First appeared, in edited form, in PQ Monthly.
Outline for a piece about long-distance courtship.
Told in third person. Main person is Mike, hopeless romantic, late 30s to early 40s, been in long-term relationships most of his life. Been insulated from realities of dating and being single until two years ago, he calls the phenomena of feeling like a fish out of water the “Single Gay Time Traveler” effect.
He reluctantly gets on a hookup app (that he charmingly calls a “dating app”). Which one? Should it be Grindr, or Growlr, or Scruff? Let’s make it Scruff. For a while it’s a secret, he won’t tell his friends about being on the app. He’s also kind of judgey when confronted with “sluttiness” and explicit pics (this could be a character arc for Mike, going from a place of almost prudishness, to eventually embracing his sexuality).
He should have a best friend, her name is Jen or Ginger, she’s sassy and forthright. She has bottled red hair, because of course she does. Their favorite joke is a crude one, he says “You’re shitting me, that unbelievable”, and she replies “Yes, Mike, I am shitting you into my pants right now.” He finally tells Jen he’s on the app, shows her how it works. Somehow he also gets in a conversation with his boss at work about it, shows it to her, she’s fascinated.
“Wait that one looks familiar…” she says, brows furrowed.
“Oh, the one less than 250 feet away from us? Yeah he’s a customer in the store right now,” Mike replies. His boss is aghast and delighted.
She asks more questions. “Why do so many only show their chests?” “What pictures are in a Private Album?” “What the hell is a woof?”
There should be a part of the post where it talks about the history of dating apps, the turning point when the more mainstream dating websites migrated to apps to respond to how much people now use their phones. Also address the whole “proximity” concept of a lot of these apps; has that brought communities together, or has the ease of dehumanizing and blocking people though apps made people more prone to disconnecting from others?
Mike finds himself on the Global View one day, where he can browse the profiles of men all over the world who also use Scruff. One profile catches his eye, it’s of a guy younger than Mike, maybe 24? No, that’s too young. 29? Yes. They start chatting, complimenting each others’ profiles and photo. The guy’s name should be Clark, or Blake, or Parker, something not typical, maybe a little dorky. Ok, Clark. So Clark asks for Mike’s number, they start texting. Clark lives in St. Louis.
Over the next week or so they text a lot. Mike asks Clark on a Skype date. Clarke doesn’t have Skype, but they set a day and time to FaceTime.
They FaceTime, and it’s great. They tell stories about their families, talk about foods they love, give a walking tour of their respective apartments, introduce their pets to each other. Mike has a cat, Ned. Should Clark have a dog? Yes. Its name is Dog, and Mike makes fun of this name. Do Mike and Clark decide to do shots on the call? Yes, they share a shot together, they both have bourbon in the house. The FaceTime lasts for two hours.
Hmm. Clark shouldn’t live quite so far. How about Denver? Okay, Clark lives in Denver. So they plan another date.This time it’s late afternoon, on a day they both have off. During the first call, they shared what their favorite drink was, and Clark’s favorite drink is a Moscow Mule, which Mike has never had. Before their call, Mike sets out the cut lime, the Vodka, the ginger beer. When they get on the call, Mike tell Clark to “make him a drink” over the video call. Clark makes fun of the mason jar Mike’s making it in, “That’s Portland as fuck,” he laughs. In Denver, Clark tries to tell him how to make a Moscow Mule, as Mike pours the ingredients for himself in Portland. Mike tastes the drink: it’s terrible, but Clark is thoroughly charmed. After the call is over, Clark looks at flights to Portland.
On the third date, it’s Clark’s turn. He tells Mike the exact time of the video call. Right as they get on the call, Mike’s buzzer for his building rings. Clark just smiles. Mike opens his door: it’s a delivery service, with an order of Italian food (Mike’s favorite) and a Blu-Ray. What should the movie be? A classic, like Hitchcock’s Notorious? Say Anything? No, it’s an odd choice, it’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and after they eat dinner together on the video call, they both watch the movie simultaneously in their respective cities, and text each other as they watch. Mike is smitten.
Clark gets sick at some point in the story. He texts Mike to tell him he’s starting to feel ill, maybe scratchy in the throat. Mike springs into action, he goes to the pharmacy, goes to the grocery store, he picks up zinc lozenges and halls and some artisanal canned soup and the latest issue of Hello Mr, bundles everything up and sends it to Clark. Clark makes a speedy recovery.
On the next call, Mike not-so-subtly extolls Portland’s attractions, and eventually invites Clark to visit for a long weekend. They talk about expectations, “If there’s not chemistry, then you can crash on my couch, and if there is…”, Mike stops, blushes. Clark agrees to come, says he’ll look at flights and get back to Mike, they get off the call and neither can sleep that night.
This is where it happens, this is where Mike starts fantasizing about meeting Clark, how Clark’s neck will smell when he hugs him hello in the airport. Mike thinks about Clark’s hand in his in the car, about how they would look in pictures together, how Clark’s smaller frame will fit into his when Mike is the big spoon. Mike shakes his head one afternoon, he is getting carried away.
Mike finally tells Jen about Clark, shows her pictures, tells her about the dates. Jen is charmed, but pragmatic. She’s protective of her friend, she’s seen him get hopeful and then hurt before. She asks if either is relocatable (both are), she asks how often they would see each other (probably a couple times a month, alternating cities, or meeting in a “neutral” city they would both like to explore).
Something is wrong, though. Clark’s communication pattern is changing, he’s not texting anymore, and when he does, it’s monosyllabic and cold. Mike seeks out Clark on Scruff, and tries to engage him there in some flirty conversation. Clark blocks him. Mike texts him the next day, and Clark replies a day later. “Sorry. Started seeing someone. Good luck.”
Wrap up post by bringing back earlier point about how apps have made it easier to disconnect with each other. How meeting electronically has made it effortless to be rude to one another. How when there are no consequences to bad behavior, there’s no incentive to nuance and nobility.
End piece with affirmation of Mike’s optimism for meeting someone great.
If you enjoyed this, you should be ashamed of yourself. Continue the shame cycle and read about my birthday, or how much I love Valentine’s Day, or maybe that time I went on a dating cleanse. Let’s be horrible people together!