Back in November I was on Tinder. “For the last time.” Unknowingly, I swiped right on a guy living in Finland. Before I had the chance to really internalize the reality of this fact he had me hooked. Joke being that he had set his location to San Francisco looking for a hot husband with tech money but was willing to settle for me. Reality being that no, he was lonely as any American and just wanted someone to talk to. He was older, 28 — putting him squarely in the generation that knows how to use the internet in the punk way. The way that lets you develop improbable and deep relationships with strangers. Something I am very much down for.
We talked every day and people in my immediate surroundings probably got tired of hearing about him — as well as my attempts to properly articulate his (harder than it looks) name. In lieu of getting it right (it’s pronounced peh-rooooo, as far as I can tell) I settled on a guttural throat noise. Then my throat started to hurt and I settled on some bastardized approximation I’m pretty sure he loathes but is very polite about.
I recommend everyone finds a stranger on the internet to tell everything to. There is something about writing your story out in full that can catalyze such sentiments as “Wow, I actually make sense” and “Maybe I’m not as fucked-up as I thought.” This technique for self-betterment works especially well when the other person feels emotionally kindred and can act as a proxy for yourself. It’s easier to be loving towards someone else.
Admittedly there are times when it can get confusing. Reading someone’s words on the screen turns them into a voice in your head and it can be hard to know which one of you you’re talking to. But that’s the power of it. At the end of the day you are by yourself, probably in your underwear, in front of a computer — and the experience of them lives inside of you. It’s intimate.
Once I lived in Pittsburgh and for a variety of reasons it was a rough time. Not the least of which was the fact it was REALLY cold, the worst winter it had seen in a long time. I borrowed some arms and tried to do the cozy thing as best I could. It didn’t work very well. I ended up raw and depressed during a dark period made survivable by excessive late-night grocery store gelato consumption.
It was bad.
But sometimes life gives you opportunities to re-digest the things that initially come out a little soupy. I’m a believer in careful exposure therapy. I went to Finland. And there was something about being in a frigid environment (central Finland in February) tucked indoors with someone that felt familiar. But this time I knew what I was doing. I could keep the gelato but re-stage the scene with better direction — safe, with significantly better-equipped company. I don’t think I was conscious of this at the time. It felt manifested in a more subconscious and magical way.
It was also a ridiculous situation, and doing things like visiting a Finn from the internet while still feeling like a mature, responsible adult is a delicate act. The opposing forces of American idealism (I can make this work) and Finnish realism (You are crazy) keeps it honest. The trick is to be appreciative of the space and the time you make together, and not get too caught up in the other person.
To create a foundation of intention on the trip, he provided a worksheet we both filled out. I liked his answers:
Question: Why are we doing this?
Answer: We believe in transferring energy and achieving balance.
Question: Where do we come from?
Answer: We spring from a place of sharing, curiosity and interest, mutual respect and creativity.
Question: Where are we now?
Answer: We are in different places and we are able to communicate, but there is disparity in energies.
Question: How do we know we’re there?
Answer: The energies are balanced.
These energies formed a temporary shelter that was entirely our own, off-the-map, intense and very difficult to write about.
The Finn’s unique command of English is one of his greatest allures. Disparate words get tossed around casually to create an abstract portrait of an idea, or are concatenated in interesting ways. Hot tubs become bubbblespas. There is a particular word that he’s come up with that gets used especially often —spatimence (space + time + patience). Is he referring to the very real need for space (and time, and patience?) — possibly, likely even given my annoying drive for closeness and immediacy. But it can be defined another way: the experience of taking someone and hollowing out a space and time and quality of attention that stands on its own, a gift I will always treasure.