Sunday, August 11, 2013

INAPPROPRIATE POKING

Ever since my mother friended me on Facebook I’ve stopped posting. Yep, even though we live in different countries, she still has too much control over my social life.

I’m a Facebook voyeur now. I check out the awesome art that Cassie, my former roommate when I lived in Dallas, is now working on in New Mexico. I find out every notable achievement of friends’ children in Ohio and Florida—aced a spelling test (woo hoo!); made his own grilled cheese (that explains the fireman photo); went a whole week without wetting the bed (apparently there are other mothers who fail to grasp boundaries).

I keep my Facebook “friends” to a minimum, believing that, even in the virtual world, the word has meaning. Yes, there are many people I know whom I don’t confirm as friends. If you could Acquaintance someone on Facebook, I might welcome them. But then again, how many photos of unknown families do I need to see posing awkwardly in front of Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant? (The tour got 4.5 stars on Yelp, a compelling reason to question why people rely on online reviews of any sort.)

Last week, I found a different function for Facebook. I used it as a dating tool.

It started when I showed up for the Wednesday night Frontrunners run along the beach in Santa Monica. For the most part, it was the same crew as the previous two weeks, but one regular, Nicholas, suddenly caught my eye. New haircut, I think. I was more than attracted; I was smitten.

That’s the way things work with me. I can recognize attractive men, but most do not do a thing for me. “James always had high standards,” my friend Benny informed his husband as we met for drinks last week. “And he never lowered them.” Sounds like a compliment, but it stung. How much of being single is my own doing?

That is why swooning over Nicholas caught me off guard so much. As we began the run, he took the lead, going solo. My running partner, Josh, and I followed. It is shallow to objectify a man, but as part of a first impression, I was quite happy to ogle the back of his 6’2” frame. The man was clearly in good shape but not in the overly buff West Hollywood way. To me, that’s a very good thing.

Josh started to pick up the pace and I told him to go on. He caught up to Nicholas while I trailed. Sure, it would have been nice to chat with Eye Candy, but the sea breeze had gotten into my nasal passage and, well, things weren’t looking pretty. If I’ve learned anything, it’s never try to woo a man while you have snot smeared all over your face. Call it a hunch.

I ducked into a public washroom to clean up before joining Josh and Nicholas back at the starting point. I figured we had about fifteen minutes to chat before everyone else got back. Naturally, I leaned over the railing and stared at the gorgeous ocean view. Breathtaking scenes of nature are so much easier to behold.

This is what I always do. When I am extremely attracted to a man, I cannot speak. High Standards/Extreme Pickiness + Non-Communication = Chronic Single Status. I know this, I know it’s a guaranteed losing tactic. Still, it’s what I do.

But there was an urgency to the situation. I had two weeks left in L.A. What if this trip was about Finding Nicholas? Isn’t this why I’ve sat through so many romantic comedies? Maybe this was my Meg Moment!

And so I took one more look at the sailboats on the ocean before turning around and facing destiny. Or instant rejection. I don’t know how I did it, but I initiated a conversation. And I am certain I was completely coherent. I am confident I didn’t say anything stupid.

Turns out Nicholas doesn’t live in Los Angeles. He lives out in Palmdale, a good distance from the city. He travels in on Wednesday nights to foster some semblance of a social life. I related immediately. And from my observations, he is about as socially (un)savvy. He drives an hour and a half to join the running group, runs solo for the most part and then passes on dinner due to the long drive home. Sometimes you can’t make lemonade. Sometimes lemons are just lemons.

Like me, he grew up in Texas. He went to high school in the same city where I went to university. He too avoids returning to Texas. I didn’t need to ask why. Like me, he is entertained at home by his dog and he is a professional, an aerospace engineer in fact. (Take that, all you Los Angeles models/actors/waiters!)

Our conversation wound down as the group rejoined us and I headed for dinner while he headed for his home far, far away. Whatever the term is for “beyond smitten”, that’s what I was. (Űber smitten?) Was it mutual? Well, he certainly did not send any overt signals. He seemed reserved, socially awkward. But then again, he could simply have been disinterested.

That night I went on Facebook. I recalled he had been at a Hollywood Bowl event, the campy, entertaining Brooke Shields-directed performance of “Chicago” that I’d been invited to by another Frontrunner whose friendship I’d accepted on FB. (This trip is all about going beyond my comfort zone.)

Sure enough, I found Nicholas, tagged in some of the Hollywood Bowl photos our mutual friend posted. And that led me straight to Nicholas’ home page.

Stalking is so simple.

It is also fascinatingly creepy. I learned that his birthday was the next day and I calculated that he was three years younger than me. Our musical tastes differed, but I was undeterred. He’d posted several adorable shots of his dog and, yes, of himself. Triathlons, marathons, a dedication to fitness that I found enticing. Of course, if he’d posted pictures posing with his porcelain doll collection, I’d have still found it endearing. Love is blind. So is infatuation.

Gawking was not enough. I messaged him, apologizing for the apparent stalking and asking if he wanted to meet for dinner.

And then I waited.

According to my FB message board, he’d read my note at 4:25 the next morning. His birthday. Well, of course he’d be too busy on that special day to reply.

I waited more. What else could I do?

But then there comes a point when even the most optimistic/desperate person realizes the waiting is over.

Before going to Frontrunners this week, I bought a new jogging outfit. Not for him, for me. Well, mostly for me. At least 60% for me. I’d considered not showing up, but I needed to be a big boy and smile on. I needed the new outfit to look my best, to feel confident.

By the time I arrived, everyone was already gathered in a circle for pre-run announcements. I squeezed in, smile glued to my face, and slowly dared to make an eye tour of the group.

No Nicholas.

When you live an hour and a half away and you are a freakin’ aerospace engineer, there are umpteen reasons why you might not make it for the weekly run. Still, I felt awful, not about the rejection—I’ve been getting plenty of that in writing and in dating—but about the possibility that I had interfered with Nicholas’ main social outlet of the week. I had intruded on Facebook and kept him away. All temporary, of course, with my imminent return to Vancouver, but still, a highly unwelcome poke. Yes, I still retain some of that junior high brain whereby other people’s actions are entirely based on me.

Sorry, Nicholas. As indirect as I may have been, there wasn’t time to let things play out naturally. The internet provides us a false space. If people can have 900 friends on Facebook, why can’t they hope for more?

Alas. Wasn’t meant to be.

Regrets? No. I tried as best I could under the circumstances. On Wednesday, I’ll arrive home and, with luck, I will fit in a run along the deserted road that leads to the pulp mill. At roughly the same time, Nicholas will venture back in Santa Monica, getting his social fix, running alone on the beach. Parallel lives, a thousand miles apart.

I think I’ll steer clear of Facebook for awhile. No big loss. I don’t need to know what my mom cooked my dad for dinner. I don’t need to see the jumbo binder somebody bought her kid for the new school year. And I don’t need to get any more crazy ideas about finding a shortcut to love.

4 comments:

Rick Modien said...

RG, in my opinion, you're taking on too much here, and you're being too hard on yourself.
So you supposedly stalked (your word) Nicholas. If I were him, I would have felt so complimented that someone was interested in me. And you know what? If the feeling wasn't mutual, all he had to do was say "thanks, but no thanks." That would have been the classy thing to do.
I give you full marks for what you did. It's a different world now. People put stuff out there on the Internet. All of it becomes resources for the rest of us. If they don't want us to know it or have access to it, then they should keep it to themselves.
What harm was done? As far as I can tell, none whatsoever. You'll be back home, he'll be in Palmdale, and life will go on.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
It took courage to do what you did, and I likely would have done the same.
Don't let this deter you. You acted from a pure place, and no one can fault you for that. His lack of a reaction says more about him than what you did says about you.
Just saying…

Rural Gay said...

Hi Rick,
Thanks for your positive thoughts. I do not regret sending Nicholas a message. It was worth a shot.

The frustration comes as I feel time ticking on. Nine years and then some. L.A. represented possibility although the visit was too short. No idea when the next opportunity will come along.

I did surprise myself in stepping forward, talking to Nicholas and even messaging him. That represents growth. Desperation breeds boldness!

Jack Urquhart said...

A very engaging and (as always) entertaining post. But here’s the thing: your photo, posted under the heading “not quite,” seems to belie the point you keep arguing in post after post, i.e., that you’re physically not good enough—or at least, not quite. Not yet. I know it’s just a single snapshot, but I have to say it: that photo in no way supports your thesis. In fact, unless photo-editing technology has reached new levels of falsification, it seems pretty obvious that you’re a good-looking guy. And fit! So I can’t help wondering—and I’m drawing on experience here—if you aren’t suffering from a peculiar form of astigmatism common to those of us who suffer from body image issues: we don’t, or can’t, see ourselves accurately. We're forever disappointed by what we see in the mirror, even when others think we look pretty damned good. And wouldn’t it be funny if that were true and we’re expending all that effort, all that sweat, running all those miles, lifting all those weights—feeling all that needless *off-putting* shame and embarrassment—for naught?

Rural Gay said...

Thanks for the comment, Jack. Very few of us have an accurate perception of the way we look. I've known a couple of guys with an inflated sense of self but, more often than not, we underrate ourselves.

I try not to self-edit my posts because I think many other gay men can relate to never feeling like they are quite up to snuff. My recent trip to L.A. immersed me in a subculture of perfect bodies, a pleasing yet tortuous backdrop for normal guys like me. I feel I am a gentle soul with a decent sense of humor, but that doesn't usually surface as people formulate first impressions.

Much of my humor is self-deprecating. I had this photo taken by a friend as we walked through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There was some thought provoking quote stenciled on the wall and I insisted she photograph me with just the "Not Quite" in view. It is supposed to be humorous but it also reflects my dating experiences over the past nine years.

I trudge on...