We were supposed to have met a year ago. The fleeting nature of online dating: short conversations that lead nowhere and plans that fall through at the last minute, was the main culprit. On a cold, rainy night in January we reconnected and finally saw each other in real life.
Vlad looked exactly like his pictures: a hint of a blonde beard, striking blue eyes and a face that would fool you into thinking he was younger than me. “I can’t believe we’re meeting after all this time,” he said, in his mildly Russian accent. We got drinks at a bar in Brooklyn on a Saturday night.
When you’ve been at the online dating scene for too long, you learn to set your expectations low. The reality is that most people you’re going to meet will not be a match and if it is then there’s that uncertainty if you’re ever going to see them again. This is New York, after all. For a city that’s been romanticized to death in the media, it’s certainly ironic that, at the same time, it’s one of the hardest places to date.
As the third Rum and Coke entered my bloodstream, I realized I wanted to take this guy back to my place, but a part of me wasn’t convinced the feeling was mutual. It wasn’t exactly an amazing first date – it wasn’t boring or lackluster, but I was doing most of the talking. “Sorry, I’m talking too much,” I said, as I put my hand on his lap. “No, you’re good,” he assured me. He was clearly a shy guy and I wasn’t going to get him to open up so fast.
He told me about the difficulties of being a gay man in Russia, our coming out stories and how New York made us go through that final phase of acceptance and sexual liberation. While leaving the bar, I asked him if he wanted to come over to my apartment.
Back in my bed, I was surprised to see how affectionate he was. We couldn’t stop kissing, touching and just being all over each other. If there was one quality I liked in a guy, it was that one. We had sex and talked some more. “Do you wanna stay over?” I asked, knowing that a “no” was probably going to be the signal that he wouldn’t want to see me again. “Maybe,” he hesitated. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy give me that answer to such a simple question.
We got hungry at one point and decided to get some fried chicken at Popeye’s. Not exactly fancy, but I’m the kind of guy who thinks there’s romance to be found in spontaneous, cheap, post-sex fast food. We took it home and watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on Netflix. After we were done eating, he said he was going to stay the night. Ah, the magic of fried chicken.
He had to leave Sunday morning because of work. Vlad was a fashion designer but worked in a restaurant. I knew the struggle. He showed me his work. He was talented, handsome and affectionate. Did I finally find someone worth dating again? Stereotypes got the best of me and I told him he was the most masculine fashion designer I had ever met. He laughed. I stereotyped him again when I said he had a pretty good sense of humor for a Russian. I don’t know how he saw me again after that.
Vlad was frustrated about the fact that he wasn’t creative enough anymore. He wanted to work in his field, but instead he was waiting tables. I understood completely. “I feel like I’m wasting my life,” he said, with an evident sadness in his voice. I started to think he was depressed. “These things don’t happen overnight,” I said. “Especially for us immigrants. We have to work twice as hard as any American and it’ll be a while until we reach success.”
Whatever strong spark that was missing from our first date, definitely showed up on the second one. He changed his schedule so he could see me Friday night. We spent the whole weekend together. Between bike rides along the Hudson river, neighborhood exploring and long, coffee-fueled walks and talks, everything was too good to be true. In public, he kissed me spontaneously, passionately, held my hand, wanted to show me off. In a way, it felt as if we were already a couple, but I saw this as a red flag. Of course, I ignored the red flags. I only told myself I wasn’t going get emotionally attached to him and just keep him at arm’s length.
He texted me every day. A quick “how was your day” or an afternoon “how’s your day going so far?” made me realize he was interested and constantly thinking about me. He didn’t play games, which I appreciated, because at 29 I have zero patience for people who intentionally wait hours to reply to play hard to get. After the third week of seeing each other pretty consistently, I was past the point of no return. I fooled myself, I was starting to get emotionally attached to him.
We had the same taste in music and Vlad randomly shared songs with me via WhatsApp. He had watched many of my favorite movies and confessed his unrequited love for Jake Gyllenhaal.
As time went on, he opened up more and more and I was able to get to know him deeper. He took me to Brighton Beach, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its overwhelmingly Russian population. I had never been. Even the storefronts were in Russian, the women wore fur. I felt like I had stepped into the Twilight Zone or an episode of FX’s The Americans. We went to a restaurant where we were the only ones eating there. The owner of the place happened to be our waitress. They spoke in Russian and he ordered for me, I thought that was cute.
While we sat on a bench with a front-row view of the beach, I noticed how the sound changed. There was this overwhelming sense of calmness, a departure from the cars and the construction sites and the horns and the yelling. I wanted to cherish that moment. “Can we just sit silently and not talk for a while?” I asked, as the sounds of the shorebirds took precedence over our voices. He put his arm over my shoulder and we looked at the sea under the freezing January weather.
During that silent time, I came to the realization that I wasn’t seeing anyone else – because I didn’t need to, and in the process, I had made myself vulnerable. Next to me was a guy who satisfied me both romantically and sexually and who I seemed to connect with on different levels. “This is going good, right?” I thought. Except it wasn’t.
After almost a month of seeing each other, I noticed Vlad was messaging less and taking longer to respond. See, this is what I hate about texting. People set a precedent when you first start messaging them. When their texting behavior or pattern changes, you start thinking something is wrong.
A few days prior, we had planned to get dinner on a Wednesday night. He was supposed to stay over at my place. The day before, Vlad suggested that instead of going out, he would cook something and bring it to my place. He also said he wasn’t going to stay over. My instincts told me there was something going on.
Wednesday came and with it a sad-looking, worried Vlad. The smiling, adorable face was replaced with this entirely new person. “What are you thinking?” I asked, as we faced and held each other in bed. He shook his head. We were fully clothed and I suggested if he wanted to take his pants off. “I’m not in the mood,” he said, dismissively.
Shit. Not in the mood. That’s what couples that have been married for 15 years say to each other. At that point, there was no doubt something was up.
I’ve dealt with emotional issues myself. I have an immense fear of abandonment, which talking to my family seems to come from nowhere. My mom and dad didn’t abandon me. Also, I was heavily bullied during my teenage years, which led me to develop social anxiety and shattered my self-esteem. “You know what?” I asked. “I used to date someone with depression and your face looks exactly like his when he was on a depressive cycle.” Vlad laughed and said “maybe I have depression.” I asked if he wanted to talk about it. He said no. I have a tendency to connect with guys who can’t seem to communicate effectively.
After that night, what had been a worry-free, enjoyable relationship became a paranoia-inducing, stressful situation. My fear of abandonment had kicked in and there was no going back.
We had plans to see a movie on Sunday and again, he would stay over. After an unusual day of not texting, he gave signs of life on Saturday at 11pm with a “what time am I seeing you tomorrow?” Maybe I’m overreacting, I thought. Maybe I’m overthinking, as always. I woke up anxious on Sunday. I met him at 2pm in Union Square, where we went for a coffee. “We have to talk,” he said, but I already knew the story before he was able to say it.
Waiting for our coffee felt eternal. My heart was pounding, reality was setting in. None of us were speaking. A sense of impending doom came over me. While sitting on a bench in Union Square, Vlad started talking about random things. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I interrupted him. “I think us… isn’t working,” he said. Us? Was “us?” even a thing? We were never official, yet he was talking as if we had an actual exclusive relationship. I asked him why he thought it wasn’t working. “I think we’re different,” he said “when I like someone, I either fall into it or not. I did at first, but then I wasn’t so sure.”
- Was it something I said or did?
- No, you’re perfect. Stop saying that.
- I just don’t understand how you can go from liking someone and treating them as a couple and just shut down those feelings overnight.
He kept silent. “I want to be friends with you, though” he said. Ah, the dreaded “I want to be friends,” when all you want to do is fuck the shit out of them four times a day. I kept wondering if this was all fake. Was he just pretending to like me? It couldn’t be. Did he force himself to like me and it didn’t work?
I suggested if we could be friends with benefits, cuddle buddies or some other type of relationship that involved intimacy. I couldn’t just be his friend. “I don’t know what I want,” he said. “Maybe I don’t need anyone… I don’t feel anything.”
I wasn’t sure if it was because I was in denial, but somehow I didn’t completely buy his excuses. I mean, yes, it’s valid (if shitty) to stop seeing someone because you don’t feel anything, but not even sex? Not even cuddling? Can a guy just, overnight, stop getting hard for another one after having some really fucking good sex? I don’t know, I felt like there was something more to this.
We said our goodbyes. He gave me a long, strong hug and kissed me in the mouth. Later that day, the sadness set in and I went to see friends who gave me a much-needed tequila shot.
In an era where most people would just send a text or ghost you to deal with this situation, I appreciated the fact that Vlad told me in person, but as fucked up as it sounds, I wonder if ghosting would have been better. This time, even though I somehow got closure, I still feel like there are many unanswered questions. That night, I told him via text I couldn’t be his friend and that we should stop messaging each other, but if he ever figures his shit out, I was willing to give it a second chance. By leaving the door open, I might either be setting myself up for another disappointment or maybe it could work on round two.
The next day, when I cut contact and all I could do was think about him and the future we were never having together, he liked my Instagram picture.