It was like a first date, but not.
Instead of matching on a dating app that I mindlessly scrolled through at a bar while ignoring my friends, Sally and I met through the comments section of a blog (“Sunday Scaries,” as it was titled), which hardly any of my friends knew I created. Rather than showing up 10 minutes early to the restaurant to have a glass of wine to cool my nerves, I sat at a kitchen island wondering if I’d already had too much to drink. And instead of listening to the My Girl soundtrack while putting pomade in my hair over my bathroom sink, well, I listened to the My Girl soundtrack while sitting at the island.
Nothing can prepare you for it: that moment you see your iPad light up; the signal you’re finally about to come face-to-face, digitally-speaking, with the person you’ve only known through Instagram deep-dives and Google searches where you pray for no history of arrest warrants. You know what she looks like, but you don’t know the intricacies of her facial expressions, the tone of her voice, or the rapport you’ll have once that FaceTime actually connects.
We lived 1,500 miles apart. Since meeting in person wasn’t plausible, this was our best option. We weren’t going to bump into one another in a coffee shop by chance. It was either FaceTime or get back to reality.
Meeting someone through digital communication isn’t a rarity, but in the same way our parents filled out their dance cards ahead of socials, we’ve become accustomed to starting our relationships by sending, “Heyyy” (the more Ys, the more you’re interested, of course) and waiting for three dots to appear. These days, everyone around us has his or her own version of a modern-day You’ve Got Mail story. In this circumstance, though, fate may have been a little more on my side than Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly. And Joe’s Golden Retriever, Brinkley – we can never forget Brinkley.
For us, it began with a DM. Not like how club promoters direct message models with 10K+ followers on Instagram to offer them bottle service, but rather, Okay, how many times can we respond to each other’s tweets before one of us finally makes the move. There’s an unexplainable way of knowing someone is flirting with you online, but there’s definitely a way.
In the following days of that message, there were a lot of questions I asked myself outside of, “What’s taking her so long to respond this time?” You can say you’re not “playing the game,” but everyone is playing the game. Said questions ranged from, “Why am I getting feelings for someone who lives in a city I’ll likely never live in?” to “Okay, at what point are we just going to exchange phone numbers so I can get off Twitter?” Both understandable, but one of which loomed heavier than the other.
It wasn’t until the drunk, late-Saturday night FaceTime that we actually both realized we should probably be honest with ourselves about what we’re doing. Much like you might need an extra vodka soda in order to muster up the courage to talk to someone across the bar, I needed about four of them to become honest with myself and accept the initial call with a hesitant index finger and a fully-charged iPad. A call that lasted three hours. A call that only amplified the questions already weighing on me. A call that was more difficult to shake than the hangover I’d encounter the next morning when I woke up to a dog licking my face and a dead iPad on the nightstand. No, it was not a Golden Retriever. That would’ve been too convenient.
They don’t call it “falling” for someone because it feels painless – they call it that because while it’s happening, you don’t know how the land will actually feel. Much like dropping your iPhone onto a curb, it can either be picked up surprisingly fine or completely shattered. And when you’re thousands of miles away working a job and blogging freelance in your spare time, you don’t exactly have the faith in the situation that you’d have if they’re just a 3 a.m. “whatt are yuo doing rn” text away. Distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder when the distance feels insurmountable.
It wasn’t until I was working a random Saturday that my phone lit up. I was sitting at my desk trying to find words to describe a vintage lamp my boss had recently purchased. I think it was made out of a French wallpaper roller, but I’m not sure. The call wasn’t from her, but from someone who was about to offer me a job I never really applied for. It was for the company where I freelanced as a writer, based out of the city where she grew up. While getting your dream job offer should be exciting, the realization that you’re about to move within striking distance of the person you’ve been having seemingly pointless four-hour phone conversations and FaceTimes with is downright debilitating.
“There are a lot of catfish in the sea,” I thought to myself on numerous occasions. I mean, I had originally messaged her because we were supposed to be in Las Vegas for bachelor and bachelorette parties over the same weekend. But when I had to bow out at the last minute for obligations out of my control, it felt as though fate wasn’t actually on my side anymore. This made sense considering the situation we’d both put ourselves in. You know, that whole falling-for-someone-you-met-on-Twitter-who-lives-in-a-different-time-zone situation. It wasn’t until I signed the PDF contract sent to me a week later that we actually had to have our uncomfortable, “Soooooooo, what now?” discussion.
The feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize you’re going to meet the person you’ve been fantasizing about is unlike any feeling you get before your Uber drops you off outside the bar where you decided to meet during a Bumble exchange the night before. Yes, you’re going to go on a “real” first date, but you’ve already built a non-physical relationship with this person by telling them your favorite type of cheese and fruit and baseball team in-between playing the “36 Questions That Lead to Love” New York Times game during a 2 a.m. FaceTime. Too distracted by staring into a screen to drink the glass of Cabernet you poured earlier in the night, you imagine how much easier it would be to be in a bar, people-watching and laughing at other awkward first dates. Now, we found ourselves being that awkward couple.
Normally, seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar city is a welcoming feeling. In this case, though, it was enough to justify putting on another layer of prescription-strength Dove deodorant and wishing I had that glass of wine I didn’t finish a month prior to moving. When I finally watched her get out of her car to pick me up, only to greet me with a side-hug and her sunglasses on, well, it made me re-think ever accepting that first night’s drunken FaceTime in the first place. Side-hugs give you the same feeling as when your middle school crush held you arm’s length apart during “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls during the last dance rather than resting her head on your shoulder and ignoring the fact that you’re stepping on her feet.
But as you have to do sometimes in life, you let the situation take control and see where it lands you. She ordered us lunch while judging me for wearing croakies, and I ordered the cocktails while wondering, “Who the hell wears a camouflage shirt on a first date?” Natural instincts for two people meeting for the first time, but unnatural feelings for two people who have “known” each other for the better part of two months.
When we said goodbye, she made the monumental leap from “side-hug” to “normal hug” only to race back to her sisters and tell them she never wanted to see me again. Somehow, some way, I convinced her through texts to have a dimly lit dinner with me that night. Sure, I think she invited another couple along to break the ice and make sure I wasn’t an axe murderer from Michigan, but we had dinner nonetheless.
Two-and-a-half years later, we’ve known what the other person has had for dinner every night since. Both with and without our dog who has a similar name to Brinkley.
I remember how it began, but I undoubtedly romanticize it more than the romance each of us felt at the beginning. “Fate” is a convenient label to give something when all the pieces have already fallen into place. Luckily for us, they have. Not in the You’ve Got Mail-kind of way, but in a When-I-Met-Sally kind of way. You know, minus the fake orgasm while she ordered her lunch.