I swipe right on an Instagram filter, type out a witty caption with an emoji, and press “Send to Story.” I lock my phone and turn my attention back to devouring my cream cheese bagel, only to see my screen light back up with a new notification.
“He replied to your story” the notification reads. I raise my eyebrows. He and I had spoken occasionally in person, but never for long. Only out of politeness or when our mutual friends demanded it. This is the first time we’ve properly interacted online. I’m tempted to ignore it. But I’m also intrigued and pleasantly surprised, so I give it a chance.
I unlock my phone, snort at his response, then drop my bagel back onto the plate. I have a feeling this conversation will require both of my thumbs.
The buzzing of my phone jolts me awake from my nap.
He’s video calling me.
I panic when I catch a glimpse of my bedhead in the mirror. I wonder if I have time to bolt to the bathroom to brush my hair and smear concealer under my eyes. Normally, I’d add “unexpected FaceTime calls” to my list of deal breakers, but I figure I should let him see me in my natural state sooner rather than later.
I’m instantly greeted with his face and a backdrop of his empty Airbnb. He is away in Japan on a two-week boys’ trip to celebrate the final year of their roaring 20s. His friends were out at a $700 wagyu steak dinner, and he’d declined in favor of saving his hard-earned dollars for a house deposit and to spend the night with me, albeit virtually.
My heart does a little flutter when I hear this. We’d been exchanging texts for four months and gone on approximately six dates—three individual, two group dates, and one impromptu dinner with his sisters. We’re still in the early stages of dating, and I’m keeping him at an arm’s length out of fear of getting hurt. But hearing he stayed in to talk to me eases my nerves.
We spend the rest of the evening talking. He reminisces about life in his early 20s; I tease him about the fact he’s getting old while secretly relishing the fact he’s opening up to me.
We end the call at midnight Melbourne time. I stay awake till 3, buzzing from our conversation.
We’re sitting in his car parked in front of a leafy green hiking trail, arguing.
What had started off as a simple comment about posting a picture to Instagram evolved into a full debate over whether we were ready to tell our mutual friends we were officially a thing.
It’s common knowledge to our circle of friends that we have been seeing each other for a while now. But I’m still toeing the line between hope that we were real and panic that the other shoe was about to drop. I don’t want to get into a relationship, only for it to fall apart two weeks later.
So here we are. Me throwing out a flurry of “what if’s” and him patiently fielding my questions.
“But how are you so sure?” I ask. “How do you know you want to be with me?”
“I don’t have all the answers,” he says. “I just feel like you could be my best friend.”
My heart nearly explodes.
We kiss for the first time in front of my fireplace that night. Every other kiss I’ve had in my life pales in comparison to this.
We’re sprawled on the couch, sated and full after devouring a chocolate frosted cake. He’s thoroughly engrossed in the storyline that’s panning out on the TV. It’s a documentary—his favorite. Me? I’m into it because I’m into him.
We’re six or eight months into our relationship now, I think. Our timeline is a blur of me saying yes to a relationship, only to backtrack, only to say yes again—this time for good.
Now that the waves of anxious highs and lows have passed, what I do know is that a part of me is starting to feel a deep sense of affection towards him and even, dare I say, love.
This is the furthest I have ever gone with anyone emotionally. Other boys have swept me off my feet before and gotten me high off lust and adrenaline. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that what I have with this man is different.
He rattles off a fun fact about the documentary. I only half-listen because I’m wrestling internally. Do I tell him I love him now? Or do I wait for him to say it first so I don’t get brutally rejected? What if I open myself up only for the universe to cruelly yank it away?
As I open my mouth to tell him, his phone rings and he leans over to pick it up. I clamp my mouth shut. Moment’s over.
It’s the night after my birthday.
I’m sitting in his living room waiting to open my presents from him. I’m expecting one gift. Maybe two, since this is the first birthday we’re celebrating together. But then he strides through the door carrying a cardboard box brimming to the top with wrapped presents.
I squeal like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning.
As I unwrap each gift, it becomes increasingly clear just how well this man has grown to know me.
I unwrap Michelle Obama’s biography, a book he’d seen me pick up and flick through while we were browsing in a bookstore.
Two tins of Cadbury Chocolate Drinking powder because he knows I drink a steaming mug of hot chocolate before bed every night.
The Modern Love book of essays because he knows I dream of writing for that column one day.
Five packs of Chicken “Cup-a-Soup” because I couldn’t stop drinking them when we vacationed at Lakes Entrance.
A pack of Cobs Sweet & Salty popcorn because I love snacking on it at the cinema.
A pair of flashy pink sneakers because I’d wanted new kicks for a while and he thinks I look good in pink.
In that moment, I feel the way I’ve always wanted to feel—seen, known, and loved.
While I had spent most of our relationship fretting over the future and anxious to avoid the mistakes of my past, he had been focusing on us in the present. He had paid attention to all of my likes and dislikes, my quirks and habits, and he knew them as well as he knew his own.
Every nerve in my body tells me now is the right time.
“I love you.”
My whole body tenses up and I want to snatch the words back and run away.
But then a smile breaks out across his face.
“I love you too.”