Article

Making a Name of Their Own

In April 2018, Erik Simpanen was a graduate student at Brown living in Providence, R.I., when he swiped right on the dating app the League. He matched with Lloyd Mullings, a graduate student at Boston College Law School who swiped in the same direction. Mr. Simpanen had recently ended a two-year long relationship. Mr. Mullings, who lived in Boston, was newly single, too.

Texting followed. A week later Mr. Simpanen (left) arrived in Boston to stay with a friend and watch the marathon. The two decided to meet his first night there at Barcelona, a local wine bar. Expectations were exceeded. Additional drinks were had at a beer garden a few blocks away. Then a kiss was shared.

“It was a tiny peck on the lips — in that moment it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” said Mr. Simpanen, 28, a project coordinator at the Brown School of Public Health, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies in Providence. “He was unlike anyone I’d ever met.”

A second date happened the following evening at Mr. Mullings’s apartment. Chinese food was ordered. Mr. Simpanen spent the night, then drove home only to return to Boston that weekend for a third date.

“My dad found my mom at 27, so I had this internal clock where I was measuring myself up against him,” said Mr. Mullings, 30, who had gone on almost 40 different dates in a six-month period by the time he met Mr. Simpanen. “I knew this was it. The second date I saw it, the third date I let myself believe it.”

In May, the couple decided to be exclusive. In July, Mr. Mullings, who at 23 had enlisted in the Army Reserve, received orders to serve in Kuwait for nine months. Mr. Mullings broke the news over lunch.

“I was scared he would want to put our relationship on hold,” Mr. Mullings said. “A reasonable person would. Erik’s sentiment was, ‘We’ll deal with it together.’ It made me feel I’d won the lottery.”

During their courtship the pair talked about changing their last name to something they could share as their own. On route to the airport, as both felt the sadness from the inevitable goodbye, Mr. Mullings came up with “Ocean.”

“The minute Lloyd said it, it stuck,” Mr. Simpanen said. “It represented everything we love about water and who we are. Neither of us wanted to take the other person’s name. We tried blending our names together, but it sounded terrible.”

While apart, daily texts were exchanged. Handwritten letters were sent. Gifts arrived monthly.

In late August 2019, Mr. Mulling returned. In October, he moved to New York to work as an incoming associate at the law firm Goodwin Proctor. The two were in different states, again, and the weekly commuting took a toll. Mr. Mullings managed to transfer to the firm’s Boston location. A week after he moved back to Providence, Covid-19 hit and their trip to Spain, where Mr. Mullings planned to propose, was canceled. Instead, the pair went to Newport, R.I., in July and took a private boat tour.

“Lloyd got down on one knee and started speaking in Spanish. I’m fluent; he’s self-taught so it was pretty impressive,” Mr. Simpanen said.

In August, Mr. Simpanen applied to change his last name to Ocean, a necessary step for one person to do before a marriage certificate is issued. (Mr. Mullings planned to change his name through marriage.)

On Sept. 26, Mr. Simpanen and Mr. Mullings exchanged vows at India Point Park in Providence, R.I., before 14 family members and friends. Mr. Simpanen’s mother, Judy Lynn Simpanen, led the ceremony.

“My Social Security card hadn’t arrived so it wasn’t legal,” Mr. Simpanen said.

Documentation of Mr. Simpanen’s new surname was needed from the Social Security Administration before the couple could receive a marriage license with his new last name. The license would then be used by Mr. Mullings to change his name to Ocean.

On Oct. 8, after the new card finally arrived, a legally binding ceremony took place at City Hall in Providence. It was also led by Ms. Simpanen, who was ordained for the occasion by the Universal Life Church.

“No matter what happens he will be by my side,” said Mr. Mullings, who is currently waiting for his name change verification. “If I could bottle that feeling that would be incredible.”

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