I need to see the goods first.
I looked in astonishment and growing anger at the message. It felt like a hostage scenario with me as the hostage but not to fortune, rather to some tawdry act played out in a seedy bar. It made me feel dirty and not in a good way. Backing up a few messages it had all been harmless fun and interesting. Who would not like a ripped hunk sending flattering messages online? I am a human being and naturally I love getting compliments. Of course, part of my indignation stemmed from the fact that I should not be here at all. I was, after all, actively looking for flights to go and visit my sex god in Greece. In the interim I had not quite deleted my online dating profile. I think in my heart of hearts I was afraid that the trip would not be a success. Or even if it was a success, that it might not last. So I persisted in my cyber conversations, not actively seeking anyone out but replying to messages and flirting a little with men who were living in Ireland.
I should have known that I was going to be in trouble with Stud4U. The name might have given it away. The fact that his age was 34 was also possibly an issue. He had posted some shots of his torso in his gallery and he was impressive. A personal trainer, like half the online dating male population, he certainly had the six-pack to prove it. I only had one picture loaded up: a head and shoulders taken by my phone in the bathroom. I was not smiling but a suggestion of amusement flittered across my face. I liked the picture, it was recent and flattering. He had liked it too. He had been sweet at first, always a good combination with muscles. Then as the day went on, the messages got progressively hotter. I knew I was in trouble when a picture of a naked erect penis appeared. A large erect penis. I have to admit to wondering why men persist in sending their naked shots. I mean unless the full body is included, it could have been taken from a porn site. I also don’t need to see a man’s penis to know if I like him or not. Unless perhaps it was small. I think there is a name for that, but most men fall into the average five to seven inches and those inches do not make or break the relationship.
I had seen a television programme recently, one of those body shows they do so well in the UK, where ordinary people are happy to share their purulent medical issues to a largely prurient audience, of which I was one. In this particular episode, the topic was penis size. Aside from canvassing geographical variations in size and the additional inches acquired when men self-measured, the programme also talked about ‘showers and growers’. It turns out that while the erect penis is pretty uniform in length, the difference in the flaccid penis is significant. So some men can have small penises when flaccid but when erect they would not look out of place in a general roll-call of hard-ons. That was an interesting fact, I thought. I wasn’t sure if I would ever have occasion to use this piece of information except perhaps at a dinner party or a girls’ night out, but it tickled my interest. Mind you, there was also an amusing piece on Yahoo news about a Thai woman who divorced her husband because his penis was too small. I am not sure if size of genitals is normally a marriage-wrecker and I wondered that she had not noticed before they exchanged vows, or perhaps she had been an uber-virgin. Still, it also rocked the ’it’s not what you have it’s what you do with it’ argument. What had he done with it? Really? That? Ah, ok so!
Back to Stud4U and the current cause of my extreme irritation. After sending his erect shot he asked for mine. I replied in the negative as I always do and he came back complaining that I had seen his. Again, and wearily for this is a conversation I have had on more than one occasion, I pointed out that: I had not asked for a naked shot; how could I even be sure it was a picture of him; I had no intention of doing anything with it (screen cover for my phone perhaps? Not!); and, finally, that I didn’t do naked shots. To this he insisted he wanted to see me as I had seen him. I replied a little more tersely that if he wanted naked shots of women, I could direct him to any number of free porn sites and he could look to his heart’s content. He then replied that he wanted to see the goods first. That was when I burst a mental gasket. Without bothering to reply or even to wish him something unsavoury, I attempted to delete my profile, only the damn thing wouldn’t let me. Now my anger was turned to the dating app. I pushed button after button but it would not remove my profile. In the end, I deleted my photograph and erased all my details. That would surely stop the ‘no picture’ brigade; my other bête noire of dating sites. These are the men who have no picture and say they want to get to know you first. It doesn’t matter how much I suggest they should show a picture, that this is a dating site and not a penpal site, and while judging by looks may be shallow, it is an intrinsic part of why people fancy other people. No, no, they cry, we want to know you, the person - that is the connection. If that is the connection, would they have messaged me in the first place if I didn’t have my own mug shot on display? They have the advantage of seeing what I look like before they want to understand the real me. It would be like going into a bar with a paper bag on your head and expecting the single girl to chat with you. Er, no! And then at the end of the day I have never yet been pleasantly surprised when these jokers finally reveal their picture. Never. They may be normal, have their own hair and teeth, but the faceless men have never been my type when revealed. Period.
The other common truth universally acknowledged is that people don’t look much like their pictures, even when they are genuine. Whatever happened to the I take a rotten picture and I’m much better in real life scenario?
So the combination of being mistaken for a side of meat, plus knowing that I don’t want to be on this site anymore, resulted in an adieu to my online chums. I vowed to leave them there and not even lurk, silent and faceless, when all was quiet. Online dating was like smoking – horribly addictive, unsatisfying and ultimately a total time waster.
I tried to explain this to Trish, who looked at me as if I had two heads.
‘Now you are being greedy,’ she said. ‘Go cold turkey and leave the site. You have more important things to be worrying about, like getting your skinny Irish ass over to Greece before Chris changes his mind.’
‘Even you don’t believe it.’
‘Of course I do. Just concentrate on getting the holidays and flights booked. My God woman, what are you waiting for?’
Trish was a hundred percent right of course. I’d spent a turbulent year trying to sort out my kids, divorce, money, job and then men. Men had featured in my life rather prominently last year after a rather long absence and I was grateful to be back among the living. The man who had taken my born again virgin cherry was codenamed sex god and just when I thought there could be no future, he’d contacted me again out of the blue and we were on target to meet up in January - just as soon as I could sort out holidays, flights and babysitters. My brother George was in the cross hairs and I was hoping that he could do the honours. My boys, Denis and Andrew, liked him: it was so cool to have a gay uncle.
Chris, aka my sex god, had been politely persistent too. We had spoken a lot since Christmas. Our affair in Galway and Dublin at the start of last year had been brief but passionate. He had returned to Greece for work, a DJ for goodness’ sake, and I had carried on dating locally with mixed results. My last squeeze had been a disaster for two reasons; one that he was my boss and two, that he was more in touch with his feminine side than I found comfortable. However, on the plus side we had managed to segue into friends, which was pretty impressive. The fact that we’d only shagged outside the country helped too. A sort of what goes on tour stays on tour relationship. We called it our Vegas Affair.
But Chris had been different from the beginning. He was the first man I had slept with since my husband. I had been paranoid prior to our first encounter: I wanted shadows, booze, candles, music, and yet more booze to help relax the situation. In the end, we met in daylight and only drank tea but we had sex, glorious sex, twice in the first hour. Now, that was a special kind of icebreaker. I think because he was the first man I’d slept with since separating from my husband, I had imbued the relationship with all sorts of barriers and at the same time unrealistic expectations from the start. Knowing that it could not last meant that I did everything in my power to defeat it. I might argue it had died a natural death but not before I’d fed it poison, shot it, and then run over it in my car, twice. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I guess what surprised me was that Chris had contacted me again. I had not expected that. Nor had he for that matter. He liked me, had had some savage sex with his cougar, as he called me, and then intended to return quite happily to Greece and all those young topless girls without a second thought. Only it didn’t quite work out like that. Despite my over-anxious emotions, disastrous tears and muddled thinking, he still liked me. He could not get me out of his mind. He wondered if time and geography might have been a bit harsh. He wondered if we could gang up on time and geography and see if there might be something other than a niggle in the back of his mind and wiggle in his trouser department. He wondered if it, us, me were worth fighting for. He contacted me and wanted to see me again. We were both adults, albeit on different trajectories in life, but he wasn’t prepared to let me go just yet.
My romantic side had never been happier. My destructive, practical side was devastated and warned me on a daily basis that this would all end in tears. I’d done the old management consultancy trick: I’d written a list of pros and cons and I have to admit they were weighted quite firmly in the Con column, but then there were some persuasive points in the Pro list that included lines like he makes me happy. Hard to argue against happiness. I read someplace that when John Lennon was five years of age his mother told him that happiness was the most important thing in life. When he started school, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Naturally he replied he wanted to be happy. They said that he didn’t understand the question. He replied that they didn’t understand life.
One of the most important things about being separated is that I have learnt that I am not afraid. So many times in life, inertia prevents things from happening. It is often said that on deathbeds it’s the actions not done that are regretted rather than the actions taken. So, while also taking a huge pinch of salt, and realising that I was quite possibly mad in the head, I was going over to Greece to stay with Chris and see what happened. If nothing else, I was guaranteed an exciting break with a most generous man who had a six pack to die for.
Explaining that to my two teenage boys was not as simple. For starters I’d told an elaborate string of lies and excuses to meet him in the first place. It seemed better not to interrupt their lives with details which were not going to affect them. Now it was harder to suddenly introduce this sex god living and working in Greece as Mammy’s new beau. In the end it was George who came to my assistance. As I was faltering to explain and making a total pig’s ear of the whole situation, he cut across me and the two boys who had started to become quite stroppy towards me.
‘Your mother is entitled to a life,’ he said simply. ‘You cannot live it for her or indeed tell her how she should live it. I expect you to be supportive of her. After all, she would not dream of telling you what girls you should date.’
‘But a DJ in Greece,’ said Denis. ‘That is stupid.’
‘Some people would say one man fancying another man is also stupid and indeed wrong,’ said George quietly. Denis flushed red. He liked his uncle and would not like to be seen to be homophobic. The two boys dropped their complaints and talk slid to other topics. Watching them I could see they were not persuaded, but had decided to hold off for now. Battles I thought. Battles and wars. And surviving. Later, George had a glass of wine with me in private as the boys did their homework.
‘They are boys and you are their mother. They would be upset if you were dating the pope for God’s sake Aoife.’
‘I know. I know. I think I feel doubly guilty as I have doubts myself.’
‘Who doesn’t at the start of a possible relationship?’
‘I know, but he is a DJ and in Greece.’
‘Who says your next boyfriend has to be an accountant or a solicitor?’
‘God protect me from solicitors.’ George and I shared a painful look. My own troubles in that area were still on-going. Family law was painful in the extreme, even when I had my solicitor by the tight and curlies. Mr O’Brien, or that Little Prick as we called him unaffectionately, was now totally supporting me in the retention of the family home, but everything moved at snail’s pace. Recently, my ex had been late in several maintenance payments and I sincerely hoped this was not going to develop into a regular pattern. His new partner was six months pregnant and with the best will in the world, this was going to throw up all manner of difficulties, finance being a major one.
‘Anyway, can you see the look on Paul’s face when he sees his replacement?’
I choked back a laugh. I could not imagine a more unhappy scenario than Chris meeting my ex. ‘We shall cross that bridge when we come to it,’ I said but it did make me smile.
After George left, Andrew returned to the earlier conversation.
‘Greece, Mam, I mean...’ and he looked at me with disappointment. I had thought to joke about moving to sunnier climes but stopped myself. His little face looked worried as he struggled to present a grownup look.
’Love, this is just something I have to do. I’m not sure it will work out, or even if it is meant to, but I need to find out. It is special when two people have a connection and I need to see him again to find out where it might lead.
‘Not to Greece,’ I added quickly. ‘Their economy is even worse than ours, although they do have sunshine.’
‘Mam,’ began Andrew but I cut him off at the pass.
‘Bad joke,’ I said. ‘Let’s just take this one step at a time. You can be happy for your old mother having a holiday.’
‘But you are just back from San Francisco,’ muttered Andrew.
‘That was work, Andrew,’ I said. ‘Work.’
This seemed to satisfy Andrew for the moment although I knew it was not over. I hoped that Denis, who at seventeen was less easily persuaded, would not open the topic tonight. I was tired and I wanted to hit the sack. And the work in San Francisco had also included lots of sex with my boss Brian which I also did not want to revisit now. Guilt and the single mother I thought. I bet my ex or any other man would not give it a second thought. With resolve on this night, I joined their ranks, and slept dreamlessly. I fell into slumber like a babe, innocent and weightless.