universal language

The Texas Student Falling in Love With His Irish Pen Pal

“What sets this relationship apart is the longing.”

Illustration: Simone Noronha
Illustration: Simone Noronha

Connor, 19, Dallas

I’m in my second semester at the University of North Texas, but I moved back in with my parents when all this virus stuff started happening. I spent the first week or so bored out of my mind. I even ran out of video games to play, which is a situation I never, ever thought I would be in.

I’m minoring in Russian, don’t ask me why. I was handed the university’s list of languages and that’s just the first one I pointed at. Turns out I actually enjoy the language, though. So I decided to sign up for this international pen pals site called Interpals to practice Russian. I started messaging people in Russia, “Hey, how’s it going over there? Keeping yourself busy?” A few days later, I figured, why not branch out, talk to people from other countries. I was searching through the U.K. and Ireland when this one account caught my eye. It was this girl from Dublin with literally the best smile I had ever seen in my life.

Her bio said, “Not looking for anything serious, so don’t message me about it.” I didn’t want anything like that either, so I messaged her, “Hey, I was curious if we could talk about the differences between Ireland and America?” A couple days later, she wrote back and said, “Yeah, sure, here’s my Snapchat.” And so I added her and we had a friendly little conversation. A few days later, I sent her a picture of my dachshund, Daisy. She sent me a picture of her living room. It was an hour before sunset and you could see the light coming in through the windows behind her.

I write a lot, just to get my emotions out. I wrote a short story about this guy who’s depressed and doesn’t have anybody to count on. I posted it to my Snapchat story and to my surprise, she replied, “That was really beautiful. If you ever need anybody to talk to, you can count on me.” That blew me away. There aren’t many people in my life who would say that to me — coming from a stranger in a different country, it hit me hard.

I was nervous the first time we video-chatted. I threw on a baseball cap from my dad’s auto body shop because my hair was a mess. My main concern was, “I hope this is a real person, and I haven’t just been talking to some 60-year-old guy down the street from me.” But then we FaceTimed, and I got to hear her voice for the first time. I got to see her facial expressions. She wore these brown glasses with silver divots in the corners and sometimes they would slide down her nose and she would peer at me over them.

That first video conversation lasted a couple hours and it wasn’t awkward at all. She told me she’s going to school for nursing to help as many people as she possibly can. That’s the same reason I’m a history major — I want to teach high-school history and help as many people as I possibly can.

We continued to chat, and over the next few weeks, we’d watch movies together, like Extinction and Dallas Buyers Club. I kept telling myself, don’t get too attached. This is just casual, fun conversation until everybody’s lives get back to normal.

Then, one day she messaged me something about all the things she was going to show me when I came to Ireland to visit her. I wrote back, “I have to ask, do you see this going anywhere long term?” And she immediately responded with, “Yes, absolutely.” I said, “Even with an ocean between us?” And she said, “Yes, of course.” I said, “Okay. I was just worried I was crazy for thinking that.” She said, “I thought I was crazy, too.”

We send a lot of videos back and forth, showing each other where we’re from. I’ve sent her a bunch of pictures of scorpions, rattlesnakes, brown recluses, swarms of grackles, and blackbirds. The other day, she sent me a picture of her breakfast. The bacon in Ireland is a lot thicker than the stuff we get over here.

She said she wants to take me on a tour of Dublin. She wants me to meet her family and to bring me to a pub where they play live Irish ballads. She wants to take me out to the countryside and to the coast to see the ocean. I want to take her to see the sights in Dallas. I want to take her to a Western store and show her all the different boots and cowboy hats.

One day I messaged her, “Hey, can you FaceTime me real quick? I want to ask you something.” I was really, really nervous. I said, “Hey, I know this is a bit odd. But I really, really like you. I want to keep you in my life. Will you make things official? Will you be my girlfriend without ever having actually touched me or seen me outside of a screen?” And she said, “Yes, absolutely. I’d love to.”

We’ve been dating for four weeks now. We talked about how communication is really important, especially in a long-distance relationship. We agreed to have a check-in every Monday to ask, “How are you feeling? How are things going? Is there anything on your mind?”

I’ve never sought out a long-distance relationship before. I’ve never really seen the point. Why make things more difficult? I know that’s exactly what my parents would say, which is why I haven’t really told them about her. My mom is the type to watch 90 Day Fiancé and worry about scams and all that, and I’d wager one of the first things she’d say is, “Well, there’s plenty of good people around here. Why don’t you just find somebody closer so you don’t have to mess with that hassle?” But at some point, I will have to sit my parents down and tell them that I’ve fallen for her.

What sets this relationship apart is just the longing. The feeling of wow, I really want to touch somebody again. I really want to hold somebody and hold their hand and cuddle with them and all that. But I don’t want it to be with just anybody, I want it to be with her. So I’ll sit around and twiddle my thumbs and wait until I’m able to do that.

Editor’s note: Before publication, we checked back in with Connor, and got this update.

We broke up on May 1. It started with a fight the week before, where she asked me about my ex-girlfriend. She wanted to know if, sometime in the future, we were both single, whether I would consider getting back together with her. I was honest, I said maybe I would. That really upset her. I told her she had nothing to worry about, that I was all hers, and I was sorry I said that. But the next day she said maybe we should just be friends. A few hours later, she took it back and said she wanted more than that, but then she changed her mind again. This back-and-forth went on for a few days, until finally she said, “Look, I’m going through a lot of stuff right now. Family stuff. University stuff. I love you. But I can’t have you in my life right now.”

She blocked me on social media. She stopped texting. That was the first time she’d told me she loved me.

I’ve been telling myself it’s okay to feel sad. That things don’t work out in life sometimes, and it’s okay. Because we never met in real life, all I have left of her is a few texts. A couple photos. And the memory of her voice.

I guess my life is back to how it was. School’s out for the summer. I go to Sonic Burger sometimes. But mostly I pass the hours in my room, playing Call of Duty.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Texas Student Falling in Love With His Irish Pen Pal