As any instagay who has spent even a few seconds on social media knows, there’s no quicker way to earn a boatload of likes than a quality thirst trap. Usually, that’s where the interaction ends because real-life likes have a higher degree of risk.

For Tyler McCubbin, though, a thirst trap led to him finding the love of his life. What started as a social media heart a year ago culminated with him getting engaged in November

Sometimes reality plays out like a Hallmark Channel pitch.

McCubbin came out as gay during his junior year abroad while enrolled at Luther College, and he ran track as an out athlete during his senior year in 2011. He was on vacation with a friend in Mexico last July and checking a thirst trap Instagram account while relaxing by the pool.

A post from a man named Frank Barnes caught his eye and McCubbin decided to respond. The two had a positive interaction and during the drive back to his friend’s place in Denver, McCubbin offered to visit Barnes in The Mile High City before heading back to his home in Iowa. Barnes gave the idea a thumbs up.

Unfortunately, as the trip wound down, McCubbin came down with COVID and had to call off the meeting. But on his last day before embarking for Iowa, McCubbin jumped on Tinder and did a double take when he came across Barnes’ profile.

Both he and Barnes swiped right and carried their Instagram connection over to the dating app. Over time, their online interactions deepened and Barnes decided to see if there was something special brewing by offering to visit McCubbin for a week.

Soon that initial Instagram social media like blossomed into a gay love story in Iowa. McCubbin and Barnes beat the odds in every conceivable way.

McCubbin and Barnes enjoy a visit to Disneyland together.

“There was an instant connection just in the vibes in our conversations,” McCubbin said. “I sensed that he wasn’t weirded out by any of my random questions.”

During the time they got to know each other, McCubbin would quiz Barnes with queries.

“If I were to ask your friends to describe you,” he asked once, “what would each person say given one word?” To his delight, Barnes replied, “Dang, that’s an amazing question!”

That’s when McCubbin knew they were bonding, and that Barnes could be his somebody special.

Eventually, both realized that things were leading to a proposal. After pondering several grand plans revolving around Christmas trips to California or family weddings in Las Vegas, McCubbin eventually decided the best way to do it was to give Barnes a date night to remember at a Des Moines-area restaurant.

“I kind of wanted it to be organic that night so I was just like, you know what, we’re just going to see how the day goes…I want it to happen but I had some other voices saying, ‘It’s gonna happen when it’s meant to happen,’” he recalled.

McCubbin had the ring in his pocket throughout dinner, waiting for the time to feel right.

While the two were discussing something further to order, the menu fell to the floor and McCubbin saw his chance. But as he bent down to pick it up, he couldn’t get a good grip on the ring. So he decided to wait a bit longer.

Then the menu fell again. And again, McCubbin couldn’t get the ring out of his pocket.

Incredibly, the menu fell a third time. But just when it might have been time to ponder if this date had an official scorer, McCubbin fielded it flawlessly.

“The third time, he was like, ‘I’ll pick up the menu this time.’ I was like, ‘No! YOU’RE going to stand there!’” McCubbin narrated, “So I reached for it, then I went for the ring, and I just said, ‘This last year and some odd months have been the most enjoyable and most fulfilling of my life. And I want to have that continue for the rest of it so will you marry me?”

Barnes was caught by surprise but recovered in time to say, “yes.”

It was the most important finish line McCubbin had ever crossed.

“It was emotional because both of us have such strong feelings for one another,” he recalled, “and I knew that he was waiting for that moment to happen, just maybe wasn’t sure of when it was going to happen. And I knew that I’ve never found as much happiness as I found with him. So we were very much emotionally high.”

Since graduating from Luther and finishing his athletic career by recording a personal best steeplechase performance, it wasn’t always smooth sailing to get to this point for McCubbin.

McCubbin runs the Lala Marathon in Torreón, Mexico.

In 2015, after working as a substitute teacher and track coach at Dowling Catholic High School, he was turned down for a full-time job after administrators found out that he was gay. This despite support from numerous students that culminated in a walkout to protest the school’s decision.

“If it weren’t an issue with the Catholic Church, I wonder how much more influence I could have had on students who are struggling with their sexuality and being a member of a very conservative faith that they are going to continuously be caged by,” McCubbin said.

He took five years to teach at a school in Mexico and work for administrators who let him be himself on the job. Eventually, he moved back to the U.S. and found work teaching history in a Webster City, Iowa, public school in 2021. A year later, he took another fateful trip to Mexico where he first encountered Barnes on social media.

Flash forward to present day and McCubbin is able to introduce Barnes as his fiancé to his students and take him to high school football games without fear of recrimination.

Their story is an example that you can find true love anywhere — even a thirst trap comments section.