Like ships passing in the night

In 2003, when I moved to a little city in Poland at the age of 22, I knew no one there. There were other English teachers in the city who I made friends with: one from Wales, one from Scotland, one from New Zealand and one from Canada, like some kind of rainbow of English-speaking countrypeople.

There was also my American flatmate, who I’ve written about here before, a lovely, lovelorn and thoroughly insane woman who we spent much of the year hiding from.

As well as that I made friends with some of my students, some of the Polish teachers of English in my school and some of the various travel agents, language school owners and other cosmopolitan folk who lived there. It was a small city, and Poland had not yet joined the EU, so the few native English speakers were exotic and interesting and anyone who was interested in languages or travel fastened onto us like limpets. I loved my celebrity status.

One of my closest groups of friends that year was a group of students from another language school in the city. They were all about 17 or 18 years old and in their second last year of school. They were fun and funny and nothing as intense as many of the people I befriended that year.

One of that group, a girl with red hair and therefore some Celtic fellow-feeling decided she was going to move to Ireland and I helped her get into a school in Dublin by googling schools in Dublin and phoning the first one I found. When she moved to Ireland to do her Leaving Cert, she realised that she didn’t want to live in Finglas and found another school for herself. She’s since done a science degree in Trinity.

Another member of the group was a blonde young man who was kind of the group leader. He was bouncy and bubbly and tremendous fun to be around. When I “admitted” to this group that I was “bisexual” (It was Poland in 2003. Bi seemed an easier thing to be than gay.) his reaction was one of fascinated amazement. He asked me one of my favourite questions ever, “Does that mean you’ve held hands with a man?” Because that’s the weirdest thing gays do.

I had a few suspicions about this guy. I remember one night he told me about how much he liked Richard Hammond from Top Gear. Admiration for a motoring journalist might not arouse everyone’s suspicions, but it aroused mine, as I had my own feelings about Richard Hammond. He also told me a story about being in a hotel and one of his male friends seeing his ass while he was in the shower. I kept my suspicions to myself.

We kept in touch when I moved to another city in Poland, emailing and texting sporadically. I believe we were Bebo friends. We gradually fell out of contact. And then, four years later, I was back in Ireland and I joined the new network, Facebook. He was one of my first friends there.

I watched him from a distance. He moved to Scotland and studied and then worked there. He partied a lot. And lots of drunken photos ended up on Facebook. He wore a lot of vest tops. He was a massive X Factor fan and supported Cheryl Cole’s Little Geordie Joe McElderry one year and my precious One Direction the next. I continued to draw my own conclusions.

And then he started going out with a skinny, camp-looking Scottish boy, who was some kind of dancer or gymnast. Their relationship and then their break-up was all over my Facebook for about three weeks. It was a whirlwind.

I felt a little bit proud that he had turned out to be gay. I’m not sure why.

About a year ago, I noticed that he’d unfriended me on Facebook. I wasn’t bothered. We hadn’t spoken in eight or nine years. And I know my Facebook self can be irritating.

Today, I logged onto Grindr (the gay location-based “networking” app) in my little apartment in Ljubljana. And this young man’s face was smiling out at me. I wasn’t as surprised as you’d think. He does travel an awful lot. And there’s a funky youth hostel around the corner from me.

I vaguely considered saying hello. He was, after all, only 137 metres away according to the app. But it might be a bit odd. He has Facebook unfriended me after all. And it’s been years.

Then I read his little profile. You can’t write much in a Grindr profile. There’s really just room for about one sentence. Mine currently reads “Big Irish guy in Ljubljana until 26th August.” His says, “No over 30s. Only smooth. Im not a superman but please no fatties.”

That’s me out on three counts. I’m over 30. (He’s 28. He’ll have to revise his expectations soon.) I’m not smooth. (I haven’t been waxed in ages. If I had the money if get waxed from the neck down every month.) And I am a fatty.

I’m not going to message him.

********************************

I haven’t sent anyone on Grindr a message since arriving in Slovenia.

I’ve received two messages in that time. One was two “cock pics” with an accompanying text “Wanna suck?” The other was two “cock pics” with an accompanying message saying “just an offer; i need 30 euros. can you help me? I’m 24 year old top.” He also included his phone number.

I haven’t answered either man.

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