By Kelsey Miller
It was a lazy, tipsy summer afternoon in July 2017. Kia was in her backyard in Seattle, Wash., having a laid-back birthday celebration for a friend. She pulled out her phone and started casually swiping through Bumble. “Casual” was the game-plan that summer, because the fall would be intense. Kia was about to start graduate school, working toward a master’s degree in public administration, with a focus on Black philanthropy—the field in which she now works as a consultant and facilitator.
Mission-driven by nature, Kia was undaunted by the prospect of hard work. But the next two years of rigorous research, plus a full-time day job, wouldn’t leave much time for anything else, let alone anyone else. So until September, Kia explains, “I was literally doing nothing.” No commitments. Nothing challenging. Just friends and backyard wine. Casual swiping only.
Then Nico’s profile appeared beneath her thumb, and something about it caught her eye. Two things, actually: “He was cute,” Kia recalls. But it was Nico’s own self-description that stopped her in her tracks. “His profile said he was ‘uneducating and re-educating’ himself,” she explains. An unusual line to lead with, she thought, especially for a straight white dude. “I don’t think I actually laughed, but I was…interested,” she says. “I was also a couple glasses of wine in.” So she messaged him with a question: Tell me, how are you re-educating yourself?
“It was definitely a challenge,” she admits. Yes, she’d committed to a challenge-free, do-nothing summer, but something told her this guy might be worth bending the rules for if he accepted the challenge. Nico did, immediately: That’s a subject best discussed over drinks, he messaged. Tonight?
Hours later, at a local jazz club, Kia sat knee-to-knee with Nico, realizing she’d made the right call. Walking into the bar (straight from the backyard, still in ripped jeans and a flannel shirt) she’d first been caught off-guard to find him dressed up and utterly dashing. “I was stunned at how beautiful he was! I wished I’d put more thought into my outfit!” she remembers. “But my outfit didn’t matter.” She forgot about the grungy jeans, and all that first-date stuff, once they started talking. They both did.
“I don’t think we even remembered to order drinks,” Nico recalls. “We just got into it.” It being—well, everything. “I think we started with the untold history of the United States,” says Nico. “And went from there.” Some might find this a bit heavy for the first topic on a first date, but for them, it just made sense. Like Kia, Nico had devoted his career to community service on a global scale, working in refugee resettlement in the U.S. and abroad. Hearing this, Kia began to understand why Nico felt so passionate about “re-educating” himself—and why he’d put it front-and-center on his profile. He was the type who could discuss tough topics, and so was she.
“We covered all the things you’re not supposed to bring up on a first date,” Kia confirms. “Religion, money, politics, parents.” All that, and somehow it still felt romantic. Both were surprised at how instantly open and intimate they were, emotionally and physically—a squeeze on the shoulder, a hand on the knee. They seemed to click on every level. It really was a perfect match.
The timing though, was not. And as they progressed to the second date, the first kiss, growing even closer, this was the one issue that stood between them. First, there was Kia’s graduate program, commencing in just two months. She simply wouldn’t have hours in the day for dating, and needed to hold focus on the work. Nico’s complications were different, but just as unavoidable: He’d just gotten divorced—so recently, in fact, he was still finalizing the paperwork. For both of them, it was a lousy time to meet someone so great.
“So we kept it light,” says Kia. They went on dates, but weren’t “dating.” They had more candid talks about complicated issues, but tread lightly on the subject of what they were doing. They met one another’s friends, had bonfires at the beach, got swept up in budding love and summer magic, dodging reality as long as they could. What came next? Neither knew.
In the midst of all this, Nico suggested an impulsive adventure for the end of the summer: a group he knew of was doing a sunrise hike on Mount St. Helens volcano, a popular hiking spot in southern Washington. They should join! Both laugh, and groan, recalling the daytrip now. Upon arrival, they learned the “hike” was, in fact, a summit—that is, a climb to the very peak. And it started several hours before sunrise. “I totally got us in over our heads,” Nico admits. “I had no idea what I was doing.” And Kia? “I didn’t even have hiking boots! I had to borrow them from a friend!” Needless to say, it was a rough trip. Imagine: Trekking in darkness through treacherous landscape and towering boulders, surrounded by strangers and accompanied by someone you’re not actually dating—someone you just met a month ago.
There were tears, and lots of why-are-we-doing-this moments, and a few brushes with mortality. Then they ran out of water. But they did it. They’d climbed a volcano together, helping each other through the rough parts and sharing the victories too. By the time they made it back to the car, each of them had realized they loved the other. Driving home, Nico actually said it. “I didn’t,” Kia adds. “Not for another two years.” She just wasn’t there yet. They just weren’t there yet.
“That experience was very telling about our relationship from that point on,” says Nico: a rocky road, with many stops and starts. Kia’s two years in grad school were as arduous as they’d imagined. They both grappled with commitment anxieties, broke up several times, got back together several times, and eventually went to couples therapy. Kia then decided to move back to Detroit, Mich., her hometown. “I told Nico, ‘You can come, or not,’” says Kia. “I think I put it like that because I didn’t want to be disappointed if he said no.” But he said yes. “That’s when I realized: this was real. A forever thing.” Nico joined Kia in Detroit in 2020. In 2021, they began to discuss marriage. In 2022, they got engaged.
Again, Nico says, it’s like their trip to Mount St. Helens: “You start in the dark, no idea what you’re doing,” he says. “You get halfway up and you want to quit, but you see the dawn and keep going. We cared about each other, and it was a long haul. There were challenges, but ultimately, we fought our way to one another. And that was the beautiful part.” It wasn’t the hike they’d planned for. It was a summit.
Main photo credit: Lessie Blue Photography