A couple who met on a Take Me Out style virtual dating show during lockdown told how they decided to move in together – despite never having met in person.
Romance was the furthest thing from Ryan Swain and Crystal Barquinha’s minds when they agreed to take part in a socially-distanced dating show, filmed via Zoom, as they had both only been single for a few months.
But presenter and comedian Ryan, 30, won Crystal, 27, over with his cheeky charm and before long, the pair were spending hours every night talking on the phone.
Despite him being in Malton, North Yorkshire, while she was more than 200 miles away in Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, within just a week of chatting, they both became convinced they had found The One.
Now, three months later, they have finally met in real life after she quit her job as a plant-breeding technician to move into his flat on the other side of the country – and has even met his twin daughters.
She said: “People have told us that it’s all moved very quick, but it feels right, and I have no doubt in my mind about Ryan.”
She added: “I’ve met his family and they’re all so welcoming. It’s never felt awkward, I just fit in, like a missing piece of the puzzle.
“I agreed to go on the show as a laugh. I never thought I would end up meeting somebody. I have no doubt that Ryan is the one. I was in love with him before we ever met in person.”
For Ryan, after just a few days of chatting to Crystal, he felt like he had known her all his life.
He said: “I’d fallen in love with her within a week. Everything between us is so natural and effortless.
“It’s like we’ve known one another for years. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted – my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
When the nationwide lockdown was first enforced in March to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Ryan and Crystal assumed that they were in for a quiet few months, romantically.
But, the following month, they were both approached via social media to take part in Dating Indoors, a video-chat based matchmaking show, aimed at finding singletons love in lockdown.
The brainchild of Word on the Curb, a creative agency specialising in connecting with Millennial and Gen-z communities, weekly episodes of the show are airing on their YouTube channel, where they also show several factual entertainment programmes.
Following a similar format to ITV’s Take Me Out, men were seen taking it in turns to try and woo Crystal and seven other women, who would turn their cameras off if they lost interest.
Crystal explained: “For the first round, the men would introduce themselves, but without their cameras on, so we could hear them, but not see them.
“Then, once they revealed what they looked like, we got the chance to ask them questions and then then there was a talent round, when they had to impress us.
“If we weren’t feeling it, we’d switch our cameras off, just like when they turn their lights off in Take Me Out.”
But Ryan and Crystal almost missed out on matching, as she initially turned her camera off as he performed a rap during the talent round – only to change her mind at the last minute and switch it back on.
She added: “I’m quite camera shy really, so I think I just felt a bit overwhelmed.”
From there, Word on the Curb’s plan was to organise a one-on-one video call between Ryan and Crystal, as their first date a few weeks later.
Not realising they were not supposed to talk until then, the pair found each other on social media later that day.
“We exchanged numbers and started talking more and more. The day after we’d matched we spent seven hours on the phone, talking about life, work, art, music – everything,” said Crystal.
In the weeks that followed, the couple continued chatting during lengthy video and phone calls – saying that not being able to meet in person strengthened their bond.
Crystal continued: “Because we had no choice but to talk on the phone, it felt almost like we were doing it the old-fashioned way, just with modern technology.
“We got to know one another properly. Our connection wasn’t driven by lust or infatuation – it was deeper than that.”
In late April, a couple of weeks after they first matched, Word on the Curb sent Ryan and Crystal hampers containing roses, chocolate and Prosecco, so they could have a romantic video call, which would be filmed for the next instalment of Dating Indoors, using Zoom’s record function.
“That was strange,” laughed Crystal. “Ryan is an entertainer in his job, so he’s much more used to the cameras than me and there were times when I felt a bit awkward knowing we were being filmed.”
But, despite his professional performance, Ryan could not wait for the cameras to stop rolling.
He said: “We actually jumped on another call once the filming had stopped, so we could be together just the two of us.”
Convinced they were soul mates, the couple continued to speak every day.
Then, at the end of May, Crystal made a bold decision.
She explained: “I’d been planning to move anyway and figured that, with the way things were going, I’d one day end up living with Ryan, so I decided to take the plunge and ask if I could just live with him now.
“I was going to ask over a video call, but I lost my nerve and text him afterwards instead. He was delighted and told me, ‘Of course you can.’”
Ryan felt like the luckiest man alive. He said: “We would’ve made our relationship work long distance if we’d had to, but I was so pleased she asked me.”
So, at the beginning of June, Ryan and Crystal finally met in person for the first time after he rented a van to drive down to Norfolk and help her pack up her things.
Since then, their relationship has gone from strength to strength, and they are blissfully happy living together.
Crystal has even launched a new business venture with her beau called Whimsy Online, a sustainable brand for creatives.
“With Covid, we can’t do a whole lot at the moment, so are still in the ideas stages, but the plan is to sell sustainable streetwear and art, which brings together lots of passions of ours,” she said.
“I’d been wanting to start my own business for years and Ryan has finally given me the confidence to.”
Although they have only known each other for three months, the pair insist they are already past their honeymoon phase.
Ryan said: “Of course we have disagreements like any couple, but we never really argue. We communicate really well and just talk things through.
“I’ve never had a single second of feeling awkward or unsure about Crystal.”
Now as Crystal settles into her new environment, helping Ryan transform it from a bachelor pad to a family home, she continues to marvel at how she found love during lockdown.
“I never in a million years thought this would happen,” she said. “Turning my camera back on as Ryan was rapping is the best decision I’ve ever made.
“I can understand why people say it’s quick – after all, I did move in with a man I met online without ever seeing him in person – but if we’d been out dating in the real world, the amount of time we spent talking would have been spread out more.”
She continued: “Through our one-on-one Zoom calls, we’d spent about 30 hours on the phone to each other and that’s the equivalent of weeks of dating in itself.
“My family and friends all love Ryan and are really happy for us. He makes me laugh all the time, and we can be ourselves around one another.”
Echoing his girlfriend’s sentiments, Ryan is convinced that he has met the love of his life.
He said: “You can be in a relationship with someone for years and never truly know them. If something feels right, go for it.
“I’m still learning new things about Crystal every day, and vice versa, but we have so much in common, and I’ve never felt this way about anybody before.”
Watch the full episode of Dating Indoors where Ryan and Crystal meet here