Beware, dear reader, of imminent heartbreak. This story comes from my first three (virginal) months after entering the online dating rabbit hole. There will always be a soft, vulnerable place in my heart for this one, unlike so many others, who don’t leave a scar and an achingly bright memory.
After being catfished and left hung out to dry, I needed some sweetness and honesty in a world where these were precious commodities, especially after Johan stole another shred of my innocence.
James first struck me as a baffled child lost in the big smoke. He was new to online dating and at 30 years old, he’d only been in two relationships. Before and after Johan, I’d been taking in all the attractions in the seedy side of this world with wide eyes; digesting my observation of married men looking for sex or intimacy, guys looking for NSA sex or kinks, guys looking for threesomes, guys looking for all sorts.
I definitely wasn’t looking for ‘a relationship’ and yet it crept up on me while I was distracted. At first I was scared, but just for a fleeting minute because most of the time with James I was gloriously happy.
I’d learned the basics of James’ life in just a few text messages. He was living with a mate, suffering from a fairly debilitating back injury and therefore not working. His last relationship of four years had ended suddenly because he said his girlfriend had become a lesbian.
Most importantly, James seemed genuine and friendly. He had an open, youthful face, enormous green eyes and he didn’t flirt or talk sexy-dirty.
I liked the way he hadn’t mentioned the word ‘cougar’ – he’d just taken me at face value. Fairly quickly I’d slipped into a slightly maternal role of asking after his wellbeing. I was trying to show that I cared but I was already cognisant of the power imbalance. I was more than a decade his senior, with a solid professional career, children, friends, my own home, car – all the usual accoutrements of ‘success’. Whereas James was – if I cared to view it in a negative light – unemployed, penniless, and with no furniture or possessions to speak of.
James really appreciated my attention and my care. He’d said several times that I was ‘so nice!’ and that said I seemed ‘really intelligent’. After a couple of weeks chatting nightly, I suggested that we could meet up the next day, a Sunday, at my local wetlands nature park. I said I’d bring my beloved fox terrier. We’d talked about her because he’d had to leave his border collie behind after the demise of his last relationship.
As I saw James waiting for me, I knew instantly that I was attracted to him. My heart beat baboom at the sight of his body. He was so tall – somehow I’d forgotten that it said he was 6’4” on his profile – and slender, with broad shoulders. He wore a buzz cut hairstyle and had a chiselled face dominated by those big eyes and a generous mouth. I was purposefully casual and friendly, which came naturally with him. I discovered that, in person, he was actually similar to the picture I’d built up in my mind. This was uncommon.
Intelligence, sophistication or a good education were not James’ strong points. I already knew that his spelling was truly atrocious and he didn’t understand one word in five that I spoke. But he was honest, genuine and sweet. There were no hidden agendas, no subterfuge or murky depths with James. He’d grown up in a wealthy family, but he didn’t have any affectations or noticeable prejudices. He seemed to like me and there was a connection between us that grew steadily as we strolled and talked, or sat and smiled. As usual, I greased the wheels of conversation. By the time we parted with an impulsive hug, we both spontaneously suggested meeting again.
Two days’ later, our second date was at his place. His mate was at work that day so I sat on the front lawn, reading a book in the winter sunshine while I waited for James to arrive. He’d messaged to say he’d been delayed in traffic but very soon he whirred up the driveway on his moped.
Inside, we talked rather more awkwardly this time, without the distraction of physical activity and scenery. After a while, I was running low on ideas. It was already clear to me that our bond was not over stimulating conversation. I sipped my milky tea and boldly asked him how he intended to entertain me.
James looked coyly back at me in sunlit silence. I held his gaze and said, “Actually I’d really like to kiss you.”
He moved smoothly in front of me and drew me into an embrace that was sensually charged and completely, utterly delicious. His lips were so gentle and his kiss was tentative and yet measured, delicate and filled with sweetness. His tongue gently brushed mine and he drew me in with contained passion and tenderness. He smelled of clean laundry; fresh and wholesome. It was a defining moment of power and potential between us.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch languidly kissing, holding and caressing each other, our eyes often locked together in a silent bond of emotion. We briefly discussed my ‘limitations’ but it didn’t seem important. I explained that I couldn’t do nights, that I had Sundays and some weekdays I could spend with him. The fact that he wasn’t working seemed very convenient.
“That’s fine!” James assured me in the sudden rush of new intimacy. “I don’t have to go out at night with you. You’re amazing and I feel so lucky to have met you!”
There was an electric connection; not just passion but fun and laughter. After I left his house to collect my children from school, he texted me of his excitement and blossoming feelings. We messaged most of that evening and arranged our next date for a couple of days’ time. I was brimful of joyful anticipation. All night I re-ran enticing scenes of his body, his face, his lips. The way he needed to crouch down to meet my eyes or cradle my face. Every portion of James was magical to me.
At work the next day I suggested to him that I could call in on my way home, since his place was right on my route. He was excited at my idea, and when I arrived, he met me eagerly at my car door and engulfed me in a welcoming bear hug and passionate kiss. We strolled arm in arm to a small park nearby and chatted, held hands, kissed as we sat on the grass and stared into each other’s eyes for the short time I had. It felt as if we were already a couple.
I arrived bright and early the next day for our date, and after a familiar but exhilarating hour spent reacquainting ourselves, we headed to a nearby national park. There we spent a glorious spring morning meandering along woodland paths, while wrapped together and gazing adoringly at each other. We had the place almost to ourselves.
The afternoon was similarly spent on the leather chesterfield back at his house. With every passing second, every lingering kiss, I felt more and more as if I was falling into something serious. All my reservations about not wanting a relationship went out of the window, because I wanted James one hundred percent. I hadn’t thought further than wanting things to develop organically, but I had eyes for no other.
“I think we both need some sweetness in our lives,” I told him. With tear-filled eyes, his forehead pressed against mine, James nodded and kissed my eyelids. “You need someone good for you, and good to you,” I said.
I’d sensed almost from the start that he was carrying a heavy emotional load. Often, he seemed to be struggling for composure. We were both exploring unfamiliar territory and the intensity of our feelings for each other had taken us both unawares.
Five hours together was not enough. That night the emotional tone of our messages escalated as we each dived deeper. We’d spend several interactions just trying to say farewell because neither of us wanted to stop that feeling of togetherness.
I began mourning our separation for the coming two days of the weekend, when I had commitments and parenting responsibilities. It should have been my first warning sign – how badly he coped with our separation, and how painful it was for us both to be parted. With a sense of desperation, we planned our Monday together. Because his car was out of registration and his moped would not make the long distance to my house, he planned to catch a bus to a nearby town. I would collect him about nine in the morning, then we’d spend another five glorious hours at my place.
Monday, he opened my car door and surprised me as he folded his lengthy self into my small car. His kiss was tender and slightly tentative. My sense of the growing connection between us was still powerful and I was silently anticipating the hours of sex we might enjoy.
I’d already mentioned how glad I was that I’d ‘waited’ for him. He’d revealed that he hadn’t had sexual contact for over a year. I sensed that he was anxious about it.
After a few sensual kisses, I led him to my bedroom where we collapsed onto the bed in a tight, fierce embrace. And there we spent four and a half hours, getting up only for toilet breaks and water bottle refills.
After only a short time, my fantasy of slowly undressing him and kissing every perfect inch of skin was slightly dented. He helped me lift off his top and then pushed down his jeans and boxers in one fluid movement. All too suddenly he was naked, and he lay there, serious, vulnerable and wide-eyed, staring back at me as if seeking my approval.
There were many unfamiliar and beautiful things about that day. The gossamer touch of his body, his smooth warmth, the almost constant exploration of tongues that turned him on so much.
The stroking of his face. The stroking of my face. He matched my caresses in every way. The emotional language between us was so intense that several times tears rolled down his cheeks. He said they were tears of happiness but I sensed the depth of hurt within him. We talked about that; my first tentative explorations into his psyche to try to understand the who and the what of him.
“I’ve never felt such a strong emotional connection to a man,” I confessed during one of the many long interludes where we lay naked and entwined, just breathing in the scent of each other, every touch like an electrical charge. I’m still not sure if that was entirely true. Memory plays tricks on us, but certainly it was correct of my past decade.
But for every yin there is a yang.
The dark side of that joyous time was his sexuality.
I realised early on that I was unlikely to be achieving any sexual satisfaction that day. Again. I was baffled by his inability to maintain an erection and I slowly gained a picture of a man who was so damaged by his past, so emasculated, that he was mistrustful of even his own ability to sexually perform.
“I just want to make you happy, babe,” he whispered to me, almost sobbing in – what was it – fear? Trepidation? His heartfelt assurances that it wasn’t me, it was him, did eventually reassure me. I believed that he did genuinely desire me, but my own growing need for sexual satiation was overwhelming. It wasn’t until I resigned myself to its lack and partially re-dressed, that I began to feel truly adored and comfortable again with him.
His long body wrapped itself around mine and he snuggled into me as if our bodies were two parts of a whole. He filled me with yearning for that closeness to last forever, for his presence not only in part of my life but in my bed at night. It was foolishness and infatuation speaking, for I was certain in my rational mind that I did not want to cohabit or share my bed more than occasionally.
When we parted, we both recognised that something had shifted. We had declared our wish for mutual exclusivity. James reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, that he would contact the two other girls he’d been talking with and tell them that he was seeing me.
“You don’t have to worry,” he said. “I’m loyal to my woman.”
I was drunk on him. When I cupped his face in my hands he closed his eyes, sharply inhaled and shivered. “I love your touch so much,” he whispered. “I can’t keep my hands off you.”
Where did things go wrong from there? Was it the fact that once he’d seen my home, the pictures of my life and my children, that he wanted more of me, more of that, to belong? Or was it that he suddenly felt his own ‘lack’, his own inferiority in every sense?
He was no longer a youthful twenty-something and yet he was reliant on the charity of a friend to live and the welfare system for money. His parents were polite strangers who’d changed his old bedroom into a hobbies den. His health was precarious and he’d been told that he may never be free from the constant back pain that plagued him. It was uncertain whether he’d be able to retrain for a career because of all those years of heavy lifting and manual work.
He was at a crossroads in his life and yet he seemed to have no plans or ambitions. Maybe he was looking to a new relationship to fill that void?
“When you kiss me,” I messaged him before bed, “it feels as if you’re giving me your heart and soul.” I’d never been kissed like that before and it enticed me like a powerful narcotic.
And so the yang to the yin. Again. A darkness came.
On my way home from work that week I called in to see him and found James teary and troubled. His housemate had callously announced on Facebook that James, “might need to find another place to live,” in just a week’s time.
I held him while he silently stared into my eyes, as if wanting me to make a decision for him. I started to plan instinctively for solutions. We parted solemnly but knowing that we would be spending the next morning together.
As James ate breakfast, I arrived unprepared for calamity. As soon as he opened the door I sensed that something was wrong. His face was not lit with delight as I was used to seeing it. In those first few minutes as we kissed and he crouched and wrapped me in a hug and asked how I was, I put it down to the unsettling dread of possible homelessness. James told me quickly that his housemate had agreed to let him stay on until he found alternative living arrangements.
His eyes were serious and moist as he announced, “there’s something I have to tell you.” He led me to the couch and sat down close to me. He held my hand and explained, haltingly, that he was choosing another woman over me.
Except, he didn’t say it quite like that. I needed to elicit clarity, because although I could not believe what I was hearing, he did not want to be too blunt. I needed to cut through his ambiguity and hear him say it plainly. I was shell-shocked.
This shock kept the pain of understanding at bay as I tried to comprehend his words. He’d met someone before me, gone on a couple of dates. There’d been no sharing or revelation of feelings but they’d kissed. He’d liked her, though she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I sensed that she was more ‘his kind of person’. There was nothing like the intensity of closeness we’d developed. He wasn’t saying the same things to her as to me. He’d had no contact with her after she’d gone on holiday for the fortnight we’d come physically together. He thought there’d been no expectations, and he had willingly given himself to me.
After the day we’d spent at my place, James had messaged her, as he’d promised, to say that he could ‘only be mates’. She’d reacted unexpectedly by breaking down and pleading, over the course of the day, to change his mind. He’d spent a sleepless night trying to make a decision, to choose between me and her. He was stunned – he’d had no one for so long and now there were two!
He told me then that he hadn’t fully understood what my limitations meant. That he couldn’t live in my home and share our life; that he couldn’t see me 24/7, that my children would always come first.
“I’m needy,” he said. “I want someone to be with me all the time.”
Had I heard him utter that phrase right at the start, alarm bells surely would have rung. Yet, sitting on his housemate’s couch, I turned my back and sobbed. As warm tears slid down my face I thought, numbly, of all the things he’d said… “you’re perfect, I love everything about you, you’re so beautiful, the loveliest, nicest, kindest woman I’ve ever met…”
I thought of those fledgling hopes and dreams lying crushed. I thought of how the nullifying ache of my first and deepest heartbreak decades ago was crashing in on me, again. I was paying the price now for those intense highs.
Two sides of the same coin. The yin and the yang again.
We held each other gratefully, tragedy heavy in the air with our united grief and his confusion. He didn’t know if he was making the right decision, didn’t know if he could bear the anguish. He’d been up most of the night with worry and confusion. This was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do.
All this was nothing to me. I refused to give him an ounce of sympathy. “It shouldn’t be easy to do this,” I said, my voice thick with tears. “Because what you are doing is horrible. It’s unforgiveable.” I would not make it effortless for him. I didn’t want to know about ‘her’ and ‘her’ feelings. What mattered was his decision and his feelings! He could not even countenance the idea of having the both of us. And I didn’t think I could share him anyway.
We talked and cried, and held each other and sobbed. And then we started kissing again. It was gentle, lips resting against each other’s and sharing our air. It was tender, tongues intertwining a familiar dance. It was fierce, teeth knocking and this time, no apologies. It was urgent, passion rising and boiling with the sadness of inevitability. In my mind, every tiny stroke, every breath we shared and long drawn-out moment that our eyes locked together was tinged with the devastating knowledge of finality.
This most perfect body would not be mine to explore. This smooth and chiselled face would not be mine to stroke. Those luscious lips would not be mine to kiss. We’d had 18 hours physically together – and I wanted more!
Inevitably, our passion turned more sexual. I discovered that, at the eleventh hour, his body could indeed manage an erection and that it was glorious. I would now never feel that length and hardness inside of me and stare into his eyes as we united our bodies. It was over.
I’d gone from being the best thing that had ever happened to him, to history in less than four weeks.
“I don’t think you realise how special you are,” I whispered, my voice catching as I held his face in my hands, one last time. He covered my hands with his and said, meeting my eyes, “No, you don’t realise how special you are!” My face collapsed as I mumbled through my sobbing, “But it’s not enough, is it?”
When I told him that we just could not stay ‘friends’, that he mustn’t contact me, that it would hurt too much, tears ran down his face as the full impact of his decision hit. I think he expected me to say, “Oh well that’s fine, we’ll still be friends and see each other occasionally and chat now and then on kik.”
In the end, I sent him away from my car because he would not let me go. He would not stop hugging me and earnestly looking into my face, wiping my tears, kissing my face. I said, “You’re making it impossible for me to leave. You have to go!”
And then I drove away. Gutted.
For six days grief overwhelmed me. I took two days off work. I cried until my eyes puffed up and my head split open with pain. I sobbed over my keyboard and into my phone as I texted friends. I sobbed while walking my dog and at the kitchen sink and in bed late at night.
My younger son found me bawling in the bathroom and wrapped his warm body around mine in silent support. I sobbed as I talked it through with my inner circle. I sent James one long text message of my grief. He did not respond. Fully one year later I deleted his message thread on my phone.