On the flight home from the Gold Coast, it suddenly occurred to me this was the first time in my life I’d travelled alone.
In fact, this was one of only a handful of times in the past 32 years I’d done anything on my own, excepting a three-month stint living alone when I first moved to Sydney, and a couple of weekends my flatmate had gone away. Even then, I’d invited friends (or friends-with-benefits) over to bridge the temporary void.
There was something about stillness – about truly being with myself – that felt utterly terrifying. And so, as the realisation dawned on me, so did a weird sensation of satisfaction tinged with dread. I felt accomplished at the stride toward independence I’d just made, and yet, petrified of what that meant. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to think about it for long.
Within weeks of returning home, it became clear that Potential Boyfriend/Cash-Strapped Backpacker 10 Years My Junior (in hindsight, that should’ve been the first red flag) was in no way interested in being my boyfriend; now – or ever. And so his once daily texts rapidly dropped off until it had been over a week since I’d last heard from him. Long gone too, were the wink face emojis and late-night phone calls that stretched on into sunrise. Fortunately, I was able to glide right past dealing with the emotional consequences, and straight into a new obsession, thanks to a guy at my gym who’d started showing me attention.
Actually, he was one of the managers. Not initially my type, either. But he had a cheekiness about him which I found progressively more endearing as time went on, and made me feel noticed. Not to mention, the whole manager/client/off-limits thing (HOLY OPRAH prohibited things are hot). Those were really the only check boxes you needed to tick to earn my emotional investment. Everything else was pretty open to interpretation.
Unemployed and living with your mum? You might be a creative type who just happens to really love his fam. Have an alcohol problem? I mean, is half a bottle of Jack Daniels a day really a “problem”? I eat half a family-size block of chocolate a day…who am I to judge??
Needless to say, my standards had officially sunken to an all-time low, much like my self-esteem – which, at this point, was about as robust as an Ikea Expedit bookshelf (if you’ve managed to skate through life this far without purchasing one, save your sanity and literally thousands of irretrievable hours and don’t go there).
I’m not entirely sure it mattered who showed me attention, only that someone did. And BOY, was Gym Guy good at acknowledging my existence. Like, if there had of been an award for almost remembering my name and making occasional eye contact whilst telling me not to use gym equipment again without a towel, MATE, you can bet your last purple Cadbury Roses chocolate, he’d get it.
So, naturally, after a fairly intensive round of eye-contact-exchanging one afternoon, I decided to risk it for the biscuit, and shot Gym Guy a challenge.
“So, are you just going to keep flirting with me, or are you actually going to ask me out sometime?” I smirked, quickly scoping out the closest exit routes whilst planning how I’d take on a new identity and relocate to Armenia if shit hit the fan.
“Well, now you’ve asked…how about this Friday night?” he said, with an irresistibly cheeky grin that made my lady parts feel all tingly.
“Sure. Here’s my number,” I replied, taking out my phone.