The moment I knew: we could barely make eye contact because of the chemistry radiating between us

Concert pianists like me generally don’t work that well with others. We practise alone and most of the time perform alone. When you spend that much time in your own company you get quite sensitive to criticism. I am a very impatient person, obsess over tiny things and tend towards melancholia.

All this made pairing up all the trickier. I didn’t just want to “be” with someone. I sought in a relationship what I sought in art: I wanted something that made me transcend my daily concerns. I wanted someone who made me better than I am.

One day in 2015 I joined an Australian Facebook art appreciation group and saw a painting of a young man. It was not a happy painting. I was struck by its power. Then I noticed the artist’s name: Loribelle Spirovski – as much of a mouthful as my own. I assumed, based on the painting’s gravitas, that she must have been older than me.

Then I clicked on her profile. I don’t like to objectify people – but she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was in her mid-20s and still lived at home. I was 34, had been touring the world since I was a teenager and felt as though I had lived at least three lives.

I sent Loribelle a message to compliment her on the painting, drawing on the skills I use on stage to make myself seem more confident than I really am.

Before long I invited her and her boyfriend – yes, she had a boyfriend, and yes, he was the man in the painting – to one of my gigs. Loribelle understandably assumed my “gig” was in a pub but it was in fact a solo recital at Sydney’s luminous City Recital Hall, featuring Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, one of the most daunting pieces in all the repertoire.

For once I was happy with how I played. We didn’t meet afterwards but kept chatting online. I made lots of off-colour jokes, which she laughed at – always a good sign. She told me that in her final year of high school she had studied the painting of me that won the 2002 Archibald portrait prize. It made me feel old. I tried desperately to edit my age on Wikipedia, with no luck.

I invited her to another gig, this time at Balmain town hall, a charming art deco venue near the city. It was a jazz night (a genre that is, musically, out of my comfort zone) – a fancy-dress black-tie event channelling the spirit of 1920s dances. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t warned Loribelle about the dress code. In a previous relationship I had failed to warn a girlfriend that a dinner was actually a state dinner with foreign dignitaries in attendance. Determined not to make the same mistake, I texted Loribelle to say she might not be sufficiently “dressed up”. (I later found out that this offended her. Loribelle grew up around poverty in the Philippines and her mother taught her to value clothing as a way of transcending her surroundings.)

That night I was extremely nervous – and for once not about my piano playing. I was standing near the entrance with my back to the stairs, my ears sticking out of my top hat, when I heard a voice: “Simon.” I turned around and there she was, all dark eyes, light brown skin, a wide, friendly smile and the most luscious hair I had ever seen. I was more conscious of my baldness than ever, as well as my translucent skin and fair eyes. We embraced.

She introduced a young man she had arrived with as one of her best friends, in what I feared was a signal that I was not to overstep any boundaries of propriety. But after the show, as we all settled in for drinks and her talkative friend took the reins, it helped to have someone else there. Loribelle and I could barely make eye contact because of the chemistry radiating between us.

Through the nerves and furtive glances, there was a lot I could discern about her. Experience playing with ensembles has honed my ability to read intentions from the smallest gestures: a shoulder raise here, a sharp breath there. The entire performance rests on what is not said but sensed. Sitting next to Loribelle, I could sense her kindness, generosity and deep intelligence.

Simon and Loribelle on their wedding day in 2016

In the nine years we have been together I have become a more tolerant and stable person. Loribelle has given my life meaning and she tells me I have given her life shape. We love nothing more than to read and write together. She is without doubt the kindest person I’ve ever met. (Thankfully, she forgave me for my faux pas with the dress code.)

Every relationship has levels to it, and both of us have had to iron out plenty of kinks, but each kink has left us smoother. In a world that feels so fractured and frightening, we are each other’s sanctuaries. But, like a great piece of art, I never feel I know all there is to know about her. I find this both humbling and thrilling.

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