It’s usually like this: you catch his eye, usually it’s online, maybe it’s in person, you get his attention. He sees past your currently questionable facial hair choices to the real you. Maybe he is good at texting back, though more often than not he’s not: “Sorry I’m bad at reminding you I’m interested in you wait why am I still single?” You flirt back and forth and you’re excited for when the two of you spend time together, which is frustratingly seldom because your work schedules are opposite. You’re eager to explore this because this one is local, for once you’re not FaceTiming or coordinating time zones or coming up with clever photo ideas to send him selfies. A few hours before a dinner date with him he texts you his apology and promises to stay connected. “I didn’t feel the chemistry but let’s still be friends” is nice to hear, but it’s also the sound of never hearing from someone again for the rest of your life.
All around you, in real life and on social media, your friends start coupling up for the spring and summer, this is apparently the season for that. Congratulations for deleting Scruff and Grindr, you mutter to yourself one curmudgeonly morning while browsing Twitter, now stop bragging about it because you gloating about that is a form of slut shaming. Also hearty congratulations on your new relationship, I look forward to you never interacting with me on social media again! For a moment, you consider deleting the dating apps you use, you’re frustrated at the occasional waves of rudeness that erupt from people on them, it’s too easy to treat the apps like a video game. You decide to keep them; after all, it went great with the last guy you seriously dated who you met on one, right? When you meet the guy of your dreams on Scruff, you can tell the story to your grandchildren: “My first words to him were “More photos please? Not of your junk”.” and your grandkids will laugh and say “Haha what’s a photo?” and ride off on their hoverboards.
In the meantime, you start thinking outside the box: you met Brian, the guy up North who traveled to you recently, on Instagram, ostensibly an app not designed for facilitating dates. Why not try that again, try to use your digital resources creatively? You scout your Facebook, your Instagram for eligible single guys. You start conversations, casually chat and catch up on their lives. Some guys have your number early on and shut you down politely and gently. Others don’t even bother responding. Still others let you know that they’re actually in relationships, but ones that are invisible to social media (WHAT IS THAT EVEN LIKE?!). You get thirstier: you post a couple racy pictures that crop out your flaws (this means they’re of a patch of your skin on your shoulder, about a couple inches wide), you announce that you’ll give your HBOGo password to anyone who goes on a second date with you. No dice.
You then move on to LinkedIn, the career-networking app. Pro-tip: this is not a good place to message guys for dates, although there are thousands of sexy singles on LinkedIn. You’re new to this app, and you realize too late, to your horror and embarrassment, that it tells people when you have looked at their profile. Who thought this was a good idea? “I’d like to add you to my professional network on Grindr.”
You celebrate Cinco De Mayo not in a bar with obnoxious celebrators but quietly at home after work, watching TV and swiping away at Tinder, arguably the most frustrating of all dating apps. You keep matching with handsome men, but they will never, ever message you back. Why bother matching with me then? you think, self-medicating yourself with the 16″ pizza and using your La Croix as a mixer (TRIGGER WARNING: Queers overrate LaCroix). One finally messages you back but he’s too young, too clean-cut. You ask him to text you a couple pictures of his face, and he instead sends you bitmojis, which you hate more than you knew you could hate things. Happy Twink-o De Mayo! you muse, shut the app down, and fall asleep on the couch, your cat nestled in the crook of your arm like a good spinster’s cat.
You go North, to Vancouver, Canada! The first leg of the trip is the train ride halfway up, to Seattle. A few years ago you had a debilitating fear of flying and you could only go as far as you could take the train. You’ve forgotten how much you loved it, how romantic and palpably nostalgic it felt when the great behemoth surged forward from the station, the feeling of the ticket in your hand when you show the passing conductor, falling asleep to the gentle mechanical rocking, and waking up to a different vista in a different state.
Your friend James is there, and you spend the weekend with him; he’s a really great tour guide to a city that is seemingly one with the ocean. If this was Avatar, this would be the Water Tribe’s city, or at least an important colony. You think this during a walk along the Coal Harbor Seawall, and this thought reminds you of David, who loved Avatar and introduced you to it. Just like that, his ghost appears, easy to conjure as a dove out of a top hat. Like always, it just stares at you expressionless, says nothing. I am trying to get over you, you say to him. I wanted to travel with you. I wanted to hold your hand in other countries. I wanted to sing songs with you in cities I had never been to before. The ghost fades, it doesn’t come back again for the rest of the trip.
You eat your weight in poutine, you walk miles and miles (sorry, kilometers and kilometers), you go to a party where you meet interesting and beautiful people. You leave Vancouver having used your new passport for the first time, and know this is just a taste of the exploring left to do, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
You first day at work back, you go to Starbucks and there’s a guy working there that you’ve noticed before, but this time he’s chatty and maybe flirty? Maybe? He looks like Peeta from the Hunger Games and he’s adorable in the way that men who have never had their heart crushed by someone they loved are adorable. Over the next week and a half you build up the courage to ask Starbucks Peeta out, because making service workers uncomfortable at their place of employment is your jam. You finally intuit that he’s probably not gay and change your mind, and besides, who wants to be rejected by someone young enough to be their son? It’s a chore to have to Urban Dictionary everything your date says just to understand what the fuck he is saying.
This is where you are now: hopeful and healing. This, this in-between what came before and what comes next. You are a brand new soul in a world full of old ones. You are the eternal optimist in a land where cynicism is the hot commodity. Right now the love of your life is out there, learning to fuck right. You’re the flame to his moth, the beach to his ocean, you’re the black hole to his light. Okay, maybe not that last one.
But it’s just a matter of time before you find him: the compass always finds its North, right?