In January, when Omicron closed up much of the world, I rented an Airbnb. It was a temporary refuge between living with family and finding my new apartment. One morning, I woke up from deep sleep to the doorbell brightly chiming as I reluctantly shuffled to the next room to answer the door. I looked at the name on the label and realized it must be a package for my upstairs neighbor.
Exasperated, I flopped back into bed. After this continued for three days, I considered going upstairs and giving him a piece of my mind. Who was this guy? Eventually, I dismissed the idea once I realized I didn’t have the guts to confront a stranger. That night, on my walk back home, I saw a man in a white shirt standing by the window. He had a contemplative look, as if he was waiting for something or someone. As I made my way to the front door, it felt like he was looking directly at me. I had a gut feeling — did I already know him?
I sat at the dining table making calculations. I had been talking to someone with the same name on those many packages on Bumble, who lived in the same area, and jokingly suggested that we could be neighbors. “Who knows, we might be,” I’d flippantly replied. But suddenly, I realized it had to be him.
In that moment, I felt the joy and responsibility of what I had just discovered. What were the odds?
We’re taught that love stories often revolve around these sorts of meet-cutes. We see this magnetism and magic in books and movies, through moments that represent the promise of something greater, so we look for them in our own lives.
We’re taught that love stories often revolve around these sorts of meet-cutes — the disarmingly cinematic way that fate brings two people together. We see this magnetism and magic in books and movies, through moments that represent the promise of something greater, so we look for them in our own lives. In families, these stories are often passed down, with grandparents tenderly describing the seemingly impossible odds and challenges that led to their life together.
After two years of the pandemic, dating has of course changed, but many people continue to idealize old-school love stories which often start with simply being in the right place at the right time. Even now, in the online dating era, the first question people tend to ask a couple is: “How did you meet?” expecting something a bit more unusual than matching on an app or meeting on a night out. On Twitter, people often post “reader, he married me” and “how it started/how it’s going” tweets celebrating their meet-cutes, while many of us continue mindlessly swiping, waiting for our turn. Through these stories, we internalize that we must wait for love to find us, and when it does, we should do everything we can to hold onto it.
So when I connected the dots and realized that I already knew my mysterious neighbor, I wondered if it was a sign from the universe. I had to meet him. I messaged him the news and felt a magnetic pull to go upstairs and say hi, but decided to wait until the next day, since he hadn’t made the connection that I lived downstairs.
We met in the building for an afternoon drink, and I was so excited by the possibility of him. He was self-assured, introspective, and easy to talk to. We had a lot in common and I felt comfortable around him. But after a few days, he started acting distant and I realized that our connection was, in part, fabricated to compensate for the odds of how we met. There wasn’t anything meaningful there and it didn’t work out.
After we stopped talking, I felt like I had failed. I knew it was unfair to put expectations on myself to see this through. I was just so wrapped up in the promise of how it started and what I’d been conditioned to expect would happen. Even though I logically knew that we weren’t right for each other, I didn’t want the story to end so soon.
But as I reflected on this experience, I also realized that many women are taught to carry the responsibility of a relationship — to say the right things, smooth over any disagreements, and make sure that it works out. I could have excused his lack of effort and tried to make it work, but I recognized that I deserve someone who shows that they care for me. I felt lucky to experience a meet-cute, but I didn’t want to feel responsible anymore.
So, I chose to free myself from the unrealistic expectations I had collected over the years. Since then, dating has become more about self-discovery: Learning how to check in with myself, set healthy boundaries, and be honest about how much I’m able to give. I’m working to separate the fantasy from the reality so I can see things clearly and pay attention to how I really feel.
I learned that a meet-cute is not always a blessing — it can add a lot of pressure to a relationship. Now, I see it for what it is: an introduction, not an endgame.
I learned that a meet-cute is not always a blessing — it can add a lot of pressure to a relationship. Now, I see it for what it is: an introduction, not an endgame. We’re not defined by these moments, if they choose to find us, but rather by the choices we make. We can enjoy the adventure and surprise ourselves with who we become. It may have seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I choose to believe that there are many more out there for me.
Each installment of Refinery29's Single Files column will feature a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now. Have your own idea you'd like to submit? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.