As I step onto the airport shuttle bus, I hear a British lady exclaim loudly to her friend: “People say not to be so superficial with dating – but when you’re using online dating, looks are all you’ve got to go on, aren’t they?”
Her friend nods in agreement, a little embarrassed that I’m now listening to their private conversation.
I think about telling her there are other ways of knowing a person: Dylan and I proved that through our months of phone calls when lockdown prevented us from meeting. These calls have led to us travelling here today, to meet in-person at a half-way point, but I’m too busy sending him photos of the view from the airport with the caption: I’m here!
My excitement dissipates hour by hour as I wait for him to turn up: first his lift is running late; then his lift has missed the turn-off; he still has far to go.
“You should go out and enjoy the beach,” Dylan tells me.
He’s given plenty of reasons, but there’s not a single simple sorry, and this jars with me: I had to wake up at 4 am to make it here on time; I’m the sort of person who would apologise for being five minutes late yet Dylan doesn’t arrive for another three hours.
I calm myself with the knowledge we are spending tonight together in the hotel – separate beds, of course; I want this to be a pleasant experience for us both – especially when Dylan has made it clear his only interest is in a serious, committed relationship with someone who doesn’t play games.
I’m not sure when exactly it goes wrong between us: my sense of timing is so skewed that when Dylan eventually arrives, I’ve lost track of days, of seasons, months.
All I remember is later that day when I notice the way he holds his phone, index finger surreptitiously swiping left and right.
At first, I think I’m imaging seeing him on Tinder, until I watch a fast-forward montage of men’s faces blurring across the screen.
So much of today has been about time: I was early, he was late and now there is an ocean of hours between us to fill.
It’s excruciating to be with someone you know you will never talk to, or communicate with, again. Most my life has been filled with departures and now Dylan has gone, almost before he even arrived.
That’s when I understand there is only one way to survive this.
Next morning, I share with him the pancakes I’ve ordered for breakfast. And even when he’s trailing behind me on the path to the beach to chat on his phone, I slow down and marvel that we have the water all to ourselves.
Raindrops soft as cotton land on our bodies as we swim in the murky waves. I dive under, and under, the salt swimming through my veins gives me a merman’s strength.
I take some photos of Dylan perched on a rock, eyes gazing out to the ocean – to the future, to a time when he’s free of me.
“They’re nice,” I tell him, and he’s impressed by the pictures which I send through to his phone.
These are simple kindnesses, though not ones many of us practise frequently.
Later, when he’s gone, I stand under the shower in the hotel room, my eyelids trembling like canisters in a storm: I am on my own again. There is so much about this that is unfair, so many reasons why this should not have happened to me.
But I breathe and remind myself I could be bitter-green right now, a sour apple of disappointment; I could have resorted to venomous spite. I’ve been a journalist for long enough to think of acerbic messages I could send him, the petty revenge of it all.
Instead, I let the water pour over me and remember how I just walked Dylan to the bus stop and waited with him until it arrived.
It doesn’t matter that I will be forgotten before the bus even rounds the corner, or that my request to let me know when he gets home will never be answered.
All that matters is what I say next:
“Thank you for coming, Dylan.”
He has shown me what I am made of, and that gives me much to be thankful for.