"Grüß dich. Ich würd dich gern mal auf ein Kaffee einladen, wie sieht's aus?"
That was it. It was simple and easy, and I didn't want to ask too many questions before meeting him. I liked his pictures; the third one made me laugh out loud, but he had one big flaw: he's an architect, and I don't date architects. I made a goal in my Berlin life to be as prudent as possible, and avoid, as far as I could, the women and men in black.
Sure, I have met some lovely people with whom I am still friends with, and yes, they are great architects, very much grounded in the real world, and amazing human beings. Nonetheless, I don't need anyone extra in my little circle.
In 2017, when I moved to Berlin, in the first big group of people I was part of, seven of them were architects. Seven from twenty people.
"Have you been living in Berlin long?" I asked one of them.
"No, moved here three months ago." She said.
"And how do you like it?"
<ok, either she doesn't like me - although she just met me - or she is not in a mood of talking. It's a get-together though. Aren't we supposed to socialize?!>
"I am a newbie so that any advice will be highly appreciated. I am looking for a job in architecture, and Diana said I should come to talk to you since you already have experience here."
"Yeah, I work in an office." [Poker face]
"Was it hard to find a job?"
"No, I sent two emails, and one of the hr people asked me to meet. We talked, and now I am here." [She showed no emotions while saying this.]
"Wow, two emails?!?"
I looked at her, stunned; I couldn't believe it. She is also from Romania, around my age, and didn't know what to say next. Is Germany a fairy tale land where you don't need to put any effort into finding a job? Has Germany managed to expand opportunities for its citizens by enhancing their economic dynamism? Or was this woman next to me an incredibly talented architect - possibly famous - and I was bugging her with my annoying questions? I changed the subject and talked about the weather, and she found that annoying also. I wasn't her cup of tea, and she made sure I am very aware of that. Luckily, a man came toward me and started talking.
"Hey! Diana sent me over here; she told me you are also an architect. I am too, but I no longer work in an office, but I do architectural photography. It suits me better, and I get to choose how I spend my time."
"Nice to meet you. So fun that you've found your passion and you're pursuing it. As for me - I don't know exactly where I am going."
<and you have no idea how relieved I am that you saved me from a very awkward conversation.>
A few minutes later, I started talking to another architect, who Diana pointed out again.
"Sooo, hey. I've heard you're an architect. Small world, huh? Everywhere you go, there's at least one architect at the table."
"Yeah, architects attract architects. But I no longer work in architecture. It's hard to find something if you don't speak German. I tried for a couple of months - sent hundreds of CVs and got no response back, so I decided to give up and focus on something else."
"That's tough and frustrating, but you could learn German and try again, no?" I asked, trying to find some words of encouragement - for him and me both.
"Ne, I'm good. I am learning German, but I will focus on my startup."
I went home that night, not being able to shake off the peculiar feelings. We're human - and weird social interactions are part of the course, but my inner radar was beeping. While we can’t control when we feel anger or fear - or how strongly - we can gain some control over it. We learn how to play in a wide variety of methods, including reasoning with yourself about negative impulses and feelings. And for me, this was it. I was done with architects, and I no longer felt the need to ask questions.
But here I was, in Berlin, in November 2019, and about to break one of my rules - that I will never, under any circumstance, date an architect.
It was a Wednesday evening, and I was in Friedrichshain with some friends.
"I like him, though, although we didn't text much..." I took out my phone and showed them his profile, and they all agreed that the third photo was funny.
"I don't know if he speaks English, OMG, I just realized. What if there's nothing to talk about?"
"You're gonna have sex if there's nothing to talk about," one laughed.
"You only need to know a couple of words in German: penis, bed..." The other added.
"And STD...because we're in Berlin!" came one statement as a warning.
"No, I'm not going to have sex with him. Because he is my first date in ages and...Secondly, I live in Reinickendorf; it takes me forever to get home. And how will the invitation sound like? Hey, wanna come to my place?!? And then we sit in the metro for an hour in awkward silence." I am sure I turned 250 shades of red only by saying all that.
"Maybe HE lives nearby." A solution came fast.
"No, I can't have sex with him tonight, although... although I am wearing a nice bra tonight." (For any ladies reading this, I rarely wear bras, it's fantastic not to put your boobies in cages, you should try it if you haven't so far.)
"Ioana, we believe in you. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING."
"I'm gonna leave before you say anything else," I said, laughing, and went into the hallway.
"You can have sex tonight if you want to. WE BELIEVE IN YOU."
"Just do it! HAHAHA"
"You are all crazy. Byyyyyeeeee!"
I left the apartment, wondering why have I said "yes" to an invitation of a stranger. And then I looked at my phone and checked if a text with "sorry, I need to cancel" was my get-out-of-jail-free card. But he hasn't texted, and Tinder showed me that he is less than a mile away. We decided to meet near Boxi, and I dreaded to go down the street. It wasn't related to him, as a person, because I knew nothing about him. The thought of another stolen evening was giving me anxiety, and although I rarely get nervous when meeting someone, I had ”Flugzeuge in meinem Bauch.” When I arrived in the North-East corner of the square, I entered the bar I assumed he’s waiting for me in. I looked around and I was relieved I couldn’t find him. <Maybe he stood me up, and I can go home. Funny how my mind goes first "maybe he stood me up" instead of "maybe he's running late" or "maybe he's not here">
I exited the bar and looked around when I saw him across the street. He was wearing black (ha!) and was (yeeeeassss!) taller than I expected. I hugged him and apologized for being late, explaining I was in the bar at the corner.
”I don’t like it, though, so maybe we can find something else?”
We were talking in German, but after a couple of sentences, I asked him if it’s ok to switch to English. He said he's not very comfortable in English and would rather speak German.
”Ok, but you’ll have to talk slower and explain some words along the way.”
”I don’t mind,“ he replied, smiling. The first thing I noticed about him was his impeccable German. While I can’t form complex sentences in “Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache”; I’m always fascinated when native speakers use synonyms and speak coherently. We weren’t talking about philosophy or politics or science for him to need to use “Hoch Deutsch”, but the way he expressed himself made me want to learn German better.
A half-hour into the conversation, I was speaking freely, and at some point, I made him laugh. We talked about food, and I told him not to expect home-cooked meals from me unless he also believes that "making tea equals cooking." He smiled and said that he’s not a great cook, but he would like to learn how to be one - in 2020 he will enroll in a cooking class. I thought it was a fantastic idea and I made sure he knows my opinion on this. I was pleasantly surprised to see the conversation going so smoothly and more than that, I was surprised to see I wasn't making any effort. Although I'm very easy going and most of my friends tell me they admire me for the easiness I speak to strangers, I am awkwardly shy when it comes to people I like or I am friends with. Yes, I have no problem starting a conversation in any language, but when I am talking to a native speaker in English, I rapidly become aware that I'm not one. (cc: Tina) And it gets worse in German when I am making an effort to make myself understood. And with him, I wanted to go that extra mile because he was nice and calm and had a beautiful smile when he corrected my vocabulary. So far, so good. All K(ai).
When I asked him if he likes architecture or if he likes his job (I wanted to know how his work-life balance is), he was the sweetest human possible, trying to find easy words to explain what his everyday tasks are. Because I was relaxed, and I was enjoying his company, I heard myself say, “Yes, I know what Ausführungsphase is.” He looked at me, astounded. A couple of moments before, he was ready to make a sketch and explain words used only in architecture, but suddenly he found out I already know this part of the German vocabulary.
“I’m also an architect, but... I don’t know what I want to do next, so I’m taking a break from it all. My deadline is February 2020, though.” He seemed interested in my story, and I didn’t want to get into it. I didn’t want to talk about architecture the way architects do. I averted his eyes and quickly changed the subject.
Time flew by, and two hours later, he walked me to the metro. He invited me to an event and an after-party his company was organizing. It seemed a bold move from his side - meeting someone's friends after one date is quite daring, but if he was going to put all his cards on the table, I was about to put on my best behavior.
During the weekend he left Berlin, so we met the following Monday. I got to choose an Italian restaurant, and we were there for more than two hours. We shared memories, dreams, pizza, and - most importantly - laughter. I could not believe it. We were laughing so hard, my belly was hurting. And all the jokes were in German.
“Ahahaha, and you have no idea how funny I am in English,” I said and touched his arm.
I looked at him with the eyes of a woman who found the man sitting next to her very attractive, and for a brief second, I thought <This could be it. This could be the connection I wanted to have.> I wasn’t making wedding plans or thinking about how we will furnish our first apartment. I was there, next to him and I was happy. And the more relaxed I became, the more I spoke.
But then, something unexpected happened. It started with a funny story about the Netherlands, and it ended with me talking about one of my ex-es.
<fuck. fuck. fuck.> ”I’m sorry,” I said, “this doesn’t concern you. I’m just weird sometimes.” I left my head down, thinking I made a fool of myself. I couldn’t blame German for my blowout because I was well aware of what I was saying. <But how could I justify myself to him when I did not really know why I mentioned my ex?>
"Ich weiss was ich nicht sollten sagen und dann ich höre mich reden." I was embarrassed and upset at the same time when he touched my hand and whispered:
”Hey, I will tell you an embarrassing thing about me for you to know you’re not the only weird one.” And so, the conversation went on, and I laughed out loud after he finished his story. "We might have a problem with that in the long term," I said and touched his arm again.
And so I discovered that with Kai, nothing was unpleasant or uncomfortable - the talk about children, mentioning the families, being honest and upfront. It was all flowing. But when he asked me if I wanted to have a weekend trip somewhere in the North, I told him I need to check my schedule. He didn't push it nor did he tried to find reasons why a getaway would benefit us both. And no, this was not about sex. His invitation was genuine - he wanted us two to make some memories together, and I could read it on his face. But I was more worried about an awkward first night spent together than being away with someone in a place I haven't been before. I wasn't about to pack my chastity belt, but in your 30s, when you’re dating a man and you’re in the same room for a given amount of time and you’re not Amish, the eventual occurrence of intercourse is inevitable.
The thing is, for me, sex isn't just about sex. It's also about the build-up, the teasing, the touching and making the person you're with want you more than anything right at that moment in time. And bad sex is clumsy, awkward, and dull - and I didn't want to risk finding that out somewhere near the sea. I didn't have time to get into all of this because we were approaching the metro, so I told him that we can talk about this in the following days. Maybe I was ready to take a leap of faith and give this a fair chance. And a weekend trip wasn't such a bad idea, after all.
He was in a hurry to get back home to take his guitar and run to the class he was already late for, so when we were going down the stairs at the metro, I pointed towards his train "Yours already arrived, go and we will talk soon". And that's when it happened - I went for a hug and he leaned down to kiss me - but I didn't realize that only after he kissed my cheek. He then ran away to catch his train. I had three more steps to reach the platform and looked at the sign that told me my train was coming in 2 minutes. I walked slowly and smiled at the confusion. It wasn't a good place to have a first kiss anyhow. Is U-Schoenleinstr. a good place for anything really? <He had plenty of time to kiss me during the night - it's not like the signs weren't there - but I guess he likes the goodnight one.> I chuckled when I saw Kai standing in front of me. "I missed my train," he said. "Oh. Mine is here, but I'm going to hug you again," I replied. "Please write me soon, ok?" He smiled after he hugged me back and I couldn't tell if he wanted me to stay a bit longer, so I smiled and said goodbye.
We texted the next morning, being content. I thanked him once again for his home-made cake - he went to a birthday party and he grabbed not one, but two pieces of cake for me, put them in a plastic Tupperware, took it to work and then graciously handed them over during our pizza-eating-time the previous night. But the following days something was off. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I tried not to let anxiety kick back in. He was out of town and then he had a visitor and then something else came up and he kept postponing our meeting. From "let's go away together next weekend" to complete silence in 2 hours.
I was super busy one weekend - doing volunteer work for 10+ hours per day, but I tried to make time for him. On Friday I even wore a cute dress, thinking we can grab dinner somewhere nice after my work was done. He knew that I was busy and although I could have left whenever I wanted, this work was important to me and I didn't want to cut it short for someone that got offended for something I wasn't even aware I did.
I: Hallo du. Ich bin here. (Location sent.) Sorry für die späte Antwort, aber habe mein Handy zu Hause vergessen 😁
K: Heyjo 👋was machst du da?
I: Diese freiwillige Arbeit. Was machst du denn? :)
K: Achja stimmt! Jo bin zum Modulor einkaufen und arbeite heute etwas für mein Portfolio.
I: Ich dachte dass wir wollten uns heute treffen
K: Heute bin ich noch in meinem Arbeitsatelier und kläre was mit den Leuten dort. Wie wärs mit morgen?
I: Wie du willst oder ... kannst.
Vielleicht habe ich schlecht verstanden, aber erstmal dachte ich dass wir uns am Mittwoch treffen. Dann hast du Freitag gesagt. Und jetzt sagst du Samstag.
Versteh mich nicht falsch...obwohl ich spontan sein möchte, finde ich diese "na ja, morgen oder übermorgen" nicht so schön.
Ich mag dich sehr, aber ich habe das Gefühl, du magst mich nicht genug, um etwas zu planen. Und das ist voll in Ordnung. :) wirklich.
But that was the end of us. I wasn't checking my phone every 20 seconds to see if he texted me back. I said what I wanted to say in the most polite way I could think of. I expected an answer though, even if that would have been an uncomfortable one for me. "So, Ioana, yes, I don't like you that much. Take care." But he didn't bother to reply. It wasn't the first time being ghosted - and more festive it would have been to happen during Halloween, no?
And so Ghostbusters was back on, except it was only me trying to make sense of it all again. I wasn't in love with him, but he was the first guy I liked in 2019. I thought I can switch back to I do not care about beeing ghosted - mode. Except my brain doesn't switch off anymore - and I learned that on a Tuesday morning when I stumbled upon his fucking Tupperware.
Getting ghosted was something that I got used to after my first dates in Berlin, in 2017. I started to learn how to get over someone very quick, knowing that I am not the only one who has been through this. I was so used to guys not texting back, that one day, while in Lisbon, I thought a guy stood me up again. I didn't care, I took my bag and headed to the airport. I felt nothing. No anger, no disappointment, no need for revenge. It was one of those things that happen in life that you have no control over - like bad hair days when you're in a hurry. I was already (and way too early) at the airport when the Portuguese guy texted me. I sent him my location with a smiley emoticon.
And then this long text came from him: "I don't know if this is something cultural but...but in Portugal! we don't treat people like this. I was online on WhatsApp the whole time, you should have texted me that you're no longer at the restaurant. Would it have been too hard to say goodbye via a text? I traveled 30 minutes by car for you."
I felt like an idiot, and I apologized. "You see, Salva, I thought you are not coming, so I gave up on you. It happened to me so many times in Germany that I didn't even consider that you are different. I am truly sorry. I promise that if you come to Berlin, I will make it up to you."
And then another text from Salva came and we started following each other on Instagram. He was the reason I reactivated my account - he was one of the good people I wanted to keep in my life. And so I got to travel with Salva on his trips, I got to see his stories and read about his adventures. He didn't own me anything, but with a text he gave me back my faith in humanity.
"I really don't see why you're so angry, Ioana," she said, lifting candid eyes.
"Because I carried this stupid Tupperware with me. I texted him this morning, telling him that I will be in the area and I would like to give his lunchbox back. He knows I'm in Neukölln to see you, but nonetheless he decided not to reply," I answered. "And I deserve a text back, even if it writes 'fuck off'."
"But as far as I tell, he's very German," my German friend added. "I mean you were very clear about your needs, but maybe give him some time? Maybe he needs to clarify some things first."
"Oh, honey, Kai doesn't want to see me again. Which is fine, but... fuck this."
"Just keep the Tupperware then," she smiled.
"I don't need a constant reminder that I put myself out there and got stood up again," I said. "I can give it to you though. Yes, here. Keep it."
"Ahahaha, I don't need a constant reminder that you were a fool," she laughed.
I laughed out loud and then shrugged my shoulders.
"I don't want to throw it away just so in one week to receive a text from him, telling me that he needs it back. People are weird like that, you know?"
"Keep it for one more week and afterward, give it to someone else."
"Are you sure though that you don't want to give him another chance? You seemed to like him."
"It don't like his behavior. There's no other chance there, hahaha."
We hugged goodbye and went home that night. I gave the Tupperware next week to someone else. "Nothing is lost, everything is transformed." - wrote the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in 1774, summing up his discovery that although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the total mass of matter remains the same.
But does it remain the same in terms of humans?
Being ghosted sucks big time and every time somebody is running late, anxiety kicks back in. From someone who before was happy to go on a date, I became one who is almost petrified at the thought of choosing a day. Getting ready for a date becomes a struggle - in brain terms, the areas responsible for feeling physical pain ‘light up’ in the same way as if you’re actually in pain. It took me three days, five phone calls and one person to pick an outfit for me to get ready for the first date of 2020. It shouldn't be this hard, you know?