There’s No One New Around You

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‘Hairy’ stares at the fast crossing glacier stream, wondering how he is going to cross it, in order to follow everyone else. He is in the second deepest canyon in the world. His name means ‘hairy’ in Ayamara, and the entire community know him well and claim him.

For some strange reason I’m second guessing this blog post, which is fitting. I’m trying to write a blog post about the little ways I’m losing my self confidence, and I keep revising the first sentence.

Okay, the first paragraph is done, the momentum is there, I can carry on. I’ve paused a moment. Listening to music. Trying to get to the heart of what I actually want to say.

The best way is to begin with a story.

Last night I went to a colleague’s farewell even though I was sluggish for most of the day. The conversation was good, I was part of a core group of friend-colleagues and the conversation never struggled. But then I met another journalist from another organisation. She began making conversation by talking about a mutual Facebook friend who I have never met before, and then we compared notes about a place called Mount Isa.

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The local tour guide takes pity on ‘Hairy’, picks him up and throws him across. All Hairy needed was the height and the momentum. He could land on his own four paws.

I lived in Mount Isa almost four years before I went to Peru. I had burnt out from journalism and was broke, struggling to find a job, renting with my grandma. And then out of the blue I had the job offer for Mount Isa, and within weeks I traveled across the country, took the job, rented a room, and plunged myself into a small community in ways that became toxic, because I was trying to be someone else. I did cool things, was flown in charter planes to Indigenous communities, went to outback races, and interviewed my fair share of politicians. I left for Peru confident in my ability as a journalist in ways I was never confident in the previous jobs, and in a way, that I haven’t felt in my return to the career. Lately I doubt my ability. I shouldn’t. I guess. But I do.

And then, across the table, this woman tells me that she was offered the exact same job that I took (same year, same month), and declined it, deciding to work as a journalist in Cambodia instead. My friend suddenly came back with a beer for me because he was predicting how I was going to feel, an awkward unnerved feeling.

It came gradually. It’s silly. Because she was first offered the job that has defined my career, and shaped me, I suddenly felt I wasn’t good enough for it. That today she is the better journalist because she was ahead of me back then.

I know that’s not true. Mount Isa did shape me, improve me, made me a hell of a lot better. And it was her loss for not taking the job…maybe. That’s not my call and she had other great opportunities more suited to her.

But I explain this because it’s one of the little things that’s chipping at the confidence.

One can’t solve a confidence issue by other people reassuring that you’re great at what you’re doing. It doesn’t work. You kind of have to find your own way, your own world that you can retreat to, where you’re an authority in some form or another.

I went to Peru. So every few days here when I feel stuck in the grind again, I throw up a beautiful scene that I photographed in Peru onto social media. People like it, I feel acknowledged, and I carry on.

I want to talk about Tinder and how much I hate it. I went on one date but conversation afterwards by message was forced and it eventually stopped. I hardly match with anyone, although I’m to blame for that too.

When there’s a match, and I write a message, it’s so hard. Often I won’t hear back, and it’s difficult to gauge what it is I’m supposed to say. And then, I’m told by the app “there’s no one new around you”, a lie that is telling me that I am not compatible with anyone around here, not today at least.

This whole exercise is eroding my self-confidence. Why play a game I’m not good at or interested in? I should leave it alone. Enjoy learning to cook. I’m about to bake a cake. I should enjoy the big unit I have to myself. I can figure my way out of Resident Evil. Keep writing. Define myself, and not care how others value me. 

It’s just that people overlook me quickly, as an interest, and it drives me crazy. And there’s that squirm inside me, that breaks out usually in the middle of the week, on a cold night.

What if there’s nobody that’s going to see me the same way my ex did?

 

One date with a backpacker

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It was my first date since I left Peru. And I knew coming into it that it was going to be a challenge. In a way it was going to be therapeutic. I was right.

She was from Taiwan, picking strawberries at a farm for minimum wage so she could extend her visa in Australia. Where she worked there weren’t any Australians, only other backpackers who spoke in Asian languages. This date was rare English practice for her.

And she wasn’t  great at it. The conversation over coffee, and later over green curry, was awkward. There wasn’t much of it.

I’d been there, in that same situation when I lived in Peru, before entering a relationship, where I went on dates where they couldn’t speak English. Back then I was the foreigner, and they were the local, and I was anxious, and they had all the power, or so I thought. And I was frustrated easily, and felt they were judgmental.

I realised then over flat whites, in a small Queensland city, how exhausting it was to be expected to hold the conversation as the local speaker. It was draining, but I had the luck of being on the other side of the table. Twice, her frustration showed, but it didn’t last long and it wasn’t her fault.

Questions that allowed for ambiguous answers was hard for her. “What is Australia like?” wasn’t going to get an answer, but “is Australia cold?” would.

By the time we went to the local Asian restaurant, and had ordered our food, I had figured out that even though I had no interest in learning Taiwanese, an interest in it was the way to bridge a friendship. I learned to count to three (and absorbed it surprisingly faster than I would have two years ago before practising Spanish), and asked about the objects, “what’s rice in Taiwanese? What’s water in Taiwanese? What’s fork in Taiwanese? What is chicken in….”

And I thought back to the time I was in Peru, and I saw my dating life there in an entire new light. And I saw the people there no longer as impatient, but as kind and confused as to how to bridge a connection.

It has been a while since I have posted. It hasn’t been abandoned. Resuming a normal life after an ex-pat one is still worth recording. It’s been a confusing time, and I have been so busy trying to sort out adulting (finding a place to live, set a household budget, get the hot water working) that I haven’t processed emotions until recently.

The date was healing, and before that I was kind of grieving.

Today I bought wi-fi from Telstra, and now it’s set up and I’m listening to Spotify. I’ve taken a few hours off since the last sentence, with a few old friends from the west coast passing through and inviting me out for a few beers.

 

 

On dating and honesty on an exotic continent

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What ended up being a meet up for coffee ended up being a late night (on a work night) which included a photo gallery, coffee and cake, and deep and meaningful conversation in the plaza de armas. 

It has been at least 11 days since my last blog. My mind has been occupied with the good and the bad. It has thought of Tinder and dating and women and work and students at school, and of struggles and workaholism, and of what I should be doing in my life right now.

I had been on a lot of dates lately, and mostly with the same girl who makes me feel good. It caught me off guard because I certainly didn’t come to Peru for a relationship. It felt like I had finally figured out Tinder just as I met her, and suddenly not only did I have so many matches, but so many girls actually wanted to talk, and hey! Holy crap. Even meet me.

There was the date with the lawyer who invited me to her house where she fed me and tried to speak in broken English. Then there was the date at the shopping centre with the girl who knew next to no English. I don’t know how I thought that was going to work. I suppose it was because she was a really nice person who wanted to see me.

I went on one date (after the clowns date) which ended up in a nightclub. She knew English with difficulty, but as a travelling violinist in a symphony knew much more German. We went to an expensive hipster coffee bar where after the conversation slowly stopped she blushingly pulled out a piece of paper with questions in English to ask me.

I had arrived at that date wondering what the hell I was doing when I had just met another girl I liked and wanted to spend my time with. I thought about cancelling, but didn’t. And all through the coffee as I liked this girl more and more, with her awkward charm and piece of paper, I thought to myself, ‘you are scum.’

As we walked to eat dinner she asked me ‘so are you single?’ and technically I was. But I told her there was another girl I did like, over Google translator, and explained further I was not after a relationship. But I really wanted her in my life, so I begged that we be friends. The friendship continued eventually to the nightclub where everyone stared at me for being a gringo, and gradually we stole the centre of the floor dancing to regatone.

But late that night I felt whatever it was, wasn’t the same as the girl I met on the clown date. And as I took a taxi home that night I felt alone, and certainly didn’t want to push good people out of my life. When I arrived home at 4.30am I sent a tired message to the first girl and said I certainly wanted to keep seeing her.

I deliberately don’t think about the future because doing so only worries me unnecessarily, where I see problems when I am not equipped with the answers. I can adapt with solutions with time and experience that I cannot predict from the situations that have yet to happen. Mountains are much easier to see than the roads and the rope and the boots and the caves.

But something happened in the days after I sent the tired message. I realised that I couldn’t keep going on heaps of dates with different girls, especially if they ended up being really nice girls. It would only get confusing.

And so, when the girls I spoke to who I did care about wanted more detail on our future or our dating, I had to be honest and not worried about being liked by the most people.

The more honest I was the more powerful I felt. Girls appreciated it and to a degree admired it, having had enough lies and double-standards in their dating lives. I discovered that being honest was the fastest way to get what I really wanted. The obstacles or the confusion cleared, and for the first time in my life it felt like the people I knew moved around me and to what I wanted.

But of course, when girls found out that I was dating someone more regularly than once, they stopped talking to me, even if the conversation ended politely. And there is something really sad in that, that by being honest I lost the pleasure of their intelligence and conversations, but I understood that they had for a long time realised something I was only just discovering – you cannot waste time on the things that do not fit to what you want.

 

Chasing tail? Chase adventure

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ON weekend nights I was getting dressed up, pre-loading on wine and leaving the house late to try getting laid. I would swipe on Tinder but I am extremely fussy, and so, it seems, are the women around me because the matches were few.

And then I just didn’t know what to write besides a ‘hi, how are you?’ so I didn’t even try talking to the matches. I’ve never been successful on Tinder and any dates that have resulted from it don’t really count given that I have already known the women.

This only happened a few nights and it happened because, well, I was trying to escape being myself. I didn’t want to feel anxious about life. I never came to Peru to look for love or romance, but now after three months I started seeing the beauty of Peruvian women properly.

But something was getting in the way. I would always hold back at the important times, as if I didn’t want sex, or a relationship, or a connection, or whatever it was I was chasing. This had been the case my entire life. What was getting in the way? It wasn’t my looks but something to do with my personality, or my behaviour, or my reactions, or my tendency to overshare depressing crap like this, despite it being tempting to blame it on morality.

But using morality for a reason was just a shield, I realised, to hide from the truth, which is that in my heart I’m a scared, insecure man, trying to figure out what I really want as opposed to what I should have, while also being ashamed or too prideful to express it properly.

What was it I wanted? An unobtainable pedestal to preoccupy me? A challenge? A partner? A friend? Stability? Fun?  An ego boost? Connection? Social acceptance?

I wanted magic. A specific moment with someone that matched to me in every way. Our spark would connect us both to a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are perfect just the way we are.  In other words, that perfect person. It’s not exactly something I have confidence finding on Tinder or in a bar anymore. Once, yes. Not after a few years living in outback Qld.

But it took a friend’s blog about Tinder to help me see myself a little clearer. It helped remind me that gentlemen in this world are appreciated and desired, and that the intentions I was chasing, once I did gain enough confidence to properly pursue it, were going to lead me away from becoming that man. And there is no sacrifice in trying to be this man. The reward is great.

The world admires a Superman. They see the glow in the face and trust it, admire it, respect it, react to it.

Last night I went out to try meeting new friends and conversations in Trujillo. There was no agenda but the pursuit for adventure and opportunity. I went with a housemate and a guy she liked to a few bars. By midnight I was restless, listening to the band as the third wheel, but in a bubble from everyone around me.

A few colleagues were at a bar according to Facebook and it looked like they were having such a fun time, that I tried finding out where they were. One thing led to another and I ditched being a third wheel (a bit of a dick move on reflection but I don’t feel too guilty doing what I wanted) and caught up with a friend, from California, who was about to go to sleep.

We went to a cheap bar and stayed there for a while. The main highlight was some guy on the road throwing rocks or ice, or something, at the door. It nearly hit me and we retreated to another door with the rest of the crowd. Police came and arrested him and we stayed on drinking a little while until we moved onto another bar where we met another friend.

The band was incredible, the lead singer was beautiful, and it rocked out to a mix of Peruvian songs and mainstream classics such as AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. We stood at the best table drinking Budweiser on the second floor directly overlooking the stage, and I even danced Salsa as best I could. I watched the crowd beginning to pair up, the laughter, the companionship, the dance moves, the interactions, and I felt empowered, wondering how the same things I was witnessing from home seemed so inspirational to observe here.

I walked my friend back to her place and went inside to wait for my taxi, where her mother was waiting. I was sensitive to the fact that many mothers might disapprove of daughters bringing home a drunk Australian at four in the morning (even if it was in the spirit of safety and friendship, not other agendas) and so I tried to be as polite and charming as I could. But it was a drunk and clumsy charm and could not be credited for the incredible hospitality of this kind woman, who made me a cheese and ham sandwich, and poured me a few glasses of Inca Cola before the taxi arrived.

I arrived at my apartment door at 5.30am shortly after arguing with the taxi driver over the fare, because I clearly am comfortable being an arsehole. I passed out for a while, made a coffee or two, continued reading a historical book about the Spanish Conquest of Peru, before eventually leaving to buy Maccas and washing powder. I’m at the mall now, listening to Avenged Sevenfold outside a Starbucks where the coffee machine doesn’t even work.