For Montclair Local

Before their first date, Shane Paul Neil and Aliya King had an understanding. They were in this to have fun, not to get remarried. 

It didn't quite work out that way: She's now Aliya King Neil.

King Neil, then a Bloomfield resident, had been using a dating app for a couple of months in the summer of 2019 when she came up with criteria to narrow her options. He had to be athletic, preferably a runner. He had to be a parent but not interested in marriage or in more children. He had to be a creative. Lastly, he had to live within a certain distance of her. She wasn't crossing a bridge to date anyone, she said. 

“So I cinched it down to 2 miles and it was only one match, and he was 1.8 miles away [in Montclair], and here we are,” she said.

Neil’s list was more succinct: She had to be a parent but, more importantly, she had to like him. 

Potential matches for Neil usually left him “chickening out” and deleting the app. But there was something about King Neil that kept him interested.

“I liked the idea of dating but was just really nervous, and then Aliya comes along and the thing I appreciate about her response was it was very declarative,” Neil said. “‘I looked you up. I did my research. We’re going out.’”

Montclair Local checked in with Neil and King Neil in anticipation of Valentine’s Day — to tell their story of a romance that blossomed even amid the hardships and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The beginning

They met for dumplings at a tiny place near Nishuane Park. It was all that Neil could afford at the time, but a nice spot, he said.

King Neil showed up 15 minutes early to avoid her proclivity for being late, and was surprised to find Neil already there. She was to learn that he has a compulsion for always being extra-early.

“Not only was he there, but he was standing on the street in front of the restaurant looking up and down the street like, ‘Where is she?’” King Neil said.

They clicked, to say the least. 

In fact, King Neil worried that things were moving too fast. Neil reassured her, “It is what it is. We’re doing fine.”

King Neil was beginning to picture Neil in her life on an ongoing basis, and that scared her. She realized the non-negotiables that she had set for herself, including not remarrying, needed to be negotiable. By six months, they had moved in together, in an apartment upstairs from the one where King Neil had lived.

“It just started to seem silly that I was going to be calling this dude my boyfriend indefinitely,” King Neil said. 

King Neil found Neil was also a good business partner. He helped her get started with podcasting, something she had wanted to try. Together they hosted the unscripted podcast “Good Talk” where they covered everything from parenting and sex to music and movies (the podcast is currently on hiatus but they hope to get back to it soon). In turn, she coached him in his writing. 

According to Neil, at one point they wondered, “Well, if this goes sideways, do we keep the relationship or the business relationship?” It was decided: They would fire him and keep the relationship.

Life with their children

King Neil is a mother of two daughters, Skye and Mazy, ages 23 and 13. Neil has a 7-year-old son, Cole. Blending their households would take care and they wanted to bring their children gently into the fold.

That fall, King Neil told Mazy about Neil. She asked Mazy to call Neil by his first name, Shane, when they met at an upcoming event. Mazy rebelled, insisting she would call him (randomly) Jonathan.

When King Neil warned Neil, he replied, “It’s not a big deal. I’ll be Jonathan. I’ve been called worse.” Giving Mazy some autonomy in a situation that was beyond her control could only be a good thing, he thought. 

Sure enough, she always greeted him with a cheery “Hi Jonathan!” or “Good morning, Jonathan!”

Neil described it as a game of double Dutch.

“You’re trying to jump in the rope without getting defaced by the rope,” he said. 

King Neil and Neil have learned to respect each other’s parenting styles, and take what they want from each other’s advice. Neil gets asked by King Neil, often by text, “Can I give some advice you didn’t ask for?” He always says yes.

One day in their kitchen, at his own prompting, Neil’s son, Cole, asked King Neil what she would do if his dad asked her to marry him. He reported back to his dad that she would probably say yes. 

The COVID test

Their kids were onboard with the marriage, but the pandemic tested and cemented their relationship. 

They were there for each other when making the tough decision to have their children stay with their exes during lockdown. They were there for each other as they mourned their kids’ absences. After a couple of months, the kids returned to their normal visitation schedules. 

It was time to commit. They had known they wanted a small wedding, but it was the pandemic that forced the issue. 

Neil got the kids involved with picking out a ring. Cole suggested big gaudy rings he found in Google searches.

King Neil and her daughters found three matching dresses in her closet. Neil and Cole’s suits were bought the same day. 

They set the date for Dec. 29, a Tuesday, perhaps not an obvious choice for a wedding day — except in a pandemic, King Neil said. It was the only date her daughter, Skye, was free.

With their three children in attendance, the couple tied the knot in their new home — a house in Montclair.

Together, King Neil’s sister from East Orange and Neil’s brother from Harlem officiated by Zoom.

Skye brought a pound cake.

They came up with their vows during the ceremony. WIth five minutes to prep, Skye and Mazy contributed words on blended families.

Mazy said, “Aunt Mito, from the show ‘Hunter Hunter’ says, “If you want to get to know someone, learn what makes them angry.’

“The wedding was 20 minutes, tops. And we loved it,” King Neil said. 

Except for his birthday and Christmas, when she calls him by his real name, Mazy continues to call her stepdad Jonathan. At this point, it’s “just weird” to be called anything else, Neil said. He hopes to be called Jonathan by his new daughter for the rest of his life.