These Scientists Took the Illogical Route

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Emily Bick was in New York, visiting her parents over the winter holidays in 2014, when the online dating service OkCupid rated her match with Nora Forbes, who was in Minneapolis, at 97 percent.

“The closest I’d ever come before was 70 percent,” said Dr. Bick, who was at the time working for a tree-care company in Minneapolis.

So after Dr. Bick returned, on New Year’s Day 2015, the two met for pizza. They had been exchanging epic-length messages, and Dr. Bick, now 29, thought that at the very least, she had found a terrific correspondent.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to keep this person as a pen-pal forever because these letters are great,’” she said.

Ms. Forbes, also 29 and a biostatistician, turned out to be much more than that. The two found they had not just academic science in common but also interests in sustainable agriculture, in ice-skating and sailing, in careers dedicated to giving back to the world, and in building a family. They talked for hours, and in the next two weeks, had five dates and their first kiss.

Both also planned to begin graduate studies that fall.

“Not in overlapping places at all,” said Ms. Forbes, who had graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and would eventually receive a master’s degree in biostatistics from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Bick, who had graduated from Cornell, was to begin a doctoral program in entomology at the University of California, Davis.

“There was obviously a timer on our relationship,” Ms. Forbes said.

“We both thought we would break up,” Dr. Bick said. “Distance is terrible! We’re logical people! We’re scientists! Let’s not do distance.”

They chose illogical.

“She’s ridiculously caring and thoughtful in a way that really balances my off-the-wall bouncing energies,” Dr. Bick said. “But she doesn’t shut down the idea. She says, OK, how can we make this happen. She gets really into the nitty-gritty and I don’t. I skip over that often.”

“Emily is intensely passionate, deeply intellectual and very caring,” Ms. Forbes said. “She treats me like a partner every single day, and she’s always there to support me, lift me up, push me to reach my potential.”

When Ms. Forbes finished her master’s program in 2017, she moved to Davis, Calif., too. Two years later, on the day that Dr. Bick completed her doctoral degree, she looked up from all her research with a new plan for the future.

“And from that day, she asked me to marry her every single day,” Ms. Forbes said. “They were off the cuff: I can’t wait to marry you. I’m looking forward to marrying you. Do you want to marry me? I realized I had to do something.”

After they moved overseas for the next stages of their academic training at the University of Copenhagen — Ms. Forbes began a doctoral program in computer science, while Dr. Bick started a postdoctoral fellowship in the plant and environmental sciences department — Ms. Forbes found her own moment to propose, during a trip to Lake Como in Northern Italy.

It was February 2020. When the two emerged from their post-engagement bubble, they found that the coronavirus pandemic had arrived in Europe and landed in the next town over from the one they were in.

“Quite a juxtaposition with the honeymoon mood we had been in,” Ms. Forbes said.

On June 25, after postponing their plan to be married in May because of uncertainty about whether Covid-19 vaccinations would be available to all the people they wanted to include, the couple was married at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, N.J., at an event with just nine guests. Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman officiated.

Given how much geographic separation the two endured in the course of their relationship, the togetherness the pandemic mandated after their engagement was less of a hardship.

“It’s not so bad being locked up with your new fiancée,” Ms. Forbes said. “It makes quarantine a bit sweeter when you can be with your sweetheart.”

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