I’d never used dating apps until recently. The phenomenon had somehow escaped me, a “serial monogamist,” according to my mother. My tried-and-true dating approach was to become friends with a guy, then realize I liked him, then date for at least a year. This worked well—I already knew so much about him because we were friends first, so it wasn’t hard to cross the boundary into romantic territory. It wasn’t until my last relationship ended that I realized I’d never been on a first date with a stranger.

I joined a couple of apps a few months after my breakup from an almost-four-year relationship, not expecting much. My girlfriends were giddy, happy to help me select the best photos and strike all the necessary balances—fun and carefree, yet driven and family-oriented. The two weeks that I was using the apps, I’d watch the matches roll in, making quick judgment calls. This one couldn’t hold a conversation. This one uses too many emojis. This one seems to think that alcohol is a personality trait.

Not every guy was a dud, and I was happy to find many men who filled out the full profile, had pictures with their families, and had pictures outdoors. In the span of one weekend, I went on three first dates, honestly not expecting much. The first two were fine: drinks, conversations, awkward goodbye hugs. No red flags, but nothing to “write home about,” as my grandmother would say.

Then came Sunday and the last date I had crammed into a busy weekend. James and I had been texting for a couple weeks—he’s a pediatric nurse, so his work schedule and my free time hadn’t lined up until this point. We’d made tentative coffee plans that, frankly, I kind of forgot about until he texted me a place to meet. It was a twenty-minute trek for both of us because he lives in the Chicago suburbs, and I wasn’t too thrilled about driving all the way there after a late Saturday night with friends.

I walked into the coffee shop, shared the obligatory “nice to meet you” hug with him, and we quietly ordered our coffee and sat down.

Suddenly, three hours had passed. I’d long since finished my cappuccino and was melting in the hot July sun, but I could have kept talking for another three hours. This didn’t feel like a “first date conversation.” Rather than politely covering the basics, we had jumped into talking about social issues, our faith backgrounds, and aspirations for our future families.

At one point early in the conversation, James said, “I’m not here to waste your time. I’m going to be upfront about what matters to me. I’m not going to hide it until a third date and then decide things aren’t working. Take it or leave it.” While at the time I was a little taken aback, now I’m impressed with his upfront approach to dating. It was the opposite of my previous dating experiences, where I slowly slid from friendship to romantic relationship—even in instances where I knew we differed on fundamentals.

With James, I knew what he stood for immediately. I knew how important his family was to him. I knew the role that religion played in his life. I knew that he didn’t talk around difficult issues, a bad habit I’ve often fallen into, fearing I’d upset or offend friends or boyfriends.

At the end of the date, we hugged, then I went home and called my mom to tell her everything. Who was this person I’d met on a dating app whose values aligned perfectly with mine? Slowly but surely, we planned a few more dates. I remember him texting me a few dates in, asking if I’d be okay if we kissed. It was a surprising question—because no one had ever asked my permission.

When we see each other, I swear the clock goes in double time. On our most recent date, we went out to dinner, then ended up sitting and talking—for seven hours. There’s something exciting and refreshing about seeing someone new and learning about their life, but that’s not the only reason I excitedly anticipate every date I have with James. His candor, dry humor, and willingness to call me out in conversation and make me dive deep into my reasoning, set him apart from any man I’ve dated before. There aren’t any mind games, wondering when or if he’s going to text me. He told me, “My life is busy, and I make time for the people who matter.” And make time for me he has.

Dating him has helped me begin to piece together what I need and want out of a relationship and, eventually, my future husband. From the first date, I knew there wouldn’t be questions about setting respectful physical boundaries. He talked in earnest about how close he was to his family, especially his two sisters. We also share a sense of humor: A few weeks after we started seeing each other, we were FaceTiming on a Saturday afternoon and he showed me his family’s dogs—a black lab, a golden retriever, and a chihuahua. When I revealed to him that I was raised a cat person and plan to own cats until the day I die, although I’m not opposed to dogs, James shook his head, saying, “Victoria, I thought this was going to work out, but you like cats. It was nice knowing you.” I dished it right back, “Isn’t it more of a red flag that you won’t give cats a chance?” I also never tire of teasing him about how he pours his milk in the bowl before his cereal (who does that? a red flag for sure!).

Although this relationship is still in its early stages and may, realistically, not lead anywhere significant, it has already taught me so much about not compromising in dating. Even though it surprised me on the first date, James’s honesty about what he was looking for and the respect he showed by telling me he wasn’t going to drag me along if we didn’t share the same core beliefs was exactly what I needed.

It’s rare to be on the same page with someone on so many topics, and even rarer to learn that compatibility immediately. If anything, being so candid on the first date has allowed us to enjoy our time together more, not worried about tiptoeing around possibly incendiary topics.

Except cats. They will remain controversial.