I asked him “What are you looking for?” like I would ask anyone I’d shared a drink, a kiss or a bed with before, mostly out of habits, secondly out of genuine curiosity. Though I expected nothing more than a basic bitch answer, something vague and safe and hopeful like I’m open minded, I go with the flow. And he did tell me that. Every damn time, they would tell me that, the same useless revelation of their intention, which later when I’d heard enough I was finally able to translate precisely to “Let’s fuck first then think later” where “think” would often mean “not keen enough to follow through, bye bye”. So well, to not fall behind the game, I did it too. I gave them the classic “I like to see how it goes” which offered absolutely no real value but was always the most passable.
Now thinking back, I don’t know why I even bothered to ask that question, or vomit out my own boring response. Have we ever been honest? Do we ever know for sure? Do we ever stick with our answers? Plus, seriously, you’d better shut up if you’re already in bed, hands on thighs and mind long lost somewhere… horny. Whatever you say will become noise. Whatever you hear is genitals language. And isn’t it just so obvious that simply you’re both looking for pleasure? At least for one night, at least for that one moment, at least for however long your bodies still vibrate in sync, for however long before the reality of each individual life sinks in and takes you away from the junction where your paths cross. Maybe then, only then, will you see through the truth of their intention and your own deepest desire and you wouldn’t even have to ask.
At 23, I don’t really want to ask anymore. I’ve been around long enough and I’m smart enough to play well the game most people play but don’t realise or don’t want to admit they’re playing. I know what most men want from me and I know what I want from most men. I know my value and I know how much I’m valued by the men I’m involved with. So I’m never surprised when one night doesn’t turn into two, or a few months of loving, fucking, promising forever don’t ever turn into a you-and-me-only relationship, or even when I don’t feel a damn thing yet someone insists that we share a connection and we should pursue it.
How could I not anticipate? See, I’ve always chosen my own endings before any beginning. I’m every step of the way aware of the kinda shit hole I drag myself into — There’s a real superpower called self-awareness. If it ever gets to the point where I’m in bed with a guy to ask him that cliche “What are you looking for?” question, it means he has long passed the assessment and therefore, is a very specific type of guys — the type of guys who is bound to leave me.
You’ve read it right. I chose him because I knew he would leave me. Because I knew whatever the answer we gave each other, ultimately it didn’t matter. Because I would never need to know. Because I had already known so sure. Because the ugly truth was that the guy who was bound to leave me was the only guy my interiors (mind, heart and soul…) were capable of handling. Getting with him meant thrill, meant no responsibility, no commitment, meant I wouldn’t have to let my guard down, meant I could go wild with my fantasies of him without ever having to get real, meant I would always have a way out.
Sometimes I was very conscious of this; sometimes I wasn’t. I just knew by instinct I was so drawn to the guy that I didn’t reason it and simply jumped in like a feeling junkie I was. Yes, I was and am a feeling junkie. I got high on feelings, on validation, on shiny strangers, on morning after texts, on “I want to see you right now” calls, on experiencing something I’d never done before, on the lives I’d never known before. I was a feeling addict, a shiny stranger addict. I could instantly feel an adrenaline rush the moment I saw him at the doorstep of a 5-star hotel. My pupils dilated.
He found me on a dating app and asked me for drinks at the hotel he was staying. I said yes.
Anyway, the high didn’t start with the 5-star hotel, or meeting a stranger at a 5-star hotel. Okay, maybe a little bit. Maybe a little bit of how he was charming and drinking whiskey. Maybe a little bit of how he only stayed in London for a weekend. Okay, a lot of how he only stayed in London for a weekend and he reminded me of big cities at night — bright with lights, restlessly quiet, unpredictably wild. In one word: Refreshing. He was also planes and oceans and flowers fields — calmly and stably here in our shared moment but all over the places that I wouldn’t be able to catch when our moment was gone. All the ideas and images just happened to fit so well with each other, triggering my imagination, and altogether they hit me with full force.
But it wasn’t really him. I didn’t know him. It was him in my head. It was him I wanted to see. It was my fantasy, a powerful fantasy brought to life by the unknown and uncertain. My high started from that fantasy, the collection of ideas I fed myself to build up the excitement of meeting a shiny stranger. Because that day I wanted to get high. Not on alcohol (too fattening) or drugs (I’d look ugly snorting cocaine so no ugly-looking please). But on people. I was sick of the ordinary. Sick of feeling stuck in a 9-5 routine counting down till payday, frustrated with the speed of my bank balance increasing, asking myself “Is that it? Is this the life?” (No, that’s not it, but it’s easy to get caught up like that.)
Our encounter was brief yet intense — intense for many reasons which were too intrinsically complicated to single one out as they were threaded into each other like a spider web. It was similar to all the previous infamous occasions I got incredibly high (Summer 2014, summer 2016, early spring 2017.) These were all the big milestones of my life, for being able to get incredibly high on a shiny stranger means one thing — I’ve discovered yet another deep-rooted fixation I have. In other words, there was something I desperately wanted for myself but I didn’t have; however I perceived the shiny stranger to have it so I wanted to be with him to have it vicariously.
To him, it was yet another night in a foreign city where craziness was expectantly enjoyed. I was yet another girl who added a bit of exotic fun to his otherwise complexly layered life. I will keep the exact details of our encounter private (as per his request) but to me, it was a brand new ‘why not’ experience. To me, he was the bridge to a life (which he probably didn’t have either but the idea of him promised it regardless) I desperately wanted for myself, the escape from the life I actually had for myself but couldn’t fully fall in love with. Like I said, I know my value and I know how much I’m valued by the men I’m involved with. I knew he didn’t value me — at least not enough. He really had no good reason to, especially when the comedown from the high was so brutal that I completely lost my cool. I spiralled out of my usual composure. I didn’t manage to hook him.
I’ve already accepted that by writing this all out like this (or you could say, laying all my cards on the table) my chance with him now is slim no matter how much the rational part of me wants to know the real him and show him the real me, the valuable me, and have pure NSA fun with him. But ultimately it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about him. He was most likely just a regular guy and the night was pretty sure not even that great (If anything, he should want me, not that I have to ask again.) Meeting him again would be irrelevant to this narrative. It has always been about me. I might not see him again but what I will achieve is knowing myself better and getting myself what I ultimately want, which is far more important than getting any man.
I’m 23. I’m so young. He’s so far ahead in life compared to me. There’ll be a day I won’t just get high on him by default. I won’t get fixated on people like him or ideas of people like him or big cities or planes or oceans or whiskey. I will need a higher dosage than him to get high or maybe no dosage can get me high again because I will grow up and I will be over it and have a world for myself. Because I will make it happen for myself. One day I’ll meet people like him and it’ll just be pure exotic fun to my otherwise complexly layered life. It’ll have nothing to do with him personally. There’ll be no fixation, no unhealthy high, no brutal comedown. I will be immune. It’ll be the same as how I got over my past hung-ups and became more me, more wholly me, more self-assured, more successful.
Looking back, actually I’ve gone a long way and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself (no one should be too hard on themselves.) I used to put lots of focus on relationships and people and use them heavily as the measure of my self-worth. It wasn’t fun nor healthy. It got me asking myself, so what is the end game? What’s next? It turned every encounter into a means to an end instead of joy in its own right, and turned me into a walking panic attack (If you live with anxiety you know the horror). But I’ve improved this a lot in the past year. I’ve gotten rid of many ideals. I’ve stayed in the moment. I’ve had pure fun when I was so fine never having it again. I’ve been genuinely chill with people. I’ve always been so awfully honest and real to myself. So this time, actually I’ve levelled up.
For a good while I did think of the aftermath of my encounter with the shiny stranger as a failure, a real damage to my ego while having an “OMG am I back to my old insecure self now or what??!” panic attack. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t that big of a deal as what happened was simply that he flew back to wherever he came from (after failing to meet up again due to his work schedule) and he didn’t end up being crazy about me like a romcom. But it’s not the point here. The point is I must acknowledge all the intensity of how I felt during the time I exposed myself to him and the fact that my anxiety reached an all-time high was very embarrassing and alarming for me. There was a cause to it and that cause was my own eye-opening truth, the truth to what I’ve been searching for within myself. It was the next piece that would uncover the puzzle of my soul.
So I accept what happened for all its glory (not) and I can say now it definitely wasn’t a failure. It was okay. It was life happening. It was me unwrapping the rough pieces within me that I’d never been able to crack open before. It was a new milestone. It was yet another valuable lesson. It wasn’t a repeated mistake. And for sure I will do better next time. I think it might well even be one of the most important pieces of self-awareness that could potentially shape my twenties. Especially I find it fascinating that this is so significant to me NOT because of him or our encounter but entirely because of my own feelings and reactions. How wonderful that I was so in touch with every emotional fluctuation I went through (Did I mention I have a superpower?)
I remember (and will never forget) two months ago midday at work, I ran to the toilet, locked myself inside the last booth and immediately burst into tears. I cried silently, uncontrollably. I didn’t get the position I’d put down as my first preference for my next role. I hadn’t prepared myself for this. I had anticipated getting what I wanted too much. So that day, in that little toilet booth, in the flood of tears, I clenched my teeth and told myself repeatedly that sometimes in life we don’t get what we want and it’s okay, sometimes in life we don’t get what we want and it’s okay, sometimes in life we don’t get what we want and it’s okay… Today and every day I tell myself the same thing. In life sometimes we don’t get what we want and it’s okay. I have the strength in me to accept that and let go then move on to better things. There are always better things and a better me ahead.
I know I still have a lot to work on, for example I need to start choosing people who are NOT bound to leave me and I need to allow real, healthy love into my life instead of running away at the first sight of it (among dozens of other issues). But hey let’s not get off track. This article is about the shiny strangers addiction which I now understand the root cause of and how to stop it from getting extreme and minimise the damage of the comedown. It’s okay to want a stranger because they’re shiny (who doesn’t like shiny?!) but it cannot come from a place of neediness or self-doubt or lack of self-love.
Hence first, I need to stay focused and never lose sight of what I truly want. There will be progresses, there will be changes but most likely they won’t happen the way I expect. Most likely there will be no fast track either. I need to be patient, really patient, extremely patient with myself and how my life evolves. I need to stand firm on the ground and be my own anchor. I need to embrace uncertainty and trust that things will fall into place at some point in time even when — and especially when — nothing seems to happen. This means no jumping the gun in the midst of the fog.
Above all, I need to find joy in the most mundane, ordinary moment, not to escape it.
P.S. I texted my shiny stranger earlier today to ask if he would mind me writing about our encounter and he said he would like it kept private. I told him that no one would know who he was – just a guy not from London. And he didn’t reply. I thought of sending him another text to get a response out of him but then I just left it. It was when I knew I could actually write this article.