By the time we finally met, I already knew I loved him.
It was 5:00AM on a Saturday in January, and I’d just taken a red-eye to New York from California. As I entered the baggage claim area, my eyes went straight to his. I dropped my bag on the floor and threw my arms around him before either of us could say a word—the first true romantic cliché in an otherwise anomalous relationship. For a moment, we just stared at each other. Then, we kissed.
We found a quiet place to catch our breath and sunk to the ground, our backs to the wall. I wondered if my heartbeat was visible through my shirt. As we sat, he read a letter I wrote to him the day before. I ate an orange he brought because he knew I had a cold. We held hands and my fingertips tingled, as though they were waking after years of sleep.
I booked the trip just a week before, after a particularly giggly FaceTime session. We were both drunk in different cities; he was in Nashville with friends for a wedding and I had some whiskey in the bath. Our shared achiness was growing and suddenly I couldn’t wait any longer. I craved a tangible memory of him. It’s an odd thing to feel so deeply for someone you’ve never touched.
I sent a text that read, “Just a hypothetical….If I came to New York next weekend, would that be okay?”
He answered quickly, with a series of capital letters and exclamation marks. My heartbeat quickened when he asked if I was serious; I was, and I was also seriously nervous. I clicked on “confirm tickets” before I could recoil from my own insecurities, and (a total surprise to me) felt them melt the second I did. His friends snapped a picture of him in exactly that moment; he was smiling, shocked and excited, with his hand over his face. I was tagged in the photo on Instagram, another moment we got to share without being physically present.
The first time we had talked was in August. We shared mutual friends and I’d seen his commentary on some of their Facebook threads. When I read his words I always found myself laughing or nodding along, so when the Facebook gods put one of his own posts on my feed (“Why men should change their last name when they get married”), I liked it. It’s silly, but it felt like a bold move; it was the complete antithesis of my typical Internet decorum. When a friend request and a message from him popped up on my screen shortly after, my palms became sweaty.
We spent the fall months messaging each other constantly. We mostly avoided talk about our daily lives and focused instead on the things that really mattered to us: we sent each other book recommendations, discussed articles about women’s issues and how a patriarchal society affects men, processed the on-going events in Ferguson, and shared the occasional Internet meme. We’d start talking at dinnertime and I’d find myself smiling in bed as my phone continued to light up, hours later.
The gap between serious topics and ridiculous puns about dessert was seamlessly traversed between us; the heaviest things still felt light, and everything fun felt important. Something within me shifted. I knew that I deserved a relationship like this, that I deserved to be with an intellectual and emotional match, but the distance made it seem improbable.
Then in September, I was in a car accident. Though we had previously only talked to each other under the pretense of sharing information, he was the first person I wanted to reach out to. This urge took me by surprise; I was sitting on the side of the road, crying over my car’s sudden resemblance to a crushed can of beer, and I found myself wondering why I missed a virtual stranger.
Yet, he wasn’t. Though we’d never met, we’d already built a strong friendship, and I knew he would respond with the calming energy that I needed. I sent him a message from the side of the road and he said he was there for me, “as much as the distance would allow.”
What started as messages on Facebook soon became hours-long conversations on FaceTime. The first time we spoke in this way we compared Myers-Briggs personalities (I’m an INFJ and he’s an ENFP). We went through the in-depth analysis of each of these types from the 16 Personalities site, and bypassed the relationship compatibility section on purpose. I think we were both hesitant to say out loud what we already knew to be true.
Though it turned out that we had both begun to feel heart-flutters simultaneously, neither of us acknowledged it for months. When we talked about our burgeoning friendship, we tip-toed carefully around the words we wanted to say. We sent pictures of awards we’d drawn for each other on Post-Its, ribbons that said, “Favorite New Friend 2014!” and “Best At Harry Potter Puns!” A collaborative playlist began on Spotify, including some songs that were suggestive of our feelings (and other songs as red herrings). We communicated in the language of Seinfeld references, testing the depth of each other’s devotion to the series. I realized that I could tell when he was smiling through a text message; I could also tell when he was smirking.
We had finally admitted our feelings over the phone in December and I was lit up by the implied possibility. I had hoped to know someone like him, and felt both calmed and energized by the idea of becoming his partner. He has standards for himself and the people he loves, and he knows how to motivate without being pushy. I had been feeling like I’d never graduate, and through his encouragement found the fortitude to register for an overload schedule. My writing had taken a backseat as I’d gotten bogged down in daily stresses, and I was suddenly inspired again. I felt that his sheer presence in my life was a force. When he told me the effect of our connection was mutual, I felt powerful.
We talked about what we wanted from our relationship—how we want to encourage our individual interests and pursuits, and to never be greedy about each other’s time. We were as excited about future nights together holed up with Netflix as we were about catching up after busy days spent apart. We decided to always allow the space to go through things, which sometimes means sitting in silence together, and other times it means crying, or laughing, or venting.
Our love lexicon expanded quickly, in a way unique to our distance. When there is no space to express affection physically, creativity becomes a necessary vehicle. He mailed me three letters and I took them to a park to read in the sunshine; I sent him a picture of the letter in my hands, and cried while reading his New Years resolutions. My tears dotted the ink. I sent him some love notes and a jar full of miniatures that made me think of him; he sent me a picture of a tiny mirror and lantern arranged on his dresser. I liked the idea that a part of me was there with him.
Just after New Years, I drove down to San Diego for an all-day hike with some of our mutual friends. When he read to me on the phone the entire drive home (and for fifteen minutes after—I didn’t tell him I was home until I had already climbed into bed), I knew I was falling in love.
There’s this story about a lonely blue whale somewhere in the Pacific. He communicates at a range of 52 Hz, much higher than the 17 Hz of his peers; no matter what he says, or how hard he tries, the other whales can’t hear him. I have often felt like my whale songs go unheard, and Dane had been someone with whom I shared a frequency.
Our days together in New York confirmed this; we immediately fell into each other, and found that while it was easy to anticipate each other’s movements, we were also constantly and pleasantly surprised. We walked around and people-watched. We had dinner with some of his closest friends and learned how to play cribbage. We saw Selma, and after we cried together in the dark of the theater, we ate pizza under fluorescent lights and made each other smile again. His roommate caught us kissing outside their apartment in the rain, and I’d never felt so happy to be embarrassed.
While we agree that the term “other half” is ridiculous, the term “other whole” fits us perfectly. We ask questions, we think deeply, we are honest about our conclusions. He likes to say that we activate the potential within each other—that the energy and ideas we discover already exist somewhere within us as individuals, and that they are simply coaxed out through our interactions. I like to talk about love as a verb, rather than a fixed state of being—I believe that it is a constant, transformative process, and that we must take an active role to nurture the love in our lives. We are both right.
Our short time together felt incredibly full, and on the way back to the airport we shared a set of earbuds and listened to our playlist together. There was no need to speak; we just wanted to process our time and share space for a little bit longer. Our goodbye at the airport was short and sweet, the “see you later” of two people sure that they would.
(Photos via author)