Playing with Fire

It’s a truth widely acknowledged that if you play with fire you’re going to get burned. I’ve been burned, although I didn’t realise I was playing with something (someone) highly combustable. I’ve been burned by lovers, friends, even family at times but these few months between Christmas and Easter it’s fair to say that at times I was the fire and I don’t think I was even aware of any damage I may have been causing, except where Katy was concerned. Yet, trust me I wasn’t exactly flame retardant myself.

So what fires did I start (metaphorically speaking, I vehemently deny being responsible for any of the many times the fire alarms were set off at stupid-o’clock, even if I am such an awful cook drunk or sober) well there was Dani. You may have remembered that when I decided to go back online I reconnected with her and agreed that she could come to visit some time in the New Year.

Well she did. Here’s how the visit came about, we were talking one evening and she mentioned that she was coming to London for a conference or something. She’d be staying for a week and had a couple spare days and that she would like to come visit me. We made arrangements and Dani would come and stay with me in Portsmouth for one night while she was visiting.

I had advised Dani which was the nearest train station to my place, and that I would meet her off the train when she got there. I was hanging out at Chris’ place as it was nearer to the station and by occupying my time with him it helped calm my nerves. In a few short hours I’d be meeting the girl who I poured my heart out to day after day, month after month, for the first time. Now I had a fair idea of what she looked like, we’d swapped photos, and spoke about what we looked like. I had been quite honest, I have short dark hair, blue eyes, average size, about 5’7” and typically dress quite casually. Firstly I was expecting someone rather feminine, long dark hair, same height and build as myself.

I think you can guess where this is going. Chris and I arrived at the train station just a few minutes before her train had gotten in. At first sight, I wanted to leave before she saw me, I know that was a God-awful first reaction, but she certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

Now in all fairness, while she was away in Australia I knew that she had gotten a facial piercing, but since the image I had of her in my mind was of someone ultimately rather feminine, I was expecting something delicate, not the monstrosity that she had through her lip, it was massive. She was about half a foot shorter than me when I was expecting her to be the same height as me (maybe she just didn’t get feet and inches?) and as it turns out, nearly all the photos I had seen of her were years old. The only thing that turned out to be true was that she had long dark hair… one thing that thankfully turned out not to be true was at one point during our previous correspondence she had sent me a photo of my name tattoo’d somewhere on her body. I never saw that during her stay, so imagine this to be one of the many ‘white lies’ I had been subjected too.

I didn’t stand her up like my gut reaction was desperate for me to do, instead I dutifully walked over to her and said hello for the first time. Somehow without even communicating my disappointment to Chris he clearly understood, maybe it was just that plain on my face. The one consolation I had was that it was just one night, she had no romantic expectations and I had already arranged a night out with my Uni friends which would dilute the time I had to spend alone with her.

Her magnificent facial piercing earned her a cruel nickname among my friends, one that I wouldn’t find out until about a week later when they tried to make light of her disastrous visit. We’ll get to that all in good time. More immediately I had a gruelling long weekend to get through, that’s right… one overnight visit turned into 4 whole days! I have a strong suspicion that Dani had always intended to stay longer than she had told me, I’m not even sure there was a conference or whatever she had originally informed me was her reason for coming to the UK.

Thankfully I had a jam-packed weekend planned, cinema, drinking, partying and generally anything that would involve being in mixed company the whole time. Chris was instrumental in making sure that I wasn’t left alone with her in my too small room for any extended period of time unnecessarily.

The night I remember mostly clearly was towards the end of her prolonged stay, we were going for drinks at the Hampshire Boulevard and onto the cinema in Gunwharf Quays to watch Scary Movie (the third one I think). Now anyone that knows me will know just how much I didn’t want to be alone with her based on the film choice alone. I detest scary movies, even the spoofs, to say I scare easily is a dramatic understatement. We were in the bar, before leaving for the cinema waiting for everyone to arrive, there were about ten of us going out that night. It was noisy and it was a struggle to hear anyone clearly when they tried to talk to you unless they shouted. Dani chose that exact moment to have a heart-to-heart since she was leaving the following day.

It was clear that the weekend hadn’t been what she had hoped it would be, hence the conversation. She told me that she had hoped that when we met in person that it would rekindle something of the relationship we had over distance a couple years ago. I attempted to say back that I had found the weekend quite surreal, that it (she) certainly hadn’t been what I expected, but with time, after this weekend was long over we could perhaps continue to be friends.

Now in the noise of the bar and the fact that I was attempting to deliver this information in such a tone that wasn’t completely offensive I failed to make my point clearly over the pounding music. What Dani had heard was ‘After this weekend, I really hope you could be my girlfriend…’ The most amazing smile spread across her monstrously pierced face and in that moment I realised immediately that she had misheard me. I back-pedalled so fast that I practically shouted at her that I wasn’t interested in that idea at all, or ever would be. I guess it’s fair to say she got burned.

During the rest of the night we didn’t actually talk much, although she spoke with my friends plenty. Which prompted certain ridicule the rest of the year with accented of impressions of ‘Why doesn’t she like me’ over and over again. It was safe to say that she didn’t get called by her name ever again, the facial piercing had earned her a nickname inspired by a farmyard animal which typically would sport a similar bit of silverware.

I didn’t really hear from her again after that weekend, and to be honest I can’t say that I minded. It’s only now when I look back I can see how much my insensitivity cost her, at the time I was far too outraged at the deception she had employed to get me to meet her in the first place. It seemed to undermine everything I had confided in her. Over the two years that I had known her I had bared everything and been completely honest, I felt that she had only revealed half of herself sharing only carefully constructed half-truths and the indignation shielded me from my own ugly behaviour.

It was too easy to forget this weekend and move on with my life. I went straight back to my party lifestyle with Chris, Peter and Marcus, my favourite gay boys during my first year. The next few entries in the catalog of errors are almost as good, but this was certainly a highlight never to be forgotten, I certainly learned a lot about the drawbacks of online dating, I will never leave it so long again before meeting someone in person and I will now always keep my expectations low in the understanding that everyone always uses only their best photographs, myself included.

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