Modern Love

Once I joined him on that ship for the Antarctic, there was no turning back.

03MODERN SEA articleLargeCredit…Brian Rea

  • Jan. 1, 2021, 12:00 a.m. ET

“Wind twenty knots,” he wrote. “Thinking of you.”

“Sent via High Seas satellite phone,” read the email footer. “Please keep replies short.”

He was somewhere off Antarctica, a place he had been dozens of times, aboard a no-frills tourist ship where he was the expedition leader. There was a separate captain and crew, but he directed the itinerary, oversaw the staff and guides, and was responsible for 50 well-heeled passengers who had shelled out five figures to chug across 2,000 nautical miles of hostile Southern Ocean to a distant land of ice and snow.

“Thinking aloud,” he wrote in January, “I have no idea what your diary looks like for April, but I could come to California for a couple weeks. I would be interested in some hiking in national parks.”

I agreed, but soon he wrote with a new proposition: He would buy me a plane ticket to the Solomon Islands, and we would sail around in a 20-foot open boat, exploring atolls and bays and camping on the beach.

“Maggie,” he wrote, “I know this is a big ask for a first date. I nervously await your reply. Have I pushed the boat out too far?”

He asked if I had any concerns, and I did. They included (but were not limited to) sunburn, saltwater crocodiles, unexploded ordnance from World War II, and the simple but daunting possibility that, once alone on a small boat, he and I might discover we didn’t actually like each other. We’d never even kissed. We were basically strangers, and he was 30 years older than I was. I was 32.

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