By Shireen Jamooji
Raphael, a physical therapist from New Jersey, was in the Philippines visiting family when he downloaded Bumble in December 2019. He hoped to find someone who shared his cultural background and wanted a serious relationship. Meanwhile Aly, the owner of a digital marketing company in Manila, was embarking on a period of self-discovery and had only just decided to try dating again after a break. “Back in 2019, I had this kind of ‘restart’ where I really worked on myself and started transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle,” she says. Her newfound veganism made finding restaurants for dates a little trickier, and she’d had some bad experiences on dating apps before. But being able to make the first move on Bumble gave her more confidence.
While swiping on Bumble, it was Raphael’s photos that caught Aly’s eye. “He had a lot of travel photos and this really huge smile,” says Aly. “I swiped right because he seemed kind.” On the other end, Raphael was just as interested in Aly’s love for travel. “I specifically remember that she quoted, ‘I can show you the world’ in her bio which I thought was really cute,” he says. “Plus, her eyes and her smile—she was gorgeous!”
There was just one catch: the 80 kilometre distance shown on his Bumble profile at the time when they matched. Undeterred, Aly addressed this in her opening line, writing: “Oh my god, you’re so far away!” He replied saying that he was now in Nueva, a province in the north of the country over 200 km away. Little did she know that the real distance their relationship would need to confront was much further. They shared some introductions on Bumble and talked a bit about where they were and realised they both loved to travel. They started getting to know each other better, and bonded over food and their pursuit of a vegan lifestyle. At the time, they were just enjoying the conversation about their shared interests and didn’t give much thought to the fact that Raphael was based in the U.S. Besides, their connection felt more platonic in the beginning.
When Raphael came back to the Metro Manila city of Paranaque a couple of weeks later, his last day in the Philippines was looming. But he didn’t want to leave without meeting Aly. He suggested a vegan restaurant in Makati, a city just north of Paranaque, where they could meet—but since it was the last day of a family trip, his mom, uncle, aunt, and cousin would be there too. “It was a date-ish, but not really,” explains Aly. “At that stage we were just talking and there was no label. He was very shy and I was doing most of the talking—but to his family, not to him!”
To get some alone time, they broke away from Raphael’s family and headed to a nearby mall. As they walked they shared light conversation, but they both felt a connection. “I kept thinking ‘Wow, she’s really special,’” says Raphael. Aly—who had been a little nervous about meeting a stranger—was completely at ease. They both left the date thinking that even if nothing romantic came of it, they’d stay in touch as friends.
By the time Raphael was back in New Jersey, the two had fallen into an unspoken pattern of calling and messaging throughout the day and into the evening. By February 2020, they had subconsciously become a part of each others’ daily routines, and it became clear to both of them that this was something more than friendship. Despite the 14,000 kilometres between them, they committed to making a long-distance relationship work.
Aly and Raphael started planning a whole host of virtual dates they could do together to deepen their bond. “We called this ‘coexisting time,’” says Aly. “It was when we’d pursue similar or different things but did them while on video calls with each other.” A date night across continents for Aly and Raphael could be anything from cooking a recipe together and watching a movie, to weekly mental health check-ins, to simply updating shared spreadsheets with their plans. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, these rituals were a lifeline for both of them: “We made each other our sanctuary in a very chaotic world,” says Aly.
After two years of virtual dates, they finally got to meet again in the Maldives, where they shared a magical week simply enjoying each other’s company. “It was strange,” says Aly, “we talked so much virtually that we didn’t really need to say anything to each other in person. It was more about spending time appreciating the little things you can take for granted in a relationship, like walking next to each other or holding hands.”
Reluctantly, they parted ways again for another year until June 2023, when they took a trip to Bali together. This wasn’t just a regular vacation though—Raphael had a secret plan to propose to Aly. He’d arranged for a photographer to meet them on the beach for a purportedly innocent photoshoot, and against the backdrop of rolling waves, Raphael got down on one knee.
They may have spent less than three months of their three-year relationship together in person, but they believe that the distance brought them closer, making them realise what they meant to each other. “If I had to describe her,” says Raphael, “she’s a mesmerising, beautiful, and intelligent woman who cares, loves, and travels with her whole heart.” The wedding is set for 2025 in the Philippines—where their love story began.