A long-distance photo share turns into a down-home, real-life love affair.
After two years following each other on Instagram, an Oklahoma City woman asked her British follower to meet on Skype for a cup of tea.
This led to a four-hour date and many more sleep-deprived days for Zitta and Parker Cowans, who married in October. As Parker still lives near London while the couple awaits his U.S. visa, they continue video chatting online over a six-hour time zone difference. The couple also counts down the days until they meet again. Parker is currently visiting Oklahoma during the holidays.
“It’s a huge amount of work and patience and support,” Parker said. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone … but I wouldn’t change this for anything because Zitta is the love of my life.”
Taking an interest
At first, they exchanged platonic comments on Instagram about their interests in music, fashion and art. Over time, Zitta realized she was commenting frequently on Parker’s posts — more so than others.
Without any previous experience in online dating, this pull to his profile caused Zitta to ask him for tea. For Parker, it wasn’t difficult to say yes.
“I had never seen anyone like her,” Parker said. “She is beautiful and unique, and I was drawn into her day-to-day life.”
Both agree they felt something different in their first talk than they had in other relationships. The second date came the following night, and in the coming weeks, they talked every day. The international couple often fell asleep with FaceTime video chat still on.
It wasn’t long before they knew it was time to meet in person.
Parker’s first trip to Oklahoma was in July, a little more than two months after the initial online date.
“When he came to visit me, neither one of us had experienced each other in a social setting,” Zitta said. “I didn’t know if he would fit in or be quiet … but he did fit right in like he had always been here.”
Travis Nance, one of Zitta’s best friends, had already talked with Parker multiple times online. Zitta would “bring” Parker over on her computer to Nance’s home.
“When I finally saw them together, it was like, ‘You spent months apart. You can let go of each other for a few moments,’” Nance joked.
Parker initially had Oklahoma culture shock, as he had never traveled to the Midwest. Large food portions and bigbox stores were an adjustment. On the other hand, he was pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers.
During their walk around Oklahoma City, he asked Zitta if it was normal for shop owners and others to be so friendly.
“I love the complete support for local community and artists,” Parker said.
His good friend, Jessica Hill, helped convince Parker to meet Zitta in her home state.
“When he arranged his first trip, he asked, ‘Am I doing something stupid? Is it ridiculous?’” Hill said. “But it’s the opposite of ridiculous. You don’t just meet someone and click like this so easily.”
More than a crush
After countless hours talking online and the in-person meeting, the couple felt the relationship going in a serious direction.
By September, Parker was back in Oklahoma for the proposal. They went to Las Vegas for their wedding shortly thereafter. While some friends and family don’t understand the relationship, others were supportive.
“When you’re not in the same room, you have to talk meaningfully — or what’s the point?” Nance said. “You can’t have the person-to-person holding hands in silence like couples that date locally.”
Hill adds, “I’ve talked with Zitta, and I fell in love with her, too. I’ll be the saddest person to see him go, but I also only want the best for him.”
Nance, who is licensed to officiate weddings, read the message at their ceremony.
“They had to communicate deeply from the beginning, so now that they’ll be together, I told them if they don’t forget to continue with what got them here, then they’ll be alright,” Nance said.
In November, Zitta took her first trip to the United Kingdom. While the country was new and interesting, Zitta was more interested in normal, day-to-day living with her husband — something that has so far been a luxury in their relationship.
The trip wouldn’t have been possible without the encouragement from Zitta’s friend and wedding photographer, Rob Bennett, to create a GoFundMe online fundraiser for her airline tickets. Family and friends helped pitch in $600. The rest was paid for by UK musician James Leighton (someone Parker worked with in the past). In return, he asked the couple to be in his music video.
“He is an amazing, selfless man, and now Zitta and I have an eternal depiction of her time in England with the video,” Parker said.Waiting from afar
With a visitor’s pass, Parker may only travel to the United States for 90 days total spread among multiple trips over a two-year period. Since Zitta has a young daughter, she can’t make fre quent
trips to Europe. Plus, there’s the expensive cost of travel.
But Parker is using this time to create a blog to share their experiences with other international couples.
They’ve received multiple messages on Instagram asking how they’ve dealt with the visa paperwork and time apart.
“We met a guy in a London bar that said he thought about dating a girl he knows in Pennsylvania, and he was trying to work up the courage to see her,” Zitta said. “Now he sees us as an inspiration.”
Parker knows Zitta is proud of her Oklahoma roots and wants to feel the same way when he arrives.
“Good thing for him, he has people here now, and good thing for us is he’ll be fun to have around,” Nance said.
They’re expecting another three months to a year for the powers that be to finalize the immigration process. While they wait, their story continues with daily posts — many like back-and-forth love notes — on the photo sharing site where it all began.
Follow Zitta and Parker Cowans’ shared account on Instagram @parkerandzitta.
Watch the couple in a music video, “Gemstones in the Wreckage,” by UK-based artist James Leighton: tinyurl.com/jamesleighton.