I first heard the term "meet cute" courtesy of a delightful scene in the shamefully underrated movie The Holiday.
"It's how two characters meet in a movie," Eli Wallach explains to Kate Winslet, before illustrating with an anecdote about a man and a woman shopping separately for pajamas. "The man says to the salesman, 'I just need bottoms.' The woman says, 'I just need a top.' They look at each other—and that's the meet cute."
I became struck by the idea that initial encounters with our significant others may have a significance themselves. Why is it that the first question we ask of new couples is "Where did you meet him?" or "How did you find her?" It's like we secretly suspect the location or manner in which a person goes from stranger to special someone has a profound effect on the relationship's quality or longevity. That and c'mon—everyone loves a good story, right?
While I refuse to deem one meet cute cuter than another, some have become markedly more rare: those that happen offline. In the past year, "the Internet was the number-one place where singles met their last first date," reports Match's 2018 Singles in America survey. And since social media has become a meet cute hotbed of its own (Instagram is the new Tinder, didn't you know?), it feels even more unusual to find a partner without digital intervention—but it does happen!
BRIDES tracked down seven couples who met the love of their life in real life and asked them to recount and reflect on their meet cutes: Do they think their first connections held any predictions for the future? Could they offer advice for singletons looking to stage IRL meet cutes of their own?
Whether screen fatigue has left you in search of reality-infused love affairs or you're happily involved and just looking for that good story, read their thoughts below and prepare to Awww! a lot.
A New York City subway station sounds like a far cry from romance—dashing vermin (not the Cinderella kind) more likely to catch your eye than dashing co-passengers. Still, Steph captured Tom's attention on the platform before she approached him to ask for directions. When Tom announced they'd be getting off at the same stop, he started asking the questions. "It didn't feel like a sign necessarily, but an opportunity," he says. "It was the last place I thought I'd meet someone, but I was headed to sign for my own apartment: I was in a good place and feeling confident, so I looked for any excuse to keep talking to her." His chance taking was rewarded with easy conversation throughout the ride, and before they parted above ground, he asked Steph to grab a beer sometime. Steph recalls, "I said, 'I'd like that,' and then tried to walk away sexy when he, really cute, goes, 'Um, I'm going to need your name and number.'" Last month, they married. "We actually now live at that exact same stop," Steph says. "It all came full circle."
Their advice for anyone with a commute crush?
"There has to be some visual opportunity that makes sense," says Tom, who acknowledges the enclosed spaces of public transportation demand extra care not to make someone uncomfortable. Comment on a book they're reading or bond over another passenger acting crazy. "This station was also out in the open and the weather was nice," he says. "If we'd met underground at 2 a.m., the situation could've been much different."
Steph says, "Give and take hints. It was totally fine for Tom to reapproach me because I only moved three feet away after my question. If someone looks cool, have a good grip on your cell phone just in case, but keep yourself open!"
A Place of Worship
We're not condoning joining a religion to pick up dates, but if your faith is important to you, it makes sense to find someone in the same pew, so to speak. Audrey and Brian attended their Michigan church together as adults for years before either was interested in the other like that. "The first time I met him there was nothing—no sparks," confesses Audrey. That changed when Audrey and Brian chaperoned their church's youth movie night and the power went out. "He started telling me about books he liked," she says. "I remember sitting there in the dark with all of those teenagers like, 'This guy is kinda cool.'" When did she know Brian was interested? "Years later, on a random day in October, he stopped me at church to say, 'Hey, I remember you invited me to your birthday and I couldn't make it, so I wanted to give you some money as a birthday gift.' My birthday was in May." Brian explains, "I felt this unusual nervous energy around her that never came for anybody else. Even if a bunch of people were around, it felt like only her." Eventually, a mutual friend set up a lunch date ambush. "She went to the bathroom and never came back," says Audrey. "Then Brian showed up." A little over a year later, they were married.
Their suggestions for getting someone to the altar?
"Church is a weird place to make true romantic advancements," admits Audrey with a laugh, "but you can really get to know someone over time on a regular basis." Audrey and Brian recommend taking advantage of your religious community's outreach and fellowship opportunities to see other members in a variety of social settings. "It makes it a lot easier to make a lifetime commitment when you've seen the person in all of these different circumstances," says Brian. "Plus, having the same belief system can make a tremendous difference living everyday life with someone."
On a Plane
How many times has the person next to you on an airplane been an infant banshee or aggressive snorer—never a Mario Lopez doppelgänger, right? Matt remembers the moment Will walked on the plane. "I was like, 'This dude looks like AC Slater, and he's kind of adorable.'" Meanwhile, Will had been keeping tabs on the "good-looking businessman" since people-watching at the gate and was pleased to find they'd be sitting on the same row. While neither typically talks to strangers on flights, they exchanged pleasantries about sharing the empty middle seat between them, and Matt offered Will gum. Over 10 A.M. beers in Delta's Comfort+ (hey, they were free), they chatted about a joint love of Scandal and their favorite spots in San Antonio, where Matt was living and Will had been visiting family. "I said, 'Next time you're in town, we should hang out,'" Matt says. "I just took Will's phone out of his hand and put my number in as 'Matty Awesome Danelo,' which is still what it is today." Will concedes that "I didn't think it was going anywhere at first. I just thought he was cute and I was smiling a lot." But after touching down at JFK, the heavy flirting and deep conversation led to a lunch date before Matt had to catch his connecting flight. Soon after, Will texted about a return trip to Texas. "I picked him up from the airport and we were going to go out for a drink," says Matt. "He ended up staying with me for five days." Matt moved to New York a year later, and the pair have been together going on three years now.
Their tips for finding love in the air?
"It's about noncreepy observation," says Matt. "Will saw I was reading an entertainment magazine, so we talked about TV. The initial attraction sparked the conversation, then we realized we had similar interests and being stuck on a four-hour flight made a difference. It got very deep very quickly."
Matt and Will consider their shared love of traveling important for their relationship's start, but also its continuance: "Prioritize what you personally enjoy doing, and you'll meet like-minded people doing it," says Matt.
There's an argument to be made that vacation you is the best you: You're fun and relaxed, and when flip-flops come out, walls come down. When Caleb and Megan signed up for an eight-day trip to Bali through Under 30 Experiences, neither knew anyone going, and that was the appeal. "I like to travel alone because you can put yourself out there without reservations," says Caleb. "When you don't have to deal with social pressures of home, you can put the screen down and force yourself to be in a situation." Caleb introduced himself to Megan with a high-five, but it was Megan who made the first move with a kiss by the pool. "Caleb was outgoing, personable, funny—and he was a firefighter. That helped," she says. The spark didn't extinguish upon their return to the mainland, and five months later Megan moved to Chicago. Now they're getting married in October 2019. "I seriously wasn't looking for anything," Caleb maintains. "I just wanted to go to Bali and have a good time—and I did."
Their musings about bringing home an S.O. souvenir?
"When you're going somewhere brand new, you aren't necessarily prepared for what you're going to take in," says Caleb. "Without your usual comforts and surroundings, there may be things revealed about you that you never knew."
Meghan adds, "Be open to solo experiences. Making time to do things by yourself if there's something you're interested in gets you talking to people you don't talk to every day and out of your comfort zone."
An ideal relationship is about putting another before yourself, so what could be better training than philanthropy? This past summer, Matt and Amanda volunteered to ride in Bike Beyond, an initiative of the global diabetes nonprofit (and Nick Jonas passion project!) Beyond Type 1. The 10-week cycling tour spanned 70 cities from New York to San Francisco, and for the first few weeks riders were broken into teams. "Amanda and I ended up randomly in the same group almost every day," says Matt. They'd spend 8 to 12 hours a day in conversation while biking and raising funds for BT1. "We were in such an adventurous setting, it was the exercise endorphins, but also the way we relied on each other," says Amanda of what attracted her to Matt so quickly. "Matt was taking care of everyone else, like figuring out how to manage everyone's blood sugars." Matt and Amanda decided they were "together" just as they crossed into Colorado. "Now it's our favorite state," he jokes. But when they told the rest of the group, "They thought we'd been together since the end of the first week," says Amanda. A month after the tour ended, Amanda moved from San Francisco to Toronto, where Matt lives, and just accepted a job at a small diabetes charity focused mostly on kids. They got engaged this month.
Their remarks on organized kindness leading to kindred spirits?
"I've never thought about it like that," says Amanda, "but when I think back on random first online dates with people, those were self-focused: 'Will I like this person?' Volunteering this past summer was the least selfish I've been in my life, and I think that ended up bringing Matt and me closer."
"If you can share a significant passion with another person, by volunteering or just getting involved in things that they care about, that's huge," she continues. "It was so easy to fall in love, and we didn't even try."
Back in 2014, Justine joined Dan's intramural flag football team in southern California to score touchdowns, not dates. "I'd moved to Newport about six months before and needed a way to meet friends," she says. "I signed up for football to meet young, athletic people in the area and to have fun. Dan was just a cool bonus." Dan jokes that Justine ignored him for a year, and their first notable interaction was a little, erm, rough: "I remember leaving a game and seeing Dan on the way to my car, so I yelled our team name," says Justine. The team name is (perhaps regrettably) Multiple Scoregasms. "He turns around and goes, 'I'm on the phone…with work.'" Fortunately, the two stayed friends—even Tindering on the other's behalf sometimes. Then, Justine's parents visited. "They came to the game after my 25th birthday," recounts Dan. "We were horrible that season, and I was one of the only ones who could catch. We had Justine playing QB and she'd only throw the ball to me. I tried my hardest to make her look good for her parents, even though I was hung over as hell." The ultimate game changer, however, came when Dan accompanied Justine to a Halloween party after a former boyfriend stood her up. "I have multiple Wonder Woman costumes, because every woman should," says Justine. "Dan wore one and I wore another, and I was like, 'You know, he's kinda a good guy…'" They became official a few months later and married last October. As Dan notes, "I was a pretty massive rebound. It just happened to work out for me."
Their strategy for turning teammates into mates?
"Don't overdo it," says Justine. "Be you: I only threw to Dan because I knew even if I threw a terrible pass, he could catch it. And if he'd tried too hard to impress me, I wouldn't have liked him. We were friends for so long that I got to see who he actually was and how he treated people on and off the field."
Dan acknowledges he probably wouldn't have dated someone who wasn't athletic, "so this was an easy way to weed people out, but if you're playing a sport to meet someone, it's not going to work," he says. "Don't have an expectation of romance. Just make friends, and then friends tend to make the best relationships."
In an Uber
Our mamas warned us about getting in cars with strangers, but it's hard for young adults to pass up a carpool deal. Yet, Melissa and Nick got more than they bargained for with their UberPOOL: They're getting married in June. "It's funny because we did technically use technology to get together," says Melissa. "Usually in ride shares, everybody is heads down on their phone. It's very uncommon to turn to the person next to you and say hello." Nick actually approached Melissa before their car arrived to confirm they were waiting for the same one. As they chatted, they realized they had a borderline absurd amount of professional and personal connections in the Philadelphia community. "We found out years later that I'd once had a business email exchange with his father," says Melissa. When they arrived at Melissa's stop, she asked Nick for his business card. On their first "date," neither was sure if they were flirting or networking. Thus, when Melissa emailed afterward to say she hoped they'd run into each other again, Nick clarified: "I said, 'I'd love to not leave that up to chance again, but just so you know, this is a social ask this time.'" The night of their first date date, Melissa was grabbing drinks with an old friend prior to meeting Nick. "I remember sitting across from her as she was like, 'You're not dating anyone, right? I know this guy, Nick…'" Melissa recalls. "I said, 'Are you s****ing me? I'm literally going to have drinks with him in 10 minutes.'"
Their directions for fueling romance in a ride share?
"I hesitate to give advice that's like, 'You should definitely hit on other passengers in an Uber,'" says Nick laughing. "But flirting is different, as long as you're responding to signals that they want to talk more."
Melissa says, "Be willing to ask people what they do and where they're headed even. That's how Nick and I found out we had so much in common."
Nick adds that both he and Melissa were so involved in the Philly civic and social scene, they had multiple anchor points to connect. "If you're not meeting anybody right now, don't stop going out there and doing things that are not dating-related. It's attractive to meet somebody who's been giving themselves to something that they're really passionate about."
So what's the emerging thesis from all of our meet cutes?
If you want to fall in love with someone else, fall in love with yourself first. We've all heard the claims that love happens "when you're not looking" or "when you least expect it" or "when you're comfortable being on your own." But as echoed in all of the stories above, they're clearly clichéd for a reason. If you're lonely, explore opportunities for community, self-improvement, and good ole' fashioned fun. Maybe you meet someone special doing the same, and maybe you don't. But if you're working to make yourself a fuller person, you'll get a return on your investment in the form of love either way.