A millennial Valentine's Day: Coast couples share their unique love stories

COURTESY SHAWN BOTTSShawn Botts and his wife, Haylee, met while playing Chinese checkers on Skype.
COURTESY SHAWN BOTTSShawn Botts and his wife, Haylee, met while playing Chinese checkers on Skype.

Shawn Botts never thought he would meet his wife online.

But their love story isn't one you'd find on a Plenty of Fish advertorial or Match.com testimony.

The Sun Herald interviewed several young couples just before Valentine's Day to see how South Mississippians find love.

Shawn and Haylee Botts live in Diamondhead and were married in November 2014. They met, sort of, in 2009 through a mutual friend -- who was living in Japan.

Shawn, 29, was looking for ways to keep in contact with his best from high school, Chance Whitfield, who had deployed to Japan.

"Talking on the phone was really expensive," he said. Whitfield suggested Botts use the video-chat application Skype because it was free and easy.

"I worked the night shift at the airport and was one of the few people that was awake while he was," he said, referring to the time difference. "One day he asked if I knew that Skype had games."

Botts, Whitfield and another mutual friend began playing Chinese checkers with two women friends of Whitfield. Haylee was one of those women.

"On Skype, when you're playing these games, it's like you're sitting next to the person because you can listen to them talk. It's pretty neat," Botts said.

The group played checkers for more than a year and became close friends.

When Whitfield was home on leave in 2010, he hosted a party so everyone could meet in person. Haylee was living in Carriere, and Shawn in Lafayette.

The two remained friends until 2012, when Shawn worked up the courage to ask her on a date via Facebook.

"I had just gotten a job with an oil company in Slidell," he said.

Haylee was at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The two started dating in April 2012, and Haylee transferred to the Long Beach campus to be closer to Shawn. They bought a house in Diamondhead in July 2013.

Now that Haylee is expecting, Shawn, who has a private pilot's license, said he has a plan sure to swoon her for the revealing of the baby's gender.

He wouldn't give too many details, but the pilot said it involves a World War II-era plane and pink and blue clouds of smoke.

Looking for love online

Although Shawn and Haylee were already an item when the dating app Tinder was released, more millennials are looking for love online, and the statistics prove it.

According to the New York Times, Tinder executives said the app has "exploded" since its 2014 inception.

The article said there are more than a billion "swipes" on the app every day. Swiping right on an image shown on the app means a user likes someone's profile. If the person pictured also swipe right, the two users can begin chatting. If a user swipes left, it means they aren't interested and won't see that profile again.

The app is simple to use -- download it, log on through Facebook and start swiping. It's quick, easy and about as safe as online dating can be.

And in 2014, Tinder had almost 50 million users.

Swiping in South Mississippi

For many millennials in Mississippi, however, Tinder may not help them find love online.

Kesha Saucier, 30, of Kiln, has tried Tinder on two occasions but deleted it both times.

She said she chatted with one guy for a time, but he became a "stage-five clinger" after their first in-person meeting. Another match didn't like that she was balancing work with raising her two children.

"I told him I was spending time with my two kids before going to work at my second job for the day," she said. "He said, 'Ew! That's terrible.'"

The match deleted her shortly after their conversation.

Saucier said she doesn't know if she'll download the app again, but she said she thinks it's used more in South Mississippi for "hooking up" rather than dating.

Seattle resident Tyler Harper, a native of Soso, said Tinder works much differently in a big city.

Tinder lets users check for matches within a certain mile range.

"In Mississippi, I would max out the distance and still have fewer people to swipe," he said. "In Seattle, I never (have to) look more than five miles away."

Harper said he uses Tinder for dating. He is gay and said most gay men have other apps to find quick flings.

The 27-year-old is still looking for love in the city, however.

"If Tinder could show me what Netflix choices I have in common with someone, I could really get this done a whole lot faster," he posted to Facebook on Wednesday.

The old-fashioned way

Attorney Michael Malenfant, 27, downloaded Tinder, but he said he did not use it very often.

"There wasn't anyone on there that seemed to be a good match within a 10-mile radius," he said.

Malenfant, a Gulfport resident, was working out at Crossfit Bullshark in Gulfport when a woman at the gym sparked his interest -- but he couldn't really see her.

Tori Clark, 23, started at the gym in June 2014 and was having trouble perfecting a handstand push-up. Clark said she was very interested in Malenfant, but was "super-shy, being the new girl at the gym who didn't know what she was doing."

Malenfant said he can barely see without his glasses, so he wasn't certain what she looked like. When he noticed she needed help, he jumped at the chance to get closer to her and introduce himself.

"I needed a reason to get up close enough within my terrible eyesight range," he said.

The two started dating in August 2014 and now live together in Gulfport.

Kimberley Eubanks met her husband, Austin, while she was deployed with the U.S. Army, but it took her a while to warm up to him. The two met in 2012 while training in Texas for deployment.

Halfway through their time in Afghanistan, they began dating.

But it took Kimberley a little while to accept the invitation from Austin.

"He was 18, and I was 22," she said. "We were on a mission -- there were 40 of us staying in this shack-type room overseas.

"One day, he stood up in front of everyone and said, 'I just want everyone to know that I'm going to marry her one day.'" Kimberley was not amused. She was embarrassed and asked him to sit down.

But "after that, he kind of grew on me," she said.

They now live in McHenry and have an 18-month-old daughter, Mirella.

They also never had to use Tinder or other dating services to look for love.