It was 2016. A sweltering July afternoon whisked by the windows of my family’s van. The heaviness in the air intensified every color: the grass a screaming green, the cloudy sky a pensive shade of blue-gray. Tiny groups of raindrops formed on the windshield while we bumped down a messily-paved country road. I tried hard to breathe easy. I glanced at my mom in the driver’s seat, wanting her to say something. Her hands gripped the steering wheel, her unreadable gaze straight ahead. “No need to worry already,” she advised. “We’re still three hours away.”
“I knowwwww.” I dragged the word out, hanging onto the anticipation in my stomach.
This day felt unreal. I was about to meet my boyfriend. What had started as a “hello” on social media in February had quickly grown into a cross-country friendship. Through drawn-out phone and Skype calls, I realized Brian was unlike any guy I knew. He was witty and hilarious, and planned to become a youth pastor. He asked me the most random questions about myself and actually cared about my answers. All the things that made me stand out awkwardly in high school were suddenly being accepted, welcomed, and enjoyed. I was finally comfortable with telling the whole truth about myself. We found out we were similar in many ways: we liked the same music, desired to be serious about our faith, and loved laughing about bizarre made-up scenarios.
I collected every detail he shared about himself, building a mental picture of his life: his character and friends, his house, his past. Every night I would talk to him on the phone, lying on my bed and staring at my ceiling. We would go on for two to three hours at a time, never running out of things to ask and tell. I began to feel like I knew him better than some of my classmates.
The night before his high school graduation, we made it official. We were ‘dating,’ although not at all in the traditional sense. We were exclusive; that’s what it meant to me. I was giddy.
My parents were understandably skeptical, which put up frustrating roadblocks. We wanted to meet before August, when we’d both be starting college. Earlier summer plans hadn’t worked, but finally we figured it out: we’d meet at Sonshine music festival, an almost-halfway point between our Illinois and South Dakota homes. The only catch? It would be a family affair for both of us.
I glanced at the backseat, where my two-year-old brother and preteen sister sat, engrossed in their own worlds. Samuel with a book, Rachel with her MP3 player. I was more thankful than I’d admit that they were coming. This was the strangest thing I’d ever done. An anxious heaviness was settling in my stomach. This was about to become a whole lot more real.
The drive felt agonizingly long, my mom and I taking turns at the wheel. Finally, around 5 pm, I pulled the van into our hotel parking lot. A wave of nervousness convinced me I’d throw up, even though Brian wouldn’t be there for another half hour. I shifted into park, chattering excitedly about how nervous I was.
We checked in to our hotel room and re-parked near a side door, which we propped open with a rock. We loaded our arms with luggage and ushered Samuel up the steps to our second-floor room.
Then. . . we waited. Every few minutes I texted Brian the same question. “Where are you?” Closer. Closer. I busied myself in the bathroom mirror. I flipped my head upside down and sprayed my curls with hair spray. I touched up my makeup, adding mascara and dabbing foundation over my pimples. This was a long-awaited moment. I wanted to look perfect. I adjusted my tank top, tugged on my jean shorts. Maybe I should change--
“Anna! I see him!” Rachel’s words shot through me, exploding in my head. I bolted out of the bathroom and looked out the window where she was pointing. Sure enough, a tan car was pulling into the lot. My first real-life glimpse of Brian. I stared long and hard at his dark features and bright blue shirt, then jumped up and down with Rachel, squealing and freaking out and laughing for the fun of it. Within a few long minutes, he texted me.
“We’re in the second-floor hallway.”
I fluttered around the room, forgetting to breathe while I wrestled on my sandals. I hesitantly poked my head out the door, looking down the long hallway. There they were, ten doors down. With every step down that loudly carpeted hallway, I concentrated on not tripping over my sandals.
Holy moly, this is actually happening.
“Hi!” I forced the word out as I walked.
He was just standing there with his mom. He gave a quick, stiff wave and a sideways smile. He was taller than I’d thought. His bright blue t-shirt stood out against his tanned skin.
“Hi.” “Hi.” The uncertain word filled the room, first from his mom, then him.
We were just feet apart.
And then, in the very moment I’d dreamed of and played out in my mind for months: maybe flowers? Maybe a well-spoken declaration of love?
Nope. A side hug: intercepted by his mom, standing too close.
“That was awkward,” This was the first sentence that left his lips in my presence.
All expectations of this prized moment drained out of my mind as my family approached behind me.
“Hi.” “Hi!” The uncertain word filled the hallway again as everyone introduced themselves. Nervous, choppy laughs. We stood in a cringe-worthy half-circle, no one knowing what to say. Comments about the drive, the hotel, the weather. Everyone focused on Samuel, of course, and Brian’s mom gave him a fist bump, followed by more forced laughter.
I kept glancing at Brian, standing right beside me. He was fully distracted by the trivial conversation between our mothers. We hadn’t even talked to each other yet! Plans were made to meet at a Culvers across the street, then head to the music festival. I walked back to the hotel room feeling like a trick had just been played on me. How in the world would we get through the next three days together?
Fast forward to today and, surprisingly enough, we’ve been dating for two and a half years and taken 14 additional trips to spend time together. Brian is moving to my town this May, and we’re planning to get married next year!
You’ll be relieved to hear that the awkwardness wore off throughout that first evening. We slowly started having fun together; laughing and talking just like on the phone. It’s hard to describe what it felt like to get to know someone I already knew a ton about. It’s like a layer of unfamiliarity had to wear off, but afterwards it was the most natural thing to be together.
To this day I cringe when someone asks how I met Brian. I’ve gotten a wide range of reactions to the whole ‘online dating’ thing. But through the many times I’ve told the story, I’ve realized this: it doesn’t matter so much how you meet your loved one, but what you do with the knowledge that they exist. People put so much emphasis on that one moment, but what builds a relationship is everything that happens after it.
For Brian and me, it meant that two very real people met on social media and have been learning how to serve and love each other ever since. Our story is unique and weird and loads of awkward: just like us. I honestly can’t believe I’m posting this on my blog for everyone to read. It’s not the love story I ever thought I’d have, but it’s mine, and I am incredibly thankful for it. God’s plan is always the best, even when it’s unexpected or just plain unbelievable.
Next week I’ll be posting about what it’s like to be in a long-distance relationship, because that’s been my life for the past 2 ½ years! There are so many good and hard aspects to it, and I have so much to share. You’ll also learn more about the middle part of our relationship: between the most awkward day of my life and today. . . so that’s a bonus! Thanks so much for reading and keeping up with my life! 😊
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!