Relationships

When Coffee met Bagel: Diane and Ghims on redemptive love and that 7-hour first date

by Joanne Kwok // February 13, 2020, 4:49 pm

Vday - Diane and Ghims - featured

Dating apps, bad reps? This Valentine’s Day, 3 couples tell us how they eventually found their match through popular dating app Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB). 

Who had a devastatingly witty profile? How long did that first date end up lasting? Which conversation became a defining moment for the relationship?

This edition features funny couple Tan Ghim Hwee (Ghims), 28, and Diane Leow, 29, who dated for 2 years and have been married for 4 months. They are also the founders of Instagram page Church Memes Asia.

1. How did you initially feel about app-dating, and did you expect to meet someone through CMB?

Ghims: I had just gotten out of a 2.5-year relationship that was going nowhere, and I just wanted to meet more people outside of my immediate circle. At that time, I took a very logical approach and did the math.

I was 26, and if I wanted to get married by 30, I would maybe take a year to meet someone, date her for two years and have a year of margin in-between. Turns out, things went faster than expected!

I was definitely fine with using an app, after being convinced by an article I read that online dating drastically increased our chances of meeting people with different worldviews and experiences because those we meet organically tend to be more like us. And quite a number of couples I knew had met through the app.

To say that I wasn’t looking for someone I could marry would be a lie, but to be honest, that wasn’t at the top of my priorities back then.

When Diane and I matched, I was actually kinda interested in someone else I had gotten to know in real life. But in my mind, I always knew I would like someone like Diane – loves Jesus, independent, smart, and has goals and dreams of her own.

Was I starting conversations because I liked the attention, or because I genuinely wanted to get to know people?

Diane: I was in a toxic relationship in 2014 and after we broke up, I had lost faith in love and did not see how I could ever fall in love again or even get married.

When I first tried out dating apps in 2015, it was more for the thrill of swiping and meeting new people. I soon stopped because I realised that at times, I was just chatting with guys for attention, and I knew I hadn’t healed fully yet.

I didn’t think CMB was a platform to find a potential life partner, even when I felt ready to date again in 2017. By then, however, I’d already known of a few people who had met that way and were dating seriously.

And I wanted to be sure about my motives. Was I starting conversations because I liked the attention, or because I genuinely wanted to get to know people?

When I matched with Ghims, I honestly didn’t have high hopes and was already going to give up on online dating – I thought we’d maybe hang out once or twice and then awkwardly say hi to each other in church (yes we discovered we were in the same church). For the record, I was also interested in someone else then!

2. How long did it take before you both matched, and what won your vote?

Ghims: It took us about 3 months to match. I had gone out with a few other girls I’d matched with before her, but most of them were uneventful. They were good people, but I just didn’t think anything would have worked out in the long term.

As for matching with Diane, I actually can’t remember choosing her! 😂 She jokes about it till today, but I secretly think she’s a little sore about it. Haha!

Diane: I remember being selective about who I met up with. I’d met a few guys before Ghims but those matches all went nowhere, and so I did not expect this match to go anywhere either. 

I selected Ghims because one of the pictures on his profile was of him making a coffee. And anyone who knows me knows I love coffee. 

Also, he’d bothered to fill out his profile with witty responses. One of the lines that stood out: “I’m a great guy. Just ask my mother.” I laughed, even though I found it a bit lame. 

3. Why did you decide to meet up? What were your first impressions of each other in real life? 

Ghims: After we matched, we realised that we go to the same church! Our schedules then were not very compatible so we only managed to meet about two months after matching. At that point, I had gone on enough awkward dates and come out fine, so I wasn’t worried. One more couldn’t hurt!

We met up after church, but instead of mingling with the crowd I decided I would be more comfortable meeting her at a neutral location, Uniqlo, under the guise of my friend needing a new pair of pants.

Our first meeting can be summed up in one word: inspiring. Inspiring in the sense that she made me want to become a better person, that there is really more to life. Some things that stood out were her generosity to her family and her willingness to have serious conversations, which I love, even early into a friendship. Small talk is fun, but serious conversation really opens things up.

I almost bailed, but right as I was about to do that, weirdly enough I felt God tell me: “No, give this a shot.”

Diane: He asked me out for a coffee after church service one day and I thought: “Okay, it’s just an hour of my time and a free coffee. If it goes badly, I would’ve gained a free cup of coffee.”

I’d been out of the dating game for a while and wasn’t sure if I knew how to hold a proper conversation with a guy I barely knew.

Because I was about to give up on online dating altogether, I almost bailed – I wanted to fake a migraine and go home after church instead. But right as I was about to do that, weirdly enough I felt God tell me: “No, give this a shot.” And so I did.

We ended up going to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, grabbing coffee after and sitting on the lawn at CHIJMES. Our conversation flowed non-stop after that – we spent about four hours chatting before deciding to walk to Orchard Road and grab bubble tea.

By the time our first date ended, we’d spent about seven hours together. That was both terrifying and comforting all at once.

4. What sealed the subsequent dates? At which point did you know that you had found a potential life partner? 

Ghims: It was quite easy and straightforward for me. I had never gone out with anyone that made me feel this way before, and felt a peace from God to go ahead and ask her out on subsequent dates.

For me, the 7-hour date was also very telling – I actually liked spending time with her! I didn’t have to cook up an excuse to leave early.

I later learnt that she was very scared and wanted to take things slow because of her past relationship. Her friends needed to convince her to go out with me – they’re the MVPs!

But I had a good feeling that she liked me; when I brought her prawning on our third date, she kissed me on the cheek and I gave her a cap of my favourite Internet corgi. So much for going slow…

It’s easy to find someone pretty, smart or funny, but finding someone who can constantly point you upwards to God is a challenge. In my mind, my partner needed to point me upwards, inspire me to be a better person, and be able to challenge me both intellectually and spiritually.

And I found that in Diane.

Diane is someone who accepts my past, believes in me for greater and is constantly seeking to view me the way that God views me – those were things that really helped me see a future with her.

There was a time when I really opened up to her, and I think that was a key moment where I knew that she could accept my past. 

It’s easy to find someone pretty, smart or funny, but finding someone who can constantly point you upwards to God is a challenge.

Diane: He was proactive about meeting up a second time, and because I work shifts, we met for a quick lunch.

On our third date, I had gotten off work very late and had initially called him to cancel. But his response was: “I’ve been looking forward to this all week! You want to cancel?” He was going to take me prawning.

In my head, I’d already decided to ask him a few questions that would make or break our relationship – what he’s looking for in a life partner, what he defines as success in life, his views on premarital sex and so on.

By the end of the night, although we only caught two measly prawns, I felt like I got to know him on a deep-enough level to continue getting to know him better. 

When I was single, one of my close friends Jasmine asked me to make a list of non-negotiable traits I looked for in a life partner. My partner needed to: 

  • Love God more than He loves me
  • Love his family
  • Be passionate about something outside of work

Ghims made the list, but not in the way I’d imagined. I sometimes thought I’d end up with a worship leader or someone who’d been in church for most of their lives. Ghims was just returning to church after a season away.

But when I consulted God about our relationship, I felt Him gently remind me that Ghims is all that I asked for. 

I was resolute on this: “If Jesus does not hold it against you, neither can I.” 

Here’s how I knew he was a potential life partner. Before our relationship went any further, he wanted to tell me how he’d sinned in the past.

It was something he’d repented of, but he felt it was important that I knew because he did not want anything hanging over our relationship in the future. I knew it was a difficult yet brave thing to do. Tears were shed.

He may not admit it now, but I thought I saw a little fear in his eyes when he asked if it changed anything in our relationship. But I was resolute on this: “If Jesus does not hold it against you, neither can I.” 

I so appreciated that he wanted to start on a clean slate, and while our pasts do not define us, he thought it was important enough to bring it into the light. And whatever we faced in the future, I felt confident that we’d be able to do the same, too.

5. Looking back, how do you feel about using app-dating now? How did faith that God will send a partner reconcile with using an app to find one?

Ghims: CMB is a great way to meet people, but be discerning about when to end a conversation, a date or even a budding relationship. Be kind when letting people go and avoid ghosting people who might be interested in you.

As it is with all things, don’t dive in headfirst. Take things slow (like not kissing them by the third date) and ask God for wisdom.

At the end of the day, dating is supposed to be fun. Don’t overthink things – going out with someone doesn’t mean you will get married to that person!

For me, there is nothing to reconcile between app-dating and faith. God works through everything and anything. As long as we are in tune with His heart for us, we will not settle for anything less. Uphold your standards regarding character and maturity, and don’t get into a relationship for a relationship’s sake.

Diane: I like to tell people that God exists in (dating app) algorithms because He created the people who created them. 😂 But on a more serious note, I think meeting Ghims on CMB happened because of a few things.

For one, it was good timing – I’d healed from my previous relationship and felt ready to meet new people. I was also not relying on the app to meet my future husband. I’d made peace that it was a platform to meet other people, and was focusing on what God was teaching me throughout the process of dating.

God can purify your heart even while dating. Sometimes that means heartache, and sometimes that means love blooms.

I learned that if I could not trust the man in front of me because we’d only gone out a few times, then I needed to rely on the collective wisdom of my female friends and my church leaders, and what I felt God was saying. 

I think dating apps have a bad reputation for one-night-stands and catfishing (a term where people use a different profile picture to pique potential matches’ attention). Sometimes people also think going on an app to meet people means desperation. 

But through this process, I have learned that God can purify your heart even while dating. Sometimes that means heartache, and sometimes that means love blooms. 

If someone is thinking of trying out online dating but is unsure about taking the plunge, I’d ask: Where is the fear coming from? Is it because of unclear expectations from online dating? Or because of the fear of heartache?

Let God speak into those questions before deciding if you should proceed. Run to His throne before running to the phone. 

For more “When Coffee met Bagel” journeys, check out the stories of Ian & Seets and Zhao Qi & Jovina.

When Coffee met Bagel: Find a man who also loves the people around you, says Seets of her boyfriend Ian

When Coffee met Bagel: We understood each other’s passion and pain, say Zhao Qi and Jovina

THINK + TALK

  1. What are a few must-have qualities in a life partner for you? What about deal-breakers or must-not-haves?
  2. Do you have faith that God can send the best partner for you? 
  3. How can you partner with Him in your journey of finding a match – online dating or otherwise?
About the author

Joanne Kwok

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.