By Sara Gaynes Levy
When Iena and Rob matched on Bumble in October 2019, she wasn’t really looking for a relationship. She had just moved to Chicago, Ill. from the Persian Gulf metropolis Dubai for a new job as a teacher, and dating seemed like a good way to meet people in her new city. After she swiped right on Rob, who she thought was cute, she quickly asked if he would hop on a video call with her to confirm that he was real. (“I had just moved to Chicago, and I didn’t want to be catfished,” she explains.)
While a video call with a total stranger could be awkward, the connection between Rob and Iena was obvious from their very first call. With Rob’s identity confirmed—as well as their initial spark—they set a date for about a week later and formed a stellar, instant bond walking along the Chicago lakefront. “There was such good banter between us,” says Rob. They quickly set up a second date, and Iena faced a question she hadn’t fully considered before they met: Could any relationship that they form last beyond the major surgery she was about to have?
Iena was born with, as she explains, one leg shorter than the other. She had known for quite some time that it would eventually require corrective hip surgery, and after her move she had reached a point where it had to happen. On her first date with Rob, which she says was the “peak” of her discomfort, each time she took a step her left leg kicked out from under her, sending her in a wonky semi-circle. Not wanting to tell Rob about her condition just yet, she explained it away as strain from working out. But her surgery was in the books for just after their third date.
“In my mind, I was like, great. This is really awkward. We’ve had a great time and it’s going to end. I’m going to be busy recovering, he’s going to get bored and do his own thing,” she recalls thinking. Still, she made her peace with the situation: her health came first. She told herself, “If I lose him because I have to get this surgery done, then that’s okay.” She genuinely believed the relationship would fizzle out because she needed time to heal and wouldn’t be able to walk or do much of anything, let alone date.
For his part, Rob, who works in I.T., was undaunted by the operation after Iena finally told him. She was the first woman he’d felt a real connection to in ages, and he wasn’t going to let this surgery get in the way. Iena thought she’d be recovering for a month or so, and he didn’t see what the big deal was. “I was thinking to myself: three, four weeks?” he says. “That’s not bad at all.”
Still, Iena didn’t expect Rob to stick around, let alone visit her at the hospital. So she told her friend, who was creating her hospital visitation schedule, not to include Rob. “I said: I barely know him. We’ve been dating, and he’s cute, but let’s just keep him out of it.” Rob had no intention of sitting it out, though. He contacted her friend and, in fact, made sure he was the first person Iena saw when she woke up. “He was there from the minute I opened my eyes,” says Iena. “Just to see him there? It softened my heart.”
From that moment on, she was all in on Rob, and he was all in on her. “He just stayed with me,” she says. “It was as if we’d known each other for ages. And we skipped the whole looking-nice for-one-another part, getting dolled up and going on dates. He would turn up, squish himself—a six-foot-three man—on a tiny hospital chair, bring his computer, do his work. He’d help me get up to go pee. He’d look at my leg, which was five times the size of a normal human leg at the time. The next day, rinse and repeat.” If there were ever a test to see whether someone had long-term partner potential, Rob had certainly passed it.
While Iena’s doctors had initially told her she would be immobile for three or four weeks, the surgery was more complicated than they had envisioned, and her mobility was badly affected for nearly six months. Rob’s support never waivered, and as a result he went from brand new boyfriend to primary caretaker almost overnight.
“For the first two months it was mainly me making sure she was eating dinner or taking her medication on time,” says Rob. “And when she could finally start to walk, we’d walk up and down the apartment, or I’d put her in my car and we’d drive around so she could see the city,” says Rob. Still, their dates had made some progress from her hospital-bed-bound agony. Slowly but surely, Iena got stronger and recovered function in her leg.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” says Iena. “This guy helped me through an operation. He’s incredible. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted.” And then life had one more surprise in store for Iena and Rob: early last year, Iena found out she was pregnant. It felt like it was destined. Their son, Noah, was born in November 2020.
So yes, if you’re doing the math, in the two years Iena and Rob have been together, they’ve gone through a major surgery, become parents, raised an almost-one-year-old, and lived through a global pandemic. It’s a kind of relationship hyperspeed neither of them could ever have predicted, but they wouldn’t change it for anything.
“This was the first time I even did online dating,” says Rob, “and I’m definitely lucky to have met her because under any other circumstance I guarantee I wouldn’t have.” The experience has completely changed Iena’s life, in ways she couldn’t have imagined. “It’s the first time in my adult life that I can say that I’ve had something consistent and when it’s gotten hard, I haven’t run away,” she says. “I’ve stuck with it. And it feels really good.”
Next up for the happy couple? Since they “fast-tracked the serious stuff,” they plan to have some much-needed fun by traveling as much as possible on some well-deserved adventures together—plus one little one in tow.