When Isaac Leon Archuleta and Joseph Daniel Jones reconnected after four years apart, they learned that a breakup can actually be a gift. From 2010 to 2014, they were in an on-and-off relationship, wrestling with issues that could only be reconciled with time and space. Then, they broke up for good.
In the four years that followed, they learned more about themselves and worked on the personal matters that had caused them to split up. They then came back into each other’s lives in 2018, healed and ready for a healthy life together.
Those issues were prominent on Mr. Archuleta’s end. He had grown up in a religious Christian household, and during their first four years together, he was still in the process of unraveling internalized homophobia, even going to conversion therapy from 2003 to 2009.
In 2009, he started a master’s program in mental health counseling at Denver Seminary and read psychological research on the probability that sexuality can change. “I just became academically convinced I was beating my head against a wall,” Mr. Archuleta said.
At the same time, he started researching queer Christian culture, and he discovered a large, thriving community. In January 2010, he started going to Highlands Church in Denver, a nondenominational evangelical church that is L.G.B.T.Q. affirming. That’s when he met Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones, 37, had been raised in a Catholic family in Colorado Springs and was “reconnecting with the church,” he said. “I missed the spiritual connection,” he added, but didn’t want to return to a “Catholic church where I couldn’t fully, openly be myself.”
Mr. Archuleta, 39, is a self-proclaimed “chatty Cathy” and the son of pastors. After a Sunday service in February 2010, he stayed behind at church to talk with other queer Christians. When he saw Mr. Jones, Mr. Archuleta thought, “Wow, he’s really handsome.”
He quickly ended the conversation with the person he was talking to and approached Mr. Jones to introduce himself: “Hi, I’m Isaac. Nice to meet you. Are you new to the church?”
Mr. Jones assumed he was part of a welcoming committee. “Clearly he’s paid to be the guy to go be nice to people,” he recalled thinking.
After a short conversation, Mr. Archuleta wrote his phone number down on a piece of paper and handed it to him. Mr. Jones never dialed the number, but they saw each other the next weekend at Highlands Church. After the service, they went out to lunch at Chipotle with a third friend.
Two weeks after they met, in March 2010, Mr. Archuleta asked Mr. Jones out to a lunch date and organized a picnic. He picked up Mr. Jones from his office during his lunch break and took him to City Park, where they snacked on meats, cheeses and San Pellegrino.
They bonded about returning to the church with a refreshed mind-set, surrounded by other queer Christians. “I got to know him a little bit more and understand where he’s coming from, and that he wasn’t the welcoming committee and that he is actually in a very similar space to me,” Mr. Jones said. He got excited about Mr. Archuleta as a dating prospect.
“I’ve never been treated so nicely and cared for and served in such a special way,” Mr. Jones said.
In January 2011, they moved in together to a new apartment in Denver. They were a closeted couple: romantic at home, but roommates to everyone outside. And with Mr. Archuleta still early on in his self-love journey, their relationship was a sore waiting to fester.
“I wanted to be out,” Mr. Archuleta said, “but also, it was like, ‘How do I throw away my connections with my family? How do I throw away my entire upbringing and my religious home?’ And I think that haunted us.”
“I totally loved him,” he added. “But I couldn’t let myself fully be present in that relationship because I was always afraid.”
Mr. Archuleta’s internal battle was detrimental to their relationship. Some days, Mr. Archuleta would question his identity again and distance himself from Mr. Jones.
“It was really challenging for me,” Mr. Jones said, “and I think any other person probably would have walked away.”
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In December 2011, Mr. Archuleta moved out of their apartment, though they continued to see each other on and off.
“Over time, that started to become very taxing on both of us,” Mr. Jones said. “We started to be off cycle, off sync.” When Mr. Archuleta was ready to recommit, Mr. Jones would be too frustrated with his wishy-washiness; when Mr. Jones overcame his frustrations and was ready to recommit, Mr. Archuleta would once again have doubts about his identity.
This went on until July 2014, when they went on a vacation to Spain. Five days before the trip, Mr. Jones fell off a motor scooter and broke his ankle. His doctor recommended that he stay in the States for surgery, but he went to Spain regardless, limping around the country with a broken ankle.
“It was frustrating for everyone involved,” he said. “The broken ankle was a metaphor for the relationship in general breaking.”
The morning after they returned to Denver, Mr. Jones underwent surgery. The day after that, Mr. Archuleta came over to his apartment, and they ended the relationship there. “Then it was complete radio silence,” Mr. Jones said.
Three years later, in 2017, Mr. Archuleta’s nina, or godmother, died. At this point, he was out, and he was no longer hiding. He was an executive director of Q Christian Fellowship, a nonprofit organization that serves L.G.B.T.Q. Christians. He is also the founder and clinical director of Iamclinic, which helps L.G.B.T.Q. people and their religious parents create healthy relationships.
“I was in this season of really centering my life again,” he said. “In that moment, I said, ‘Who do I want in my life? I’m not willing to lose anyone like this again.’”
He was planning on reaching out to Mr. Jones. On Thanksgiving, his niece, Madison, accelerated the process when she got a hold of his phone and texted Mr. Jones: “Hi, happy Thanksgiving.” She was 8 years old at the time, and she had known Mr. Jones when they had been in a relationship.
Mr. Jones responded immediately: “Happy Thanksgiving, hope you’re well.”
The following morning, Mr. Archuleta realized what happened and apologized, explaining that his niece had sent the text. Mr. Jones responded: “I’m not comfortable with texting. I think we need to email for a while.” They emailed from November 2017 to February 2018, catching up and easing back into each other’s lives.
In February 2018, they went on their second first date — eight years after their first one. They had dinner at Osteria Marco in Denver, and then went to an arcade. “I was incredibly nervous,” Mr. Jones said. “How many times can one person put their heart on the line only to be dashed?” he recalled thinking.
But they quickly got comfortable with each other again, holding hands at the arcade, and gradually falling in love again over the subsequent weeks.
“We were kiddie, playful and bouncing all over Denver enjoying one another’s company,” Mr. Archuleta said.
In April, Mr. Jones moved into Mr. Archuleta’s apartment. And in October 2020, they bought their first house together.
Mr. Archuleta graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Mr. Jones is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications at Auraria Campus in Denver. He is an executive assistant at KeyBank.
In July 2022, Mr. Archuleta proposed to Mr. Jones at Cheesman Park in Denver, under a tree with limbs that touch the ground, forming a canopy-like structure. There, Mr. Archuleta set up a television screen that played a video he had made about their relationship. He got down on one knee, and 15 of Mr. Jones’s closest friends and family members came out of hiding, hollering, shouting and scaring Mr. Jones “half to death,” Mr. Archuleta said.
A month later, Mr. Jones proposed with a rose gold ring that was made from copper scrap from the Statue of Liberty as well as some of Mr. Archuleta’s godmother’s ashes. Mr. Jones gathered Mr. Archuleta’s friends and family together at Union Station. Mr. Archuleta was on a train headed to that station, and when the train pulled into the station, everyone fired cannons of confetti.
“The whole terminal was covered in blue and pink,” Mr. Archuleta said. They had brunch afterward, and then the couple went straight to the airport for a trip to New York for Mr. Archuleta’s 39th birthday weekend.
On May 6, the couple were wed at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm in Albuquerque by Miranda Odom, an ordained minister of the Universalist Church of America who was also Mr. Archuleta’s middle school teacher.
“There was just this huge portion of my life where the way that I loved was the source of my self-hatred,” Mr. Archuleta said. “The theme in my heart that day was: ‘We made it here. We made it.’”
On This Day
When May 6, 2023
Where Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, Albuquerque
‘Can You Imagine Getting Married Here?’ The couple made a midway stop at the venue each time they drove from Denver to Mr. Archuleta’s sister’s home in Arizona. “It’s a very, very special place,” Mr. Archuleta said. “I would always tell jokes: ‘Can you imagine getting married here?’” Mr. Jones secretly entered a lottery to get married at the resort, and he managed to win a slot.
Something Blue Mr. Archuleta’s godmother’s son died six weeks before the wedding. His sisters gave Mr. Archuleta his watch, which had a blue face. “My nina was in my ring and my cousin was on my wrist,” Mr. Archuleta said.
Silent Procession During the ceremony, all 40 guests joined the couple in their procession while Mr. Jones’s father, Tony Jones, told the story of their relationship. (Mr. Archuleta’s mother, Deborah Archuleta, who has come to accept and support her son’s identity, was also present, as was Mr. Jones’s mother, Helen Amburn-Jones.) Once he reached the point in the story where the couple had a four-year break, they all walked to the garden in silence. Guests took their seats, and the couple walked to the altar. Mr. Jones’s father then resumed the story. “It was reminiscent of a ceremony you might see during Easter to symbolize our history,” Mr. Archuleta said.