A Year Together, Apart: Dating Long Distance

            I’m a firm believer in threads, quirks of fate, and chance. I also think we make decisions that put us where we are for those things to happen (or keep us there). I’ve written about my Tinder Passport exploits that led to me hopping around various countries to escape the boredom of a world under lockdown in 2020. I expected to match with people; I didn’t expect to date anyone, or to still be dating them a year later. Enter: Soleil, an Australian writer who loves movies, board games, traveling, indie music—and me.

            Could we have predicted that an American-Kiwi and an Australian would match on Tinder in September of 2020, go on their first virtual date at the beginning of October, and still be going strong in 2021? No. Yet, here we are, 49* dates later, major holidays celebrated, continuing to navigate life during an international pandemic, figuring out our own lives and how we can (fingers crossed) meet someday soon.

            I try not to write about my romantic interests (as much) on the blog anymore, but he’s become such a part of my life that not mentioning his involvement would feel like an omission or not writing at all. So Soleil has snuck into previous posts without ever truly being the focus of the writing. For the anniversary of our first date, which does fall in OcTerror so I’m posting a little early, I wanted to give him some proper attention.

            On our first date I wore a blue summer dress from Old Navy I’d thrifted and a gray cardigan. My hair had been recently-dyed green. Even though it was virtual, I was still nervous because it was my first date in a long time and I was interested enough to care. I sent a pre-date selfie to my friends who told me I looked beautiful and pumped me up. The date itself got slightly delayed on his end, and I’ll be honest that dating horror stories were running through my mind. Part of me wanted to write it off then and there. I was convinced it was a manipulation tactic or that he was lying somehow; I scrolled on TikTok instead and calmed down. And the date went well (obviously). We talked for a few hours about anything and everything—movies, favorite colors, family, writing—and I was immediately hopeful for another one.

            Or 48 more. Over the course of the past year, we’ve: watched thirteen movies, the season finale of WandaVision, and most of Loki; cooked three meals; played a lot of board games (my abilities at 7 Wonders Duel have improved vastly); dressed up in costumes for Halloween; once spent eight hours on a date; celebrated birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day; read two books in our own personal club; and talked, asked questions, and learned more and more about each other.

            I also remember saying on our first date that I understood that communication, especially internationally, could be hit or miss. People have their own lives and get busy. I was assuming that we’d talk every other day or every couple days, maybe a few long texts a day if there was time. It turns out we have compatible communication styles (and I don’t have to adjust my own preferences). We talk every day. Even with the time difference, we text from when he wakes up to when I go to bed. Sometimes that isn’t a ton of messages when we’re both busy, but often it can be rapid fire conversation as if we were both closer. (Technology is amazing). The ability to talk so frequently has not only helped make the distance feel a little less, but also made communicating easier—whether it’s about our relationship or a new movie trailer.

            Something else that has helped make the distance feel smaller is the way we share music. It started as a surprise playlist he made me a few weeks after we matched, full of cute indie songs that hinted at romance, and I responded back with a flirty playlist of my own. We made each other three more playlists (including Christmas-themed ones) which progressively became more romantic the longer we dated and the more comfortable we were talking about feelings openly. (Although sometimes what you can’t say virtually, you can say musically). Eventually, they were all thrown together in an Infinite Playlist which is now almost nineteen hours long and kind of a scrapbook of the past year. How two people can meet and slowly get to know more about each other and have hopes and dreams for some kind of future. Many of these songs have ended up on my “What I’m Listening To” lists.

            Look, I’d be less-than-honest if I wasn’t upfront about the fact I’ve spent a lot of the last year re-learning what it means to be in a healthy relationship, even from a distance. Sometimes it’s just the little things that boggle my mind. Like how he notices the particular way I smile or sends me a text after every date full of compliments. The big things matter too: respecting my boundaries, listening and understanding my stances, supporting me in so many different ways. I won’t lie and say I wish we were official in all the superficial ways that people (including myself) care about. But taking our time to know each other, setting those boundaries, and waiting until we can finally meet to see how these feelings translate, is probably the safest bet. (And what I want). For now, I’m willing to wait.

            I still try to take a selfie before every date. The great thing about almost a whole year of them is I can see myself change from someone who was scared to care too much, to be hurt again, to trust into a person who smiles without worry and found love in an unexpected place. She also doesn’t care what people think. She’s ready to spend time with a person who makes her laugh. She’s a version of myself that I kind of like.

            As long as that continues, I’m happy to stay with Soleil.

*Update as of 10/3. We celebrated our anniversary with a Zoom date and our usual long chat about nothing, everything, and lots of somethings. The day before we’d surprised each other with flowers. My bouquet is cute and spooky with a pumpkin as a vase, and his used sunflowers as the main element. Both a bit seasonal and also fitting for some little inside jokes too. Can I say I love being with someone who gives just as much as I do? Reciprocation is vastly underrated. And, as of now, we’re officially at 50 dates.