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Love Across Closed Borders

Online dating used to be an awkward topic. Now it seems to be the norm. Going on 10+ dates with ladies around the city, you’re sure to awkwardly run into one of them at Wegmans. And the ones you didn’t go on dates with, you’re sure to run into one of them too.

We met on an app called Hinge. What would usually be a harmless swipe connection minus one small detail: I live in Buffalo. She lives in Toronto. There are exactly 100 miles between us plus an international border. If love has no borders, neither do dating apps. We talked for just under two weeks before deciding to meet.

Our first date was in Hamilton, Ontario the weekend of July 4th. We both decided to step outside of our bubbles to meet somewhere in the middle. Options were limited because she didn’t car, so we needed to pick a place she could get to via train or bus.

I must say, I’ve never patiently waited for a first date sitting next to a shoeless man sleeping on a bench, but the station had Wi-Fi and this man was a deep sleeper. It was a 90-degree day in Hamilton (or 32 degrees Celsius for all my Canadian friends), and I wanted to be as close as possible to the station’s singular oversized fan, regardless of the company.

She was pleasant and bubbly when she jumped off the Go Bus (the “Greyhound of Canada”). We threw her bag in my car and began our 36-hour date, which included a swim in a hotel pool (oh and guys, don’t ever ask a girl to go swimming on a first date… I found this out later). From mid-day bar hopping, to watching musicians perform folk songs on a porch, then ending with getting stuck in the pouring rain with one small umbrella. It was the making of a romantic comedy (minus the swimming in the hotel pool). I knew I had to see her again.

After that weekend, we worked around our schedules to see each other at least every other weekend. She would visit Buffalo on my days off from the Amphitheater at Darien Lake, and I would visit her in Toronto whenever she had a weekend without clients at her massage studio. Yes, I was now dating a massage therapist. I quickly grew accustomed to feigning injury in exchange for free, 10-minute massages.

We spent several weeks like this, traveling to see each other. Before long, we were sharing the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in Toronto with her father and then the American Thanksgiving holiday in Buffalo with mine. I was even able to explain to her that the World’s Largest Disco was a serious affair that she needed to attend. It was official: we were a serious couple.

With winter approaching, we began to plan our weekends days in advance to accommodate the weather and her busy client schedule. As the holidays approached, we made the tough decision to spend Christmas apart for these same reasons. With it being the first Christmas without my mother, I was hoping she could be there to make the trip with me and meet the rest of my family. We both knew that her filling her schedule with clients was the best decision to make.

Imagine explaining to your friends and family that the only way you could communicate with your very serious girlfriend was through Facebook Messenger and video chat. This became our new normal: each night around 9 PM, I would walk into my living room and say “Hey Portal, Call Julie.”

This isn’t how most couples date. We couldn’t have dinner with one another or sit on the couch and watch Netflix. For most of our days, we had to depend on a tiny mobile screen to catch up on each other’s days. I also couldn’t talk her into giving me that 10-minute massage each night.

This isn’t how most couples date – for most of our days, we had to depend on a tiny mobile screen to catch up on each other’s days.

When news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke, we were feeling okay. After all, most of our dates were online, within the comfort of our respective living rooms. Then, only days later, the borders were closed for non-essential travel. The option to travel to see each other was taken off the table completely. Julie was forced to close her studio for several weeks, and my company asked us all to work from home. Talks of the border reopening were uncertain.

The miles between us, though technically the same, felt so much farther. A closed border and health protocol completely prevented us from seeing one another. I live alone. At least Julie has a cat.

I’ve been walking five miles each day around Elmwood Village, for as long as the border has been closed. Never have I been more willing to get a cat than now. I have beer, canned soup and frozen burritos in the fridge. And yes, I am being judged for my poor food choices by a thoughtful woman who lives just 100 miles away.

Julie used to joke about me wanting to call her on the Portal every day. Now we do so twice just to check in on one another. My Dad keeps checking in on me too. He sent me a new turntable for my birthday, so I could dust off my old Al Green records. If only we all could turn off the TV for three hours each day and just listen to music.

When I went for my walk the other day, I heard the strangest noise. Curious, I turned a corner onto Lexington Avenue, and there it was: a second-floor balcony apartment blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. It felt like hearing the ice cream truck bell as a child! And I wasn’t alone in this. Random people poured into the street, keeping a safe distance, to listen. Finally, some optimism.

I don’t know when the borders are going to open. That’s a question even Alexa can’t answer. Dating long distance is hard, but if you can get through not only the distance, but also a fully-closed border in between, well, perhaps that’s when you know you have something special. You have her, after all; and she is worth waiting for. Just don’t stop believing.

Written by A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns has been living in Buffalo since 2006. Hailing from Pittsburgh, A also lived in Maryland and New Jersey. Graduating from Duquesne University with a BA in Communications, he got an internship with Live Nation the summer before his senior year. Upon graduating, A accepted a full-time position with Live Nation at the Darien Lake Amphitheater. Working in the music industry for over 15 years, A has seen and worked with a variety of artists and performers. In his spare time, A is a concert photographer and board member for the Elmwood Village Association.

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