BY KATHERINE MOREHOUSE
Carina Lee stood waiting at the Heathrow Airport in London, England. Her eyes searched the faces as they entered the baggage claim area, people meeting their loved ones or just snagging their luggage.
Then she saw him walking towards her. She smiled, excited. Jae Lee walked up to her and smiled back shyly. A spark of annoyance shot through Carina as she and Jae stood awkwardly, Jae too shy to hug her.
It made sense though, to be a little nervous. It was, after all, their first time meeting in person. The two began talking in 2013 on a site called Interpals. They connected initially because of their common taste in 80s music, but it soon blossomed to something more, and in 2014, Jae took the trip to meet Lee in England for the first time.
“I was worried about the distance at first, but thought that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try and I really wanted it to work,” says Carina.
For the past few years social media, dating apps and websites have become more popular ways to meet a partner. It seems easy to swipe left or right to show interest in someone, and then possibly meet them the next day; but what if the person of interest lived across the world?
Carina Lee was 23 and living in England when she began talking to 24-year-old Jae Lee, who was at the time in Australia, but originally from Gimhae, South Korea. Through Interpals, they were able to share their photos, interests and taste in music.
Interpals is a site that encourages people to connect with others from all over the world who are looking for penpals, long-term friendship, language exchange, and travel buddies. The website does not mention anything about finding love, but that’s what happened with Carina and Jae.
“We became friends quite quickly and slowly began to realise that it was more than that and decided to make a go of things,” said Carina.
Through free websites like Interpals, people can see other people’s profile photo, interests, likes, dislikes, and anything else the user might want to add to their profile. There are currently over three million people with an account on Interpals from all over the world.
Interpals isn’t the only website that people can use to connect with potential matches from across the planet. Other common apps or sites are Match.com, eHarmony, and Wamba.
There are also apps and websites that are more specific when it comes to what you’re looking for in a person. People with common beliefs, who are interested in dating, for example a Christian, could try out ChristianMingle, while someone who was interested in dating specifically an Asian woman could try AsianDate, or Amolatina if they were looking for a woman specifically from South America.
Carina and Jae had to learn about each other’s culture in order to understand each other more. In South Korea, it’s considered bad manners if you don’t greet someone when they enter a house. Carina says that at first Jae’s mom didn’t like that she didn’t greet her when she came home, even though she said hi to her, but eventually they sorted it out.
Also, where Carina is younger than Jae’s mom, she has to greet her formally. Carina learned to do that, but she also gives her a hug as well as her own form of greeting.
There are also things that Jae and Carina love from each other’s country. Jae loves roast dinners, that he normally didn’t have in South Korea, and Carina loves some Korean dramas and the Korean Pop group BigBang, as well as hotteok (a sweet Korean pancake with a syrup filling) and Melona ice cream (a fruit-flavoured brand of ice cream in Korea).
Carina admits that initially she felt worried about the distance, but in the end she decided to take a leap and give it a shot. She says she was also worried that in the future, if they decided to get married, they might hit a road block because of the UK’s strict spouse VISA laws.
“I was also very ill with depression and anxiety at the beginning, which didn’t help,” said Carina. “I also worried that he wouldn’t want to stay with someone who had a physical disability too.”
Soon after meeting for the first time in 2014, they went on their first date together touring London.
“We did things such as the open top bus tour and I even got him to go on the London Eye; he’s afraid of heights,” said Carina.
Their relationship continued to grow, and on June 22, 2015 they got engaged. Carina laughs when she thinks back to when Jae proposed to her.
“It was so unromantic,” says Carina. “Whilst we were in Korea, he brought home fried chicken for dinner. Afterwards he proposed whilst I felt sick from overeating and was wearing Harry Potter pyjamas…I said I’d only say yes if he got down on one knee. He did.”
Carina and Jae got married a year later on June 10, 2016 in Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea. Carina says they plan to have a church blessing and a small reception in the UK once they have a little more money and the spouse VISA.
Whenever they are apart, Lee and Jae spent hours together on Skype watching movies and TV shows together.
“… Walking Dead, Vikings, Fresh Off the Boat and lots of Korean thriller/horror movies. It’s nice but a bit sad that you can’t cuddle up to them,” says Carina.
Ariel Ottens is a 19-year-old who uses Skype often to stay connected to her partner 24-year-old Paige McCafferty. Ottens lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and McCafferty is from Oromocto, but currently attending Queen’s University in Ontario.
McCafferty added Ottens on Facebook during the beginning of summer break in 2016. They didn’t know each other, but were both going on the school trip to Ireland. During the trip they finally met each other.
“I didn’t know who she was when she added me, and I still didn’t until we got to know each other,” says Ottens.
The two got to know each other better during the Ireland trip, and began dating when they arrived back to Fredericton. They were together for four months before McCafferty had to go off to university in Ontario. Even though they’re still in the same country, it feels like a world away for Ottens.
“The hardest part for me is probably how lonely it is. I see my friends with their significant others and that makes my heart so full, but I wish I could have that. It’s the little things like not being able to hug, or have a warm hand to hold; I have very cold hands. It’s the things like driving around and laughing at the weird radio music that I miss. I don’t really listen to the radio when she’s gone,” says Ottens.
Like Carina and her husband, Ottens and her partner keep in touch through social media like Skype, Facebook, Snapchat and Tumblr. They even sync their Netflix accounts and watch TV shows together, like the Mindy Project.
Thinking about couples like Ottens and McCafferty who are in long-distance relationships, Carina understands how lonely it can get without your significant other at your side, but says you shouldn’t let it get you down.
“Don’t give up hope. I nearly did and now I’m happily married. Things will be tough and you can go for a long time without seeing each other in person but it won’t be forever,” says Carina.