The man in the picture smiles broadly; he shows a row of even white teeth. The smile is natural, spontaneous, etching crinkles around his eyes. And those eyes – clear, blue, welcoming the camera lens, not shifty, nor untrusting. He presumably knows whoever is behind the viewfinder – maybe it’s a friend, an old girlfriend, lover, brother or sister.
He stands in a large green space, surrounded by hills, limestone and mist on the horizon. The straps of a rucksack rest on his shoulders, his thick brown hair – closely cropped, a neatly trimmed beard. This coupled with his blue fleece suggest ‘outdoorsy, natural, low maintenance guy, up for fun and adventure.’ This alone draws me in.
The man in the picture is looking for ‘long term relationship, short-term relationship, fling, marriage, just friends, let’s see what happens.’ He doesn’t disclose whether he wants this all at once or which he would prefer – or maybe he would like a different woman for each. For this man, I would happily play six different roles and change my name, clothes, hair and voice for each.
The man in the picture is 38, 5ft 11ins, describes his sense of humour as ‘goofy’ and would happily bake a cake for that special someone.
He likes woman who are down to earth and comfortable in their own skin, but hates clothes shopping. I feel I tick all these boxes and many more.
The man in the picture ‘likes’ me. I ‘like’ him by clicking on the word ‘like’. He writes me a breezy ‘Hey, how are you’ message. I reply in a similar vein. The communication channels have now opened. We discover we both like crunchy peanut butter and walking in the hills. He starts calling me ‘hun’, I call him his name. He tells me he’s already been on ‘a few’ dates and clearly, he is picking up a virtual fan club of admirers, all vying for a date.
We have a frantic week of messaging, getting in touch at least twice a day. It gets quite heated in a virtual 70-miles-apart- way. We mention showers (of the spraying bathroom variety), underpants and stockings. My heart begins to leap every time I hear from him. I am infatuated with a photograph and some words. The idea of him excites and intrigues me.
Then, I am thrown back to the ground with a thud.
There is a longer than normal gap between our messages, not just a pause for him go to work, get on with his life. It is a gaping, empty, cold pause. His profile disappears; he has hidden it.
I am bewildered, lost, find it hard to swallow. I tell myself this is not even a whole person – it’s a part of him he has chosen to display on this forum, probably his best side, his shop front. So why should I feel so bereft?
Before I can stop myself I send him a message asking how he has disappeared – did he even know he had disappeared? Maybe it was a malfunction on the website, a page inexplicably lost.
But the man in the picture wanted to disappear.
He needed a break from the whole caboodle. Other stresses in his life were taking over so he needed ‘head space’ and not the added distraction of messaging strangers. I would take distraction any day.
Seven long days pass. My heart is on the floor. I tell myself to stop being ridiculous. He is just a man in a picture, who manages to hold his smile, despite being stressed and a heavy rucksack weighing him down.
Then on the seventh day, a message pings into my silence. He treads carefully, asking how I am and how my life is.
I adopt a bright and breezy tone, suppress my excitement, joy and relief. And we restart our exchanges, but something has been lost. He is less interested, wearier.
The man in the picture is fading away; the camera lens is starting to lose focus.