The first time we met, I thought he was unexpectedly tall.
I waited for him to arrive at an old smoking area, formerly referred to as “Cloud Nine,” across from my workplace. I tried to keep a composed demeanor despite the loud thumping in my chest.
Upon his arrival, we jumped right into rapid conversation. It was awkward, as most first encounters are. For one, I looked like a twelve-year-old girl next to him—a giant man next to a literal midget. I found it funny when he’d purposely go one step behind so as to level our heights on the escalator.
Pierre had just gotten out of an eight-year relationship a few months ago. We were seated across each other at a food court when he shared this, so casually my brain halted in surprise. Still, I tried attentively conversing; the red flag clung to the peripheral of my brain.
Behind my first-meetup facade, I was devastated. It’s in my best interest to avoid emotionally unavailable men.
He had an eight-year relationship that just ended very recently, for fuck’s sake. Although inasmuch as it is a red flag, eight years connotes a strong commitment threshold. Eight years is a long time. Ironically, there are also a number of couples staying in long-term relationships for unhealthy reasons, so I couldn’t be certain those eight years were a clear, exact indication as to how adept he is at commitments. I mean, it ended, you know.
Conversations leaned toward writing, his current corporate job, previous Tinder meetups, and how new he was at all of this. I can’t quite remember the things I talked about, honestly.
As he was talking, my eyes collected the details of him. He was tall, talkative, and quirky. His ex-girlfriend must have been head-over-heels about these qualities. He also had an expressive face. I could tell by his eyes that he was a naturally awkward person, just as I am. The only thing I couldn’t quite tell was if he felt attraction toward me.
Our first meeting was brief. He had to hurry back home to prep for a hiking trip. He’s a mountaineer and an avid biker—one of the reasons why I swiped right despite the fact that I couldn’t quite see his face in his pictures. Actually, no— a photo of his article lured me in.
Uncertain as I was at this time, I was fine whether our meetup birthed anything or nothing at all. It was basically just a physical demo of our Tinder profiles. No big deal. He was cute, though.
Weeks passed and we met again.
In the dark, just far above the wall to our left side, a spraying noise would be heard every so often. He had these automatic air fresheners mounted in his bedroom and living room’s walls. Every thirty minutes, they would dispense mist and the room would smell of fabric perfume.
“Free Falling” by John Mayer was playing in the background.
A new, yet somehow recognizable, feeling washed over my senses—a pinch of deja vu, it seemed, that felt as if it had already enveloped me in a dream or another realm. Wrapped up in his arms in his pleasantly cold room felt like heaven to me. How could you feel this safe in a stranger’s den? Perhaps it was the right temperature, atmosphere, smell, and music.
I wondered who decided to install air freshener dispensers up their walls. It seemed like an indication of people who had decided to commit for a long time. I could imagine his ex-girlfriend casually bringing up the idea of air fresheners during one of their conversations, sprouting from her innate desire to improve one’s quality of life. I could picture a meticulous and organized woman. He must’ve been really in love with her.
Pierre wasn’t big on selfies or portraits. He mostly dabbled in pictures of landscapes, skies, plants, and his bicycle. Occasionally, though, you’d encounter photos of his ex-girlfriend with sweet captions on his feed if you scrolled deep enough. For a moment, I felt envious. This must be how a writer loves another person. I knew it was just a snippet, but this must be how it is to love and be loved by another.
The second time we had sex, he let me stay at his house before he went to work. He said I could get whatever I wanted in his fridge, and that I could cook myself anything. He added that he’d send me instructions on how to turn off his air conditioner and how to turn on his shower for when I was leaving. I was sitting on his bed, covered in his blanket, still a little groggy, when he was saying all this. I looked at him and thought he was really good-looking, with his hair still wet and perfectly fitting black shirt. He kissed me before he left the room.
When I went to the kitchen, I saw he had left a cup of coffee that had already gone cold. In his bathroom, there was a fresh towel waiting for me.
No hookup had ever done that for me.
I never experienced the romance of domesticity or the joy in the ordinary aspects of relationships, and now, I had been given a taste of it.
I started wishing I could always bask in the simple sweetness of living with and being taken care of by a significant other.
We didn’t meet for some time after that. And within that time frame, I kept wanting to go back to his apartment and marvel again at the heavenly ambiance of his room, his air freshener spraying a pleasant smell above us and John Mayer playing in the background.
Over the course of our casual relationship, I developed a liking toward him. Not because we’d often hang out—no. We never hung out. Between our meetup intervals, I’d frequent his profile and read his writing.
In his writing, he’d talk about the beauty of nature and the importance of taking a break from the city. I marveled at the fact that he was so much better at writing than me. Admiration beyond sexual attraction grew. With great writing and articulacy, I started looking up to him.
There was this post he’d written about him accidentally spewing out taho in the elevator, leaving sago pearls bouncing off people’s clothes. Upon reading it, my image of him being superior and above me suddenly sublimed.
Picturing him in that elevator with disgusted eyes on him, a combination of emotions swept over me. Neither was I exactly turned off nor head-over-heels over the image of him spewing out food from his mouth and nose. But that clumsy, sweaty, always-in-a-haste, and embarrassing image of him made him more human in my eyes, making him ten times more attractive.
Reading his textualized thoughts on the Internet made me feel like I’d known him outside of sex. I started wishing I knew him outside of sex. Taking a peek into his mind through his long-winded Facebook posts consequently caused a collision between the shallowness of our casual dynamic and the depth of his character.
My infatuation nurtured by his online presentation set aside the horrible moments of disconnection that took place during and after our meetups. Stepping outside my head for a second could be disorienting, given that my online and offline images of him were unaligned.
In reality, our first sexual encounter wasn’t satisfying, emotionally or physically. Prior to that night, after almost a year of abstinence and self-reflection, I thought I’d magically and finally be adept at handling casual sex. I even wrote about it in articles. I was sure I could do it again.
But then Pierre was thrusting me raw and hard and I was forcefully picturing Joseph—a man I was once deeply in love with—on top of me in order to emotionally stimulate my mind enough to lubricate more, for it to hurt less.
The entire night consisted of multiple rounds and cuddling. The way he’d say Goodnight, Sam right after he came felt somehow dismissive. For short hours, we lay in the dark, my mind and body in idle yet restless, like a door half shut.
When the morning came after that first night, we had to hurry back to my city, where he worked and I resided. Subconsciously, I expected we’d commute together. Until he was taking out his bicycle and telling me directions to where the jeepneys were. I almost forgot he got to work by bicycle every day. Still, I hoped he’d at least accompany me.
I wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or the fear of being seen with a new, younger, average-looking girl, but him fast-pedaling his bicycle ahead of me, before I even reached the place where the jeepneys are, didn’t quite sit well with me.
The first night was followed by more similar nights. We knew little of each other outside our primal urges. Without an official declaration of We’re just gonna be fuck buddies! it seemed established that our setup would be strictly sex-related.
I see pictures of him with his co-mountaineers, gathered around a fire or standing next to each other during a hike and wonder how our dynamic would be if we met that way.
I remember one of my co-workers, the same age as him, who we’d often tease and banter with. Maybe Pierre was just like him around other people. I could imagine being one of his co-mountaineers and hanging out with him in a group surrounded by trees. Maybe we wouldn’t be kissing then or even look at each other that way. We’d be friends. We’d really know each other, mutually. Not virtually and one-sided.
Instead of having images of each other limited and framed by just pure lust and emotional detachment, we’d have a more free-flowing, unrestricted and genuine perspectives of each other rid of first online impressions and transitory affection. Our place of encounter would always be in nature, connecting us more mentally to Earth, our roots, ourselves, and each other.
Circumstance in which our dynamic develops would be less momentary. Separating ways wouldn’t be so bad.
I had a taste of both his shallowness and depth, which is a bit contradictory to the unspoken rules of hooking up. And that is why hooking up with him might have been a bad idea. I’m more in love with the idea and possibility of our relationship not lacking depth; of entirely experiencing the crevices of someone’s mind who seems as passionate; of the domesticity of love. I’m afraid I’m more infatuated with his writing, online persona and hidden potentialities than the person he presented himself to me in real life.
For two deep thinkers, our relationship started out shallow. I remember going home once and drowning in the feeling of artificial aftertaste of casual sex. Our physical affection the night before started to feel fake and too performative. It was also the time I realized that I was doing casual sex for the wrong reasons again. I was after a serious relationship before we met. I settled for sex because I couldn’t be this man’s rebound.
Truthfully, I still think he could be my ideal partner at times. I mean, let’s forget about the eight years. I really loved his cozy apartment, his deep appreciation of nature, his hunger for adventures. I still wish for the entirety of his personality that his ex-girlfriends, workmates, and friends witness daily; for a different image he has of me, far from the image of a girl he just met on Tinder.
The thing about physical union and online vulnerability is that both could create an illusion of closely knowing another. Especially if this person is a writer. They’re good with words! They’re good at expressing themselves; their words are their musings. But their entire being doesn’t just consist of words. It’s a conflation of physical behaviors, practices, their most shallow and deepest thoughts. Maybe the next time I click on his profile, I should go back and read this. I must keep in mind that online and offline images are easily malleable.
Originally, our first meeting was supposed to be a trip around the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He was willing to lend me his bicycle. Together, we would explore the university pedaling. Not thrusting each other in his apartment.
Maybe we would have turned out differently.
Or maybe not.