By Ashley Edwards Walker
When Sam came across Justine’s profile in late 2017, they were about to move from Denver, Colorado to California for their job as a travel nurse. Having recently gotten out of a relationship, they were ready to meet new people, even if their impending location change meant the potential for anything long-term was limited. Using Bumble to meet matches, they say, was the most practical choice. “I’ve only ever met people I’ve dated on an app,” they say. “As a queer person, it’s not like we have rainbows tattooed on our forehead or something. I’d found it hard to naturally meet someone.”
Justine, a software project manager, was also being pragmatic when she downloaded Bumble. Having come out as queer about a year before matching with Sam, she was still feeling very anxious about navigating her new dating life within the LGBTQ+ community. “I figured Bumble was a good place to start,” says Justine. She liked that building her dating profile allowed her to tell her story in a way that would attract like-minded matches. “I’m super outdoorsy and wanted to meet somebody with similar interests,” Justine explains. “And it just never felt like I was gonna meet that person organically at a bar.”
A photo of Justine wearing roller skates and one of her rock climbing—hobbies the two share—piqued Sam’s interest. At the very least, they thought, Justine might become a new climbing buddy. Justine, too, appreciated that Sam had included a photo of them climbing on their Bumble profile. But it was a different photo of Sam wearing a backwards baseball cap and “gorgeous smile,” standing in front of the Black Canyon in Colorado’s Gunnison National Park, that inspired Justine to swipe right.
Still, despite their initial attraction, Justine remained nervous about taking the next step after they matched. They began exchanging messages, sharing short poems they’d written for each other, and swapping stories about hikes and backpacking trips they’d taken. “It was a really easy, natural conversation,” says Justine. But it wasn’t until she found herself talking about Sam to friends that Justine realized, “Oh, I actually really like this person.” So, when Sam suggested they meet at a rock climbing gym in Denver for their first date, Justine decided to go for it. “I thought, okay, it’s an activity, so if I’m feeling awkward or anxious, at least we’ll be doing something and we can talk about that,” she recalls.
In fact, Justine’s pre-date jitters were so bad, she sweated through several shirts before meeting up with Sam. But once they met at the gym and started climbing, the tension she’d been feeling leading up to their meeting evaporated. After a climbing session, they headed to a cider and cupcake pairing, where Justine arrived first and ordered each of them four full-size cupcakes. In retrospect, says Sam, “it was a premonition of our sweet life to come.”
Once they sat down, they jumped right into the “deep stuff” when Sam asked Justine to sum up her life story. After warning Sam her history was “a little dark,” Justine proceeded to tell her about her troubled teen years, her recent legal battles, and how she was in the process of “completely reinventing her life” because of that. “She was very open and authentic, which is not something the majority of people would be,” says Sam. “I thought, wow, here’s another person who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable.”
Sam, in turn, shared their own life story, including their battle with a chronic autoimmune disease and the multiple surgeries they’d had to combat it. They’d had their colon removed and was temporarily living with an ostomy bag. “I think a lot of that experience made me pretty self-conscious about my body and being intimate with other people,” says Sam. But that fact that Justine was sitting there, admitting to having gone through her own life-transforming challenges, made Sam “feel really safe and able to open up.”
After that first date—which ended with a kiss—Sam was heading out of town for Thanksgiving. So they made plans for a second date a few weeks later when she was back. Justine had Sam over, cooked them a homemade dinner, and played them a song on her guitar. After Justine serenaded them, Sam told her, “You know, I have got a lot of good people in my life, and I’m not really looking for more friends,” Sam recalls. It was their way of saying they wanted to pursue a relationship, but Justine was confused. “I was like, oh no, am I unintentionally friendzoning here?” says Justine. She didn’t want any misinterpretation, so Justine “just leaned in and kissed them right then and there.”
The next day they spoke again to confirm: they were dating, exclusively. Since they’d been planning to move, Sam had already ended the lease on their apartment and had to be out in two weeks, but Justine couldn’t move out of state due to her legal battles. They were spending every day together and wanted to see things through, but Sam didn’t want to sign a new lease in case things between them didn’t work out. So they struck a deal: they would move in together and, when Justine could, they’d embark on a life of travel together, with Justine working remotely from whatever city Sam’s job as a travel nurse took them to.
Over the next several weeks, they spent all their free time together and even booked a trip to Thailand. Then Christmas came, and Justine traveled to Virginia to be with her family, while Sam flew home to North Carolina to be with theirs. It was the first time they’d been apart since their second date and Sam was so “heartsick without her that I drove up to Virginia and surprised her,” they say. After the holidays, Sam’s mom flew to Colorado to meet Justine.
When they’d been dating for three months, Sam and Justine got matching tattoos in each other’s handwriting and started looking at wedding rings. At five months, Sam proposed to Justine on a snowy day in a cabin in the woods with a scrapbook of poems “because that had been our thing when we were talking online.” It was called “Oh, The Places We’ll Go,” a nod to the life of travel they planned to live together. Two weeks later, Justine surprised Sam with her own proposal, a scavenger hunt that ended at the cider brewery where they’d spent their first date. She, too, had made a collection of poems to give Sam—and unknowingly titled it the same thing. It was a sign. “We wanted each of us to have that moment of being proposed to, and vice versa,” says Sam .
In the summer of 2019, Sam and Justine got married during a trip to Iceland, then followed it up with a five-week-long trip through Europe. While traveling, Justine got the news that her legal troubles were over and she was free to move on with her life. When they returned to Denver that August, they started selling their stuff. In October, they moved to Reno, Nevada for Sam’s next assignment. Since then they’ve lived in Tacoma, Washington; Anchorage, Alaska; Mexico; San Diego, California; and Seattle, Washington.
Through it all, says Sam, it’s that same willingness to be open and vulnerable with each other they’ve had from their very first date that has kept their bond strong. Says Sam: “I’ve never felt so seen for who I am or so safe.”