This past Sunday was my boyfriend's and my one-year anniversary. Just reading that sentence back is funny in a way, because I think there were times in my life I was convinced I would never reach that milestone with anyone.
My romantic history is a colored one, but at its heart was always a fervent desire to fall in love with someone who loved me, and to live an adventurous life together. For as long as I can remember, I spun elaborate romances about many a man: the guy who picked me up at the beach when I was knocked down by a wave when I was 10; the college boy who played chess with me at the Gettysbrew when I was 13 (but lied and said I was 16, because that was really going to make a difference); the guy I met at a conference in Illinois when I was 17, my first taste of long-distance heartache. As I grew older, the happily-ever-after fantasies swirled around seemingly more realistic prospects, though those ended in varying degrees of hurt, bitterness, sadness, cordiality, and even friendship.
Especially in the years after I finished school and began living abroad, my expectations and attitude toward relationships changed. The hope for real, sustainable love was still there, but grown-up hearbreak can make you...if not bitter, a little more wary.
My values shifted and I allowed myself to become more comfortable with my sexuality and with enjoying relationships that were sweet or exciting, but clearly not going to last. There was great value in that and I learned a lot about myself, my desires, and about other people.
But in spring 2013, right around my 28th birthday, I came back to that one core desire. I wanted to meet someone with whom I could build something real. What that would look like or how it would happen, I wasn't sure. But I wanted it. I was ready.
The Search Begins
Some of this clarity came from turning 28 and having the sharp, panic-inducing realization that I am almost 30. That birthday really began the long, ongoing process of evaluating what I want in my life. But one thing was crystal clear: I wanted a relationship.
So, trying to be proactive, I turned to OKCupid. I had pretty much given up on meeting someone in Chiang Mai, so I started scoping the prospects in other cities that interested me: Berlin, San Francisco, Santiago. Romantic potential probably wouldn't have tipped the scales for any of those cities, but it would have been at least a small factor.
And then one afternoon, I got an email from OKC alerting me to new matches in Chiang Mai. I almost deleted the email without reading it, but the first guy on the list caught my eye. We had something like a 94 percent match rate. Probably at least worth checking out.
I glanced over this guy's profile: Musician, web programmer, reading "A Song of Ice and Fire", interested in real conversations, fan of Dawkins, Sagan, Hitchens, and George Carlin; likes "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage," and "Downton Abbey" (huge points for that last one).
I sent him a message because we had too much in common to not message him. As it turned out, the man behind the profile hadn't yet left for Thailand but was arriving in Chiang Mai six weeks later. We started writing each other novella-length messages through OKC at least twice a week, and my optimism grew, cautiously.
Rather than lingering in the small talk zone of travel experiences and fun activities to do in Thailand, those messages turned almost immediately to substantial discussions of our life philosophies, personal histories, and the types of self-work and therapy we had done. As the weeks went on, I found myself increasingly looking forward to hearing from him.
I kept expecting our correspondence to peter out until he arrived, but it never did. If anything, the conversations became more interesting. The closer his arrival came, the more excited I was. I'd go up to my friend Will's room and casually mention that "this OKCupid guy seems really cool." This happened probably once or twice a week.
"So you're in love with this guy already," he would reply, only half joking.
"No, of course I'm not in love with him. We haven't even met yet."
But not having met in person wasn't the same as not knowing each other. By the time "OKCupid guy," also known as Heath, came out to meet me at a happy hour one evening in early August, I knew I had feelings for him. We hadn't yet discussed our expectations for what would happen once he got to Thailand, I think because we were both waiting to see how we felt when we weren't behind computer screens. But I was optimistic that there was something there, and that, considering we had met on a dating site, he felt that, too.
Neither of us knew it then but we later talked about how nervous we both were when we met that night. We had been talking online for weeks, an idea of who the other person was forming in our minds through those 1,000+ word messages. Now we were confronted with the real person and had to reconcile our ideas about each other with who we actually were.
At the end of that first night, we had the "what are we looking for" talk. I knew I wanted us to get to know each other better with the intention of dating if it worked out. But I recognized he had just moved to the other side of the world and might not want to get into a relationship right away, might want to travel around and meet people rather than dating someone exclusively. I hoped that wouldn't be the case but braced for the possibilty.
I breathed a little easier when he said he liked me and wanted to date and see where things went. He initiated a conversation about our relationship histories and how we felt about each other, and I thought, Yeah. Definitely need to give this a try. Not only were we on the same page about the potential relationship, but he also wasn't afraid to bring up sensitive topics and have candid conversations about them. This was a relationship worth pursuing.
And it has been, every step of the way. This is the longest and most serious relationship I've been in, so there have definitely been moments of uncertainty, fear, and just feeling like I am completely out of my element. There have been some tears and soul-searching when the scars or patterns of past relationships emerged, though talking about those seems less scary the longer we're together.
Heath once asked me if I thought back then that we would fall in love and be together six months or a year later. I told him I hoped we would and I thought there was potential, but how could we have known? When I think back on the first couple months we were together, I laugh because we seem like different people.
I had so many expectations of what relationships should be or how they should unfold, and I learned that, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. Well, maybe not nothing, but I was pretty n00b-esque. I love looking back and seeing the two of us through different eyes now that it's been a year and we've grown so close and committed to one another.
One night a few months ago, we got onto the topic of our relationship and what we liked about being together. I said I felt really good about us, and proud of how well we communicate and how comfortable we are expressing our feelings for each other. I said I knew I was being obnoxious and self-congratulatory, but he stopped me. "I think it is something to be proud of," he said. "What is our relationship if not the sum of all the self-work we've both done to get here?"
He had a point. Heath is so much the person I had been hoping to meet for such a long time. I've done a lot of self-work and a lot of growing up during the past few years. I've dated several people and understand myself and what I want. When I messaged Heath on OKCupid, it wasn't just because I thought he was cute (I did) or because I liked his taste in TV shows (also true).
I messaged him because we seemed to share similar values and deeper interests. Maybe we're just really lucky to have met when we were both at a point where we were ready to be together. If we had met a few years earlier, maybe it would have been a different story. I don't believe in things happening for some fated reason, but I am incredibly thankful to have met him when we were both in a place to really see and value each other and the potential between us.
Heath is one of the best people I've ever met. He's intelligent, compassionate, introspective, funny, skeptical - all of the qualities I value most. He inspires me to be better, to live better, and I hope to do the same for him. He also makes me feel loved, valued, safe, and beautiful, and is more than I could have hoped for in a partner.
The Next Chapter
We've been through a lot in the past year. Two months after we started dating, I went to America for six weeks, unsure if I was coming back or not. Then I came back so we could see where things would go with us, and we had to sort of relearn how to be together. Then there was the manic visa run to Singapore, the anxiety-provoking earthquake, the Thai coup, and the final visa crackdown that is prompting us to make our way out of the Land of Smiles.
In the midst of that excitement, there was the actual falling in love, facing our insecurities and finding the courage to be honest with each other about them, learning how to support each other through anxiety, doubt, existential fear. We have very different relationship histories and brought different perspectives and insecurities to the table. The past 12 months have been a process of learning about each other, getting comfortable with being vulnerable, and watching our lives intertwine organically, and having a lot of fun along the way.
Which is a good thing, because even as we celebrate our one-year anniversary, we are planning to start another chapter together. We're leaving Thailand at the beginning of September and moving back to America — for awhile anyway. Considering I've spent all but six weeks of the last four years in Asia and that this is the first time I've made a move like this with a romantic partner, all of this feels like a huge deal. But it also feels right. And scary. In a good way.
We can't know what the future holds, or where we will be a year from now, or even whether we'll be together. But whatever happens, I feel beyond fortunate to have him in my life and to be experiencing the kind of love and commitment we have. Our first year together has been wonderful. I hope we will have many more together, and that we will continue to grow in love, honesty, and vulnerability. For now, I'm just going to continue enjoying the ride and drinking in the excitement and anticipation of what this next move will bring.