“How long have you two been together?”
We’ve been asked that question hundreds of times in the last four years. You see, everyone we meet assumes we are a couple. When we tell them we’re not “together” most people are surprised, and a bit confused. How did two people of the opposite sex, who aren’t in a relationship, decide to travel the world together? And how the hell did they manage to do so for two years?
Well… let’s start at the beginning.
If you are a single American, chances are you have tried online dating at least once.
An overwhelming majority of the 52 million or so singles living in the USA are using, or have used, an online dating site. Setting up strangers with strangers is a huge business, to the tune of 1.7 billion dollars annually. There is no price a lonely heart won’t pay.
Fifteen years ago online dating was something you hid from your friends and family. Today it’s pretty much how people meet one another. Far from a secret, nowadays you are sort of weird if you are single and NOT looking for love online. Especially in a busy city like New York, where it seems online dating is the only form of dating left.
We met through a dating app, in New York City, four and a half years ago. Neither of us knew exactly what we were looking for, and neither of us found an amazing head-in-the-clouds romance. What we did find, however, is exactly what we both needed.
Here is the story on how we met, told from each of our perspectives, and how our online date led to a two year (and counting!) around-the-world adventure.
I was laying in bed, in my Brooklyn apartment, on a lazy weekend afternoon in May a few years ago. I decided, for probably the fifth time in as many months, to reactivate my online dating account and browse through the multitude of New York City men that were seeking…who knows what?
I didn’t really know what I was looking for either. I wasn’t looking for a serious relationship, I had just gotten out of a very long one. Nor was I searching for a gym buddy, or someone to go to the movies with. I had friends. Was I just looking for sex? Nah. What I do know is that I wasn’t looking for what I ended up finding.
As I scrolled through the images, tapping X, X, X over and over again, I came across one profile picture that made me take pause. The guy was good looking, but not really my type. Something caught my eye in his first picture so I continued on to the rest of them. Most were of travel. A stunning mountain landscape with him hiking in the foreground, one of him on a motorbike staring at himself in the mirror, and one of him walking down a street with Vietnamese flags waving in the background.
I continued to his profile description and it drew me in. I felt compelled and tapped the star to indicate I wanted to know more. Moments later a match message flashed on the screen and eventually (I remember it being a few minutes, Michael says it was at least 30) I got a message from this stranger.
He told me about the month long trip in Central America he had just returned from, about his dream of opening a hostel abroad, and how he planned to move to Colombia for a year. At the time I knew nothing of traveling on a budget so I didn’t really know what to make of these grand plans. In fact, my first thought was that he must have a lot of money, which kind of turned me off and made me wonder if we had anything in common. Nevertheless, we kept chatting and eventually met.
I found Michael to be interesting and charming, but most of all I enjoyed talking to him and hearing about his journeys. I had traveled a lot in the previous ten years but our styles were very different. He traveled for long periods of time on a budget, stayed in hostels, and had a totally DIY approach to travel in general. The stories he told when recounting his trips seemed far more vivid than anything I had encountered while traveling. I went on two week vacations, spent thousands of dollars at a time, stayed in expensive hotels, and always returned home feeling like I wanted more.
At one point, he emailed me a link to his personal blog, a collection of travel stories. I devoured it in a matter of days and felt the growing seed of wanderlust take root in me. I knew that this stranger had tapped into a lifestyle I wanted for myself.
We went out a few times over the course of the next couple of weeks. On the third date I started to sense that a romantic relationship was not in our future. Even though we had things in common and our conversations where engaging and exciting, whatever that thing is that makes two people decide to start an intimate relationship, it wasn’t there.
Despite that, we kept in touch. We ended up hanging out a few times, went canoeing, and even went skydiving once. After the experience of jumping out of a plane with Michael, I realized that he gave me a certain confidence I had not found in myself. He also motivated me to do more of the things that I loved, like hiking, sculpting, and exploring new places. I started to feel some sense of satisfaction for the first time in a very long time.
Michael’s style of travel found its way into my thoughts more and more. I started toying with the idea of setting off on my own year-long adventure, possibly moving to Chile where a few friends were living. It seemed like an almost impossible plan though. I didn’t know if I had enough money to do anything even remotely close to what I envisioned. Plus, even if it was possible I didn’t know if I wanted to be in one place for an entire year. I felt a desire to explore but was also terrified. I didn’t know if it was safe for me to backpack alone, had never been to a hostel in my life, let alone knew how to find one, and didn’t know if I actually had the guts to ditch my life entirely to travel.
One night Michael and I were chatting and I asked him for his opinion about my travel ideas. We spoke for a long time and by the end of our conversation he invited me to travel with him. In what felt like an instinctive reaction, I said yes. In a matter of minutes my implausible dream became plausible.
A few months later, after saving money, subletting my apartment, and quitting my job, I was on a flight to Mexico with a person I had met only half a year before, a near stranger. I had an “oh shit, what am I doing” moment on the plane and hoped this wasn’t all some sort of extravagant plan for him to sell me into the sex slave trade. Thankfully that didn’t happen.
Deciding to respond to Michael’s first message, and subsequently deciding to travel with him, are quite possibly two of the best decisions I ever made.
Most single people have something in common these days. Somewhere, floating in cyberspace, they have an online dating profile. Some people are looking for love, maybe marriage, and a house with 2.5 kids. Some are hoping a random stranger comes along to interject a bit of temporary happiness into their lives. Others still are looking for friends, companions, sexual partners. Some have no idea what it is they are looking for exactly.
Three years ago, while living in Brooklyn, I was such a person. Checking my online dating messages was as commonplace as checking my email. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I was looking for online, but I knew I didn’t want to settle down and live out the rest of my days drawing out a predictable pattern in the same city I had spent the majority of my life.
You see, I had developed an acute case of wanderlust. I had it bad. There was only one cure for it, really. I had to travel, more. I could no longer take five week trips out of the country only to return to the same routine. I needed to get out on the road and stay there, for as long as possible. I wanted to undertake the challenge of leaving my known comfort zones, and walk the Earth like Caine. I wanted to experience everything, everywhere. I wanted to see how people lived in Laos, laughed in Latvia, smiled in South Africa, how they celebrated in Cyprus.
I figured I could manage the wide open road on my own, but a curiously substantial part of me wanted to share the experience with someone else. Meanwhile, most of my friends thought I was crazy. Not a one was down for such flights of fancy as selling 99 percent of their possessions traveling the globe for years. I couldn’t really blame them, I didn’t have much of a plan aside from squirreling away some money and hitting the road, hoping for good fortune.
So I trolled Tinder with vague ideas of coming across a kindred spirit. Might as well randomly date, I thought, and see if there was anyone out there that was like me, that wanted the same thing I did. I didn’t place much faith in the possibility, but I figured I would give it a shot while planning my departure.
And you know what? The craziest thing happened. Ten months later I was discussing leaving New York City with a person who had only recently been a total stranger. Our first couple of dates had romantic potential but something far more interesting was brewing.
One summer afternoon in Long Island I found myself two miles up in the sky. I was in a tiny little airplane with eight people who were about to step out of a miraculous flying machine and plummet to the ground. I was terrified, truth be told, properly appalled at the thought of jumping. Skydiving simultaneously fascinated and sickened me, and here I was about to leave a perfectly functional airplane in mid-flight, because some girl I met on-line suggested that we do so. Somehow she had given me the courage to overcome one of my greatest fears.
As I fell through the sky I thought to myself “this is so fucking cool”.
Six months later I was on a flight to Mexico, with no plans of stepping out of the plane this time. I was sitting next to a person that was a stranger no more than six months prior, and who would soon become as close and dear to me as anyone I had ever known.
It was the first day of a journey that is yet to stop. Going on two years now, and going strong. Randi is my partner in exploration, my partner in creation, my partner in liberation. We have done more, seen more, and explored more together than I ever thought I would do with another person. We have zero desire to stop anytime soon.
The journey is not always easy, and it took us both a long while to get used to one another’s quirks. We try to work on our communication skills every day, so that every argument or disagreement results in a better understanding of the other person. It takes a lot of work and energy to keep two people moving forward step-in-step for such a long period of time, and many relationships crumble and fail under that burden. Having identical goals certainly helps alleviate a good deal of the pressure, and I am beyond lucky to have randomly found a person that shares my dreams to the extent that Randi does.
The poetry of our story is not lost on me. Two strangers with a mirroring desire for adventure and exploration stumble into one another in the ethereal fog of cyberspace, forging forward to create a partnership that exceeded anything they thought was possible.
So when people ask me if they should try online dating I always tell them to absolutely do so. I may not have found the perfect romance, I say, but I found something far more important. I found the perfect partner to fulfill my dreams with, and if you are open to the possibility, you might as well.