Couple communicating through phones to avoid language barrier

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Swipe This! Can my Italian fling survive on Facebook Messenger?

Where there's hope, there's a way forward.


Nayomi Reghay


Posted on Aug 2, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 9:58 pm CDT


Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email

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Dear Swipe This!

How do you keep a romantic connection alive with only messaging apps to communicate when you don’t speak the same language?

I recently met a handsome Italian man through a mutual friend. He was visiting New York for two weeks and we developed an instant connection. By the second week of his trip, we were going out on romantic dates and sleeping together every night. He had essentially moved in with me.

For context, I am currently coming off of an epically bad breakup. But when I met this new guy I felt hopeful. I liked that he was open and willing to jump into new situations and take risks. I felt an instant ease with him and I liked our connection.

When we parted ways, we didn’t make any plans for the future. But we did become friends on Facebook, as new friends do, and we use messenger to communicate occasionally. I doubt anything major is going to come of this, but I do like the flirtation and the attention. Then again, I also have this feeling that something is lost in translation because I don’t know for sure if he’s actually flirting or just sending a kind of digital paper airplane like “Hi, you were fun, I enjoyed you. Bye.”

In a perfect world, I guess I’d want to see if something could develop further, but I don’t know what that would be. I’m definitely not in the financial position to travel abroad frequently and would feel bad asking him to come here all the time.

As far as dating goes, I am otherwise pretty closed off. I’m shy and I don’t put myself out there a lot. I don’t do dating apps. I usually rely on real life situations, or Twitter, to meet new people. Actually, come to think of it, I met all three of my exes on Twitter when they slid into my DMs.

When I spent time with this new guy IRL, I could feel that the chemistry was there, and the language wasn’t really a problem. We understood each other and worked well together. I was clearly the most comfortable person for him to talk to apart from his friend who he was here to see, who is fluent.

I guess I just have to not get my hopes up, but part of me would really like to see where this could go. How do I keep our chemistry alive? Is it hopeless?


Hopelessly Hopeful

. . .

Dear Hopelessly Hopeful,

I am so sorry you’re reeling from a bad breakup and I am so happy you’ve met someone who has given you a chance to feel hopeful about love. When we’ve had our heart broken, it can be easy to turn bitter or, worse, numb. Rejection stings and many people will do anything to take the edge off. Some swear off love to steel themselves against the pain. Others go on swiping sprees and schedule a dozen first dates for as many days. But you seem to be among the brave few who are willing to simply show up, bruised heart in tow, and see what the present moment has to offer.

That said, there are certainly real obstacles to this becoming a full-fledged relationship. I’m not going to advise you to pursue something serious with someone who lives overseas. But I have to wonder why experiencing something limited is a problem in the first place. Is it so bad for a romance to exist in a more limited way? Is it really a loss to have had a fling that gave you, if anything, a little bit of joy and a little bit of hope?

Perhaps you feel unsettled because you found a connection that is the opposite of what you usually pursue. Instead of passively connecting via Twitter DMs until real-life intimacy becomes feasible, you took the leap of showing up for a connection face to face from the start. Now you are left with a digital approximation of that intimacy. So I can understand why you feel a sense of unease or loss. But it seems to me that when you sit down to tell yourself the story of what this was and what this can or cannot be, you are robbing yourself of your experience so that you can avoid some imaginary heartache down the road.

At a practical level, there is not much I can advise you to do to help this romance flower. The best you can do is what you have already done. Show up, be yourself, and be open.

If the language barrier is truly an issue (you say yourself it was not), then Google Translate is your best friend. I can’t imagine many conversations that would be so nuanced you’d miss anything of great importance. It’s totally normal when we get a note from a new love interest to want to decode it for hidden meaning. But I doubt this guy who chose to spend so much of his time with you is sitting down and crafting riddles for you to decipher. He is simply being the same person you met in real life: open, willing to take risks, and happy to connect. So take what he shares at face value. If he is reaching out, reach back.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll meet him for a romantic getaway next spring. Maybe his notes will brighten your day as you warm up to the idea of actually (gasp) downloading a dating app. Or maybe you will tire of him because when he isn’t warming your bed, it turns out he actually is a bit duller than you thought.

But whether this budding connection blossoms or withers, at the end of the day, you will have to return to your own heart. You will always be with yourself. And so, I have to wonder what it means to always tell your heart “don’t hope.”

When we are small, we wish for the things we want with our whole hearts. Sometimes we get what we wish for, sometimes we don’t. But we keep wishing. And in the moment when we squeeze our eyes shut and wish, something holy happens: We implicitly tell ourselves that the world is big and full of possibility. We open ourselves up to the idea that something really fucking great could come our way at any moment.

Can you imagine attending a birthday party where the birthday child is told, “Blow out the candles, kiddo. And don’t get your hopes up!”

I wonder how old you were when you learned that hoping for things was bad to do. Was it after a bad breakup? Or was it in high school when a crush didn’t return your affections? Or was it a long, long time ago? What was that heartache that was so bad that it taught you wishing was a dangerous thing to do?

It’s true that wishing and hoping will sometimes lead to disappointment. It’s also true that making and doing is often more effective. But the opposite of wishing isn’t imagining the worst. It’s taking an honest look at exactly what’s in front of you. When you take stock of all the good that you’ve been handed and you get down to the work of making more good, that’s when you’ve become a grown up who can buy her own slice of cake and eat it too.

You say you met someone who was open and willing to take risks, and I’m willing to bet the reason that appealed to you so much is that there is a big part of you that wants to be more open, more of a risk-taker, more present in your own life. And no Facebook message in English, Finnish, or Portuguese will give you permission to do that. You simply have to dig deep and open yourself up.

And when you do, every wish that you wish might not come true. But I’m willing to bet that life will surprise you and send something pretty spectacular to your inbox.


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*First Published: Aug 2, 2017, 6:30 am CDT