Last summer, as I approached 25 in Vancouver, I concluded that I had exhausted the local dating pool. I had overfished Plenty of Fish and used all my arrows in OkCupid. A hand injury forced me to withdraw from the gay volleyball league, and I found myself hiking alone whenever I showed up for a gay hike I found on Meetup. com.
While I eventually felt bold enough to make eye contact with men on the seawall and in cafes, it was only because they had long since stopped looking in my direction. I could watch – or leer, if I wanted – and no one would notice. I needed to break away from my city.
More than two decades earlier, I had decided to move to Vancouver 20 minutes after a weekend in Los Angeles. This time, in deciding to leave, I did not trust whims and dreams. My instincts had proven time and time again to be an unreliable barometer. I needed to base my decisions on logic and planning.
I started by rejecting Victoria and Ottawa because they were smaller than where I was already, and I eliminated Montreal because my French was too weak. Who left Toronto.
I flew there in early August for three days, walked Queen Street and marveled at the diversity of the city. The shore of Lake Ontario didn’t quite match the ocean and mountains of Vancouver, but, yes, Toronto would do. I would make it work.
For financial reasons, I set April 1, 2020 as the target date for the move, but my plans were more ambitious. The movers stored my things for three months, and while I was temporarily free to pay a mortgage or rent, I used the extra money to travel to Europe. There only I would let my whims scold, acting on the recommendations mentioned in the passage to the foreign coffee of the day.
“Have you been to the Algarve? “You should go to Bucharest.”
I don’t have and would finally be a free spirit at 55.
As 2020 arrived, I decided that my last three months in Vancouver would also be freer. I suspended my accounts on traditional online dating sites and created a profile on a hookup app. Released in 1989, at the height of the AIDS crisis, I had never shaken my sexual fears and my blockages. This would be the time to work on them before setting foot in my new city.
But it was not easy to be “easy”. As I braced myself for the possibility that names would never be exchanged, I still wanted some meaning from the interaction. I blocked the guy who kept sending me obscene messages about spit and ignored the guys who didn’t use full sentences. But keeping the standards meant staying home.
And finally, on the first day of February, I gave in. A guy my age with just one respectable bullet to the head sent the message “Hello” – no verb, no punctuation, but hey, it was saliva-free.
At noon, we had agreed to meet at a cafe located about halfway between our quarters. Getting together in public felt safe. We each had an outing.
I was cast when David – was that even his real name? – suggested that we sit down and have our coffee. If it was all about hooking up, wouldn’t we grab some cups to get back to his place? Maybe he wanted a moment to talk about preferences and confirm the absence of sexually transmitted diseases. Very responsible.
But no. We talked about our days, struck up a conversation about travel, and I brushed off a dismissive remark I made about an ex.
“It’s for another time,” I said. As if.
We chatted for an hour until the cafe closed.
“Do you want my number? ” he said.
We swapped phones to enter data. On the sidewalk there was a cordial goodbye, a forced embrace initiated by me. Then he returned home and I returned home. Somehow I had mismanaged the hookup.
Sporadic texts followed and a week later we saw each other again. It would be a connection makeover. But this time he made reservations at a trendy Thai restaurant. From what I understood, fancy dinners were not part of the connection.
While I was driving there, I reviewed the game plan. Not a date. No meetings. We’d have a bite to eat and have sex, that’s all. We hadn’t even finished the green papaya salad when I blurted out that I was leaving in less than two months. Still, we ate.
The whole meal had been ordered. Despite my intention to keep things light, we went from commenting on the spices in the pad thai to talking about past relationships, what made him passionate about his work and, always hesitantly, about my aspirations on my new path. writer. The foreplay fodder never entered the mix.
Two days later, my condo was sold with the expected take-over date for the beginning of April, as I had planned. David was the first person I texted. I didn’t think of it as a stark reminder that I was leaving; I just wanted to share my good news. That same evening, I went online and booked a one-way ticket to Stockholm.
And yet, our SMS exchanges intensified, and we continued the weekly meetings. A summer adventure, I thought to myself, at the end of a winter in Vancouver. I had been open. We would both get something out of it. I would leave Vancouver, throwing some of my bitterness away and he would hopefully have found a silver lining, returning to the dating world after a 25-year relationship. We could both enjoy the moment.
On February 14, he texted an image of a heart superimposed on a rainbow background with the message “Happy Valentine’s Day”.
“Good Friday,” I replied.
Saturday evenings became Friday and Saturday evenings which became weekends.
In the second week of March, we found out about tennis court compatibility and I started sharing my stress about how the world was getting more and more nervous about the coronavirus. What if I can’t fly to Stockholm? Would it be foolish to move to Toronto and risk slipping through a gap in provincial health care coverage?
“You can always stay in my second bedroom,” David said.
The offer seemed both too much and too little. Being a roommate wasn’t how I saw a relationship evolving, but what was I doing even thinking about such a thing? I had my plan. I traveled and then moved. They would have to close the borders to stop me. And that’s what they did.
Still, I haggled. It was a drastic two-week measure. They would take control of the virus. And, even if that didn’t happen, I’d say my goodbyes in time and find an Airbnb thousands of miles north of the Yukon.
I continued to engage my planning brain while feeling even dumber. My preparations had been laser focused on reduction rather than hoarding. I had spent months cutting back on supplies until the last shakes of a can of cinnamon and a final roll of toilet paper. I could still have my three months of travel, the Doritos gas station and the remote tundra for Swedish cardamom buns and the medieval charm of the old town of the Estonian capital.
Seven weeks later David and I took our first selfie, my hair was still relatively tame and a full two weeks before he shaved his head. We walked many miles that day, enjoying the sun, the beaches, and each other. Time spent outdoors was like a special privilege. Would the country soon enter total containment, like France and Italy?
With changes in her work schedule, including big savings with no commute, we started seeing each other every day, walking around the most scenic parts of town, giving each other an ear and an ear. distraction as David tracked the daily coronavirus count in British Columbia and I worried about the packaging and where I would end up in a week after being kicked out of my home.
Pressures to stay in Vancouver increased as lower areas avoided potentially infected strangers, and relentless social distancing messages reduced my personal network to David. In a rushed 24 hour period, I signed a six month lease for a condo in Vancouver’s notoriously tight rental market and cut my move from over two thousand miles to less than two.
While the coronavirus wasted eight months of planning for a major life change, it left something decidedly unforeseen in its wake. David and I continued, our adventure launched. Through our daily cafes and walks through favorite parts of the city, we got a little closer, united in our efforts to keep the rest of the world six feet apart.