he first time I met my boyfriend, I felt absolutely nothing. Actually, that’s a lie. I felt irrational anger toward him for showing up to town and (innocently, unwittingly) enabling one of my close guy friends to get back with a toxic ex — just before he was set to fly back to the West Coast and completely avoid the aftermath. I also noticed he had the well-timed wit that all my womanizing exes had shared.
Maybe anger and passion are similar enough emotions…I don’t know. But I do remember that he made me laugh in spite of myself and that a seed of something was planted that night. I didn’t start to fall for him until much later though, through a series of stories my friend Jordan told me about him from when he used to live in Ann Arbor and dated her roommate. I came to recognize his character, emotional intelligence and kindness even later.
After we met, I didn’t see him again in person for a year. Too shy to do anything about it, I didn’t make my interest known for another six months after that. He never made me wait or wonder, though, for the record. Not like all those exes I mentioned. We talked all the time, and he was clear about his feelings from the start — quite a different trajectory than the spark-filled phenomenon I’d replicated many times before him.
Before all this, I’d toyed with a lot of personal theories about “the spark” — whether great love can exist without it, if it was a manufactured product of my anxious attachment system, etc. All I can say now is that I’m no longer convinced of anything at all, except perhaps that love has about a million incarnations.
To get a flavor of the many shades on that spectrum, I asked women in thriving relationships what they felt when they met and started to get to know their current partners. From weird vibes to excitement, easy camaraderie to absolutely nothing, here’s what they told me.
I’d been single for five years when my husband and I met for a blind date on a Sunday night at a hotel bar in L.A. I walked through the lobby and into the bar, sort of looking around for a guy sitting alone, and then in the back room I saw a dark-haired man on a bench looking up at me with sort of a sly look on his face. I was like, WOW, he is way better looking than I expected! I felt instantly relaxed and happy. We ended up talking for over four hours, and he just seemed different than the typical L.A. guy. For one, he was Canadian, and he was almost nine years older and just felt solid and mature — more relationship-minded than a lot of guys I’d met, but not in a weird, clingy way. At the time I was sort of seeing this other guy who was very hot and cold with his attention. After my date, at around midnight, my phone rang. I thought it might be my now-husband calling to say he had a good time, but it was actually the other guy! Something clicked for me in that moment, and I knew I was completely over him and moving on to something better. We fell into a relationship pretty quickly and got engaged two years after that.
Samantha, 47, married for 9 years
I met my husband and his friend, my eventual roommates, the same night. I remember he was nice, welcoming, funny. I felt at ease with him, but there was not even a blip of romantic interest. He was not remotely my type. When we moved in together, we always had really great conversations, though. I started to think, Hmm…maybe? Everything changed when we got drunk one night and made out at a bar. That was the beginning.
Andra, 29, married for 2 years
I feel like people always expect some crazy romantic story from us, but really we met on Tinder. I remember the first picture I ever saw of her perfectly, though. I really did think she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, and I was so excited when we matched and quickly decided to go on a first date. We went to an annual art festival in our city and spent hours walking around and chatting. I thought she was so cool and intriguing, and I wanted to learn everything about her. I also thought she was hilarious and hung onto her every word — which she loves, because she also thinks she’s hilarious. With Allie, things were totally different than anyone else I’d ever dated. I always felt a little bored with other people and often couldn’t wait for dates to end. I felt so attracted to not only her outer beauty but her amazing personality — and it happened almost instantly. I definitely fell fast. But ironically, Allie had no idea. She initially thought I just wanted to be friends and didn’t clue into the fact that I wanted a lot more for a couple dates.
Samantha, 24, together for 4 years
We instantly had not one but two jobs together. We were both in grad school at the time; I had been hired to wait tables at a restaurant and had just gotten a tutoring position at the campus writing center. At orientation for the restaurant job, the guy who was leading it found out I also was going to be tutoring and said, “Well you should meet one of our bartenders. He works at the writing center, too!” So he introduced me to Paul, and I thought it was a cool coincidence but really didn’t think anything else about it. I wasn’t super interested in Paul at first, and he was already dating someone — a girl who was also tutoring, no less! But we had a lot in common with two built-in communities from our two jobs. So we chatted a lot and hung out in groups, sometimes going for drinks. But he was also a big partier at the time, and my general impression was that he kinda needed to grow up. Five years later, he did just that! In the interim, he had dated other women and I had moved to New York. But finally, when I moved back to California, something clicked. I knew we were being flirty, but I was kinda scared to make anything of it; we were working together again at the restaurant, and I didn’t want that to be awkward. I also didn’t want to ruin our friendship. (I know.) But finally I got the nerve up and just asked him out. The rest is history.
Christy, 34, married for 4 years
We met at the library, where he was working at the time. I asked to check out some sheet music to some Broadway musical. I had an inexplicable feeling, as if I knew him — which was not possible, since we’d just met. It’s not that he reminded me of someone else; it was more like I felt we knew one another in a previous incarnation. Crazy, I know…but here we are, happily married 20 years later.
Natalia, 40, married for 20 years
He was wearing this blue button-up, sitting behind his computer at his desk. When I was introduced to him, he just kind of looked at me and barely said anything, while I was being my extra-bubbly self because it was my first day of work. Now I know he’s introverted, but I felt judged! I thought he hated me or was at least totally annoyed by me. Anyway, I thought he was cute, but not like drooling-ly so. I was dating someone else at the time and didn’t really consider his level of cuteness that much. Liking him kind of came out of nowhere, which was cool and different for me compared to other relationships I’ve been in. Ben and I just started hanging out because we liked to do the same things, like play basketball after work until the traffic died down or run to Meijer to buy PB&J supplies versus going out to eat. I really didn’t want to date anyone at all, but it just transitioned into dating all of sudden because he was so easy to get along with! It was effortless. Literally, the least amount of effort to date of anyone else I’ve ever been with. I can’t remember a specific moment where it became romantic. It was more like, we’d have an awesome week of hanging out, and the weekend would show up, and I’d miss him, and then I was like, “Wait, when did this happen?”
Shanley, 25, together for 18 months
We originally met online in 2009, but I friend-zoned him for the next eight years! In February of 2017, he finally told me bluntly that he’d been hinting he was still interested in me for some time. I’d missed all the hints. We arranged to meet up outside a Panera before I had a night out with some friends. When I saw him again, I had this weird feeling that whatever happened between us would be very different than anything I’d ever known in relationships before. We only spent about 15 or 20 minutes together that night, but we hugged before parting ways and when he wrapped his arms around me, I felt like I was in a familiar embrace. Our first official date was the following week. He walked me to my car after dinner and gave me another hug. I knew in that moment that I was already falling in love with him. Our relationship developed more slowly than any other relationship I’ve been in, and yet that gave us a more solid foundation than any other relationship I’ve ever been in. We took our time, carefully considering each step as we moved forward. We are now getting ready to move in together.
Wendy, 39, together for 15 months
I was actually turned off by his braggadocious behavior when we met in a bar in Baltimore, and I was skeptical of his big personality. But we ended up talking the night away with awesome intellectual debates about psychology and mental health. Long story short: We dated, I ended things, we stayed friends, we got back together and now we’ve been together for seven years. I had no idea when we first met what an amazing match he was for me. He would say that he knew when we first met, and I think many of my friends knew early on, but I didn’t understand until years later. Ironically, his big personality is what keeps our relationship so fun and exciting. His confidence extends past himself to belief in both me and our relationship. He’s helped me become more confident, too.
Rebekah, 36, married for 3 years
I first met my now fiancée, Anna, online through OkCupid. It sounds cheesy, but I was immediately drawn to her screen name, which had something about Michigan in the handle. I’m a big Michigan fan, and it’s also the state where we now live together. We chatted online for the better part of a month, as we were both out of town when we connected, and I just remember feeling like, Wow, we have a lot in common and I really hoped we actually meet up. I felt really excited for our first date, but I really didn’t have any expectations. I wasn’t quite in the mindset for a serious relationship at the time, as I’d previously been engaged and it hadn’t worked out, but then I walked into the bar where we were grabbing a drink at together. I felt a connection right away; I immediately felt comfortable in her presence. We quickly dove into easy, meaningful conversation about anything and everything, like Detroit, sexuality, politics, our friends and family, traveling and so on. It was the most meaningful conversation I’d ever had on a date, and before we knew it, three hours had gone by. I remember feeling like I wanted to talk forever and be in her presence, but also a little overwhelmed that I’d met someone I liked so much when I wasn’t expecting it. I also remember entertaining a thought about how it seemed like we were such a good fit! I felt excited but was super nervous about the idea of us turning into something serious; I had never had a thought like that so quickly after meeting someone. It’s been a journey ever since, but a beautiful one with lots of growth. I am so excited to marry her.
Jess, 34, together for 4 years
I met my husband at work while I was living in DC and he was based in New York. During a work trip, our colleague introduced us. He gave me a polite but very short, “Hi, nice to meet you.” I felt absolutely nothing; zero sparks. He was also married at the time, albeit on the rocks (unbeknownst to me). Over the course of the next two years, we both moved to the West Coast, became closer colleagues, collaborated on a lot of work projects and developed a really solid friendship. Fast forward a little bit further and our great work partnership evolved into very clear, strong romantic feelings. After his marriage completely ended, we started dating, moved to New York together and got married. Not at all what I expected, but it’s worked out great.
Amy, 31, married for 1 year
We first met online. I thought she was cute, but she was a super-hippy Hawaii beach girl who overly edited her photos, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel until I met her face to face, which happened when she came to study abroad in London in 2008. As soon as I walked across the bridge from Waterloo station, I spotted her gorgeous, long blonde hair and my heart started to flutter. We instantly hit it off and didn’t stop chatting for hours. Two weeks later, we were officially girlfriend and girlfriend. We both quickly knew that we wanted to marry one another. We’ve conquered four years of long distance between Hawaii and the U.K.; had a civil partnership and “upgraded” to marriage; and will have been together for a decade in October. I’ve never had the same feelings about anyone else that I have for Whitney, and I certainly never had them reciprocated in the same way. We’ve always been on the same page, which has been wonderful.
Megan, 31, together for 10 years
When I first met my husband during Trinidad Carnival in 2006 in a mas costume, there was instant rapport. I immediately felt comfortable with him — and that had never happened before with any other man I’d met. His energy was comforting and familiar, and his being cute probably didn’t hurt either. After dating, talking over the phone continually and traveling to see each other for a few months, we decided to commit. Although we didn’t live in the same city at the time and were a bit leery about starting a long-distance relationship, we decided to give it a shot because the option to not be connected and committed to each other felt empty. From the very beginning of the relationship, we agreed that at the two-year mark, we’d make a decision about relocating to be together. We did exactly that at two years and were married just over a year later.
Esha, 40, married for 8 years
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