This (very touching) post sent to me by Matt Jones. A re-design is coming soon so as to incorporate other contributors’ posts into the body of the site – for now – email me if you want to be featured!
A Tale from the (Dating) Trenches
After six months in Afghanistan, with five months left in my tour, I decided to give online dating another shot. Deployed Canadian soldiers are forbidden the comforts of fraternization, even between spouses, and even the most fleeting contact or intimacy was enough to merit at best, a caution, at worst, to be sent home in shame. Constantly surrounded by like-minded men, whose outlet for sexual frustration defaulted to several hours a day lifting weights, I lived on a base amongst thirty thousand soldiers and the ever-present stench of feces. I realized that nothing in my life was soft, or gentle, or sweet smelling. My thoughts were starting to reflect the grim reality of concrete barriers and barbed wire; there was no one in my heart.
For the first time in my life I wanted a pen pal. Normally, the notion of a relationship in which sex isn’t even a possibility is too uncomfortable to contemplate. Without the reward of sex, why would I keep putting in all this effort? But the more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to the idea. I could think of no better way to put my best foot forward than to have a completely literary exchange. So I brushed the dust from my OKCupid profile, and updated my specifications to show I was looking for a pen pal or long term relationship. With my profile rewritten, I crafted a few specialized emails to young women with a literary flair. One of them bit.
I was a boy in a candy store. She was smart, well-spoken, creative, thoughtful, and attractive. We played word games, and thought games. I drew dazzling word-pictures and she would counter with the contents of her mesmerizing mind. We laughed at great lengths about cephalopods in general, and the cuttlefish in particular. She shared a beautiful story she had written of a lovestruck fisherman being entranced by a beautiful sea-creature. Perhaps I should have paid more attention.
The exchange allowed me to escape the sadness and loss to which I was daily exposed. I’d find myself checking my watch constantly while at work, just waiting for the opportunity to get back to my computer. Sometimes she’d send me sad, wistful messages, explaining the difficulties in her family, and her hopes for a better future. As the months slipped by with inexpressible slowness I allowed myself the little escape of fantasizing how my life would be with her when I was home.
As the date for my return inched closer, my excitement increased. My exuberance was only tempered by the fact that my Dear Bookworm would not respond to my attempts to arrange a coffee date on my return. This is not to say she wouldn’t respond to my emails, only that she would dance around any question or suggestion for a real world meeting. The fated return day finally arrived, and after sixty hours of flying, waiting, roll-calls, engine failures, and freak electric storms the trip home from Afghanistan was complete. My family had assembled en masse with “welcome home” signs, and wore face-splitting grins. While I did my best to play the part of the returning soldier, I knew my welcoming was not what I had imagined, because she wasn’t there.
The emails from her trailed off and eventually stopped: things had gotten real. Though I’ve attempted to rationalize her behaviour (perhaps she met someone) I can’t know for sure what went wrong. I only know that as much as I appreciate her for helping me stay sane on my tour, I wish she had at least provided an explanation, as opposed to avoiding the confrontation and hiding in the safe warmth of on-line dating anonymity.
I thought coming home would be like a fairy tale. But so far the only fantastical occurrence is how I still managed to feel grief about the dissolution of relationship that never existed, with a girl I never met.