“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” (Mary Oliver)
At 43 years of age, I did not have much to boast of in terms of a personal life. Here I was – a single, gay man living away from my family for nearly 15 years, with many unsuccessful attempts at finding love and some unremarkable short flings. My well-meaning friends always urged me to go for events involving the LGBTQ community, create my profile on dating apps, and attend gay-friendly parties which were becoming quite popular. I never heeded their advice, the stubborn person that I was. Being a die-hard romantic and having grown up on an overdose of rom-coms, I always hoped that I would find my man in a serendipitous encounter.
Sadly, no such fairy tale ending had been written for me. After years of despair and loneliness, I finally did the unthinkable – signed up on Blued, a dating app which I had recently discovered. Like many people, I created an anonymous profile without my clear face photos (although they were available for private viewing) and a slightly trimmed-down age. I did not regret the decision since predictably enough, I started being bombarded with the typical questions around ‘top/bottom’, ‘place’ and ‘likings’. A couple of people also blocked me after seeing my face. The experience taught me that no one reads profiles, however detailed they are – everyone is interested in answers to these ‘mandatory’ questions and a handsome face.
Disgusted, I deleted the profile, promising myself never to sign up on any app again. After all, I convinced myself, I was not the sort who liked to be judged solely on the basis of my looks. To be fair, I don’t even look my age. Most people tell me that I can pass off in the age range of 33-35. This is a blessing and a problem. Given that I am short & slim, don’t have a moustache and dress stylishly, I do not conform to the image of a stereotypical ‘uncle’ by a far stretch. However, with a receding hairline and greying around the temples, I am no spring chicken either! In situations like this, innovative thinking is required. So, I thought, why not call myself ‘young uncle’ in future?
After a few days of more loneliness and despair, I decided to take one more shot on the Blued app. Another profile was created, although this time I decided to mention my real age and upload real photos sans my face. My recent efforts in the gym had started paying off, so I was emboldened to post multiple shirtless photos to make it more interesting. The response was definitely better this time, and my previous experience had taught me not to reply to every person who contacted me. In fact, this time I came very close to even meeting a couple of men; however, lack of courage made me chicken out at the last moment. After a few unsuccessful days on the app, I was again contemplating if I should delete it.
Life often has surprises in store, and I was about to get one very soon. Late one night, just as I was about to sleep, I received a message from someone who went by the nickname Rocky1234. It was a simple, one-word message saying hanji (yes, as if addressing an older person) accompanied by his photo. He was delightfully good-looking – a cherubic, smiling face tilted to one side and staring straight into the camera. His right hand was flirtatiously ruffling his hair, he wore a designer stubble and ear studs, and his eyes appeared as if they had been lined with mascara. By this time my sleep had vanished, and I continued staring at his photo. I checked his profile and noticed that the distance between us was 70 km (around 44 miles). And he was only 23.
Thinking that this was quite unbelievable, I responded with a polite message, thanking him for sharing his photo and telling him that he was too far away from where I lived. I waited for his response, but when several minutes had passed and he did not acknowledge my message, I thought it was again one of those cases where someone was playing the fool. I signed out of the app and turned in for the night. Next morning, before heading to the gym, I quickly checked if there was any reply from Rocky1234. There was none, but there were other messages which I deleted without responding. I was convinced that he had played the fool with me, and I did not think about it for the remainder of the day.
Later that night, around 9 pm, I was surprised by a response from Rocky1234. He started with the same ‘hanji’ and asked me where I was from. On telling him where I lived – a city nearly 70 km away – his simple response was ‘no problem, I will come to meet you.’ What he did next was completely unexpected. He sent me his phone number and requested me to call him. ‘No video call, please do a normal call,’ he had requested. I assured him that I too was strongly against video calls. However, what I did not know of was how to extricate myself from this situation.
The thing is – I don’t share personal details easily, and it was going to be impossible to do so with a complete stranger, that too on a dating app. I made up an excuse, telling him that someone was with me at that time and promising to call him the next day. He immediately agreed; the only issue was that he was never free during the day (this explained his late-night responses) so I would have to call him at the same time the following evening. Once we were in agreement, we said good night and I signed out of the app. I also saved his number, just in case I impulsively decided to delete my profile once again.