CHAPTER SIX: THE UNFORTUNATE DATING CYCLE

I wouldn't say I was purposefully looking for a relationship, but I knew that I wanted one eventually. I also knew that I’d know when the right guy came along. I guess I’m a hopeless romantic like that. I believed that there would be a spark and I would just know.

I would meet guys and feel nothing. There would be no attachment and I would cut things off pretty quickly because I didn't have that internal craving. I wouldn't say that made me a bad person, it just meant that I knew what I was looking for. The way I saw it, there was no point in wasting mine and someone else’s time if I wasn't vibing it. So I always kept everything super honest and real, but sometimes I doubted my own confidence and began to question if I was being unrealistic.  Maybe I had no idea what I actually wanted? Maybe I wasn’t giving myself a chance to feel anything? But then fate happened and put some wheels into motion that indicated I would feel something unique.

I was travelling home to New Zealand for the first time in years. The quick, week and a half trip was part holiday and part visiting family, so my time was extremely limited. Once I made it to Napier I was strictly catching up with family as I was only in the city for two days. On the first night I was sitting in my Nana’s living room scrolling through Grindr, as I thought it’d be interesting to see who from my hometown turned out to be gay. As I was scrolling through the list it became apparent that there were only four gay guys in the village, none of whom I knew. However, one happened to be a German backpacker called Ben who was rather cute. I decided to strike up a conversation with him which resulted in flirty banter and a whole lot of seductive vibes. One thing lead to another and he invited me to meet up, but I declined as I told him I was only in town for two days and spending the whole time with my Nana and Aunty. He politely understood but asked if he could stay in contact with me and chat. I agreed, but didn't really expect it to go any further. From then on we spoke all day, everyday for three months straight. Between FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, we had all bases covered. Even though there was a slight language barrier, we got along really well and maintained this cool friendship that hinted at something else with a whole lot of sexual energy. One afternoon Ben messaged me and proposed the idea of  changing his flight home to come and visit me for a couple of weeks. I straight up told him he was crazy, but that I would love to have him visit. I explained that maybe only a week was better as I couldn't take too much time off work, but that he could definitely stay with me. So with that we locked in a week in two months time and started counting down the days. There was a massive amount of anticipation and excitement that didn't die down between the two of us and our daily chats continued.

In between the two month wait I realised that I couldn't get too attached to Ben because he was heading home to Germany after his week with me and all it was going to be was a cute little winter fling. So I continued to talk to other guys in the meantime and tried to remove any emotion from what was building between us. In that time I met the beautiful South African born Louis, who charmed me instantly with his big smile and calming nature. After a whole lot of flirting we met up and went on a couple of dates. The banter came easily and we just seemed to get along. With Ben’s arrival date looming I was upfront with Louis and told him what was happening. I confessed I really liked him and wanted to see what happened. He reassured me that he wasn't seeing anyone else and that he would still be here waiting for me after Ben left. He cheekily asked me to be his boyfriend the day before Ben arrived, but I asked him to re-ask me in a week because I wanted him to really mean it and not just be scared of losing me to someone else.

I wondered if I was being selfish? Should I be cancelling on Ben? I had developed serious feelings for Louis, but there was still an attachment to Ben that I needed to release. I told myself it was okay because I was upfront with both of them about each other, so I went along with it. But soon I was going to regret that decision.

As Ben arrived the nerves instantly hit, followed by an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I couldn't stop thinking about Louis, but for once I wanted to try and let go and just live my life a little. When Ben and I got home there was something that immediately seemed off, but I tried to ignore it and just be in the moment with him. We finally kissed and started fooling around but something still seemed wrong. The sexual drive that had been very prominent for the past six months seemed to be missing from his side. We fell asleep cuddling and the next day saw us going to dinner with a group of my friends, and his behaviour was rather odd. He was rude and blunt during dinner to my friends, who’d made an effort to come meet him, so I decided to call him out. As we hung at the back of the group while we were walking through the city I nervously questioned him. ‘So what’s up? There just seems to be something wrong?’. And he just looked me in the eyes and said, ‘yeah, I just don’t find you sexually attractive in person’. As those words fell out of his mouth my heart broke. I had never had the best confidence about myself because I was a little chubby kid growing up who hated his body and who he was, so those words cut deep. I looked at him in surprise and quickly hid my disappointment, ‘Oh okay, all good’ I blurted out. I increased my pace to catch up with the group and excused myself to go to the bathroom where I broke down. After finishing dessert and saying goodnight to the group, we returned home and I hopped straight into bed and tried to fall asleep. He jumped in after me and wrapped his arms around me as he kissed my neck. I quickly shook him off. ‘Not tonight. You just told me you didn’t find me sexually attractive in person. I don’t really wanna be touched right now’ I barked back at him. ‘Yeah, but i still want to cuddle you’ he confessed. I layed there for a moment trying to contemplate what to do. I gave in and fell asleep silently crying as his arms were wrapped around me and my self confidence slipped away.

I messaged Louis and told him what had happened, I apologised for how I acted because now it felt like karma was coming to get me. He agreed that what Ben said was really rude and promised that it didn't matter because he was there for me and thought I was beautiful. With my nerves calmed I was able to enjoy the next couple days of sightseeing with Ben without having any romantic ties. After a day trip to the Gold Coast I naively agreed to letting Louis come over for dinner before going out with both him and Ben. As Louis walked in the door he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. He wasn't afraid to show his affection with me around Ben as he embarrassingly marked his territory. After a successful dinner and pre-drinks we headed to the club and continued to drink. Louis was looking at me and whispering sweet and naughty things in my ear whilst my attention was completely off Ben. At this stage I just wanted him to leave, but I had agreed to let him stay with me and I wanted to respect that.

I announced I was going to the bathroom as I left the dance floor and 45 seconds later I returned to find Ben and Louis making out. My stomach sank as I turned around and backed away. The tears were streaming down my face as Louis noticed that I’d just seen. ‘Thomas!’ he yelled as he chased me through the club. ‘Not right now, leave me alone’ I yelled, shaking him off. I ran into my manager from work and burst into tears explaining what had happened. I was preparing to go back down on the dance floor to talk to Louis, and there they were making out again. ‘I’m done’ I yelled. My manager raced down to the dance floor and pushed Ben against a wall as he explained his thoughts on the situation. ‘How dare you disrespect Thomas like this. He has let you stay with him this whole time so don’t turn around and kiss Louis in the middle of a dance floor in front of him’. Rightfully shaken up, Ben and Louis tried to find me, but I had already walked outside and was calling a Uber home. We sat in silence the whole drive and once we got back to my house I told Louis he had to go home and that I would speak to him the next day.

As Ben and I walked inside I asked him if he had anything he wanted to say to me. He looked at me confused and simply replied ‘No?’. It was in that moment I lost all control and just started yelling at him with all my built up internalised hurt. He didn’t seem to realise that everything that happened was not okay. How saying to my face that he wasn't sexually attracted to me was really hurtful. How making out with Louis was really not okay. And how I really should've kicked him out and sent him to a backpackers on that second night, but I didn't want to disrespect him. I was frustrated. That night I made him sleep in my housemates room, who was away for the night, because I didn't want to be anywhere near him. The next morning he came into my room and started cuddling me and said ‘I’m sorry’. We just laid there in silence as I realised he wasn't going to say anything else. I was ashamed and hurt that he didn't have anything else he wanted to say to me. But I only had two more days with him, so I decided to try forget it and just get through the last couple of days. We awkwardly watched movies all day, kept the banter to a minimum, and had an early night. The next day I had to go into work, I had this strange gut feeling brewing but I didn't understand why. Then I received a text message from Louis saying ‘Hey, I’m taking Ben for a hike today, I hope that’s okay’. How was I meant to reply to that? My gut sinked once again, I just had this really bad feeling. Later that day I got a snap of Louis laying on my bed and I just burst into tears. I already knew what happened. No one had to tell me. That evening they picked me up from work and Louis was acting really strange towards me. I asked him if anything happened between him and Ben and he ignored the question. Later that night I asked Ben the same question and he looked at me and just said ‘I’m sorry’. I broke down in tears and just wished that this week was over already. I had one final day to endure and then I could say goodbye to it all. After another awkward day with Ben, I drove him to the airport and watched him walk through customs. From then on I never really heard from him. I never got a full apology or an explanation. And I still have so many unanswered questions. Like, why wasn't I enough? That night was also the end of Louis and I. We talked about things, but he wouldn’t explain what actually happened between him and Ben, and would always change the subject. We went on one final date, but I just didn't feel the same anymore, I couldn't look at him the same. So we went our separate ways. He got into a relationship soon after, and to be honest I’m still really hurt by everything. I knew I deserved better than how they both treated me but I also questioned if I deserved it for the situation I both put them in. I blamed myself.

After Ben left and Louis and I stopped talking, I couldn't help but keep replaying what Ben said to me over and over again. ‘I’m just not sexually attracted to you in person’. It took me straight back to the teenage version of myself who hated his body. The boy who hated who he was inside and out. I told myself that it was my fault everything happened because I wasn't good enough looking. I wasn't toned enough. I wasn't skinny enough. And I started to go to the gym every day. I stopped eating and became obsessed with how I looked. With the help of my friends, I got out of this overwhelmingly negative headspace, but there was still a part of me that would always believe I’d  never be good enough. I knew I would never have abs or big muscles and I was okay with that, I was skinnier than I had ever been and that should have made me happy. But it was never enough. I always found myself comparing how I looked to others, and self sabotaging possible relationships but looking at other people and thinking ‘why would you actually like me’. These dark thoughts always lingered.

A couple years passed by and my confidence grew, but I was always worried that I wouldn't be enough for someone. I met guys and had little flings with them, but would continually end things before they got too serious because I was afraid of getting hurt. I always saw the potential heartbreak and ran. I didn’t see myself as being good enough for anyone, so I couldn’t imagine any possible relationships working out. But one day I met this guy called Hamish, he lived on the Gold Coast and yet again won me over with his slick banter. After a few weeks of talking he invited me to go on a date to the beach, which was honestly my worst nightmare. Being shirtless with someone in the daylight? No thank you! But I decided to step out of my comfort zone and tried to believe in myself a little more. So I went, I felt confident and it actually went really well. He messaged me a couple days later and invited me to go for drinks, I was so excited that he wanted to see me again. The idea that someone who’d seen me without a shirt on wanted to go on a second date did wonders for my self confidence. We sat at a bar that overlooked the man made beach in South Bank and just chatted about life. Our teen years came up in conversation and I explained how I used to be a little chubby kid. He asked to see photos but I quickly said that I didn't want to show him. He tried to reassure me by saying ‘It’s okay I’ve already seen you with your shirt off and you are still a little chubby’. I immediately felt sick, my new found confidence was completely diminished. My mind began to race and I wanted to simultaneously throw up and cry. I excused myself to the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror I was full of confusion. I didn't think I was chubby. For once I was actually happy with my body. I knew I was skinny. Maybe I was a little bigger than usual? I had just broken my leg so I wasn't able to go to the gym, but I was still really active and didn't think I looked that different. I cried and wiped away my tears because once again I had gotten myself into an unfortunate situation. My life had become a constant unfortunate dating cycle, and I didn't know how to blame anyone but myself. Once I got home I reflected on what had happened and my recent broken leg, which had helped me learn a couple of important lessons.