Plodding down his daily route, he could feel the heaviness of boredom and solitude weighing on his limbs. Lately he had been contemplating his life and wondering how he had gotten there. Comparing his current situation to what his younger-self had projected his future could look like ten years ago. There was a world between there and then. Job – check. House – mmm… he owned a flat… semi-check. Athletic build – he exercised but was no model… semi-check again. Family – alien concept he still desired, but did not seem to have in him to construct. Wife – no girlfriend in ages. Marriage – felt more and more like a never-happening tale.
Keys turned in the lock. He walked in, and shed his coat and jacket in the lobby. Then he eyed his flat. Soulless, nude space, open lines, cold, empty walls, uplifted only by the view, and the grey light filtering through the high windows. The absence of decor mirrored the void he felt biting at his core. He needed something to counter its grasp, replace it with meaning, or deflect it with a placebo blend.
Instinctively, he sat down on his couch and switched on the TV. Hoping to be filled by others’ stories. Zapped from one channel to the next. Found nothing to his taste. He breathed in. The atmosphere was warm. Maybe too warm. He needed air. Fresh air. He got up, slid the glass door, and walked out on his balcony.
Dressed only in his classic, matt, silk shirt, he braved the negative temperature, resolutely. He looked out over the lake and to the horizon. He needed to feel something. Gushes of frozen winter wind slapped repeatedly at his skin. He could sense his body shrink and shiver in the cold. Still he stood there. Unwavering soul lost in his thoughts. His perspective felt blurred. He needed focus.
Johan knew he needed to act – turn his ways around, because they were not working. If he stayed there watching his life pass him by, he was aware he would disappear. Shrink into oblivion. Be deleted, erased. Leave nothing behind him upon his passing. Drown into the mass of loners out there.
Being alone too long leads to madness. His sanity faced critical danger. He had never felt so lonely. His skin was urging for the warmth of another. His spirit needed to be confronted with the thoughts of another to reach its heights again. He knew eighteen-year-old-he would not recognize the person he had become.
He had to step out of his routine and get out there.
So he did. He would not wait, nor hope for a better tomorrow any longer. He walked back inside. He looked into his briefcase, and seized his Mont-Blanc pencil and his leather planner. Armed with the proper tools, he started drawing out a plan. Elaborating a strategy that would get him where he wanted to be. He kept it simple and began with the obvious.
He opened his planner on two blank pages in the lined part he never used. On the first one he wrote: “What do I want?” and on the second “How can I get it?”
First order of business “1) A family” – “Starts with two people in love.” Second “2) Love” – “Someone who I would appreciate and care for and who would feel the same in return.” Third “3) Meeting the right person for me” – “I need to meet people full stop, if I ever hope to find a special someone.” Fourth “4) Expand on my hobbies” – “Join a gym, enter a ski-club, take drawing classes? Wood-work?”
He thought to himself, he had already tried to join one of those online dating services and that only ended in wasting his time, and that of the people he had met. He had made a few new friends that way, but definitely had not met anyone who was soul-mate material. He wanted to move on with his life, but he wanted to do it the right way – in a way that would help him expand. Evolve. Become a better person. He wanted to admire and be admired. Find someone grounded, who would support him, and whom he would enjoy supporting as well. Not a cheerleader, someone who would give sound advice, and ask the right questions.
That seemed too much to ask however. No one ever seemed to be quite as focused as he was on embodying those qualities.
He had turned thirty-seven last June. He could not count his white strands of hair anymore. Time was catching up, and it was catching up fast.
Johan started to attend all the parties he was invited to on Facebook. All those events he would usually ignore. Hoping one venture or the next would make a difference. Introduce him to new people amongst whom his soul mate may hide.
Over the course of the next six months, he went out more than he ever had in his entire life. That was counting the five years he had spent attending Uni. He met tons of pretty girls. A few of whom he even found interesting at first. But that was the key word there “at first”. After a few dates, a couple of days spent together – sometimes a couple of nights even – the emotional bonds that had created those initial attractions faded just as swiftly as they had appeared.
One morning Johan woke up, exhausted, he felt like a truck has run him over. His muscles were sore and his brain and stomach were giving him a hell of a time processing all the alcohol he had ingested every night of the week. He had tried socializing without alcohol, but people looked at him like he was some sort of weirdo. Alcohol seemed like the only way in the crowd.
So yeah, that method did not seem to lead him anywhere either. He decided he did not have it in him to waste his time, his money and more importantly his health in those silly dating games. He had not felt the slightest bit of admiration for the women he had met there – nor the men. They were all wasted out of their minds and their synapses took a hit from all the drinking that went on night after night. Over the course of the past months, he had certainly boosted his little black book and could call many numbers if he ever felt alone at night, but that had never even been the issue here.
Johan wanted a partner and he knew he would not meet her that way. He was back to square one. Then he thought to himself, maybe I know her already or maybe she is around me, and I have not paid enough attention to spot her through all the daily busy-ness. He decided he would take off his earphones, when someone would sit next to him on the train and engage in a conversation. He resolved he would invite his colleagues at work for a brunch at his place or for a couple of after-work drinks to get to know them better. He resolved he would be kinder and more open to help out, when he crossed paths with someone he could help.
That day he went down to the break-room around 10:30, when most employees of the firm took a break and gathered around to complain about work, or take their mind off it by exchanging mundane anecdotes. He tried to engage in conversation but failed ridiculously. He had not spent anytime at all around these people so he did not know them. However they knew of him and seemed not to appreciate him very much. For a second there, he wondered why? What had he done to give them such a negative impression of who he was? That is when it hit him, it probably was not so much that they did not like him, it was in all likelihood that they did not know him at all.
He could not play the card of the new comer to remedy this anymore. He had been working there for the best part of ten years now, but had never bothered to forge links with a large chunk of the staff there. He had bonded with Lindy and Jeffrey and that had been enough for him until now. They had become good friends and formed a quiet group who cared about each other very much – a genuine, dynamic, mutual friendship that Johan cherished. Lindy was married with Liam. They had a lovely, curious, five-year-old girl, and a teenage boy who was entering his clumsy years. Jeffrey was an overtly gay man committed to a monogamous relationship with Raj for about as long as he could remember being attracted to men.
Raj and Jeffrey had shared a room at Uni right out of high school and became inseparable. It was not love at first sight for Jeffrey, but it was the sort of bond that keeps growing overtime, and that takes up so much of you that you wake up one day, and realize you cannot fathom the idea of a life without the other. Right after Uni they had moved in an apartment together, and had moved again again, three times in the following decades, each time in a larger place. They were now planning on moving to a house in the outskirts of the town center. They wanted to have enough outdoor space to welcome a kid in their life. They were both turning thirty-five and felt like it was about time for them to share their happiness with a new soul, help him, or her, become a beautiful person, build a strong, loving, balanced family.
Johan envied his friends. He wanted to build a love cocoon of his own to experience the same happiness they had forged over the years with that special person they had bonded with. Somehow though, that kept escaping his grasp. His own life felt like it was out of his control. Frustration was growing inside of him. He kept fighting it. Knowing full well that negative emotions were useless in terms of productivity. Still that frustration kept bashing loudly at his door, every time he opened his Facebook account, and saw the happy faces of others stare back at him through the screen, mirroring his own inadequacy, shoving his inaptitude to bond right in his face.
His friends did not understand why their ruggedly handsome mystery of a friend was still single. They had promised they would introduce him to worthy potential partners of their circle of acquaintances, if a single soul manifested the same desire to meet someone. However that day never came on either side. To be fair Jeffrey mostly frequented homosexual men and women which would not fit Johan’s hopes in a partner and Lindy was just so wrapped up in her own family life that she had time for no one outside of her bubble, but Jeffrey and Johan. As for her husband, Liam, he did not know many women, being an engineer was never a good plan if you hoped to meet female humans.
Liam felt terribly lucky he had met Lindy at the grocery store, twelve years ago. One morning, as he could not find his usual brand, he found himself starring at the colorful rows of bottles, stuck in indecision. He was proud he had kept his countenance and derisively shared his concerns about fabric softener with the gorgeous woman that had approached him that day. She had watched him from afar amused at his loss, for a minute or two, and had decided to put him out of his misery by offering her advice.
For a good ten minutes, they had read the back of a couple of bottles together, shared a few laughs, finished their grocery shopping side by side, exchanged their numbers in the waiting line of the cashier desk, and after a few hundred texts exchanged in the course of under four hours, they had opted on seeing each other again and headed to a restaurant that very evening. They got there and found that chatting on the phone was much easier than in person. They shared long embarrassing moments of silence, but Liam kept smiling throughout the evening, and so did Lindy. They could feel the attraction, both of them and did not care the first bit about their lack of conversation. Without exchanging their thoughts, they had both pinned it on the fact that they did not know each other very well and had resolved that sort of complicity could only grow over time.
At the end of the evening, Liam had asked Lindy out again not just one evening but every evening of the week, first she had starred at him in disbelief but seeing the resolve in his eyes, she had accepted. Then he had given her a giant smile, that of a boy who had just been handed a bag of candy or in Liam’s case a tour of the gaming studios that designed his favorite video game. He had looked down had her hand, pondering whether to take it or not for a second, calculated the trajectory and then looked up. Her eyes had followed his and they shared a long gaze, without a word. Her fingers twitched. He felt it without looking down and took it as a sign he should grab her hand. He did. He ran his fingers over hers and attached his hand to hers.
His heart was racing. He could feel her pulse flying too. He looked down and felt her intertwine her fingers with his. He looked up and decided it was the right time to kiss her. He grabbed her neck with his free hand, and drew her closer to him. She felt paralyzed. She could not move until she felt the warmth of his lips touch hers. Even then. She looked at him. Eyes fixed on him. A stunned expression on her face, she could not believe what she had just felt. He could not read her. So he moved back a little, and broke the silence with a few tentative words.
“Did I go something wrong? Didn’t you…”
She could see confusion in his eyes now. That gave her a sort of electroshock. She clearly did not want to ruin the moment, so she moved to him with a clumsy avidness and grabbed his neck and kissed him back.
That sufficed to answer his question. They had walked to the lake after that, sat on a bench and kissed and chatted until mad hours in the morning. Around three AM, she had started shivering and he had offered to walk her home. She had agreed. They had shared a long passionate kiss on her doorstep, she had drawn her keys, and he had walked away in reverse, unblinking, smiling all the way back to the elevator.
Before he had stepped in, he had felt his phone vibrate in his pocket “Can’t wait to see you tomorrow”. He simply replied “Neither can I!” and hit send. Then he realized he should wish her good night and texted again on the way to his flat He typed “Good night, princess.” That seemed cheesy… he erased the last word and typed instead “Good night, Lindy.” That felt too neutral. He did not feel anything close to neutral for her. Erased again. “Good night, gorgeous.” Now that felt like a Casanova line. He was no Casanova. He came back to his original message and just added a “my”. “Good night, my Princess.”
He never told Lindy how many drafts, it took him just to send those four words. But she did tell him how happy she felt receiving them. She even told him she had giggled at his words, a good giggle, an overtly happy giggle. “Sweet dreams, my knight in softened scented sweater” she had replied. “Haha good one! Cheers, right back at you. Can’t wait to hold you in my arms tomorrow.” “I can’t believe this is happening.” She had replied. “To be honest neither can I” he had continued. And so on and so on. They did not sleep much that night. Nor the following and three days later, they had decided, they should just stay together instead of texting. That seemed like the only way they could get some sleep. So they did. And they slept next to each other for a couple of nights. Until they felt comfortable enough, and so attracted to one another that they did not just sleep. It was messy and clumsy and passionate, and she laughed so he could not help but laugh as well – her giggles were irresistibly communicative. From that day on, they never left each other’s side.
Johan had asked his friends to share those stories in an effort of research, hoping that it would help him write his own. He could not identify with either story. Both couples were very young when they had met and had been with the same person ever since. Johan had had dozens of partners, none of whom stuck. Some had felt special to him. He had tried to save those relationships, had given second chances when asked, had even pleaded his cause. Love had felt natural for him once, but then it had ended a couple of months later. He had not understood the reason why she had broken up. But she had, twice, and he could not rely on someone who could do that to him twice and not explain a thing.
He had not felt nor been engaged in anything serious since then. He could not understand women, nor could they understand him, it seemed. He thought that might be because he did not try hard enough, but listening to his friends’ stories, it did not feel like that was the key to success. Both relationships happened out of chance at first, a chance meeting in a shared dorm and the other at the superstore, and things just bloomed from that. Naturally. Effortlessly. Like it was meant to happen that way.
Johan could not rewind nor erase the past. He could not delete what had happened, and record a whole new story over it. All he could do was open his heart now, and hope for something new to happen. Something that would feel as simple and natural, as it did for his friends. That was the only clue he had laid out in front of him to write his present, and not end up a blank page.
His friend Lindy who loved to hear about Johan’s life, kept reassuring him and telling him about this or that friend, who had just met a partner, when they were already thirty-five, or even thirty-eight, and could not be happier now. She always added “You know what, I am sure she will come. I can feel it. When she does though, and I finally meet her, I will tell her she took her dear time showing up, and she better make up for it now.” And Johan would indulge her prediction with a polite and caring smile, knowing that it came from the bottom of Lindy’s heart, but also not expecting her prophecy to come true.