Laura Corinn from six-feet away. O’Connor and Leija even adapted their engagement celebrations to connect with friends and family online.

“We’ve been doing a lot of Facetimes, a lot of conversations and calls, and that’s been the biggest shift,” Leija explains. “Just telling everyone we’re super excited, we can’t wait to share with everyone in person, but it’s just gonna be a little while.”

“I think this gave people some sense of distraction, something to celebrate during a rather turbulent time,” O’Connor adds.

Rubin, the artist whose work played such an important role in the couple’s love story, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that their proposal in front of his mural was “a rare treat in these weird and dark times... It serves as a reminder that love conquers all — even a gnarly virus.”

The news has managed to touch a number of other lives, as well, as the couple posted their engagement announcement on social media including Twitter and Reddit.

“I love some good news,” one person commented on Reddit. Another replied to O’Connor’s tweet, “Thank you for the joy you bring us all by celebrating life.”

Now, O’Connor and Leija are self-quarantining in their Brooklyn home, where they continue to celebrate being fiancé’s while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“It does not surprise me that he was able to pull it off in the knick of time,” Leija says of the proposal. “It was a really pleasant surprise and I think with the state of the way that everything is moving, it had to happen at that time.”

Related: Coronavirus Precautions Put a Damper on Weddings Around the Country

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