I joined a dating site once because I thought that people were the answer to any sense or boredom or lack of motivation I might have been having at eighteen. I was alone. The men were sad, like dogs, carried away on the howls of other disowned pets. They were lonely or lusty and they had their own bitter stories, women who held their arms open just to let them rust at the hinges and fall apart. The stories were, in fact, the reason I signed up in the first place. But I never had the chance to hear them, their lungs had given way under the pressure of repeated ‘I Love You’s. Or I was eighteen, and only good for one thing. And I did feel bad, at the end. I never had any intention of letting them touch me.
What struck me wasn’t the lecherousness of these men sending out pictures of their shaved genitals to women like me, or even the poor grammar used by these educated adults, it was the complete lack of passion towards the whole idea of intimacy. Even with the shirtless photos exclaiming I Know How To Treat A Woman Right, a winking face implying acts between the sheets (or more likely anywhere, anytime, the back seat of my car is more than equipped), it was all put forward in such a way that just reeked of obligation. Like, this is what you do when you are single at forty-four. This is what you do, right?
But I suppose the others were worse, the ones who might just cry against your back in the early-hours because this might not be love but what if it is and they can’t even feel it?
It didn’t make me sick, it made me sorry for them. But you can’t fuck someone you feel sorry for, not really, I can’t. There was no searching underneath their hobbies to what they do when they’re completely alone and there was no anticipation of a touch, only repulsion at the thought.
I did meet one guy, his name was Mark, he sent me three phone numbers so it would be convenient at any time to talk to him, whether it was at work or at home or when he was out. I stared down at these numbers, which I had written on the back of my hand in an internet cafe, and I knew there was no way that I could turn him down. Mark was in his late thirties and had a habit of sending two-word txt messages which made him appear sullen in the image I created of him in my mind. He didn’t mention kids or a wife, what he did for fun, if he had fun. I never felt more loved than when I talked to him, so surrounded. I was alone, I lived by myself, but I was completely enveloped in the lives of others, I was one of many turning points for my friends to spin lazily around, and I had these turning points of my own. Mark didn’t seem to have this, or didn’t recognise it so readily. He eventually tired of me, or found someone. I do hope he found someone. Not because he particularly deserved it but because it was obviously something he thought was necessary. I’m not even sure that he wanted a someone but I do think he felt he needed them.
To every Mark I meet now I am kind but not overly. I see the false hope that comes from hearts on coffee-tops or the stealing of a cigarette outside of a bar. And that sense of obligation is still there, I do wonder at what point in my life will that need ever come to me, and if I will not notice its descent until it’s too late to reason with it.
How frightening it must have been to be you, Mark, on this dating site with me. Or even in the western world with me. As a man in his thirties with nobody who might have known your morning routine or what your favourite television show was. But so many women who knew you by your genitals and not by your face.