Love across continents: the surprising Cupid for young couples

Unlike with dating apps, Discord couples form in the modern version of an ancient tradition—bumping into each other by chance or meeting through friends. (WSJ, IStock)
Unlike with dating apps, Discord couples form in the modern version of an ancient tradition—bumping into each other by chance or meeting through friends. (WSJ, IStock)

Summary

Gen Z’ers on the platform Discord are unexpectedly finding romantic partners who live hundreds or thousands of miles away; chats lead to travel, meeting the parents—even marriage

Like many young couples, Katie Kelbe and Ben Croitor play videogames and watch TV shows together, including “Game of Thrones," “Succession" and “The Bear."

He lives in Stuttgart, Germany. She lives in Birmingham, Ala. They met by chance on Discord, an app where Kelbe, 27, bumped into Croitor, 22, on a forum for fans of musician John Mayer.

Kelbe and Croitor are part of a crowd of young adults on Discord who are unexpectedly finding partners who live hundreds or thousands of miles away. The app draws 200 million monthly users who congregate in online communities, dedicated to hobbies and interests, from astronomy to fantasy football.

“I would have never thought that me getting on Discord and joining a John Mayer server of all things…that I would meet somebody," said Kelbe. “Especially such long distance."

Discord brought them together and now helps keep them tethered.

Croitor, who does freelance media work, and Kelbe, a schoolteacher, watch TV together with a feature on the app that allows them to stream the show at the exact same time. They travel together and have met each other’s parents.

Kelbe said she never understood long-distance relationships. “I had that judgment of ‘How do you make it work not seeing each other all the time?’" she said. “But once I got into it, I was, like, this makes sense."

New and old-fashioned

Unlike with dating apps, Discord couples form in the modern version of an ancient tradition—bumping into each other by chance or meeting through friends.

Baylor Linn, 25, used to make most of his friends through clubs at his school, the University of Florida, but after the pandemic lockdowns, Linn turned to Discord. He made a wide circle of friends on forums for topics such as the TV show “Survivor" and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since then, Linn, a financial analyst, of Melbourne, Fla., has made Discord friends from as far away as Linköping, Sweden.

He and his pals often have hourslong voice calls together, chatting about random topics as they go about daily routines. “I’ve definitely swept and mopped the floor while talking," Linn said. Some people, he said, “join the voice call, not necessarily talk but just be on mute and listen to the other people talk while they’re on the bus or at work."

Linn met Kelbe on TikTok and added her to the Discord server dedicated to John Mayer in May 2022. She wasn’t a real fan of Mayer, but Linn told her, “it’s such a cool server and a really cool community," Kelbe recalled. He was right, she said. Besides music, people talked about life and current events.

Croitor stood out because he was easy to chat with, Kelbe said. After about two months, they were trading their social media links, Kelbe said, and “talking a whole bunch."

Now, they share the same friends, not unlike a crew that bonded at work or college. Linn took a trip to Europe in summer 2022 to see Discord friends there. “Some of these people I talk to more than my own family." said Linn, who is planning his return to Amsterdam. He met up with Croitor in Barcelona and went to Croitor’s hometown of Stuttgart and met his family.

It wasn’t Derek Fernandez’s looks or personality that caught the eye of his future wife. It was his inimitable fighting style in the videogame Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

“I thought he was cool," Sophie Fernandez said. “So I messaged him."

‘This dude is cute!’

The 22-year-old lovebirds crossed paths on the Discord server dedicated to the Super Smash Bros videogame, which hosts more than 3,000 people in chat rooms. She messaged Derek in November 2022, and they eventually spoke over the social-media app.

“He decided to turn on his camera all of a sudden," Sophie recalled. “As soon as he turned it on, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this dude is cute!’ " They started meeting in person at videogame conferences.

After a year, they got married in Las Vegas. Yet Sophie remains based in the San Francisco Bay Area finishing a job-certification program and Derek is in Daytona, Fla., where he is in school.

Derek often tells people who don’t use Discord that he met Sophie at a videogame conference. “Just so I don’t have to explain the whole thing to them," he said. “And if they ask where she lives, I just say, a few hours away."

Living apart can be tough. Yet, the couple have voice chats and video calls. They watch TV shows and play videogames together. “Plus, I know the next time I see him will be the last time I leave him," said Sophie, who plans to move in with her husband by the end of the year.

Discord daters said they have found a more authentic experience compared with dating apps.

“It’s a more down-to-earth way of getting to know somebody," said Madi Stollmeyer, 24, a software developer who lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She met Rob Quick, 26 of Hillsborough, N.J., in a Discord server run by a mutual friend. They bonded over the videogame Destiny 2.

Quick, a video editor, and Stollmeyer try to visit in real life, or IRL as Discord users say, every other month. “Sometimes we’re away from each other for two or three months," Quick said. “If we didn’t have Discord to close that gap, things might not work out as well as they do."

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