I was heading home after work and waiting on the train platform, just like I did every day. As anyone who takes public transportation knows, you don't expect anything exciting or out of the ordinary to happen during your commute — you're really just focused on getting home. I had just finished a kickboxing class, so I was exhausted, sweaty, and not exactly thrilled about the 45-minute ride home on the train — the "L," as we call it in Chicago — since my gym, unfortunately, didn't have a shower.
But on this particular day, something was different. I happened to notice a handsome guy standing to the left of me, and I was immediately drawn to him. He had brown hair and was wearing a white medical coat, tan pants, and a black backpack. He seemed to be staring off into space, either in deep thought or completely zoned out. I started to wonder what his day had been like and what he was thinking about. Where was he headed? Where was he coming from? For no particular reason, I felt a strong sense of curiosity and intrigue about who this stranger was — it was magnetic.
The L pulled up, and I found myself standing between two cars. I was slightly closer to the one on my right, but I saw him heading toward the one on my left. My gut was telling me I should get into his car, so I made my move. It didn't feel like a big, momentous decision, more instinctual — it definitely didn't occur to me that it would change my life. I'm not the type to approach a stranger first anyway, so I had no expectation that we would strike up a conversation.
I walked straight to the back of the car, and sure enough, I turned around to see that he was standing right next to me. As the train made a few stops, more people started piling in, and we got pushed closer together. He apologized to me for the forced closeness, to which I replied, “There’s plenty of room!” even though there obviously wasn’t. We smiled coyly at each other. Typically, getting squeezed like sardines on the L with strangers is not a pleasant thing, but in this situation, neither of us seemed to mind. I kept looking at him from the corner of my eye, and I had an inkling that he was just as aware of me as I was of him.
I then asked him where he went to medical school, which turned into a few minutes of small talk. He told me he was on his way home from a shift at a hospital near my office. I told him where I worked and that I had just moved to the Chicago area a few months prior. And then, silence. I kept thinking to myself repeatedly, “Say something. Say something. Keep the conversation going." I later found out he was thinking the same thing, but in the moment, I thought I was losing his interest. My mind was racing. My nerves got the best of me — I couldn't get a word out.
After a few minutes that felt like eternity, he tore off a little piece of a paper (which may or may not have been a patient’s confidential document, as I later found out) and started writing. He handed it to me and said something along the lines of, “I know this is probably really creepy, but here’s my number.” And I replied, “Sometimes you just gotta pull the trigger!” We smiled at each other, and then he got off at his stop.
I looked down at the paper and was barely able to make out his name and number (turns out, what they say about doctors having bad handwriting isn't far off). I held it tightly and thought, "Whatever you do, do not lose this!" I blushed the whole rest of the way home. I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head. I just couldn't believe what happened. I felt as if everyone around us on the L who had witnessed our exchange was looking at me, but I was too excited to care.
I texted him that night, and eventually we arranged to go on a date the following weekend. We decided to meet at a bar-slash-restaurant, and we immediately hit it off. We bonded over our similar backgrounds: We both grew up in small midwest towns, went to Big 10 colleges, and we even lived in the same neighborhood when we studied abroad in London! We laughed about the opposite reactions our parents had when they found out we were going on a date with a stranger from the train — his mom thought it was adorable, while my mom was worried sick. Still, there was natural chemistry, and we had our first kiss. Typical first date, right? But it didn't end there.
He said his friends were planning to go out that night, and he invited me along. I was enjoying his company and feeling spontaneous, so I thought, "Why not?" It was liberating to say yes. I had just moved out of my parents house and was new to the city, so the possibilities and opportunities felt endless, and I welcomed that feeling with open arms. Our first date ended up lasting 24 hours, which included meeting his friends, dancing until the morning, and then eating pizza and playing Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64 the next day.
At one point during the date — probably when I was downing a slice of pepperoni and wearing his oversized T-shirt — I asked myself, "Is this weird?" After all, first dates aren't typically like this. Our culture feeds us all of these dating "do's" and "don'ts," rules and expectations of what dating should be. According to "The Rules," I probably should have ended the date after a couple hours at the restaurant, because if you spend too much time together too quickly, it ruins the mystery and excitement. The rules would have told me not to text him the first night we met, because it makes me seem desperate, and I should play hard to get. I pushed those thoughts aside, because being with him just felt like the real thing. To me, that's absolutely worth breaking those outdated, made-up rules.
It was, by far, the longest first date I had ever been on, and also the best. Since then, we've danced under that same disco ball we did on our first date, and had more N64 battles and pizza. We've also had amazing new experiences together: We've explored street festivals, hiked a mountain in Peru, went to Lollapalooza, met each other's families, had Netflix marathons, swing-danced in the park — the list goes on. We still smile at each other when we ride the L and pass the stop where we first noticed each other on the platform.
Six months later, we were still going strong — and then "Match Day" came along. "Match Day" is when med students all across the country find out where they'll spend their 4-year residencies after graduation. He had flown out to interview in several cities, and although he ranked Chicago at the top of his list, there was a chance he would have to move somewhere else. We discussed beforehand that we'd be willing to do long distance, but deep down, we both hoped to stay in Chicago together. When the day finally came, and an envelope arrived, he looked up at me, and I knew. He said he was accepted to the Chicago residency program, and I hugged him, crying with joy and relief. Facing the possibly of having to be forced apart reaffirmed just how much we wanted to be together.
Back when I came home after meeting him for the first time, I immediately said to my brother, "I just met the love of my life on the L." My brother laughed it off at the time, but a few weeks ago, we celebrated one year together. We went back to the bar-slash-restaurant were we had our first date, and I reflected on all that had changed the past year. We had grown as individuals, and together our relationship had grown stronger. But there's one thing that's constant — I'll always be thankful that I chose to walk into the car to the left.