This Modern Love Episode Is Based On The Founder Of Hinge’s Real Love Saga

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Not all love stories follow a straight path— in fact, most don’t. It’s rare to hear about a journey as complicated, public, and meta as the one in Deborah Copaken’s 2015 Modern Love essay, “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist,” which was recently turned into an episode of Amazon Prime’s Modern Love series.
This story begins with Copaken, a writer and producer, writing a profile on Hinge founder Justin McLeod, the founder of Hinge, for Cafe.com. McLeod was 30 at the time. Hinge, which is based on the idea of meeting partners through friends, had yet to become the dating app behemoth it is today. 
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Nearing the end of the interview, Copaken asks a question that transforms the piece from a straightforward interview into a meditation on bold chances and lost love. Copaken asks if McLeod had ever been in love. “‘Yes, but I did not recognize it until it was too late,’” he responds. McLeod proceeds to tell her a tale of his former love, Katie Stern, now engaged to someone else. 
“[McLeod’s story] is so beautiful and tragic, so full of twists and turns that should have gone one way but went another, by the end of his narrative, I’m crying, too. She’s his Rosebud, it hits me: the raison d’être for his empire,” Copaken writes in the piece. After this moment of intimacy, Copaken tells McLeod an equally wrenching love story. 
Neither story ends there; the interview inspires McLeod to change his life. 
In the Modern Love column, Copaken describes what happens after. Now, McLeod and Copaken’s romantic saga is getting a screen treatment. Dev Patel plays dating app founder, and Caitlin McGee is his lost love. Catherine Keener is the journalist, and Andy Garcia is the man she met in Paris as a young woman. 
Here’s where the real people are now. 
PHoto: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images.
Where are Justin McLeod & Katie Stern now? 
The real story is a bit different than what’s in the Modern Love episode. Stern and McLeod met in college, not during an interview. But McLeod’s problems with substance abuse made the relationship tumultuous. They broke up and eight years later, she was living abroad and engaged to a man she met on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs.  
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Copaken encouraged McLeod to get in touch with her.  “If you still love her,” Copaken writes in the essay, “and she’s not yet married, you have to tell her. Now. You don’t want to wake up in 20 years and regret your silence. But you can’t do it by email or Facebook. You actually have to show up in person and be willing to have the door slammed in your face.”
Three months later, McLeod and Copaken met up again. This time, he brought Stern along. 
In the intervening months, McLeod flew to see Stern in Zurich. Within hours, Stern broke up with her fiancé, whom she was due to marry in a month. By the time they met Copaken in the cafe, Stern and McLeod were already living together. 
In 2019, 14 years after meeting, McLeod married Stern in a small ceremony in Colorado. 
McLeod is still a hopeless romantic. “It’s true that there’s endless possibilities now,” he told Vogue in 2019. “But that only makes it more romantic to commit. It used to be that people got married by default. It’s actually really courageous to settle down in 2019, to choose a specific person and hold onto them.”
Where is Deborah Copaken now? 
Copaken’s half of the story is equally gripping. When she was 22, Copaken moved to Paris to become a war photographer (really!). While on vacation in the Caribbean, she met a senior in college studying Shakespeare. They fell in love quickly, but then Copaken left to cover the Soviet-Afghan War (read her memoir Shutterbabe for more details).  
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After returning from the war, the two were due to reunite in Paris, but the man never showed up at her apartment. A heartbroken Copaken tried to move on from their open-ended parting. She got married to the next man she dated.  
Two decades later, they reconnected. Copaken learned that he had flown to Paris — but lost the piece of paper with her address. 
Currently, Copaken is living with her partner in Brooklyn. She’s a writer on the upcoming show Emily in Paris, and her new memoir, Ladyparts, about the dissolution of her marriage and her own rebuilding of a life, is coming out in 2019. 
Naturally, she was present at McLeod and Stern's elopement. 
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