What Are You Looking For? – Matthew Sini
November 11, 2022
When their description opens with ‘read my profile!’ you know you’re in for a ride. This one is from a relatively normal-looking guy. The gist of his interminable ‘about me’ section is this: he’s sexually interested in all kinds of men so long as they’re accompanied by balloons.
—Hi there, he says, have you ever had a balloon explode in your face? Like at a party or something? I think it’s really hot.
While his balloon fixation will be a good story to tell your friends, his fetishistic single-mindedness seems rote, like he copies and pastes the same message about what he wants to everyone. Before you can think of a droll reply, he sends you videos of some gargoyle of a man—not him—pumping his cock into the slicked up loops of balloon animals—he quickly gets bored with the poodle and the giraffe, it’s the sausage dog gets the worst of it. Poor puppy.
—What are you looking for? he asks before you have time to digest what you’ve just seen.
You block him. But the question niggles for days and weeks and the answer never arrives. You chat with older men at the bar sometimes and they lament the advent of these new sexual technologies that dissolve or eclipse the old social spaces. You hear in the timbre of their voice a sense of something sacred being lost, most especially the thrilling mystique of a prospective sexual partner. To pick up someone at a beat or a club meant you had very little idea what you were in for. But cultivating mystery is now uncommon. You outline your attributes with words and images or both to make yourself appealing. Instagram-filtered selfies, ‘tastefully’ angled nude pics in your private gallery, a few choice words to make you sound witty but not too clever.
You all want to be consumed. Like that guy you chatted to once who was into ‘vore,’ a fetish simulating the feeling of being swallowed whole, usually with the aid of a bizarre piece of sexual paraphernalia: a velvet tube big enough to envelop an adult body that resembles a sandworm from Dune.
Products browsing products: anthropologically interesting, you think, but dystopian too. You fail to realize there’s a fine line between dystopia and utopia and where the line is drawn here is merely a matter of horniness. Many men appreciate the marvels of easy sex and dates on demand—they have the key to paradise in the palm of their hand.
Irrationally, you decide not to engage with me for twenty-four hours. But you’re back in forty minutes.
In the dark, you reach for your phone. Squinting through the small burst of screen-light, you scroll through the endless profiles, assessing pics and chatting noncommittally. But only to conventionally attractive men. Brusque solicitations ranging from ‘looking for fun?’ and ‘want a bj?’ to ‘cute’ and ‘hot!’ roll in. At this time of night, the active communicators are a cavalcade of headless torsos, or old men thinking they have any sort of chance with you. The chitchat is inarguably dull. Nothing anyone says, not even a deluge of erotically charged compliments, can rouse you. You yawn and switch off your phone. It’s too late, it’s too cold, and you’re too tired.
There is a new guy, right next to you on the grid. He’s fifty feet away. He doesn’t list his age, but there are the beginnings of grey at his temples and his hair is thinning—perhaps mid-40s? He’s shirtless with a chiseled torso. But it is not his face or his body that has drawn your attention. The background is familiar. A gallery of thick, free-standing columns. The Berlin Holocaust Memorial. You visited there one dreary winter. You swipe through to his other photos and see him doing the splits in the memorial, shirtless, posed among the field of stelae memorializing six million Jewish victims. You scroll down to his ‘interests’ section: ‘books, non-fiction mostly, things like history.’
Tonight, there’s one guy who is handsome, educated, and a conversationalist. After a long back and forth on the merits of David Sedaris, he sends five pictures, two of his ample penis, one of his fuzzy butt, and two other full-body mirror shots, one from the back, one from the front. Your pajama pants are tenting.
—Want to come over?
You’ve had this sort of offer before and never taken it up, especially not after you’re all settled in for the night. Sitting up in bed, you decide to stop being so uptight. You’re going to do this. You can do this. Don’t be so anti-sex. And this guy seems nice and is physically attractive to boot. Yes, you’re going to do this. You quickly change and ask for his address. He lives closer than the geolocation measurements suggest.
You walk out into the night and shiver all the way up to his door, and you keep telling yourself it’s the chill in the air and not your nerves. You knock, he answers. He’s not as attractive as his pictures made out, and he has obviously gained about ten pounds since those pictures were taken, but you stifle your disappointment. You now don’t want to have sex with this person at all. Jerking off at home would be preferable. Still, don’t want to be rude, or appear shallow, or talk yourself down from the plunge you’re about to take.
The small talk is so small it’s nano-talk. And then he is undressing you and kissing you. His breath smells of mouthwash, hints of garlic and banana. His body smells of soap and deodorant.
You are going down on him and he seems to be enjoying it and then out of nowhere, he asks:
—Do you party?
‘Party’ clearly has something to do with drugs. Not marijuana, but ‘drug’ drugs. Meth or ice or something worse you’ve neither done nor heard of. Your ‘no’ is so emphatic he winces. But you realize that it’s not your words that have surprised him. He winces again and something cold splatters across your face.
—You’re just too sexy, I guess.
A nervous giggle is shared between strangers.
—Do you want to come too?
—I better go.
You clean up, get dressed, exchange more nano-talk before leaving. The entire experience takes about twenty minutes all up. It’s not very fulfilling. In fact, it makes you feel a little cheap, but you suppress this. You’re an inner-city gay man; you must act and think sex-positively.
The first profile you see tonight is like many others you have seen before; a perfectly sculpted torso, pink nipples, a tuft of blond hair on his rippling abs, but no face pic. There is one line in his ‘what are you looking for?’ section:
—No rice, no spice, no fats, no femmes ;-P.
The metrical procession of the list has a dark music to it. You contemplate messaging him, as you have so many others, to communicate—in calm and reasoned language—why writing such things is deeply hurtful. Maybe there’s an infographic you could share with him? Experience tells you this would be a futile exercise. One of two things will happen: either the mask will slide off completely and he will call you a gook or a chink, or, more likely, he will riposte:
—It’s just a preference.
You have been exchanging messages with Julian for the past few nights. He’s training to be an opera singer. You know a little about opera, even though you’ve actually never been to a show, only streamed them or watched them on the rare occasion they’re screened on television. You’re both fans of Puccini; you love Turandot but he absolutely hates it. Spirited debate ensues. Then talk about all manner of other things like travel, relationships, food, television, films, even comic books. He seems nice and he’s handsome, so you ask him out for a drink. He agrees and, judging by the amount of smiley and winky emoticons, is quite keen on the idea.
You meet up at the arts and cultural precinct near your house, one of those urban reclamation spaces, where an old power station has been converted into theatres, bars and restaurants. At one of the bars overlooking the river, the debate on Puccini continues. Later you move on to the merits and sins of ‘popera.’ He is young, but he is also grandfatherly in both demeanor and dress. He’s wearing a cardigan and spectacles, neither of which is sufficiently stylish in that twee hipster way. His old man chic is incidental, not affected. This adds to his charm. You finish off your drinks and go for a stroll. You exchange ghastly and gorgeous details about past lovers, which you both acknowledge is a big no-no on a first date. There is an ease and a comfort you both feel. You part ways with an exchange of cheek kisses and you’re certain you’d like to see him again.
You wait the mandatory period of two days to text him. Two days shows you’re not too keen (even though you are). During this period, you ignore all the little pings I am sending; putting all your eggs in this basket for now.
Finally, the time comes to message. You suggest he comes to your house for dinner. Perhaps a little too intimate for a second date, but you like cooking and get along with Julian so well. He also made an offhand remark about wanting to try your cooking when you mentioned the joys of homemade pasta.
When he comes over Julian is dressed like a grandfather again. He has brought an expensive bottle of Malbec. You’ve already set the table and it all looks nice. Nothing too fancy, but serviceable. You’ve cooked a delicious ragu to go with your homemade ravioli. He moans suggestively when he first tastes the scrumptious meal and the front of your jeans tighten.
After dinner, dessert and finishing off the wine, you awkwardly make your move. He is mid-sentence when you lean over the table and start kissing him. At first, he is surprised, but doesn’t resist. He begins to unbutton your shirt right there in the dining room. You lead him to your bedroom because your housemate may be home soon and the small dining table is probably too rickety to support two grown men going at it.
Moments later in the bedroom, you’re both undressed. You reach over to turn on the light switch, but he stops you. He takes your hand and puts it down his pants. It’s downy and sweaty down there, and your fingers brush along a veiny ridge.
It’s a bit weird that he wants to keep the lights off, but maybe he is insecure about his body? You can’t remember the last time you had sex in the dark, but go along with it.
You fumble with each other. You fumble for the lube on your side table. Each movement is a fumble. It is not unpleasant but it is messy and hot and sweaty. By the end, you can feel the stickiness of sweat and lube and spit and semen all over you. You both lay there in the darkness for a while, then you decide to go clean up.
You don’t realise how much you have to clean up until you turn on the bathroom light and see yourself in the mirror. Across your chest is a handprint smeared in blood. You stand there agape. Then frantically examine other parts of yourself. Your back, your neck, and yes even your ass, are stained a vibrant red, already starting to crust on your skin. You frantically search yourself for any injury and are relieved when you can’t find one. Perhaps selfishly, you jump into the shower before telling Julian that he is obviously bleeding. Already, hysterical images jump into your head: skeletal men, mottled with lesions, coughing up their necrotic organs. You feel you might retch, but manage to compose yourself as you get out of the shower and dry off. You bite your nails and pace in the cramped space of the bathroom, trying to figure out how to broach this with Julian.
You go back into your room and turn the light on. Your bedroom looks like a crime scene. Your sheets, Julian’s chest, arms and groin are stained. The condom is a twisted monstrosity on the carpet, seeping livid red.
—Are you hurt? you ask.
Julian gets out of bed and reaches for his glasses, the ones he’d tossed with such abandon about forty minutes before. He doesn’t say anything but examines his dick. Given that there is blood in the condom, that must have been the source. You’re sure you didn’t swallow any blood while you were sucking him off. There was no salty, coppery taste. It must have happened after you blew him and before he put the condom on to fuck you. Julian thinks he must have grazed his foreskin while he was rubbing up against you. You cannot fathom how such an injury could have produced so much blood and with unnoticeable pain. He cleans himself up, while you deal with the CSI situation in your room. You discard the condom and use a powerful carpet cleaner to get the blood out. It works, but only because you got to it early. Your sheets are unsalvageable. You change them.
—Good as new, he says.
—Are you sure you’re not hurt?
—I’m fine. Don’t seem to be bleeding anymore. Just a small graze.
You wonder if this is some kind of practical joke. How could he have bled so much and not have a gaping wound on his cock? It’s late so you suggest he stays over. You’re never very comfortable sleeping with someone else. And less so tonight. You seem more disturbed by the ordeal than Julian, who falls asleep quite fast.
The next morning, he’s unwilling to look you in the eye. Perhaps last night the effects of the wine shielded him, and the light of morning clarified the horror. Julian says a quick goodbye and kisses you on the cheek.
A couple of hours later, he sends you a text message:
—I gave it some thought and feeling on the way home and I don’t think this is going to work. I apologize. I thought it best to let you know now rather than letting it drag on. The problem rests in me.
An hour or two later, you respond.
—Okay, I understand.
And then you block him, while making two vows to yourself. The first is that you will wait a long time before cooking a man dinner. The second is that you will never have sex with the lights off again.
Your friend Rob has invited you to drinks with a few friends at the local gay bar. When you get there, they are the only people around. It’s too early. Everyone is seated at a weathered table in the outdoor area, most of them are smoking.
—I just broke up with Dan, says Rob.
—I really should stop meeting men on the apps, he says.
Soon you’re lighting up a cigarette and downing pints with the others. Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” starts playing and you groan at how on the nose it is. Chilli fries and chicken wings turn up. Eating your feelings is best done in a communal setting because it maintains a certain sense of decorum preventing you from making a disgusting mess of yourself. Just two days ago, you were slumped alone in front of the television, crumbs of garlic bread in your beard, spots of oily pizza on your shirt.
—Apps are just for sex. The sooner you realize that the better, says one of Rob’s more hardnosed buddies.
—We’ve all got different motivations, says another.
War stories are exchanged. Rob recounts what he calls the ‘blood incident,’ which you’ve heard before. Everyone cringes. Someone else mentions a guy obsessed with balloons. You cackle along with everyone else. You’re conscious you don’t have any interesting encounters to share. Your experience has been unremarkable—just chats that go nowhere.
After more drinks, more conversation, and a good bit of dancing, you leave Rob and his friends. You can’t stay out as late as you used to. The train ride home is soupy and oneiric. The other passengers, almost to a person, are absorbed in their phones. Just like you.
When you get home, you struggle up the stairs, realising you are perhaps drunker than you thought. You unpocket your phone. Since you last checked an hour ago, you have received messages from six people. Something about the conversation tonight inspires you to hold down on the icon, and press the X that appears in the corner. You don’t get anything out of it, you tell yourself.
Later that night, you’re in bed watching a trashy television show on your laptop. Several times you reach over for your phone to see if any men are paying you attention and you groan at this reflex. And though I’m inactive for now, I know you’ll come back to me soon enough.