The adorable love story behind Wikipedia’s ‘high five’ photos

Nearly 14 years later, the tale of this iconic couple can finally be told.

Bgubitz at English Wikipedia

One reason I love the Wikipedia article for “high five” is that it’s one of those entries about an utterly basic aspect of everyday life that reads like it was written by a group of aliens observing human beings: “Its meaning varies with the context of use but can include as a greeting, congratulations, or celebration.”

But the high-five Wikipedia page is among my very favorites not because of its writing, but because of its iconic photos — specifically the ones in the section on the “too slow” variation:

I love the aughts fashion, the use of the word “victim,” and the fact that “finger-guns” gets a hyperlink in the last caption. The woman in the photo gives an Oscar-worthy performance in the final image — she looks like she’s on the verge of tears — and her male counterpart couldn’t look more smug. The pictures are endearing and capture a kind of humanity you don’t find in your average stock photo.

The sequence was uploaded on August 14, 2008 by Bgubitz, a user who describes themself as an accountant who likes “sunsets and long walks on the beach.” Today, photos from the “too slow” series are featured on Wikipedia pages in eight languages and get more than 200,000 annual views.

A quick search of “high five wikipedia photo” shows that the images are an object of fascination for many others besides me. People around the world have noted that the pair looks a lot like Rachel and Chandler from Friends. But not everyone is a fan. In 2020, one particularly passionate Wikipedia user named Kugihot suggested the photos be removed because they were “simply a waste of precious Wikipedia public bytes.”

Writing on the article’s talk page, the forum where editors discuss the article at hand, the critic went on: “My main concern that is especially out of place to me is the final image which depicts the use of finger guns, which is arguably completely and utterly irrelevant in the context of different variations of high fives.”

To me, the fact that the photos inspired such extreme pedantry speaks to their power. Kugihot’s ridiculous suggestion was denied by other editors. Long live the high-five photos, finger guns and all!

I became increasingly convinced that there was nothing platonic about this high five.

Thanks to an overabundance of time alone with my laptop and a growing pile of responsibilities that I wanted to push off, I found myself fixated on these photos recently. I became increasingly convinced that there was nothing platonic about this high five — I mean, you can feel the chemistry through the screen. Just look at her smile in the first frame! Look at their gazes in the third frame! There’s no way two people so young and so beautiful could exchange such a flirty high five without feeling flutters of the heart.

I couldn’t help but wonder what their story was — and what had happened to them.

So I launched an investigation. I figured that the high-fivers must have some sort of internet presence, so I started combing the web for mentions of the photos. I saw that they’d graced the front page of Reddit several times, and one such post had a compelling comment:

“Fun fact: me and my wife (then girlfriend) are demonstrating the ‘too slow’ high five on the Wikipedia high five page.”

My eyes widened and my heart raced. Searching through the activity of that commenter’s account, I quickly gathered that the high-five guy loved indie-folk music, bourbon, and crossword puzzles. He had little kids, a soft spot for Yosemite National Park, and a Disneyland pass, which made me think he was from California. He seemed refreshingly wholesome (he provided calculus help to anonymous internet strangers on r/math) and sweet (he gave genuine advice to lovelorn posts posters in r/relationships).

He didn’t post often — only about once a month or so — and at first I was having difficulty finding anything that could confirm that he was indeed the finger-gunning high-fiver. But soon enough, I scrolled to a comment that confirmed my suspicion.

In a discussion of the photos in an r/askreddit post, he left a response deep in the comments: “For the 3-4 people who might see this, here is a picture of me and her on our wedding day.”

Tim and Tamara O’Nan

Photo evidence! “Victim misses” had become “victim Mrs.”!

Detective work

By this point, I’d read the guy high-fiver’s decade-old musings about philosophy and his recaps of Disneyland trips, which made me feel like I knew him on a personal level. But I still didn’t have any way to identify him.

Not surprisingly, searching Google for middle-aged men in California who like national parks and Sufjan Stevens didn’t yield anything of worth. I tried messaging him but didn’t get a response.

Then, on a recent snowy Sunday afternoon, I poured myself another cup of coffee and hunkered down at my laptop in pursuit of my white whale.

I went back to the Wikipedia profile of the “long walks on the beach”–loving account. It had only made 76 edits, which isn’t many, and hadn’t been active in a decade. On the user’s talk page, some Wikipedians had written to say how much they liked the high-five picture. “Awesome idea for the photos,” wrote one user in July 2009. “Doesn’t hurt that your girl’s a cutie too.”

Did they meet the night of the high five? Were they already together? Was it the finger guns that sparked their love story?

Was bgubitz the same person as high-five guy? I put on my thinking cap. The three pieces of information that bgubitz had revealed (accountant, likes sunsets, likes long walks on the beach) seemed to match the sweet, math-loving person on Reddit, but then again, two of those three descriptors are among the most generic traits ever. (Find me someone who doesn’t enjoy sunsets!)

Searching “bgubitz accountant” yielded an accountant named Ben Gubitz, who unfortunately looked nothing like the guy in the high-five photo. But Ben Gubitz’s Facebook friends were public, so I perused them until — voila! I finally found the high-fivers: Tim and Tamara O’Nan from Southern California. Nearly 14 years later, they’d barely aged, and now they had two kids in elementary school.

Yet I did not feel entirely satisfied. I wanted to know the whole story. Did they meet the night of the high five? Were they already together? Was it the finger guns that sparked their love story?

Pretty soon, the three of us were together on a Zoom call.

Birthday celebration

“It was my birthday, and we had just come back from a birthday dinner with some friends,” Tim explains on our video chat. “You can see some unwrapped birthday gifts in the background, and I’m pretty sure the shirt I was wearing was a gift from Ben, who was the friend that convinced us to pose for photos for Wikipedia.”

They tell me that he and Tamara are not big high-fivers, and they have no personal connection to the “down low/too slow” maneuver. The participants just realized that move didn’t have any photos on Wikipedia and saw it as an opportunity.

Tim and Tamara tell me that they met three years before the photo was taken. Tamara, who was in college, went to a restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif. where Tim, who was 30 at the time, was performing guitar and singing. Tamara thought he was hot. Tim thought the same about Tamara. Pretty soon, they were a couple.

But by the time the high-five photo shoot happened, Tim was about to move to Scotland to start a Ph.D. program in theology at the University of Aberdeen. Tamara was in a transitional period too: She had graduated from UCLA and was preparing for a physician’s assistant grad program. Because of their uncertain futures and the prospect of going long-distance, it didn’t make sense to stay together.

“Whenever the photos go viral, we get texts from friends and acquaintances. It’s our five minutes of fame.”

Or so they thought. “I got eight months in the divinity program and realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. I felt aimless,” Tim says. “I had to get out of the ivory tower and figure out the basics of my life.”

Tamara has a different take: “The romantic version of the story is that he saw on social media that I had gone on a date with someone else and decided to fly home and marry me.”

Tim proposed soon after his return from Scotland, and they’ve been married for almost 11 years now. “We have two daughters who are four and seven,” says Tamara, “and we actually live right down the street from where those photos were taken.” Tim runs a math-tutoring business, and Tamara is a physician’s assistant.

I ask if they’ve ever been recognized by strangers in public, and they laugh and say no. But people they know have seen the photos circulating on meme accounts or Reddit. “Whenever the photos go viral,” Tim says, “we get texts from friends and acquaintances. It’s our five minutes of fame.”

I suggest that they recreate the photos, and they enthusiastically agree. Nearly 14 years after the original shots, they staged a reenactment in their house, finger-guns included:

Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan

Even better, they sent along these heartwarming family shots:

Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan
Tim and Tamara O’Nan

“I’m so grateful that the moment in my life the internet has clung on to for eternity happens to be with my one true love… phew,” Tamara writes to me after the family shoot. “Be careful what you put out there.”

Tim adds that the young man in the original photos would never have believed it if he got a glimpse at these 2022 pictures. “It was just so unlikely at the time,” he writes. “I was just about to travel halfway around the world for school, so our future together was uncertain. But in the end, it all worked out so perfectly.

“Thirteen years later, I’m married to the love of my life with two amazing daughters, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s more than I could have ever imagined. High five!”