Photo: Matthew Kane

Playing Pretend With A Real Boy: Ditching Yourself To Get Dating

Why I'll never fake date again.


Everyone texts guys. Everyone goes on dates. Everyone has sex. But for some reason, that has never really been something I’ve done. It’s not that I want to be alone for the rest of my life, I’ve just never really been someone to do that. Unless you count the time when I went on a bowling double-date and got so freaked out when the guy put his arm around the back of my chair that I sat in the corner alone and played Sudoku for the rest of the date. I’ve tried downloading tinder a few times but it always ends up with the same outcome: the conversations are bland, and then I get really drunk and sad and swipe left on everyone and message some desperate horny message. In disgust, I delete tinder until I re-download it and the cycle continues. And so, when I met John in Paris, I was surprised that I did all these things with him, well almost. Setting the location in Paris makes this story sound way too romantic so for the sake of creating the right tone, let’s pretend we met in Dubai. Nothing really happened between us. We didn’t fall in love or have a really deep connection. But throughout our short time together, I finally acted like a girl who texts guys, goes on dates and has sex. And so, I decided to write about my experience of this because as romantic as it looked from the outside, internally it felt bland and boring. This is my experience of playing pretend with a real boy and how I never want to do it again.  

I met John at the last stop of a very messy pub crawl that jumped between tacky bars and clubs in Pigalle, Paris’s sex capital. It was at an Irish club with very bad music and overpriced drinks. It was way past midnight and my friend had just gone home to call her boyfriend. I couldn’t go home just yet as I had already wasted too much money on alcohol. I was in the designated smoking room for a while as I find it the easiest place to meet people. I don’t usually smoke but when I’m alone and drunk, a cigarette somehow always finds its way into my hand. I was talking to another Irish guy who I found to be very charismatic and followed him to the dancefloor. He wasn’t interested in me and so, I began talking to his cute friend, John. They were all friends who’d come to Paris for the weekend and rented a penthouse. They were adults with paying jobs. John was a photographer in advertisement. He had a piercing in his left ear and three tattoos. He was very sweet but he looked alike to me so I wasn’t attracted to him. But at this point, I was alone on a Saturday in Paris and already drunk so I went along with it. 

After a while of shouting over the music, he bought me a jaeger bomb. I usually hate jaeger bombs but he swears by them. He is also the type of guy to dab. We talked more in the smoking room and I knew where this was going. He was acting like a guy who wanted to have sex with a girl he just met in a club. And without me intending to do so, I too was acting like a girl who wanted to have sex with a guy she just met in a club. It’s not that I was against being that girl and having sex with a kind stranger in Paris but I didn’t have a very strong yearning to spend the time trying to have an orgasm. But then again, I didn’t want to waste my night so I went along with it. 

He waited for me outside the bathroom. He held my jacket around his hips. He even bought me a five euro rose from a street vendor. Eventually, we kissed on the dancefloor. I felt disgustingly tacky and ordinary. He wasn’t an aggressive kisser who put too much tongue in or tried to grope you in public but there wasn’t any fire. I began to get restless and lethargic like I always do. It wasn’t his fault but whenever I’m intimate with anyone who I don’t have an emotional connection to, I get bored. Usually when it happens, everything would get messy and dirty as I’d feel some man with indistinguishable features grab my butt. It never usually goes anywhere but I almost always wake up feeling ashamed and disgusted with myself. But for some reason when I was kissing John for what must have been the ninth time, I moved my hand to his crotch. He moved my hand away and led me outside. I knew where this was going and I still went along with it. 

We sat in a crowded uber with his two friends. He made his friend sit in the front so he could put his hand on my leg. I hadn’t shaved my legs as I didn’t think this would be happening. I rested my head on his shoulder, not because I wanted to but because I knew that was the response needed when using the currency of intimacy. In these moments with strangers, you are completely reactive to the other person. You make a move and wait for them. Usually I’m not an affectionate person but if I didn’t give him anything, it would be awkward. So I had to hold his hand and lean into him. I didn’t feel like myself, the person who wears androgynous clothes and talks about actual excretion. My friend who is in honeymoon love and now adores getting expensive jewellery from her boyfriend, said that once you love someone, you love that kind of stuff. But I just can’t imagine myself to ever become someone who likes that stuff, I don’t want sacrifice my sense of self and so in the back of that uber, I had the sensation to grab his dick but also punch him. I don’t know what came over me but it was this inner aggression and passion to reject this character that I was playing. I felt the desire to become psychotic. I wanted to simultaneously throw myself out of the car in self-preservation but also initiate an orgy and scratch their backs until there was blood. But instead I did nothing at all but get out to car and walk up six set of stairs to the penthouse. 

John made a sofa bed whilst I went to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. “You are going to have sex now.” I vomited in the sink, jaeger bombs. John stood on the opposite side of the room, fully clothed. “Are you guys decent?”, his friends asked. And I felt this sense of repulsion as to all of them I was some girl who their friend brought home from a club. They were happy for him and would talk about me in the morning. They’d ask him how it was and probably what my body was like. But I wasn’t just some girl who you found in a club and slept with. No girl is just some girl that you sleep with. And these guys weren’t just some guys that have one-night stands and then hibernate. They had families and crushes and ambitions. But neither of us were considering that. 
He was waiting for me to do something. But I wanted him to do something first. I knew he wouldn’t. He had been a traditional gentleman all night and he wanted to make sure that I wanted to do this. I decided to lie down on the bed but I still had my clothes on. He followed. 

“How did you lose your virginity?”
He didn’t really answer but said it was with his two-year girlfriend. I asked him another intimate question and again, he didn’t say much. I had no inclination to have sex. There was nothing in the air except for the expectation that something would eventually happen. 
“Usually we would have sex in this situation but I feel sick. I’m sorry, I can leave now-“ “No, you don’t have to leave. You can sleep here”
There was a tinge of disappointment in his voice but also some relief. I felt bad. I knew that my character in this story was supposed to have sex tonight. I had been playing pretend all night but only now was I being honest with myself. 

What followed sounds very nice but I felt the same distance from myself as I had all night. He took off his shirt and I took off mine, we got under the covers and went to sleep. He spooned me all night, nuzzled his face into my neck. I felt him get up a few times during the night but then he’d come right back and I’d feel his warm arm wrap around me instantly. This was worse than having sex with him. It was extremely intimate. This is what you do with someone you love. This is where I was meant to feel the safest. It felt like we were a couple who’d gone to Paris for the weekend, rented a hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower, drank wine in hidden restaurants and made love every night. But we weren’t. I had met him earlier this night under strobe lights and cheap music. I had around ten drinks in my stomach and had already vomited earlier that night. It was stuffy in the sofa bed and I didn’t like how his hand rested on my stomach. 

The following morning, his friends were everywhere and I felt nauseous. They assumed we had slept together and I felt strangely humiliated that we hadn’t. John walked me outside in very short yellow pants. We talked a little but when that final moment was upon us, I just hugged him. “Is that all?”, he asked. “I just vomited”, I lied. I hadn’t but I didn’t feel like kissing him. I didn’t feel like seeing him again. He would just become some story about a guy I met in Paris, went back to his apartment and didn’t have sex with. I gave him my number and bought a croissant on the way to the Eiffel Tower. 

Over the next few weeks, I travelled to Berlin, Amsterdam and Dublin, and the entire time we texted. I don’t know how it happened but he would respond instantly to me with millions of questions. I didn’t expect him to be so eager after our failure of a night. I’ve always been against getting to know someone over texts. But I couldn’t stop myself replying to him when I felt a pang of loneliness, when I was horny or when my friend was on the phone to her boyfriend. I’ve never really texted guys and it was nice to have someone in your back pocket when you felt alone, but I also inherently knew it had no substance. A level of dependency grows when you text someone every day but I was fully aware that we didn’t really know each other. My friend was excited for me whenever she saw us texting. She thought I wasn’t gushing about him because I really liked him. But I wasn’t talking about him because I didn’t really think about him. He was just there and I didn’t understand how it benefited him continuing to talk to me. He couldn’t possibly like me because he didn’t know me and I’m not extremely attractive so it wasn’t because of that. I wondered if it was in hope that we’d meet again before I left for Australia again and thus no attachment. Perhaps he did this all the time and it wasn’t a big deal for him whatsoever. I began to overthink his intentions and I didn’t want to ask him because it would formalise whatever we were doing. I had the desire to just stop texting but I also liked feeling desirable. 

Admittedly the main reason that I kept texting him was because I felt hopeful. Not hopeful to see him again and fall in love. But hopeful that something miraculous would happen so I could tell my friends about it. This was a horrible intention but before leaving for my three-month trip to Europe, everyone told me I would have the wildest time. My parents even gave me three condoms in their care package. I wanted to fulfil this ambition to have really obscure and weird stories to tell my friends about and hide from my children. And so despite knowing that I didn’t really like him, we organised to go on a date to a Japanese restaurant when I was back in Dublin. 

Before the date, I texted four people to tell them. I felt strangely proud. Although, part of me really didn’t want to go. I had never gone on a proper date as an adult with an adult. But a friend told me, “even if it goes horribly, it will be a great story” and this is how I generally view every experience in my life. But this date wasn’t horrible. It was sweet and ordinary. We met outside of my favourite cinema. I tried whistling at him but he didn’t hear. We hugged and I had forgotten how tall he was. We went into the film bookstore and I rambled on about my favourite screenwriting book. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I tied my hair up and instantly regretted it because I felt ugly. 

We walked for a while to the restaurant. It was as tense as any first date but I knew I was good enough at keeping up conversation for it to not be painful. He booked us a reservation at the restaurant, it scared me. I got wine and dumplings. He got beer and pork belly. I asked him a lot of questions about his family and his job. He didn’t ask me questions back but would listen when I talked about myself. I felt myself talking too much but he wouldn’t take the reins. He paid for dinner which I didn’t like. “It must be done”, he said. I felt so cheap for falling into the traditional gender roles of the guy buying everything. I’ve been independently looking after myself for the entirety of my trip and I felt useless. Dinner was over and I was counting down the hours until it was an acceptable time for me to leave. I had a flight the next day for Scotland at 6:30am and he knew it. 

We decided to go to another bar and I shouted us drinks. As we got drunker, the conversation flowed easier. I brought up the time I shat the bed in Bolivia, he wasn’t against my vulgar sense of humour but he didn’t love it either. Friends have told me I should stop talking about shit with guys as they find it unattractive but I hate the idea of sheltering people from who I am to be attractive. “Do you do this all the time”, I asked. “What?” “Meet girls in clubs in Paris, nearly sleep with them and then go on dates with them?” “No. I’ve never been on a date with a girl I’ve had a one-night stand with”. “I’ve never had a one-night stand”. He seemed surprised but didn’t judge. We talked more about our ambitions, the kind of films we like, past trips and a lot I don’t remember as he bought us another round of drinks. 

It was hitting 11pm and I had to leave in order to have at least a few hours of sleep. He walked me to the train station. “Do you have to go home?”
I did. But he was looking at me and I was on a date in Dublin with a guy I met in Paris. And I wasn’t drunk enough to kiss him yet so I said we could go for one more drink. 

He led us to a gothic pub where they asked for I.D.’s. I quickly showed mine as I didn’t want to reveal my age. I had earlier lied to him and said I was twenty-one. He was twenty-four and when I told him I was twenty-one, he seemed surprised. “I thought you were my age. At least I’m not on a date with an eighteen-year-old.”
He laughed and I laughed too, although I was only nineteen. We sat in a booth with vodka’red bulls watching a group of local Irish teenagers. They were fresh eighteen. All the guys had the same haircuts. All the girls were incredibly dressed up in tiny dresses and they were much more attractive than the boys they were paired up with.  The group would exit the bathrooms together rubbing their noses, as they had obviously just snorted coke. John and I laughed at them but it was ironic, because we were just slightly older versions of them. People just acting off instincts and behaviour they’ve seen on television in the hopes to eventually have sex. We were just as nervous and insecure as the group of teenagers. 

A few rounds later and the last train was long gone. I decided to just get an uber directly to the airport without a wink of sleep. I was pretty drunk and dancing a lot. John kept trying to hold my hand and spin me but he was middle-aged-dad dancing and it felt forced. He would pull me in to grind and make-out. But I didn’t want to feel like that cheap version of myself again who made out to bad music in clubs. Although I kept laughing and dancing with him, I didn’t feel any real connection with him. This was a very harsh and sobering realisation for a drunk person to have.  

It was around 2am and I had to leave. He walked me outside to the street, it was raining. I asked him for his favourite song and he said it was by Eminem. We kissed under a bridge listening to Sticky Fingers and I felt like I did when I was sixteen. People walked past but we didn’t stop kissing. He was a very pleasant kisser. He put his hand on my bare skin, it was cold and didn’t really do anything for me. The kissing went for a while and then I felt bored eventually. Even with stimulating music, I felt no emotion towards the moment. It had been a nice enough night but I didn’t feel like myself. 

I boarded the airplane quite intoxicated. I told my friend that he was very nice but I wasn’t interested. “Tell him that you’re not interested”, she said. But to me, it felt like I was formalising our two small interactions by ‘ending it’. He probably didn’t think enough about me to care if we ever saw each other again. I just wanted to lose contact eventually. She didn’t agree and said I should just end it. “But I hate that idea, with a friendship if you aren’t close, you don’t end it, you just lose contact.”, I said.   “This is different, you guys aren’t friends.” 

Days passed and he told me he had walked where I had been staying in Dublin, listening to Sticky Fingers and hoped to run into me. Two days passed and at midnight he wished me a Happy New Year, ‘I wish you were my New Years Kiss’. I didn’t want to respond properly but I knew I had to. I told him I was travelling to the East of Europe, true, and didn’t want to be using social media, true. 
And he was fine with it. He instantly replied, ‘Have a great time and I can’t wait to hear about it soon’. 

Nothing happened with John. He was a very nice guy who I was lucky enough to meet and that’s it. I didn’t need to write this long story about him but I wanted to because despite nothing happening and no one being hurt, I felt like I was cheating on myself by playing pretend. It’s exciting to say I went on a date with a guy I met in Paris and we kissed under a bridge but when I look back at my trip, the most outstanding moments weren’t romantic or sexual. They were small genuine interactions, unexpected spiritual moments with my surroundings and overwhelming emotional experiences that I can’t begin to describe. John taught me that I don’t value intimacy with people I’m not emotionally attached to. This isn’t a regular feeling for most fake twenty-one-year-olds. This is the time in my life where I’m supposed to be texting multiple guys, meeting attractive Germans in bars and having sex in hostel bunk beds. But I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted that. I’m not sure when I climbed on this moral high-horse after doing so many degrading things myself. But after expecting a myriad of sexual experiences and still being a sexual person who fantasises about attractive strangers they see on the streets with weird desires and fetishes, I’ve learnt this about myself. I’ve learnt that I don’t like playing pretend with real people and I don’t ever want to do it again.