On this day six months ago, I was trying to decide which flannel to wear on my date in the afternoon. We were going to walk his dog in a forest and though it was fairly warm, I still wanted the comfort of a flannel wrapped around me (and there’s only so many options I had for a date outfit, given that I was living out of a backpack and one suitcase). I had been in Christchurch for about two weeks, and had another two to go before I would be making my way to the West Coast. Although I had enjoyed exploring the city and the surrounding areas on my own, I was lacking a bit for company. I downloaded Bumble to use the “friends” mode, but there were few people active and those that were stopped messaging me back after a few exchanges. Desperate for connection, I switched to the “dating” mode to try my luck.
After fielding several crass messages that revealed how similar men are wherever I go, I found a few who passed the initial not-an-asshole phase and seemed genuinely interesting and kind. I went on a couple of dates and found that this was actually a good way to meet people in a new city. I was upfront about my short time there and that I was not expecting anything, just looking to meet people and explore the town. Being clear about that, the dates filled my need for connection and camaraderie without any pressure for something more. These were not lifetime connections that I made, but it was nice to spend some time chatting with another person and seeing the city from their perspective.
Then I messaged Leo, and everything changed…
It started with a simple “Hello fellow sober person! Wanna grab a coffee or something today? :)” Leo responded that he was feeling unwell and needed a couple days to recover from an illness. In that time, we continued messaging and dipping our toes in the water of getting to know each other. We arranged to meet up later in the week to walk his dog in a forest outside of town. In the interim, news of the Club Q shooting reached me. I was devastated to hear of yet another mass shooting, and this time so close to home. Minutes from my mother’s house. A place where my queer friends in the area could have been dancing and mingling that night.
It was a deeply painful and scary, and the physical distance from my friends and family made my heart ache even more. Given the weight of all of this, I nearly cancelled the date we had set for the following day. But that evening, a goofy message from Leo made me genuinely laugh. My loneliness and need for human connection during a difficult time overcame my tendency to isolate and my anxiety about meeting a new person when I was feeling so distraught.
The next day, Leo picked me up at noon, with Odin shedding fluffy husky fur all over the back seat. We drove to Mcleans Island Forest and walked around, talking a lot but also enjoying some quiet moments listening to the crunch of gravel and the breeze in the treetops. I was nervous that my somber mood was not making for good conversation, but I didn’t have the energy to be dishonest about my feelings. Leo listened empathetically when I explained why I was feeling down. Later in the afternoon when we neared the motel I was staying at, my heart quickened as I tried to think of an excuse to extend the date. I wasn’t quite ready to leave the comfort of his company. Months later, Leo would tell me how he thought I wasn’t into him at all because of how I leaned away from him in the car when I said “I want to see you again.” He was happy that we had a nice afternoon, but had already accepted that we wouldn’t see each other again. He even asked me for dating advice! My sweet, clueless Leo…
A couple of hours passed and I was scouring the internet for events going on in Christchurch. I had been wanting to see some live music, and came across a free show happening at a jazz bar downtown. I debated if asking to see him again so soon would be too forward, but I didn’t really care. I texted Leo and asked if he wanted to go out again that night, and he agreed. Many jokes about sandals and dancing ensued over text before we met up later that night. To our surprise, the show was a quiet acoustic duo performing mostly covers. Instead of “cutting phat shapes” on the dance
floor, we found a table on the deck where we could hear the music at a lower volume to allow for more conversation. We watched as the sunset brought a few tinges of pink to the clouds, the Avon River lazily flowed by below, and people walked the wide sidewalks. We talked until the music stopped, and then decided to check out a pool hall that we saw from the deck.
Despite my efforts at showing interest, Leo was still oblivious. We played a couple of rounds of pool, laughing and chatting and talking to a few of the other patrons. At some late hour, we went back to the motel where I was staying. I had talked about my photography and Leo expressed interest in seeing my photos, so I invited him up to show him some of my work. After a while longer of talking and scrolling through photos, I closed my laptop and scooted closer to him. I surprised him by leaning in for a kiss. Somehow, after spending a whole day together, he still did not think I was into him. (Bless his heart, as my mom would say).
After that first day of two dates, we barely spent a day apart. We went on countless dates, spending hours and hours talking and exploring and cuddling and laughing. Instead of parting ways when it was time for me to head to the West Coast, we went on an incredible road trip around the South Island together. I dropped him at the Queenstown Airport so he could fly back to Christchurch and then I headed to my new job in Franz Josef/Waiau. We texted, talked on the phone, and video-chatted regularly while we were apart. Soon enough, plans changed, Leo had Regi the van sorted, and he was on his way over.
In the months that followed, we faced many challenges together. This year has not gone the way that either of us expected, but I don’t think either of us would change a bit of it. Through all the difficulties, we have only grown stronger. In these six months, Leo has shown me a love so pure and deep—one that grows with each day, one that makes me feel “both held and free”, one that constantly surprises me and challenges all my previous notions of what it means to love and be loved.
I am eternally grateful that we found each other—an unlikely meeting of hearts that now seems like a divine purpose. I never knew why I felt so drawn to Aotearoa, but now it makes sense: I found my person here. I found someone who sees me even in my worst moments when I can’t see myself. I found someone who supports me, makes me laugh, and challenges me. I found someone who isn’t afraid to have the hard conversations, who understands what it means to choose to love someone, who unconditionally loves all parts of me. I have never felt so seen and understood, so held and supported yet so free to be my truest self, so utterly and thoroughly loved.
My sweet Leo, thank you for showing me that a love like this is possible. Thank you for holding my heart with such tender care. It is yours.
I hope that everyone experiences a love like this—this deep, wholesome love is one that we all deserve. Yet I know this is rare, and I am all the more grateful for the special connection that we share. Happy six months, sweetheart. Here’s to many more.
The Club Q shooting is just one of an endless stream of hate crimes in the pattern of violence and bigotry of the United States. If you want to help fight these injustices, consider finding local organizations to support—whether that's with a monetary donation, volunteering your time, or sharing their stories and posts. I place the emphasis here on local, as the smaller mutual-aid groups are often more effective and less corrupt than some of the larger nationwide non-profits. Do some research and find something close to home.
Everyone deserves to be loved and openly express that love with whoever they choose. Although I identify as queer and therefore am in a queer relationship, I understand that to most onlookers, my relationship appears heteronormative. As a female-passing white person dating a cis man, I understand that I have the privilege of openly expressing my love for Leo. We do not fear holding hands in public or have to wonder if we would legally be allowed to marry or have children one day. These are just a few examples of a myriad that carry a huge weight on our LGBTQ+ siblings. These are things that deserve to be fought for.
In particular, the trans community in the US is currently experiencing targeted discrimination and violence. Many laws are being passed that directly harm trans people. If you are a voting US citizen, pay close attention to those you are electing. Show up and make your voice heard. Do not stay quiet in the face of injustice.