8 years ago, I was feeling depressed because my pet had died, and a friend introduced me to an online game to take my mind off things. My first session, I’m ashamed to say, was 12 hours long. I actually spent an hour just creating my character! Then I became part of a guild, which had a lot of great people from around the world who played together on a team.
One night, everyone left the game to go to bed, but there was one guy from Australia, Michael, who was in the same time zone as me, so we continued chatting. Before that, we hadn’t spoken more than a few words to each other and we only knew each other by our character names. But that night we spent a good 6 hours talking about anything and everything. After that, we chatted every night, just as friends, and we found we had a lot in common.
After about three months, I realised I liked this guy but as we had actually had a conversation about how long distance relationships don’t work, I thought there was no point even mentioning how I felt. But one day I finally decided to tell him. I thought if he wasn’t interested, we would hang up and life would go on!
When I opened the chat window, I was so nervous I was sweating buckets! I typed, ‘Hey I know this is really stupid…but I kinda like you.’ But then I didn’t get any response! I knew he was awake and online and I thought, ‘Oh no!’ and just buried myself under the blanket. For 20 minutes, there was nothing, and I was just thinking about how our friendship was over. Finally, I heard a blip and I was dreading reading his reply, but when I read it, it said ‘…I kinda like you too!!’ It turned out he had been helping another person in the game with a quest and wasn’t ignoring me after all. After that, we went on skype to chat and we were giggling together like high school kids.
In all this time, we had never seen each other, as we were both shy about our looks. He had an idea of what I looked like from my photo on skype, but I had never even seen his face, so I forced him to send me a picture. He was really nervous but he finally sent one a few days later, and I thought he was really cute! After that, we continued with the same routine chatting every day, but never using video.
6 months later, Michael asked me if I wanted to meet in real life and I said, ‘Yes it’s probably a good idea!’ He said, ‘Oh good, because I’ve already bought tickets to come to Israel!’
The first time we met was actually extremely awkward because we are both very socially awkward people! We also realised that I was really short and he was really tall! And the whole thing was so surreal. I had dated guys in Tel Aviv who wouldn’t even come to Haifa to see me, and now this guy who had never even had a passport before had come all the way from Australia. Michael is a kind of classic Aussie bloke – works as a labourer, wears steel capped boots, very calm, very quiet. He thinks he’s not romantic. But a few nights later he gave me a snowflake necklace that he had bought for me in Australia, which was really special.
When he left, I really missed him. We had had that conversation about who would move where if it got serious, and I knew if he moved to Israel he would struggle to learn Hebrew. So 9 months later, I went over for a short period to see if living in Australia was something I could do.
The day I arrived I remember driving out of Brisbane city to Ipswich. We don’t really have suburbs in Israel and everyone lives in apartments, so I was like, ‘Oh my god, everyone has single housing and yards!’ We also have a lot of pollution, and not a lot of blue sky. I loved that sense of freedom here. And I loved how we had possums in our attic and cockatoos in our yard. His friends were also very welcoming, and in the end, I felt I could move here for the rest of my life.
9 months later, I applied for a working holiday visa and we started the process for a de facto visa. The first two years were a real struggle for us financially. I found it really difficult to get ongoing work as you could only get a job for 6 months at a time on a working holiday visa – I actually applied for hundreds of jobs when I first arrived, but I just got rejection after rejection, as they kept wanting to see certificates from Australia, which I didn’t have. Michael also found it difficult to get steady labouring work at that time, so all our money went on rent and bills and nothing else. We even had to ask my family for help at one point. But I felt those struggles built us as a couple – if you go through all of that and are still together then you are a really strong couple.
Later, we decided to move to Brisbane as there were more opportunities and eventually both of us found full time permanent jobs.
Life is much better now. It’s been a pretty hard journey but I can’t say I regret any of it because Australia has really become home.
It’s crazy to think we managed to find each other in this big world. Every year, we celebrate our anniversary on the date I first sent Michael that message saying I liked him. And we still play computer games together every day!
Photographer: Pia Jessen www.piajessen.com
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