Paul and Mich: Finding true love on Facebook
MANILA, Philippines - Paul Rojas and Mich Dumbrique seem like any other successful couple -- they have tons of things in common, share undeniable chemistry, and make sure to spend time with each other every day. But their story is a little more complicated.
Paul is a field engineer based in California, and Mich is a change engagement manager based in Manila. They've only physically met each other once, but have been in a long-distance relationship since October 2013. What's more, they met through Facebook's graph search, and were essentially strangers to each other beforehand!
Rappler first met the couple through the recent #LoveFromAfar hangout (READ: Rappler Hangouts: #LoveFromAfar), where they shared their triumphs and trials.
In the following Q&A, Paul and Mich give us a more in-depth look into their love story:
How did you meet?
PAUL: Mich and I met on Facebook. I was on travel for work and was hanging out in my hotel room one night, when I decided to scan profiles of "friends of friends." I was bored of the same old regular updates you often see on the facebook newsfeed, and I thought I'd try out the "graph search" feature one of my friends had been raving about. So, I went ahead and looked for friends of friends interested in photography (as I'm an avid photography enthusiast).
Nothing really caught my eye until Mich's profile came up. I can't remember what specifically made me click on her profile, but just a quick look at some of her photos, and I was intrigued. I remember thinking to myself, "Hmm... this is different." Through her photos I could see a carefree, independent woman, just full of life and energy. She had photos of her trekking in Nepal, traveling to off-the-beaten-path places, and hiking and scuba diving in the Philippines... I could tell she loved the outdoors. As a guy that loves hiking, camping, and looking for remote places to photograph, seeing this really struck a chord with me.
I didn't add her up that night, but I remembered her name. The next night, I decided to look for her profile again and send her a friend request, along with a message explaining why I added her up. I felt really stupid doing so, I didn't even know what I wanted to get out of it, but I knew I wanted to see more of this girl and her outdoor adventures.
MICH: I scanned through his profile that day he added me on Facebook and thought, wow this guy has a good eye for photography! When I saw some of his landscape photography, I was completely blown away- something in his work made me sense something so familiar...the solitude and the peace and quiet outdoors that I came to love three years ago. I don't usually add random people on Facebook as I've concerns around privacy but with him sending a very polite message as to why he'd decided to add me I thought it wouldn't hurt to connect with people having the same interest as me.
How did you move from being friends to being a couple?
PAUL: There really wasn't a courtship process because I had no intention of having a girlfriend. I was in a point in my life where I was happy doing my own thing and felt being in a relationship would just hinder my freedom. I enjoyed being spontaneous with my landscape photography trips and being able to hit the road on a whim, and I had plans on visiting a bunch of remote places in the US as well as other countries. I didn't have room for a girlfriend in any of my plans.
And then Mich came along.
When she first accepted my friend request, we messaged back and forth a couple of times, and then it died off. I had no plans of actively pursuing her at that time, so that was fine... I just enjoyed seeing her posts on Facebook cause they were usually pretty interesting.
Then several months later, I hit her up with some questions from a friend that was interested in doing the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal. She responded back, and shortly afterwards, we began messaging more: once or twice a week at first, but increasing in frequency over time.
As I got to know more about her, I found we had a lot in common, not just with our interest in the outdoors, but in a great deal of other things as well. I found myself really liking her, and I told her so. I also told her that I was visiting the Philippines at the end of the year and asked if she'd like to meet up for coffee. She agreed, and suggested we could even go for dinner or wine. At this point, I was probably already falling for her but didn't want to admit it to myself. I was still telling myself that I had no room for anyone else in my life.
One day, I asked if I could talk to her over the phone. I figured, if we're gonna meet up in December, I should at least figure out if we'd even have any kind of rapport in person. Could I carry a voice conversation with her or is it only on the (Facebook) messenger? We ended up talking for almost an hour. It kind of surprised me how effortless it was. It didn't feel awkward or anything, and I wanted to talk to her some more! We talked a few more times over the phone until I asked if she'd be willing to video chat over Skype. She agreed and we set up a time to meet up on a "Skype date." I don't know how long we ended up talking, but it was wonderful. Skyping became a regular thing, and when we weren't on Skype, we'd be be on Facebook messenger.
I loved how I could be myself with her and we could talk about everything under the sun. It was very natural and easygoing. We were talking every day for at least two hours, and on some weekends, we even went up to seven hours! It was kind of crazy, but time just seemed to fly by. We didn't seem to run out of things to talk about. She had broken down all my barriers, and after about a month, I simply couldn't deny that I had fallen in love with her.
Love is not a word that I throw around lightly, especially with a person I'd never met, but there was no other word to describe how I felt. I knew what the implications would be if I told her, and that all my plans as a carefree single guy would be thrown to the wayside, but I didn't care. I just had to tell her how I felt.
MICH: There wasn't any courtship process. Paul and I just really went with the flow of our conversations on Facebook. Each time we'd reply to each other, I found myself even more connected to him. At one point he mentioned that he was at Whole Foods, doing some food shopping. I got thrilled at the thought of food shopping at Whole Foods! Back when I was a student in London I applied for a job at Whole Foods because I started getting into organic food and cooking.
Another instance was was when we knew that we both were into kiwi and yogurt when I told him over Skype that I'd bought some from my weekly grocery shopping. He said he'd gotten into kiwi and yogurt during his business trips in Japan when they'd serve this during breakfast.
It is funny as well because he was the one who'd help me decide which underwater video gadget to use. I went for the first time to Bali back in April last year when I lost my underwater camera after that trip so when I was going the second time around I had the dilemma of choosing which gadget to use. Since I knew he is into photography and video, I thought he must be credible enough to be asked about it! And voila, I got a comprehensive review of GoPro and Drift Ghost!
Little things like these made us feel closer and more connected as we went on with our daily lives. The transition from being merely Facebook friends to being a couple happened without us even knowing it!
What were the challenges of getting to know each other in the virtual space?
PAUL: Our communication was always very open and honest from the start, and I never felt that I had to put on a mask to hide my true self. I didn't want any mind games and I think neither did she, so it made getting to know each other very easy. No filters whatsoever. The only challenges were probably just technical issues when it came to Skype not connecting, or figuring out how many hours difference our time zones were since I traveled frequently for work and was always in a different time zone.
In terms of rapport, by the time we were video chatting over Skype, I no longer had any fears that we wouldn't get along in person, especially with the amount of time we spent talking. Worst case scenario, I figured we'd just end up as friends in person, but I didn't really believe that would be the case.
MICH: Knowing someone virtually could be a challenge to anyone especially those who would prefer to see a person first before sharing any information about themselves. In this day and age, you would always have to be careful about the people you share information with as anyone could pretend to be someone they are not.
With Paul, I trusted my instincts. It was a risk, everything in life is I guess. He'd also share information that are otherwise not something you would just share with anyone else and this sparked my interest and helped me feel at ease talking to him and sharing my thoughts and personal experiences.
What hesitations did you have about getting in a relationship with someone you met online and was living in a different country?
PAUL: When it came to relationships in general, I wasn't averse to meeting people online. One of my best friends I had met online. What I was heavily against was having an LDR (long-distance relationship). It just felt like too much work to maintain and to what end? I just didn't want that headache. And as I mentioned earlier, I didn't want to be in a relationship at all, whether in person or long-distance. I felt I had no room in my life for a relationship.
But with Mich, it was different. After a couple of months talking to her for hours every day, any hesitations I did have had been thrown out the window.
MICH: Paul and I were talking about this sometime after we'd expressed how much we liked each other. We were imagining what it's going to be like when we meet each other at the airport for the first time. It was something we've never done before, and the thought of falling in love online before you actually meet someone was completely unexpected. We were thinking so many what-ifs -- "what if we don't click, what if he doesn't like the way I am in person? etc."
We were thinking about these things but then we thought, we Skype everyday for hours, we'd see each other's gestures and habits. If there was anything between the two of us that felt awkward, for sure it would not come to the point that we would fall head over heels for each other before we had even seen each other?
We both weren't new to LDRs. I myself had my share of pain getting into an LDR and knew what makes it work/not work. I had to personally assess if it was worth it - distance can definitely tear people apart but that is only if both don't work towards the same goal.
Paul and I felt the connection was too strong for the relationship to not work. With the technology nowadays, it is easier to fill in that gap of being there physically with someone.
In hindsight, we both had the same primary love language - words of affirmation. That ability to connect mentally and emotionally with someone is such a huge factor for both of us which is another reason why we'd felt it was really something special.
What were your initial difficulties as a new couple?
PAUL: I think the initial difficulties were more in explaining to our friends and families and trying to make them understand how it is that we're in a relationship with someone we've only met online and not in person. We had only one mutual friend on Facebook, so I was essentially a total outsider and stranger to everyone else she knew. It's understandable though, since they would of course be protective of Mich.
I think if there were any doubts though, they were dissuaded once they met me in person. On my part, I had some friends and coworkers warn me to make sure Mich is not some gold digger out to get me for a greencard.
MICH: It was difficult getting my family to understand our situation. I guess the stories of people who'd met and fallen in love virtually is still considered an unorthodox means of meeting a romantic partner. My mom had to even do a background check on Paul especially when I mentioned we were going on a hiking and diving trip together.
What were your fears toward your new partner?
PAUL: Initially, I was afraid that we'd run out of things to talk about if we talked too often before we met in person. But then we started talking for hours on end, and it just never slowed down. We always had things to talk about, and even after months of talking for hours every day, I still find myself eager to hear from her the next. Maybe we just communicate that well, but I just don't find myself getting tired of talking to her.
MICH: I didn't really have any fears towards Paul. He was straight to the point and so was I. If he sensed that I had something on my mind, I'd tell him and we'd talk it through. He really does have a balance between high EQ and being upfront and honest about things which I really thought is what I'd like to see in a partner. Also, the fact that he is still Filipino by blood/background made us easy to understand each other and where we were both coming from.
How did technology play a part in making it work?
PAUL: Skype, Viber, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, e-mail. We are very connected most of the day except when I'm at work, but even then I still take time during my breaks to keep in touch. It may sound like a chore to keep in touch with someone during their normal day to day routines, but for me, keeping in touch with Mich has been completely effortless since I really enjoy talking to her and hearing her voice all the time.
Every now and then, we'll have a "wine date" where we'll both get a bottle of wine and maybe some dinner and just eat and drink while on Skype, but aside from that, we talk on Skype every single day, and we always have meaningful conversations, so in a sense, every day is a date!
MICH: Facebook and Skype. Then we jump from Viber to Skype when the connection isn't very good. Instagram for sharing stuff we'd bought (like food, good coffee/wine, hiking gear, etc) or places we'd travel or hike to.
With the various apps and tools nowadays, you can almost feel that you are physically there, engaged in whatever activity your partner is doing. There was one instance when he'd go trail running and we'd be on Skype, and I felt like I was there with him too.
We never fail to express how much we appreciate each other that everyday is actually a date for us. We talk about anything and everything under the sun - from the smallest things like how good the coffee is at this new restaurant next door to deep, serious topics like dying at a young age and job stability, to funny, embarrassing moments like stepping on a massive cow poo while trekking in the Cordilleras!
How do you maintain intimacy?
PAUL: I think in a healthy committed relationship, use of technology to help maintain intimacy between a couple is perfectly fine. If it keeps the relationship intact and going strong, than I can't see how it could be wrong. Even if the mental and emotional needs of a couple are met, the lack of sexual intimacy can still lead to a breakdown of a relationship, so I think it's important to utilize all means possible in order to maintain it. Although things like cyber sex are probably a bit of a taboo topic, I think its more prevalent than people care to admit.
MICH: Intimacy is at the core of any romantic relationship. It is a primary distinguishing factor that delineates the relationship you have with friend and a romantic partner. However you express your love for each other, virtually or not, is something that is a choice of a couple. As long as it's with the best intentions and both are comfortable with it, then I don't see it as a big issue.
What are your plans for the future?
PAUL: We're planning to get married soon, and no, we wouldn't live in different places again. We're looking forward to more outdoor adventures and enjoying a simple, meaningful life together. We'd like to explore the wilderness of the US, travel to South America, and eventually have a family.
MICH: I am marrying Paul this year which is the best decision I made in my life. The thought of exploring the wilderness and enjoying a cup of brewed Cordillera coffee (or Kona coffee) during a backpacking trip in the US really thrills me waaaay better than a luxurious 7-star honeymoon accommodation in Dubai. And yes, having a little Mich or Paul one to two years from now is something that I'm really looking forward to. :)
What tips can you give others?
PAUL: As far as long distance relationships, honest and open communication. Learn to talk to your partner. All you have is words when you're apart, so being able to effectively express yourself will go far in maintaining the affection and trust between a couple. And have a goal to your relationship. What's the point of maintaining a relationship over great distance if there is no end in sight and nothing to work towards?
MICH: Just be yourself. Do what you love and you'll eventually cross paths with the special person who will love you for all you are, and who you will find easy to reciprocate love with the same intensity as well. Secondly, communicate and lose your inhibitions when you are sending a message across. You cannot make a relationship work if you are unable to share your thoughts with your partner and/or put filters on what you really want to say. Lastly, understanding - lots of it. People are complex and there is no black and white single rule that would make a relationship work, which again goes back to communication. You cannot understand a person if the other person isn't communicating to you his/her thoughts and feelings. - Rappler.com
Are you in a long-distance relationship? What's your advice to budding couples? Share your thoughts in the comments section!