Before They Built Their Tiny House Together, Carène and You-Liang Met on Bumble

Carène and You-Liang standing together in Paris. Carène is wearing a patterned dress and You-Liang is wearing a striped blue t-shirt.

By Kaitlin Menza

After her first two dates with You-Liang, Carène told him they should just be friends. “She sent me a message saying she didn’t want to have a serious relationship,” says You-Liang. “It was okay with me, because I had come back from three years of traveling and wasn’t expecting a serious relationship right away.” Still, she asked if he’d consider staying in touch. 

Carène wasn’t being entirely truthful when she ended it: She actually was ready for a deep, romantic relationship, but given You-Liang’s recent return to their shared city of Paris after so many years away, she suspected that he wasn’t. “I just felt he wasn’t really settled at that moment,” she explains. After a few years of feeling too rigid in her dating life, she’d decided to go with the flow more. “I didn’t want to lose the connection, so I asked him to be friends. We started seeing each other every weekend, and the one weekend I didn’t see him, I really missed him.”

The pair matched on Bumble in October 2018. You-Liang, a travel lover, was drawn in by Carène’s profile pics taken outside France, and Carène was amused by the single sentence of his bio: “My mom thinks I’m funny.” At the time, Carène was an entrepreneur, arranging networking events, so for their first date, You-Liang, then a software developer, joined her at one. Their second date was a more private dinner—before she sent that message suggesting they take a step back. 

Carène and You-Liang sitting either side of their trailer. Carène is wearing a yellow jumper and You-Liang is wearing a blue jacket.

For months they spent time together, united by a shared curiosity for the new. “He was like me,” Carène says. “We were always trying new things, and he was the only one in my entourage suggesting activities.” One time, they went climbing. “I just tried it!,” she says. “He was a really good teacher, so I managed to do the session, and I told him afterwards.”

Carène’s friends liked him too, and pointed out their obvious connection, but the pair kept it platonic—until one fateful night in December 2018 that felt straight out of a rom-com. Carène had invited You-Liang and another friend over, but a series of protests in Paris, as well as pouring rain, clogged the streets and Métro. Only You-Liang could make it, and was forced to stay the night. He went out in the downpour to find some wood to build a fire in her fireplace, while Carène made a dinner of fondue. It reminded You-Liang of Taiwanese hot pot, a favorite comfort food from his ancestral homeland. “The stomach is the heart of the Taiwanese!” he says. He teased her, asking: “Do you cook like that for all of your friends?”

After dinner, they decorated Carène’s Christmas tree, and You-Liang created a star for the top out of strips of paper, on which they scrawled little quotes. “I thought he was really resourceful and creative—he said we would open them after Christmas and discover what the other wrote,” Carène says. “I really liked the way he saw life, because it’s unusual to be that spontaneous and creative.” For his next off-the-cuff move, You-Liang sat down at Carène’s piano and played for her. They danced around the living room. Both remember the evening as “magic,” and within weeks, they’d moved in together. 

Carène and You-Liang in their tiny house that they build together.

As they began their relationship in earnest in 2019, they learned they had some growing up to do. “It was the first time both of us were in a serious relationship,” Carène says. “I really wanted to make every effort, because I felt that he was really different from all of the other guys that I’ve met.” They had to learn how to communicate with each other—“especially me,” says You-Liang. Carène, meanwhile, thought he didn’t understand her. Once they figured out how to express their feelings (and annoyances), the partnership grew stronger.

The couple built such a strong foundation that they were considering a life outside Paris together, traveling as digital nomads. When the pandemic hit, they shifted to a different vision: You-Liang’s longtime wish to build his own tiny house, specifically a wooden cabin. Always willing to try something new, Carène told him that they should go for it. Though she “didn’t even know how to use a screwdriver,” they constructed their home from scratch, documenting the process on Instagram. The tiny house can be picked up and moved via trailer, and after completing the structure in summer 2022, they set down all over France, including in Charente, Dordogne, and Les Landes. They also help other folks who are building their own tiny houses through Tiny House Youca, where they share inspiration and advice. 

And there are more adventures ahead: Carène and You-Liang hope to drop their cabin down in Spain and Portugal in the years to come, ideally to assist on different farms and learn more about sustainability. They also welcomed a baby boy in fall 2023. “It will be such a great story to tell, because he will start his life in the tiny house,” says Carène. “When we built the house, I knew we would become a family here.”