by Beau Burriola -
SGN Foreign Correspondent
'Scruff,' my Irish Gay friend Owen tells his friend Melanie at the pub, turning around his phone and pointing out a screen full of men who are apparently arranged by distance from him. 'It's like Grindr.'
I am listening intently, careful to appear all-knowing when I'm getting a lesson, too. In the eight years I was in a relationship, technology changed the whole dating world. At 34, I consider myself reasonably advanced with using technology, but the relatively new area of dating technology makes me feel like I've stepped out of a time machine into a brave new world. Mobile dating apps have been something I heard about on news stories - like when the Olympics went to London and Grindr crashed - but never seen in person, certainly not like this.
'Women would never do this thing,' Melanie announces in her adorable French accent, with a sort of shocked bemusement. 'A woman wants more than a picture to know if she wants to meet a man, not just how he looks and how far away he is. She will go further if he is worth meeting.'
'We are not so patient,' Christophe says and laughs, looking at me. I nod and giggle into my beer, but file away the odd app name.
Now, single again, I find myself putting my toes into very unfamiliar waters. I am uncertain, a little afraid and a little excited in equal measure.
In a slow spell sitting at my desk at work, I download the app. I put in a smiling picture, click a few buttons, and then the little patchwork quilt of men - well, torsos and beards and the odd cat - pop up on the screen, arrayed in order of distance from me.
The first thing I notice is how many of these guys are close to me - very close. If they are less than 100 meters from me, they must be at my work. I scroll down a bit and then back up in a panic - that can't be HIM. Don't I know him? Or HIM!? Isn't THAT guy married?
'Pssst,' I say to Jeff, my best buddy and fellow American expat at work.
'Scruff,' I say, showing him my iPad proudly. 'It shows me how many of the Gays are closest to me,' sounding all knowing, although in reality I only found this app last night.
'Oh,' Jeff says, 'it's like Grindr?'
'How do you know about Grindr?' I ask, surprised. Jeff moved out here years ago to be with his Belgian wife, Kim, and very often I learn about anything Gay from him because here they've got more Gay friends than I've got. Nothing surprises him.
'I wish there were something like that for straight people,' he says with a laugh. 'Women want a lot of care.'
I turn around my phone and show him my surprise realization from the night before, how many faces, headless torsos, and the odd cat show up less than 100 meters from me, or in our work building.
'Wow,' he says, sufficiently impressed. I close my iPad, pleased as pudding with my newfound social tool.
An hour later, in a stuffy meeting of five suits, it is my turn to present. I grab my iPad and go to pull up a presentation. Turning the screen toward them and opening the cover, I quickly and definitively discover the ugly side of mobile dating apps. Having forgotten to close the thing, the first thing that opens is the latticework of torsos, faces, and the odd cat.
Paying no mind to my burning ears and dizzying embarrassment, I slap the lid shut with no subtlety and a lot of discomfort. It's a defining moment of my professional life, I realize instantly, but I pretend it is nothing in the hope that nobody actually saw anything or - if they did - that they didn't quite see close enough to realize what it was. I go on without my iPad, pretending it is all in my head. Mostly.
Just four minutes into the presentation, I hear a 'ding' from my iPad. This fairly normal noise causes me a bit more embarrassment than usual since I slapped the lid of the damned machine down. Then another. Then another. Over the next hour, in quick succession, my iPad gives a little chime and vibrates eight times, throwing me off my game and distracting me entirely from my breadwinning job. Later, as I would learn, these are notifications from Scruff that someone likes my face.
At the end of the meeting, having recovered enough to finish my main contract points - but still red as a cherry - I thank the participants as they leave the room.
One of the stuffy suits, Joeren, stays in the room. I pretend he is not there at first, until I realize I can't anymore.
'Scruff ,' he says, smiling, then walks out with a smirk bordering on a laugh.
I sure have a lot to learn.
'Some of the most devastating things that happen to you will teach you the most.' - Ellen DeGeneres
Beau Burriola (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a 34-year-old expat writer finding his way back into the big, wide world of dating.
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