A woman in a beanie, with husband and  primary-school aged daughter pose happily for a selfie photo during an camping trip.

“Do you prefer Sartre over sport? Bukowski over beige?”

These words, written by my now-wife on her dating profile, are how I fell in love some 16 years ago. We hadn’t yet spoken on the phone, nor met in real life; I hadn’t seen a picture and didn’t know her name.

But when I read her words, a kind of humming started up; the sense, from nowhere, that this person was speaking just to me. I had recently returned to Sydney after a year of postgrad at the Sorbonne, and was neurotically inching towards completing my doctorate. The subject was philosophy and poetics, so finding an enticing mystery of a woman opening her profile like this set my senses tingling.

In my experience, most women didn’t seem to view poets as especially good relationship material, and let’s be honest, neither Sartre nor Bukowski exactly shone in that department. But here was a woman pitching her own romantic shot in the dark at precisely my useless skillset.

What followed was an exchange of increasingly lengthy missives, a flurry that ranged over everything from politics to dogs, bouncing back and forth several times a day. We were connecting more deeply than I had with anyone I’d met in ages. All the same, she wasn’t ready to meet up in the real world, not just yet. So I sent her my real email address in case she wanted to talk outside the anonymous boundaries of online dating. And then … nothing.

Not just radio silence: her profile completely disappeared. After a day or so I contacted customer care, asking where she’d gone – an unusual step as it’s normal for people to flake online and generally they don’t want to be pursued. But on this occasion it didn’t feel right. Don’t go there, was the customer service’s response. We work hard to exclude such scammers and this person is not who they claim to be. But she hasn’t claimed to be anyone, I shot back. What kind of fraudster asks for nothing yet puts in hours exchanging ideas on poetry and politics?

Later, I learned she had indeed uploaded a photograph to her dating profile, just for me, behind a password, and it was then that her account had disappeared. It turns out the photograph was recognised by the moderators, who immediately cancelled her account for impersonating the author and human rights advocate Tara Moss. Her account was deleted for impersonating … herself.

‘With one date, she met her husband, had a child, yet still got a refund and an apology from the dating site’: Berndt, Tara and their daughter Sapphira during a holiday in Tofino, British Columbia in 2022

Several days after she disappeared, she sent an email promising to explain what had happened, over coffee. The email came with a photograph; when I saw it, the humming turned to trumpets. She was utterly, ridiculously beautiful; even more profoundly so in person, when we met up at an inner-city Sydney cafe. Coffee turned to cocktails as we dug through her unceremonious ejection from the internet dating mini-verse, and I stared at her lips and wondered what they might taste like.

The rest, as they say, is history. Coming up on 14 years of marriage, we’ve travelled the world, camped on beaches and hiked up mountains, made love and made art. Tara is the most remarkable person I know – driven yet compassionate, delicate yet tough.

Our relationship keeps getting better. In 2016, Tara suffered a hip injury that destroyed her health and wrecked our lives, but even when she couldn’t walk, she refused to give up. She just kept pushing. Now she is recovering quickly, our connection continues to strengthen, and after riding through those hard years she’s come out the other side changed – stronger, sure, but also deeper, more spiritual, witchier.

And she remains, to my knowledge, the most successful internet dater in history. With one date, she met her husband, had a child, yet still got a refund and an apology from the dating site. To be honest, it’s very her: the ability to turn a negative on its head remains one of her most remarkable traits.

  • Berndt Sellheim is a Western Australian poet, author and photographer who lives in British Columbia, Canada with his wife Tara and their daughter. Berndt and Tara are ambassadors for Red Room Poetry’s annual Poetry Month which runs from 1-31 August

  • Do you have a romantic realisation you would like to share? Email [email protected] with “The moment I knew” in the subject line to be considered for future columns

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