For Brenden Moon and Taylor Vanderlaan, love at first sight hit before they met.
The two college athletes lived 500 miles apart, across most of the Midwest — Brenden in Des Moines, Iowa, and Taylor in Grand Rapids, Mich. Over the course of about a year, each of them shared his story on Outsports, first Taylor then Brenden.
Not knowing one another before seeing their stories pop up on their news feeds, each one took an immediate interest in the other.
As Taylor sat in his room one day scrolling through Brenden’s story, he found himself for the first time in a long time seeing himself in the words of another.
“There’s someone like me out there,” Taylor thought. He hadn’t related to the stories of some other gay athletes, simply because he couldn’t quite relate to their sports. A gay college rugby player, Taylor connected immediately to the story of Brenden, a gay college football player.
“The football thing spoke to me, and that’s what really drew me in,” he said, “the similarities between our sports and our situations.”
Taylor admits that it was also, of course, Brenden’s “huge freaking muscles” that grabbed his attention.
Before long the two followed one another on Instagram. A bit of a game ensued, each one trying to send a tacit message to the other with his “likes.” Brenden was often the first person to like any of Taylor’s pics. Yet as the two were dating other people at the time, it was merely an innocent game of back-and-forth.
When the two were simultaneously single in November, Taylor took a leap. Apparently, following one another on Snapchat is opening the door for a relationship of another level. So when Taylor added Brenden, and Brenden returned the follow within a matter of minutes, Taylor snapped right back.
“Right there on Snapchat he told me he’d had a crush on me for six or seven months,” Brenden said. “And I told him the same thing.”
As they poured their hearts out to one another over the coming days and weeks, a plan was hatched to meet up. So in mid-December Brenden hopped in his car and drove the eight hours through the snow to Grand Rapids.
The visit was a comedy of errors. And it was perfect.
When Brenden arrived he couldn’t find a parking spot “to save my life,” forcing their magical meeting moment into a snowy parking lot. As luck would have it, Taylor’s roommates were coming home just as the two finally met.
“They ruined the moment,” Taylor said, giggling with Brenden as they recounted the day.
All of his roommates are straight and completely supportive of Taylor. They’d heard gushing about Brenden and anticipation for his momentous trip for weeks. Taylor hadn’t held back his excitement about finally laying eyes on this guy he’d been talking to. And, just as you might suspect from a bunch of straight dudes, they ruined it.
Next up that night was a sudden cold and a fever that gripped Taylor and grounded some of their plans. Brenden had to spend the next day caring for him. The day after that, Brenden got sick too.
The two spent much of that first spell together under the weather. Yet it gave them the opportunity to brush aside all of the niceties and see one another at their most vulnerable.
“It was a whole six days of trying to make sure we didn’t die,” Taylor remembered. “And I guess there’s no better way to bond than being sick together.”
The two made plans to see each other a month later, with Brenden returning to Grand Rapids. The week together was certainly nice, but they yearned for some time together when they weren’t dealing with a cold.
This time, Taylor wasn’t just sick, he was really sick.
“It seemed like a test for us,” Brenden said. “What are the chances a month later going and seeing each other again, and one of us getting sick for a second time?”
They survived the test. Their time together struggling with colds or the flu brought them together and strengthened their resolve. They got to know one another at a deep level, sitting and talking for hours, simply being in one another’s presence.
Now they are talking about a future together. Whether that will be in Des Moines, Grand Rapids or somewhere else the young men aren’t sure.
They do know that they both want careers helping children. Finding ways to better the lives of youth is important to both of these men.
“He wants to get into social work and help children have a better life,” Brenden said, “and that’s the same thing I want to do. In my experience in Des Moines, I’ve never found someone who’s gay and wants to work with kids. He has a great heart for children.”
Across plans for the future, their interest in sports, values they hold dear and, of course, a mutual attraction, Brenden and Taylor have connected in a way they didn’t see coming.
“I can’t remember so thoroughly connecting and enjoying being around someone,” Taylor said. “I’ve never met someone who was so attentive and aware of me and how I’m doing, and making sure everything with me is OK. That makes it so much easier.”
The connection with Taylor has filled a painful void in Brenden’s life. His football-playing career was cut short due to a series of injuries and concussions. That didn’t leave just a hole in his schedule, it left a hole in his heart.
“When I wasn’t able to play football anymore, I felt a void in my life,” Brenden said. Since then he’s been coaching at a local high school, helping the team to a best-ever 9-2 record and winning the conference title for the first time.
Yet even with all that success, standing on the sideline wasn’t the same.
“After I’d finished football it was two years of that void. There was just something missing. It wasn’t until I met Taylor that that void inside me was gone. I’ve never been around somebody who makes me so happy.
“I can say I’m finally a happy person again.”
You can follow Brenden Moon on Instagram @bigmoon30. He is also on Facebook.
Taylor Vanderlaan is on Instagram @tvanderlaan22. He is on Facebook as well.