When they were children living on opposite sides of the world, Christine “Tin” Miguel and Matt Mandino had something in common: they were afraid of flying.
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Growing up as one of six children in the Philippines, Tin would hold her sister’s hand in a tight grip whenever they flew. In the US, Matt was so nervous about boarding a plane that his parents had to drag him to the airport. “I was afraid of heights too,” Matt laughed.
As they got older though, both were seized with a sense of wanderlust. Their desire to see the world outweighed their initial fears, and eventually, they not only conquered their fear of flying, but they made it their careers. Tin became a flight attendant and Matt, a commercial pilot.
It was because of their jobs in aviation that they both found themselves at a restaurant on the beach near Chennai, India, in June of 2012. Matt was living there, working for Indian airline Jet Airways. Tin, who was based in Saudi Arabia, had a layover in Chennai and had decided to spend the day at the beach with a colleague. They headed to lunch at Santana restaurant (178, Fisherman's Colony, Othavadi Street; +91-944-429-0832,) overlooking the water.
“We were the only ones in the restaurant when Matt and his friend walked in,” Tin recalled. “I thought he was cute and, for some reason, felt like I’d known him a long time.”
Matt was also instantly attracted. “Her smile was so pretty and comforting. I went up to her and asked what she was eating. She said ‘calamari’, and I actually reached down and grabbed some off her plate because I’d had a couple of beers. Usually I’m not that outgoing,” he said. “[My friend and I] asked what they did for a living and they said they were flight attendants, and we’re like, ‘we’re pilots!’”
“And I rolled my eyes,” Tin laughed. “He gave me his card and he said he’d be happy to show me around the next time I was in India. I sent him an email a few days later, and we started writing back and forth. I was scheduled to be back on my birthday in September.”
On their first date, Matt drove to pick her up from her hotel. “He was so late,” Tin remembered. “Later I found out [it] was because he had driven all over town looking for flowers. He asked if he could fly to my next destination to see me again, and soon after that, he asked me to be his girlfriend.”
They got to know one another while travelling, meeting as often as possible and heading off on adventures across India. Then, in 2013, Matt moved to Hawaii.
Tin remembers the day she was helping Matt pack for his move. “I was thinking, ‘I care about him so much, but it’s Hawaii, which is on the other side of the world. It will take 48 hours to travel just to see him, and it’s expensive,’” she said. “I thought that, if nothing happened, at least we’d had a great time. But of course I was hoping we would end up together.”
He invented a game called ‘Follow Tin’ where he would fly on his free time to see me wherever I was scheduled.
That day, Matt presented Tin with a family heirloom – a sapphire promise ring – and asked her to come to Hawaii on a fiancé visa. “It's the same ring that his dad gave to his mom,” Tin said. “His mom and I both have September birthdays and sapphire is our birth stone. From that point on, I realized he was willing to make it work.”
“I asked if she would mind moving, and she said ‘I’ll live wherever you want, even if we have to live in a cardboard box,’” Matt remembered.
“I always think there will be opportunities and jobs everywhere,” Tin said, “But each person is unique. There’s only one Matt. We don't know where we'll be based next, but it doesn't matter as long as we are together.”
Unfortunately, it would still be months of paperwork before they could be reunited for good. “Just to gather the requirements was a process,” Tin said. “While Matt was working in Hawaii, I was still living in Saudi Arabia, so he invented a game called ‘Follow Tin’ where he would fly on his free time to see me wherever I was scheduled.” The couple met in cities like Geneva, Milan and Barcelona. “Our layovers were often only 36 hours so it was really special,” Matt said. “We made a lot out of the short time we had together.”
Finally, in July 2014, Matt and Tin were married in Hawaii. “I just wanted the marriage, I didn't need a wedding,” said Tin about the simple courthouse ceremony. “We decided to save our money for other things.”
The couple now lives by the beach in Bali, content to finally be under the same roof for good. Reflecting on their years spent in a long-distance relationship, Tin said that there are some positive aspects to being apart. “It makes you more passionate. You really think about what you want and ask ‘is this worth the time and the energy?’… If you love each other, you don’t give up.”
This story was originally featured on @thewaywemet.
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