Finding love seems to happen by total surprise; but the most important pieces to get you there might be seeing the signs and leaning into the fear—mine took the shapes of a surf shop and a shooting star.
The first 21 years of my life were spent looking for a place to belong. For many years I wouldn’t stop running—from boyfriend to boyfriend, country to country. I'd throw myself into relationships thinking they would save me. And I hurt a lot of people along the way.
The year before I met Dennis, I was head-over-heels in love no less than 4 times. I'd meet someone, experience an electric connection, convince myself that this was "it"... And then completely forget about the guy the moment something else caught my attention.
What I didn't understand was that I was actually keeping my heart at a distance, never truly opening up to anyone at all.
Then I met Dennis.
Or, actually, my dad met Dennis. We walked into a surf shop and the moment I laid eyes on him I felt like I was hit by a brick. I couldn't talk. Something about his presence made me completely unable to act cool. He said hi and I answered with a "heherumpf" as my face turned red. He ended up talking to my dad. A lot.
At one point my dad turned to me and said, "Weren't you looking for a surf instructor, Rachel? I'm sure this guy can take you!" Dennis scribbled his number down on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
"Sure! Call me if you want to go surfing. I'd love to take you"
"Th-thanks", I said, feeling mortified.
Where was my normal, breezy self? I couldn't even string two words together! After what felt like an eternity, we finally left the store. Dennis smiled at me as I walked out, but I couldn't even look at him. What was happening to me??
"You have the WORST taste in men", my dad told me as we crossed the street. "Just look at that guy in there! Humble, straight-forward, good looking. You could tell right away—that's a great guy. And you didn't even give him the time of day! Instead you date these douchebags all the time. I hope one day you'll see the value in a guy that has both feet on the ground."
My dad didn't know the reason I didn't talk to Dennis was because I was physically unable to.
Every cell in my body screamed at me to call him. But I didn't. Instead, I crumbled the note up and threw it away.
Whoever this guy was, I wasn't ready for him. Or, that's what I told myself...
A week passed, but every single day I'd wake up thinking about this guy I'd barely even spoken to. My dad had left for Colombia, and I was alone with my little sister Emelie for a few days when I finally mustered up the courage to go back to the store.
"Hey, let's go back to that super fun surf shop we went to last week!" I told her.
"What? Why? That sounds boring. I don't want to." she said. At 9 years old it was hard to get her out of the pool for more than 5 minutes at a time.
"I saw an ice cream shop on that same street! If we go, I'll get you some ice cream. Okay?" Yes, I was totally bribing her.
An hour later we were in a taxi, heading for downtown. I felt like I was on the cusp of doing something big, and it terrified me. So I made a wager with the universe: If there is any reason to why this is not meant to be, give me a sign and I'll trust that. I looked up at the sky and felt, yes, if this was not meant to be, the universe would give me a sign.
We arrived downtown and found... Everything closed. Absolutely everything. It was Sunday, and I didn’t know it then but on Sundays all of Aruba shuts down. Even the ice cream shop was closed. We turned around and went back to the hotel.
Actually, I don't think this was a sign, I told myself in the car. No. That wasn't a sign. The island is just closed!! I can try again tomorrow!
The next day I had to convince my sister to try again.
"Why do you want to go to that stupid store so badly?? It's so BORING!"
"If you come with me we'll get ice cream... AND you can have some candy later!" I'm the worst.
A little while later we were in another cab, heading downtown again. Okay. THIS time I'm serious, I wagered with the universe—again. If for some reason this isn't meant to be, give me another sign and this time I'll take it seriously.
We got to the store... And Dennis wasn’t there. Still not a sign!! I told myself. He’s just not here. That’s totally random! But, 5 of his best buddies and co-workers were, and they immediately put me on the spot.
“You never called Dennis!” one of them said. “He really thought you would call but you didn’t. How come?”
I thought I was going to die from embarrassment. They had clearly been talking about me during the week and now here I was, back in the shop with my 9-year-old sister, trying to act casual even though I clearly wasn’t. Five surf dudes were staring at me.
“He’s not here, by the way. He’s in the office upstairs... If you're wondering.”
“Oh that’s fine, we’re just shopping a little!” I said.
So we did. I lingered in the store for as long as I could, looking at things I wasn’t interested in at all, pretending to need all sorts of stuff I didn’t need. Finally Dennis appeared.
“Oh, hey,” he said, “You came back.”
“Yes,” I said, “I needed... Ehm, board shorts.”
“No you DO NOT!” my sister said. “You already have board shorts! Like, a ton of them!”
I gave her a look that I hoped said “If you don’t shut the hell up you’re not getting any ice cream EVER AGAIN,” and thankfully, she did.
“Alright, well, I’m here if you need me,” Dennis said as he stepped behind the counter.
That’s it?? I thought. He’s not going to talk to me? Or ask me out? Or say anything else? I have to do the talking?
He told me later he felt a little hurt that I hadn’t called him because he really thought I would (“We had a connection!”), and that it was clear I was used to getting my way too easily. He wanted me to work for it.
I couldn’t believe it. Why was the universe making me work so hard to see this guy? I was on a random Caribbean island that I’d probably never return to—why did it feel like such a huge deal to see this guy? Normally I wouldn’t feel so shy, but I was overcome with awkwardness (again!). Plus, there were 5 guys there, just staring at me! I lingered for as long as I could but finally thought, okay, this is too much. I can’t do it. I gave up, paid for our things and left.
As I was walking across the open-air mall, I felt someone looking at me. I turned around and there was Dennis, hanging on to the doorframe of the shop, leaning out into the mall, watching me walk away. I flashed him a huge smile (a pretty obvious one) and kept walking.
I’d promised my sister we’d get something to eat so we sat down at a restaurant around the corner. Suddenly, Dennis appeared. Now he was the one who was nervous.
“Hey! I don’t know if you’re busy. Maybe you are? But I’m off in 20 minutes and was going to go check out the waves. Wanna come?” he asked.
“Surf? Me? Yes! Sure! Definitely!” I said, too excited to contain myself.
“Unless you’re just sitting down to eat...?” he said.
“Eat? Us? No, noooo! Not at all. We’re not eating! Let’s go surf,” I said—at the exact moment the waiter handed us a set of menus.
“What do you mean we’re not eating? I’m STARVING!!!!” my sister said. “You said we were going to eat here!!” Oh god... Dennis smiled.
”Emelie" I said, "Just. Be. Quiet. I’ll take you to the hotel—Dad should be back by now—and I’ll get you all the ice cream and candy you want. AND you can watch a movie in the room. AND I’ll owe you. Forever. Come on. Please just be cool!!” I told her under my breath, in Swedish.
“Oh my god wait—you like this guy!!! Now I get it!” She was 9, but she wasn’t stupid. “Okay. Fine. But don’t forget about my ice cream.”
So... Off we went. Dennis had a white truck and as I opened the door, soda cans and old Subway wrappers fell out and into the street. Dennis didn’t seem to notice.
“Time to clean the car?” I asked.
“What? Oh yeah, I guess.”
Emelie rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you’re taking me in some stranger’s car!!” she muttered. “And a dirty car at that!” She was feisty, that’s for sure.
I dropped Emelie off at the hotel with the promise of all the sugar in all of the land and told my dad I’d be out for a little while.
We drove to a surf break not too far away and parked along the shore. The waves were way too big for me and the break was crowded with local surfers fighting for the best waves.
“Are you okay to chill here?” he asked.
“Yes, sure,” I said.
“Cool,” he replied and then opened the passenger door, stood up and proceeded to take all his clothes off. Let me repeat that. He. Took. All. His. Clothes. Off. Changing from his jeans into board shorts, he got naked—butt naked—just like that! It was like he’d forgotten I was in the car. The funniest thing was, he didn’t seem to notice that this was slightly out of the ordinary or care at all if anyone around him could see. The whole thing took all of 5 seconds and then he was off, paddling into the distance.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d never met a person so... Carefree. It seemed like nothing bothered him, like nothing was complicated in his world. There was something about him that was so intriguing and so simple at the same time.
I sat on the shore and watched him surf until the sun set and it got too dark to see. As he paddled back in, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Why was I feeling so nervous around this guy? It’s not like this was the first cute surfer guy I’d ever hung out with.
He dried himself off and sat down next to me on the beach. “Wanna go eat something?” he asked.
“Yes! I’m starving.”
We went to a Thai place, and for the life of me I can’t remember what we talked about. We sat for hours, eating vegetable rolls and yellow curry, drinking Singhas, just talking. And laughing. A lot. When we finished the food, I didn’t want to leave. Neither did he.
“Wanna go for a drive?” he asked.
We drove with the windows down, his hand on the clutch, my feet on the dashboard. I wanted to hold his hand but I didn’t. We got to a lookout and stepped out of the car. What looked like a thousand lights glittered in the distance, surrounded by the dark of the ocean.
I sat down in the back of the truck, and he turned toward me. Suddenly we ran out of words. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted him to kiss me. The air was electric. He stepped closer and for the longest time we stayed like that—close, but not touching. Just looking at each other. I felt like I was on the cusp of something momentous and the butterflies I felt in my stomach just wouldn’t settle. I couldn’t understand it but a part of me knew: if I kiss this man... There is no turning back.
“Maybe we’ll see some shooting stars,” Dennis said.
“I’ve never seen one,” I responded.
I looked up and a dark blue canvas littered with light looked back at me. Even with all my travels I’d never seen a shooting star, strangely. I decided to make another wager with the universe: if we see a shooting star tonight, it’s a sign and I’ll kiss him, I told myself.
A second later a bright light went off above us as a star shot across the sky, leaving a line of bright orange glittering light drawn in its trace. Suddenly, his lips were on mine and time stopped.
I don’t know who kissed whom. But I know he tasted like salt water and sunshine.
We saw two shooting stars that night and until this day, years and years later, I’ve only ever seen one with him.
A part of me knew it then and there. Life would never be the same.
Since that magical night, my life changed for the better in every way. I moved from Costa Rica to Aruba and began living with this guy I’d met just a few weeks before. We adopted 4 dogs and 2 goats, started several international businesses together and made the most perfect little baby girl. He makes me crazy sometimes, but he teaches me about calm and stability unlike I’d ever known before. Dennis is my rock, the man that helped me see that I could finally stop running and truly open my heart to another.
I can’t imagine how my life would be if I didn’t gather the courage to go back to that surf shop; if I ignored the butterflies in my stomach or the signs I wagered with the universe.
Even if something—or someone—leaves you speechless, hands shaking and a stomach full of butterflies, don’t let it stop you from seeing where it may lead. Those just might be signs from the universe that you have arrived at a moment that will magically change your life forever!
What is your favorite love story about you met your partner, your dog or cat, your best friend…? Love stories are the BEST!! Tell me yours in the comments below!