Has anyone ever met himself
It took me a year to get over someone I had never met
On February 28, 2020, he sent me a GIF on Tinder Alice in Wonderland.
I remember that so well because it was my last normal weekend before Corona arrived in South Africa, where I live. I was at a birthday party that night, got soaked and didn't reply to his Tinder message until the next day.
In five messages, I realized that I had a lot in common with this guy I call Max. We'd studied at the same university, even the same course (although he'd graduated two years before me). We were both writers and had similar worldviews. Less than a week after our match, we exchanged our manuscripts. So instead of focusing on an impending work deadline, I stayed awake forever because I wanted to read the opening chapters of his science fiction novel.
It didn't take long for Max and I to write about 100 messages a day. My cell phone showed me that I was already spending five hours a day on WhatsApp. If I wrote to him in the evening before going to bed, I would find his answer waiting for me when I woke up.
Max and I lived about an hour apart, but about a week after our match my grandparents asked me if I wanted to spend the weekend with them in a vacation rental on the beach - near where Max ’s home. So he and I planned to meet this weekend. A few days before that, however, the first COVID case was confirmed in South Africa, and on the morning of our scheduled meeting I woke up with a headache, a low fever and thick tonsils. I had to cancel.
Max reacted understandingly and helpful. I spent most of the day in bed; whenever I woke up, I had a few messages from him asking about me. He suggested me a virtual date, and we agreed to watch Marriage Story "together". As the film ran, we wrote about the size of Adam Driver's nose and how absurd it was for his character's favorite food to be a salad. (Who doesn't like carbohydrates, please?)
Shortly after our canceled date, South Africa went into a tough lockdown. No one except systemically important employees was allowed to leave their own home, except for shopping. Max and I had no idea when we should ever meet. We both imagined going into quarantine together or dating in protective suits. "As soon as this is all over, we'll meet for a drink and then I'll kiss you, hold your hand and then we'll take a lot of cheesy photos together, okay?" Max wrote.
We joked that we had bewitched each other. I didn't understand myself why someone I had never met was so important to me. I wasn't a Tinder newbie when Max and I matched, and I had actually always been more lucky with real-life dating: I quickly got bored with dating app matches after superficial small talk. At some point I always forgot to reply, and the match usually fizzled out before we even made it on a real date.
I interpreted my keen interest in Max as a sign that I had finally met "the right man". Still, I found it strange when he soon started calling me “baby” and “my love” because we had only been writing to each other for a few weeks. On the other hand, I was totally obsessed with him - and he apparently also with me, right?
At this point in time, I saw the lockdown only as a small obstacle to my relationship with Max. Instead of letting the pandemic throw me completely off course, I was already dreaming of our future everyday life together, and despite the never-ending bad Corona news I'm full of happiness hormones.
But that changed about a month after Max and I met. All of a sudden, his news turned significantly cooler. At first I thought he was just having a bad day and his new tone had nothing to do with me - after all, I was his "baby", his "love". But then came the blow. He wrote to me shortly afterwards: “I'm sorry if I've been looking different lately. I really like to write to you and you are very important to me, but I don't know if we weren't a little hasty. "
I was totally flabbergasted. After all, Max had always taken the first step - that's why I was 100 percent sure until this message that he would reciprocate my feelings. I told him that too and wanted to know what his doubts meant for us now. “I'm questioning everything right now. Maybe it's better if we take a break first, ”he wrote back.
I felt numb, betrayed. How could Max have changed his mind so quickly? At the same time, I felt like I was going out of my mind. I was firmly convinced that we were something special. Did I just imagine it all?
Four days after Max effectively broke up with me, I still couldn't sleep, had no appetite. At work I was significantly less productive than usual and had to ask my clients to postpone various deadlines. I stalked his Twitter account looking for an explanation for his sudden turnaround. Why did he want nothing more to do with me? Was he still in love with his ex? Was I just an experiment - or worse, a game? I had no answers to any of these questions, and I wouldn't get one from him, so I searched desperately in his cryptic tweets. In any case, they told me that Max still seemed to be digesting a fresh breakup. About us was probably just his attempt to project a relationship onto me. When that didn't work, he'd drawn the line. But this realization didn't make it any easier for me to digest the whole thing.
In the week after Max’s breakup message, I relied on the (virtual) support of my friends: inside, who never doubted my broken heart, just because I had never met the trigger for it personally. Instead, they assured me that my reaction was normal and that everything would be fine.
Another week went by, and at some point my friends inside stopped asking me the typical separation questions "How are you now?" But I could understand that. Probably the same thing went through my mind: that I had never met the guy. That we had only written to each other for a month. That I would soon forget him. I said to myself: Hey, a lot of people are doing it right now real Separations through. And whatever Max and I had had - it hadn't been real. How could it have been? After all, we only communicated via text.
During that time, I slowly started dating again. I arranged to meet zoom dates and, when the corona numbers slowly fell again in South Africa, later also real ones. For the first time in my life, I dated with a certain mindfulness. I had developed a new self-confidence. I enjoyed my love life - and while many of the people I met were intelligent, interesting, and charming, none of those acquaintances lasted more than three dates. One of us - or both - at some point understood: I didn't feel anything.
To be completely honest, I wasn't over Max yet. Even months after the breakup, I secretly hoped that we would run into each other by chance whenever I was in his town. If I could just see him, maybe that would help me close with him - or maybe it would spark between us. I just knew: I needed anything by him. And after a while this need astonished me. Even the heartache after "real" breakups had never been with me for so long. Why was it so difficult for me to leave Max behind?
Over the past year, I've had many little moments of enlightenment that have given me an answer. One of them was the one in which I realized that Max had done real love bombing with me: He had led me to believe that I was the most beautiful, intelligent person he had ever met. So much encouragement, so much attention, and all that in such a short time - no wonder I found it difficult to forget that dopamine rush.
But - and that was my second painful realization - I had only ever seen part of him. At the beginning of a relationship, we often project our fantasies onto our new partners: inside and only over time do we understand that they are just as imperfect, complex individuals as we are. We just never got that far. I never had a chance to spot Max's mistakes. Instead, to me, he had been the embodiment of an intense fantasy. Naturally it was harder to let someone go who was in my eyes so had been perfect. In doing so, I had tried to close out with someone who had never really existed - and seeing that helped me tick off the relationship.
Max ’last message was almost a year ago now, and luckily I no longer long for the" graduation "or the contact with him that I had wished for for months. I also learned to stop judging myself for taking so long to process a relationship with someone I had never met. I'm sure that at some point I'll get to know someone who will make me feel like Max did. Only then it gets much better - because this person really exists.
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