On evening, Hayden Starr returned home and found his neighbors partying. He lived in an apartment complex in Canberra, with only one other unit on his floor, his front door only “a yard” from his. Eager to know who lived there, he invited himself there.
âI grabbed a cheap bottle of wine that I had dragged in, walked in and saw this lovely, lovely girl,â he says. âAnd that’s how I met Sophie. It was her birthday, but we ended up spending hours chatting and she tells me all these crazy stories. After that I was like ‘Oh man, there’s something about this girl. There is something about this neighbor of mine.
The cute encounter was followed by an equally romantic courtship show: the couple spent weeks hanging out as “just friends” before finally closing their lips. A few months later, Sophie moved to Melbourne and the relationship ended. But when the feelings were not gone, she flew on Valentine’s Day, aboard a private plane, in a grand romantic gesture that resulted in a tearful reunion at the airport (they are “not rich,” Starr denies, she just had a friend pilot who flew out this weekend.)
Sophie eventually returned to Canberra to be with Starr. So, has he ever worried that dating a neighbor would blow up in his face? âThis idea never crossed my mind,â he says. âI was like ‘I really love this girl.’ I trusted him so much.
But not all romance over the fence works as well as theirs. A woman told me that at an old address, she slept with two people on her street, and another one a block away, forcing her to dress every time she had to go to the supermarket.
Another matched a man on Tinder who told her on their date that she looked ‘familiar’ – he turned out to be the driver of the bus she took to work every morning. . When things didn’t work out, she started taking the train. Several friends regaled me with horror stories about adventures with men in their neighborhood, only to spot them later in local hangouts – with other women.
Falling in love with a neighbor is a high-risk but potentially very rewarding gamble – do it right and you could have a marriage of love and convenience. If you’re wrong, with every brew of coffee comes the possibility of a difficult encounter.
But that’s also not an uncommon scenario – after all, we’re more likely to meet the people we share cafes and trails with. This is how it turned out for Nola James, who dated someone on her street over a decade ago in Hobart.
âI finished work at the same time every day, so at five past five I was still walking up the street,â she says. “I later found out that he would strategically take his trash to the trash can in the front. [when I was walking home] so he can smile and greet me. Over time he had the courage to say hello and then we started to chat and he asked me if I wanted to go for coffee.
“It was a really nice, normal cutie story.”
The couple dated for three or four of the most opportune months in James’ life. âIf you forget something or decide to go home in the middle of the night, you can really go downstairs,â she says. They eventually broke up, but James doesn’t remember being particularly afraid of crossing paths. “Hobart is a super small place and we’re all used to meeting our exes no matter how close you live to each other.”
But in 2021, it’s not just trash day that shoots Cupid’s arrow. Dating apps also play a role in easing local love – and discomfort – especially when people are confined within a 5 km lockdown radius.
At the start of Sydney’s last foreclosure, Alex * (not her real name) went with his roommates to play basketball on the courts around the corner from their house. In the middle of the game, their ball flew over a wall and into the nearby garden, triggering a tense confrontation.
âAll we heard was someone screaming ‘who did this!’ and this man appeared from an upstairs balcony. I politely asked to get our basketball back and he said no, âsaid Alex. A prolonged howling match ensued.
âFinally, he came out and met us. He said he was uncomfortable picking up the ball because of the coronavirus and thought we had deliberately thrown it over his fence. After a long discussion, he called the police on us.
Alex thought that would be the end. Later that day, he opened Grindr, a gay dating app that shows you a grid of users who are geographically closest to you. âI noticed that this person who obviously lived down my street came up on the grid and I was like ‘motherfucker got my basketball,’â Alex said. According to Grindr, the man lived 135 yards from him.
âA few days later, he texted me and asked me if I was the person who lost his basketball and if I wanted to come pick it up. I declined the invitation and asked him to donate the balloon to a place that might find it useful.
Has Alex seen the basketball player since? âEvery fucking day,â he said. âThe other day I was having coffee and he looked at me, then quickly looked away. It’s embarassing. “
Some people – like Melissa Mason from Inner West Sydney – are deliberately reducing their radius of potential matches on dating apps. Mason had a good reason to shrink his bubble: âPaul Mescal from Normal People had been spotted in the neighborhood, in my local pub and in all those places nearby.
âI was single and having fun, so I was like, whatever, I’m just going to get this guy. And so I made sure that the ray only covered the areas where it had been seen.
âAnd I also lowered my age range because I realized he was 24, which is chaotically young. I thought he was a lot older than that. I’m 35, so I was like, it’s bordering on too young.
Mason did not find Paul Mescal, but she did meet another man in his twenties: Tom, her present-day boyfriend. He lived 500 meters from the road.
âAnd it was honestly pretty alarming at first,â she said, expressing fears of dating in supermarkets after the breakup. “But I’ve been there and we’re still together now, and we’ll be moving in together in a few weeks.”
Mason is happy to have rolled the dice.
âI think the fear that it won’t work and then poison all of your local areas, honestly, it’s not that big,â she says. âThere’s a risk in everything, isn’t there? “
In neighborhood meetings, as in all matters of the heart, you sometimes have to take the plunge.