Laura Gibson never imagined she would marry a man 18 years her senior, who lived 1,000 miles away, and whom she would meet, of all places, on a karaoke app.
But the outgoing 26-year-old also couldn't have guessed that during her second year at law school she would be bitten by a tick while hanging around a campfire at her family's summer home in New Hampshire and contract a debilitating case of Lyme disease.
Bedridden with seizures and severe fatigue, her young joints stiff with rheumatoid arthritis, Laura couldn't do the things she loved most — socializing, singing, dancing — so she sought refuge in the Sing! Karaoke app by Smule, which is like a musical Facebook that lets users record songs and invite others to join in.
"It saved my life, emotionally," said Laura, who performed in musicals through high school and college. "It's not just about expressing yourself through the arts, it's about connecting with people." And in her case, with one person in particular.
In bed one day at her mom's house in Andover, Mass., in February 2013, Laura was browsing the site when she came across a recording of a guy singing "I Will Survive" in a ridiculous falsetto. Laura, tickled by the silliness, invited him to join a group she had created on the app called Melodics, which presents varied silly singing challenges.
The guy was Jared Delariman, 44, a user experience designer (he designs software and websites to be user-friendly) in Chicago, who for a time had considered pursuing a musical theater career. Jared turned out to be quite useful in answering people's technical questions about the site. So Laura asked him to be an administrator of her group. They started chatting socially on Facebook, then moved the conversation to the phone, where sometimes they would stay talking for six hours.
"I've never been able to talk to someone so easily," Laura said.
Having sung together before they ever spoke, they knew they shared a penchant for quirky songs. Meeting through music also cemented a deeper bond, "like an emotional or spiritual connection," Jared said. The relationship progressed quickly.
Jared was impressed at the energy Laura projected despite her Lyme disease and the magnetism that drew more than a hundred users to her group.
"Instead of moping around, here's a girl who is trying to make everyone laugh," Jared said.
He also found himself feeling protective. One day, when Laura didn't answer her phone for hours, having fallen into an impenetrable sleep through the evening (a symptom of the Lyme), Jared flew into a panic.
"I wanted to call every hospital," he said. They had been talking for less than a month, and they hadn't met in person, but he cared deeply.
He told her over the phone that he loved her. She said she loved him too.
"I've never felt that someone has been there like that for me," Laura said.
They agreed to meet in a month, but Jared got antsy and flew to Boston a few weekends early, surprising her with an embrace from behind when she picked him up from the airport. They stayed up late that night talking for hours.
"It was like two old friends," Jared said.
Laura, who had taken a leave from law school at Massachusetts School of Law because of her illness, visited Jared in Chicago for a week. Then, on June 1, a month after their first visit and less than two months after they first started talking, she moved to Chicago to be with him.
"I had no doubt," Laura said.
"I knew I always wanted to be with her," Jared said.
Though there are 18 years between them, Jared's young spirit and Laura's mature perspective make the age gap almost imperceptible, they say. Some family and friends were skeptical of the sudden move, but Laura figures love like this doesn't come around often.