Narration (N): It’s a Saturday night. Meriem Abella is sitting on her couch in Lansing, Michigan, swiping through Tinder. Through photo after photo of white boys holding fish. Then she finds Amin.
Meriem (M): It was Amin, 28, and it had his pictures, and it said, “Less than a mile away from you.”
N: Meriem doesn’t usually swipe for people without bios, but this time she did.
So they matched and started talking.
Meriem: I said, “I know, you’re Moroccan, cause I asked him where he’s from, he said Morocco, I said Oh I’m half Algerian that’s really cool. Whatever. We went back to our normal conversation. I knew he was of Moroccan origin so I said, “So how did you end up in Lansing, MI that’s so odd” and he was like “What is Lansing, I don’t know that word.” And I was like “What do you mean what is Lansing [03:43]. He’s like, “Lansing, I don’t understand what that word means. What does it mean. I said where do you live and he said I live in Casablanca don’t you. And I said “No, what are you talking about? He’s like are you joking? I thought you were in Casablanca. My phone told me you were a kilometer away from me. I said nope, nope my phone told me the same thing. And he was like wow, I’m really disappointed. And then he changed the subject, and we kept talking.
N: 4,092 miles. That’s the distance between Lansing and Amin’s home in Casablanca, Morocco.
So when it said one mile?
That was Tinder messing up.
Meriem: I had a date with another guy on Tinder, and I cancelled it.
I had other matches and I just turned my Tinder off.
I was so happy I was like, even if nothing comes of this, I’m getting so much fulfillment just from our conversations. At the same time, I already had my ticket to Morocco and I was like, “This is kinda weird.”
N: Meriem had already planned a trip to Morocco before matching with Amin. But she hadn’t just bought her plane ticket. She’d made a travel budget, booked accommodations, and even made plans to work at a language school in Amin’s city.
Meriem chose Morocco because her family is Algerian.
She and Amin talked a lot about their shared culture, and he helped her practice Arabic,
which she’d studied in college.
Seven months of video calls and Google translated-texts later,
Meriem boarded her flight to Casablanca.
M: Initially, I really didn’t want him to pick me up from the airport. I said I can take a taxi and you can meet me at my Air BnB so I can unwind a little bit after traveling for twenty hours. He was like absolutely not. I’m picking you up from the airport, you’re coming to a new country, you don’t have family here.
I was outside of the Casablanca airport and he was coming to pick me up. I was so nervous. I felt like my stomach was gonna fall out of my body. I was trying to call him and explain something to him of where I was and he was like tell me what you see.
I didn’t notice that he had come and was walking up to me and hugged me really hard. And he was like “Meriem!!!” and I was like “Oh my god, hi.” And I was just so ugh. Tired and exhausted and happy and flabbergasted and everything at the same time. When we were driving back to the city he just kept looking over at me and smiling. I was like sweaty because the airport was really hot and it was hot outside and I was like oh I just wanna take a shower I feel gross. But I said, you know what, it’s okay. I’m happy. He’s happy. It’s fine. And then we went to my Air BnB and we just sat and talked for hours and hours. And he was like “We should go eat something,” and I was like, “I’m not—oh my god, wait, it’s been five hours.”
I was in the Air BnB for about five days until I came to the school. Everyday he would go home for like an hour or two to see his family and other than that he just stayed with me, because this is seven months that we’ve been waiting to be together. And then when I came to the school, obviously he went home, and I stayed at the apartment of the school.
N: That school is where I met Meriem. Everyday from four to eight, we helped Moroccan students practice English in exchange for a place to stay.Sometimes Meriem would rush in just before class, breathless from an afternoon at a café with Amin. And when classes ended and we poured out into the street, there he’d be, smiling and leaning against his car.
M: We spend most of our time laughing. Yesterday we went to the port and he was sitting next to me and he started tickling me and I was like, “Why are you tickling me? When we’re sitting at the port eating.” And he held up his index finger and was like, “I’m sorry! I didn’t tickle you. My finger has its own brain, it did it by itself.” He just does silly things like that. I was in his car and he had to leave to go pick up his mom and he started reversing when the door was closing and he said, “It’s not me it’s the car! The car doesn’t want you to leave!” He’s just a really funny guy. He makes me happy all the time.
So a couple days ago we had a little bit of a conversation, and I kind of asked him what are we gonna do when I leave? It’s gonna be a shock when I leave. We were apart for almost seven months, but that was before we’d met in person. Almost three months, we’re seeing each other every day. How are we gonna go from that to having an ocean between us?
We were sitting in his car and he opened up the glovebox and he took out a letter and a ticket and it was a ticket for the Spain vs. Morocco game in Russia, and a letter from World Cup Administration with his name and address on it, giving him instructions on how to use the ticket. And I was like, “Amin, what is this? You didn’t go to Russia, you didn’t go to the World Cup, what is this?” And he said that for a few months before he met me, he had been planning and saving to go to Russia for the World Cup. He went to the Russian Consulate for a visa. In Morocco, getting a visa is a very, very grueling and difficult process. You basically have to show them everything in your life and prove that you’re not gonna stay there. And it’s difficult. It’s expensive. And he said that he organized with a tour group, he was gonna go for five weeks, stay for the entire world cup, do some sight seeing. I think he was even gonna go to France, too. All to see Morocco play in the World Cup, because this is the first time Morocco’s been in the World Cup in a long time.
But he said after meeting me and finding out that I was coming here, he cancelled the whole trip because he wanted to save the money for spending time with me, because we were gonna go to Marrakech, but even here in Casablanca, he wanted to save the money because and I was coming here. And I just started sobbing, because this man loves football like no other, and I cannot believe everything he had to go through for that trip, and then he just canceled it without a thought. And when I started crying, he said, “Why are you crying? I’m showing you this because I want to show you how much I care about you, not to make you upset.” And he said, “I haven’t regretted this for a second. There’s literally not one moment that went by that I haven’t regretted this decision to not go to Russia. I’m very happy that I didn’t go. You make me happier than Russia could ever make me.”
N: When I think about Tinder,
I usually think about casual college hookups.
Or the awkwardness of a first date.
Never about fate.
The App is set up to make you think you’re in control.
Yes to this person, no to that one, with just a flick of your thumb.
Meeting Meriem and Amin
And watching them together
Reminded me to let go a little.
That I’m not in control.
That sometimes the very best things
Things you might not even believed possible
Just happen to happen.
Like falling in love with someone four thousand miles away
Because a glitch in a dating app.
M: hen we went to Marrakech, we did a trip to the desert. And when you’re there—it’s near a place called Merzouga—you can see all the stars; it’s uninhibited. There’s no lights for miles and miles and miles. It’s one of the places in the entire world where you get the best view of the night sky. I’ve never seen stars like that in my life. And we got a big blanket and we walked up to the top of one of the dunes, and it was really cold, and we were laying down together looking at the stars. And it was the first time he told me he loved me. Under the stars. He said, “I’ve been wanting to tell you for so long, but I wanted to wait until we were here, under the stars together.”