After Several False Starts, ‘Sunday Conversations’ Brought Them Closer

When Janine Renae Lee and Janeine LeCorday Spencer met in 2006 at the Chevron Corporation in Concord, Calif., where each had worked, they quickly bonded over their commonality. Both were biracial Black women with a similar given name (though spelled differently, it was pronounced the same).

One day after work, Ms. Spencer invited Ms. Lee to happy hour at a local restaurant, and soon after a friendship evolved.

Ms. Spencer, who identifies as bisexual, was in a polyamorous marriage to a man then, and had one child. She had only moved to the area from Arizona two years before, and was glad to have a new friend.

“Janine basically showed me all of San Francisco,” Ms. Spencer said.

After a year, their feelings for each other began to grow beyond a friendship, but Ms. Lee put any ideas about a future with Ms. Spencer out of her head.

“I needed to protect myself,” Ms. Lee said. “I knew there would never be any growth in this relationship.”

In 2008, Ms. Lee moved to Sacramento and began a relationship with a woman who she said was more emotionally available. Ms. Spencer and her husband had two more children. The two women lost touch.

In 2015, they bumped into each other at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland, Calif., and exchanged phone numbers, but neither called. Ms. Lee sent Ms. Spencer a message on Facebook, but since they weren’t friends, Ms. Spencer didn’t see it until nearly a year later.

By that time, in July 2016, Ms. Spencer was looking to end her marriage of 12 years. When she called Ms. Lee, they spoke as if no time had passed, and began meeting regularly for lunch in Walnut Creek, Calif., where Ms. Spencer lives.

Ms. Spencer, 41, has two associate’s degrees, one from Central Arizona College and one from Berkeley City College. Part Creole and Native American, she is the operations manager of Summa Academy, a special education school in Pleasanton. Part Japanese, Ms. Lee, of Oakland, 40, is a delivery driver for UPS.

Soon they began to open up about the strong feelings they had always had for each other.

“We began speaking more seriously about our future and what that could look like,” Ms. Lee said.

But Ms. Spencer’s life was still complicated and Ms. Lee wasn’t sure she could wait for it to be less so. They stopped talking, and then started again. And then stopped again. And then started again.

Finally, Ms. Spencer left her husband in 2017. They divorced in 2019.

“I could now admit that I was selfish to put Janine through what I did,” Ms. Spencer said. “I didn’t want to lose her again.”

They tentatively began dating in 2017, and their relationship became serious after Ms. Spencer’s divorce. “Sunday conversations” became a mainstay; a time carved out to bring up anything they felt needed airing.

“With her, I found who I should have been in these past years,” Ms. Spencer said. “Janine has helped me find my true self.”

It was during one of these conversations that Ms. Spencer, who had been married twice before, told Ms. Lee: “I want marriage to be on my terms this time. When I ask you, I’ll know I’m ready.”

To celebrate Ms. Lee’s birthday in April 2021, a group of their friends rented a house in San Diego for the weekend, the couple’s first trip since the pandemic. Plans for a proposal during a karaoke night fell through, so Ms. Spencer settled on an impromptu proposal instead.

“No way, you’re not doing this right now,” Ms. Lee said, and started to cry. By the time Ms. Spencer got down on one knee, she was crying, too.

“I got down with her and we hugged,” Ms. Lee said. “And I put the ring on, which didn’t fit.”

They were married Oct. 22 in front of 72 Covid-tested guests at the Oakland Marriott City Center. Nobu Ito, a Universal Life Church minister, officiated. Ms. Spencer plans to take Ms. Lee’s name, and the two plan to eventually move in together.

“With Janeine, I can genuinely be myself and don’t have to be afraid of being judged,” said Ms. Lee. “I feel safe with her.”

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