How we met: ‘She was bloody gorgeous. As soon as she said hello, I knew I was in trouble Life and style

In 2016, finding love was the last thing on Andy’s mind. A scuba diving accident four years earlier had left him with a spinal cord injury, and his primary focus was recovery. “I am from Curaçao and there isn’t much social security here, so I moved back in with my parents for support,” he says. “I spent my time blogging about life with disability and I set up a business selling lanterns made from recycled cans, to make some extra money.”

That December, Andy was invited to a Christmas fair to sell his products. After he set up his stall, he saw a woman behind him, who had arrived late. “Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed she was bloody gorgeous,” he says. Throughout the event, he tried to avoid speaking to her. “I’m a sensitive person and I knew I didn’t want to fall for anyone at that time,” he says.

Despite his best efforts to steer clear, Shalini had other ideas. “I was working as an acupuncturist but I was at the fair to promote my new line of herbal skincare products,” she says. “I knew about Andy through his blogs and was really excited about meeting him.” As soon as she introduced herself, he was “bewitched”. “I knew right then that I was in trouble,” he says with a laugh.

They started chatting about their creative projects. “I told her about some beard oils I was selling and she suggested we work together to develop a natural beard oil,” he says. Shalini gave him her business card, and Andy got in touch 10 days later.

Shalini and Andy in 2019.
Shalini and Andy in 2019. Photograph: Supplied image

“At first I thought she was married and it would be purely professional,” he says. But as they started to chat on WhatsApp, he learned that Shalini was a single mother, who also lived with her parents for additional support.

“When my daughter was born, I swore off men,” she says. “But when she started school in 2016, I realized I was ready to get out of my shell.”

Shalini offered Andy a free acupuncture treatment. “She suggested it could help me manage my pain. I said I would cook lunch at my house and she came over with her daughter.”

When Shalini put her hands on his shoulders during the treatment, Andy could “feel her kindness”. The next day, he took her out to a burger restaurant, where they both felt the spark between them. “I was so excited to be out of the cocoon I’d wrapped myself in. I felt this sense of comfort around him,” she says.

After Christmas, they started dating casually. Shalini was reluctant to get serious. “I had to rethink my life after I became a single mum and Andy had to start again after the accident,” she says. “I wanted to take things slowly.”

While Andy knew he was falling for her, he gave her the space she needed. By the end of 2017, Shalini says she was “ready to crack open a window in my heart”. Last year, Andy was well enough to move into his own place, and the pair hope to move in together soon.

Andy loves the way they communicate, no matter what the topic. “Even if it’s scary or frustrating, we really accept each other the way we are,” he says. Shalini says her partner has helped her to feel safe again. “He gave me the space I needed to come back to life. He has this ability to listen without judgment. We make each other happy.”

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