When I had given up on falling in love, I found myself on an elevator at Heathrow airport with my parents. We were returning home from a family vacation in the UK, during which many of our conversations circled back to my dating situation. Or lack thereof.
After one too many less than mediocre dating experiences, I did what any logical person would do and came up with a list of requirements for my next boyfriend. He could not be an engineer (part of why I had left San Francisco was to escape the “brogrammer” type), he would need to be Jewish (but not too Jewish), and had to live in Manhattan (preferably not too far uptown, and definitely not in a different borough). Luckily, dating apps made it easy to filter on this criteria.
Despite this list of deal breakers, my situation didn’t really seem to be improving. I still mostly matched with guys who worked in tech. After one date, a guy texted me after asking if I’d be an alpha tester for his startup (he wasn’t interested in dating but “genuinely valued my opinion”). I dated guys who said they were looking for something serious but buckled at the slightest mention of commitment. And guys who claimed to be Jewish but couldn’t remember the last time they celebrated Rosh Hashanah.
So here we were, on an elevator up to Heathrow’s United lounge. Just before the door closed, a gentleman in a red polo walked in. We exchanged a nod.
When we got out, we all walked towards the check in desk.
“They’re with me,” I said, pointing to my parents.
“Sorry, only one guest per person,” the check in agent responded.
“But they’re my parents,” I pleaded.
“Sorry, strict policy.” She wouldn’t budge.
Before we had time to figure out our next move, the man from the elevator chimed in.
“Isn’t he with me?” he said, pointing to my dad.
It seemed this gentleman had found some loophole in the United lounge guest policy and sure enough, they let the four of us in.
“That was so nice, thank you,” I told him. It was nice, but I wasn’t really in a mood to talk to strangers. I had no makeup on, and talking to someone new before a long flight felt like more than my introverted self could handle.
My dad, on the other hand, was notorious for striking up conversations with strangers.“Come sit with us!” he said. For some reason this man followed and introduced himself to all of us. His name was Jon. He had a big smile and a watered down British accent, the result of living in the US for the past 11 years. He spoke excitedly about how the chips in computers worked, which was not something I had really ever considered. We discovered we were all on the same flight from London to Newark. After Newark, my parents were connecting home to Chicago, Jon had a connection home to Boston, and I would grab a taxi back to my apartment in the West Village.
“It’s time to go to the gate,” I announced, interrupting the conversation. I was one of those people who insisted on leaving for the airport 3 hours before a flight and getting to the gate long before boarding time. Before we left, Jon handed us his business card and I handed him mine back.
“Cool! You work in tech too. And you’ve got your Twitter on here!” he said, reading my card. On the way to the gate, we discovered we knew a few people in common and had the same favorite ice cream place, just one block from his apartment.
Once we were on the plane my parents and I settled into row 19. Before I put my phone in airplane mode, a Twitter notification from Jon flashed across my screen: “Awesome to meet you and your folks! Let’s grab a drink sometime! Waving from 23C.” I wasn’t really sure what was happening but I replied “Great meeting you too!” before I had time to overthink it.
After we took off I got up to go to the bathroom, secretly hoping I’d run into Jon. We bumped into each other at the back of the plane, where he asked me how I got into tech. I told him about my self-taught path to software development and when I went back to my seat, I joined the in-flight WiFi and followed him back on Twitter.
“You are the coolest person I’ve ever met on a plane,” he messaged me immediately after I sat down. “There’s an empty row behind me. Come say hi!”
Who was this cute chatty guy? And who brings a giant book about microprocessor design as their airplane reading? Jon almost definitely did not meet my dating requirements and he didn’t even live in the same state, let alone the same borough. But there was a part of me that was more spontaneous and less list-oriented. That part of me found Jon incredibly easy to talk to.
I told my parents I was going to the bathroom (again), and went back to join Jon in the empty row behind his seat.
We talked about everything, and three hours later we were still talking. I told Jon about my work, my favorite Broadway shows, and showed him a picture of the best charred octopus I had eaten recently. He told me about why he decided to move to the US, how he got into running, and he showed me a picture of his home office which had a homemade treadmill desk and a floor-to-ceiling server rack. I was intrigued and found his passion contagious.
After way too much time had passed for my parents to think I had been in the bathroom, we exchanged numbers and I went back to my seat.
“What’s up?” I asked my parents unassumingly, as if I had only been gone 5 minutes.
“It seems like I lost my flight buddy,” my mom said.
“He’s really interesting” I responded, probably blushing.
I looked at my phone and there was already a text waiting from Jon: “So, suppose I were to conveniently arrange a trip to New York, would you want to see a show?”
This guy had game.
“Hmmmm” I responded. Then the plane Wi-Fi cut out for a moment.
“Yes” I sent immediately when it returned.
“Yes is the best answer” he texted back.
In the Newark customs line with my parents we waved to Jon as he went through the “legal alien” line.
“Nice guy,” my dad said, oblivious to the full extent of our digital interactions.
When I thought he was already on his way to his next flight Jon found us again at baggage claim. He grabbed his bag, said goodbye to my parents, and then looked at me: “Have your people call my people,” he said and then smiled and waved. I chuckled to myself.
My parents and I said goodbye before they checked in for their Chicago flight and I walked outside to the taxi line. It was 7pm on a Saturday. My plan was to go home and sleep. It was, after all, midnight in London.
But I didn’t have to go home. I could go back inside.
“I’m still here if you want to hang out before your flight,” I texted Jon on a whim.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” he responded. “Let’s meet by Door 6.”
“Want to grab coffee?” he asked.
Wheeling our bags to the other end of the terminal, we found a table at Dunkin Donuts.
“Let’s get tickets to a show sometime soon,” he said.
We opened the calendar on our phones and I started looking up showtimes. But it was hard to focus so instead I looked up into Jon’s eyes and then, right there in the middle of the Dunkin Donuts at baggage claim, he kissed me. For a moment the world disappeared - the kids shouting at the next table, the reunions, the goodbyes, the baggage claim alarms - it was just us, whatever this was. A first date? Second?
“What if I book a flight to New York next weekend?” he asked.
“Ok,” I said without hesitation. He opened his United app and booked a roundtrip ticket from Boston to Newark for the following weekend.
“You are lovely. Did you know that?” He said. I squeezed his hand and decided that maybe, I wanted to do this for a long time.
That was almost three years ago. This year, Jon and I are getting married.
I recently reflected on the list of things I thought I wanted in a partner and found they were exactly that: a list of boxes to check that didn’t reveal much, if anything, about a person’s character. Jon is an engineer, and he’s taught me there isn’t just one type of engineer. In fact, there’s a big disconnect between “hardware” and “software” people. “They never talk to each other,” he tells me (though we’re doing a pretty good job). Jon is not Jewish, yet he has celebrated every holiday with me since we met. He often surprises my family with questions about Judaism that none of us know the answer to. We’re both learning. And now we live in the same city, together.