A Love as Old as AOL Instant Messenger

Gillian Stoss first spotted Zach Lent 16 years ago at a basketball championship. The team from her elementary school, St. Brendan Parish School in San Francisco, was competing against Mr. Lent’s team from the city’s Star of the Sea School.

Liking what she saw, Ms. Stoss asked a friend who went to Mr. Lent’s school for an introduction. The two eighth-graders then began chatting. It was 2005, so AOL Instant Messenger was their platform of choice. They discovered they had grown up about three miles apart and started dating.

In the early years, Ms. Stoss said her friends told her, “You need to date more,” meaning other people. Her mother called Mr. Lent “her friend that’s a boy” rather than her boyfriend. In high school, they endured a series of hardships. Mr. Lent’s mother was diagnosed with cancer for the third time when he was a sophomore and Ms. Stoss’s father passed away when she was a senior. Her grandfather died six months later.

Ms. Stoss, who aspired to play collegiate soccer, also suffered several concussions in high school. After her third — all sustained on the soccer field — she couldn’t play anymore and fell into a depression, she said.

“I was having regular migraines and was hooked up to an I.V.,” Ms. Stoss said. “Zach was my rock. I lost a lot of friends as I had this invisible pain, but Zach was there every step of the way and helped me get through that dark time.”

Mr. Lent said the challenges they faced in high school deepened their relationship. “When it began, we both thought of it as a social thing,” he said. “But then we realized we were actually really good support for each other and our love kindled from there.”

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Ms. Stoss enrolled in Saint Mary’s College of California, where Mr. Lent transferred after completing two years at San Jose State University. They both graduated in 2013, she in September and he in December. Unlike many high school sweethearts, though, they were in no rush to get married or even live together. “Gillian hadn’t found a career yet, and I wanted to see her do that,” Mr. Lent said.

In 2014, they moved into an apartment together in San Francisco’s Sunset district, where Ms. Stoss grew up. In 2018, she received a master’s degree in nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif.

Ms. Stoss, 30, now works as a registered nurse and a manager of care coordination at Sutter Health, a health care company in San Francisco. Mr. Lent, also 30, is an account manager at Collective Health, a San Francisco-based health care technology company.

In August 2018, Mr. Lent planned a proposal that began with a picnic at Kirby Cove, a spot within the Marin Headlands where the Golden Gate Bridge is in view. The couple were watching Ms. Stoss’s mother’s dog and, when they arrived, a “no dogs allowed” sign threw Mr. Lent off. They ended up eating the sandwiches on the side of the road. Later that day, Mr. Lent proposed at Baker Beach, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

They planned to marry in October 2020, six months after moving into a bigger house and adopting a German shepherd named Hogan, but postponed because of the coronavirus. On Oct. 2, the couple were wed in front of 67 fully vaccinated guests at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa in Monterey, Calif. Lauren Snead, a celebrant ordained by the Universal Life Church, officiated.

As part of the ceremony, Ms. Snead had the couple put letters they wrote to each other the night before the wedding in a box with a bottle of wine, to be opened in five years’ time. They are to repeat the ritual every five years.

“Zach will always be my cheerleader and puts me on a pedestal, even though I don’t think I’m supposed to be up there,” Ms. Stoss said.

“We developed such a strong bond at such a young age,” Mr. Lent said. “It’s another level of powerful than just love.”