After trawling the scene in search of love and lust for far too long, I decided to close that chapter of my life. I was tired of hanging out in bars, making eye contact with amorous strangers and dragging them home for boozy one-night stands. I was over waking up with pounding hangovers in strange parts of town, rolling out of bed and sneaking out the door.
Ten years living with HIV and I needed to be more diligent about my physical and mental health. That's when a friend suggested taking the plunge into cyberspace.
"No fucking way," I protested over lunch at a rowdy café. "I'm not that desperate and besides… it's just not natural."
I’ll find someone through like-minded hobbies and interests. Let the universe provide, I thought. Then I tipped the other side of 35 and started climbing the walls. The more I retreated into my shell, the harder it was to put myself out there. So, I bit the bullet and took her advice.
Before long I was getting acquainted with the online dating scene and the smorgasbord of cocks, butts and jocks on Gaydar and Manhunt. Nothing was left to the imagination. There were loads of raunchy pics, bold claims, explicit poses and everyone had names like HotSXYBugga and LeanMeanSexMachine.
The first thing I had to do was whip up my own profile. It was a tough call but I settled for a username that was cheeky and fun but far less porno. Should I remain anonymous or disclose my status? Insert a face pic or a body shot? I hadn’t been to the gym for a while so I took a snap of my top half and kept the bottom under wraps.
I trawled the sites obsessively at first. I'd jump on at nine o’clock and the next thing it was two a.m. and I was talking dirty to a nurse about hot beef injections while submitting to psycho-analysis on the couch of a shrink-in-training as a tradie hunk drilled me in the back of his ute. An endless stream of cocks, scrotums and bare butts wafted through cyberspace into my living room.
I was a dithering idiot on the grog but it was amazing how witty I could be on the keyboard.
The next step was to move all this from cyberspace into the real world. So, I rustled up a few dates and began waiting at coffee shops or loitering at bus stops to meet the man of my dreams.
First off, I travelled an hour to hook up with a guy I'd become quite fond of. We had chatted regularly. It got personal, heartfelt, suggestive. We had stacks in common, I thought. Music. Theatre. Movies. He was into all that stuff.
Then he rocked up in his yellow bubble of a car and the first thing I noticed was how short and dumpy he was in comparison to his rather tall, well-sculptured profile. (It turned out he also had a partner he had neglected to mention.) He introduced himself abruptly and guided me to a pretentious cafe where he downed an entire bottle of champagne. After snapping at waiters, chatting up a diner's husband and talking about himself for an hour we took a stroll through a park where he tried to grope me at every turn. I concocted an urgent appointment and my date begrudgingly dropped me at a remote train station where I waited for half an hour while teens in baggy jeans chugged cans of bourbon and gave me death stares.
Then there was ItalianStallion who arrived late to our meeting at the pizza joint. He offered to drive me to the movies and, thinking nothing of it, I agreed. The next thing we were hooning over the Westgate, blaring Britney Spears. Perhaps this guy was new in town? Maybe he was lost? I certainly didn’t like his taste in music but I decided to play it cool and ask why we were burning rubber on the Western Ring Road.
"Don't worry," he said, smiling like a deranged clown. "I just wanna take you hostage for awhile."
It emerged that he was a bit of a lost soul with a crystal meth problem and we settled into a therapist/patient discussion of sorts. He wanted to break the habit but it gave him confidence, kept his weight under control and most of all it was great for hot, uninhibited sex. While I could see his point I said I couldn't go there after my own disasters with meth but was happy to drive around until he came down. After that, he shouted me to a session of Slum Dog Millionaire before dropping me back in town and screeching off into the sunset, chewing gum like a cowboy.
I soon discovered that some guys were markedly different to their online personas. And a few were completely unrecognisable.
So, I proceeded with caution and adopted a whole new approach to online dating. Enjoy the adventure. Have no expectations. Never get into strange cars.
Sometimes, I never meet the guy in person. We remain long-term companions in cyberspace; there for each other if we need to talk after a tough day or a tricky situation. We give each other a little boost, a compliment, a pat on the back, a little company when we can't face the world on a Friday night.
I've also had a few triumphs: hot dates at the beach, fabulous dinners, country drives and great conversations with lovely blokes. I've even made a close friend or two.
I haven't found the man of my dreams but at least I'm out there; connecting with guys without the booze and the hangovers.
I'm having a good time getting to know gay men on a whole new level.
And I'm no longer climbing the walls.
James May is a freelance writer of fiction, theatre and journalism. His favourite themes are sexuality, social misfits and dysfunctional relationships. He enjoys opshopping and swimming at the beach – in between cruising the net and hopping into cars with strange men.
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