Tinder Soldier

“When the will defies fear, when the heart applauds the brain, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death—this is heroism…The bravest men are those who have the greatest fear of doing wrong…

…Courage without conscience is a wild beast. Patriotism without principle is the prejudice of birth, the animal attachment to place. The great armies have desolated the earth. The greatest soldiers have been ambition’s dupes. They waged war for the sake of place and pillage, pomp and power,—for the ignorant applause of vulgar millions,—for the flattery of parasites, and the adulation of sycophants and slaves. Let us proudly remember that in our time the greatest, the grandest, the noblest army of the world fought, not to enslave, but to free; not to destroy, but to save; not for conquest, but for conscience; not only for us, but for every land and every race.”

Robert Green Ingersoll

(Please check out Anna & Shereen from Ethnically Ambiguous discuss their perspective on American interference in the Middle East on iTunes. The discussion about my email to them about this Tinder Solder starts 39 minutes in.)

                                                                  Tinder Soldier
I don’t remember how many times I’ve deleted my online dating profiles and set them up again. Hope can be a wonderful and terrible thing.

If my parental units had their way, I would have had an arranged marriage at 20 and probably would have popped out a few tiny Sikhs by now, preferably with my eyes and undeniable charm and fondness for cheesecake.

But that wasn’t for me. I wanted marriage to be more than a business transaction and tradition for traditions sake.  If my parents found out I am not a virgin, I think they would both have simultaneous aneurysms and then haunt my ass for the rest of my life. Or they’d kick me out of the family. I distinctly remember my mom taking me to the side (so my dad wouldn’t hear) after I had rejected yet another offer of marriage. She squeezed my arm tight and insisted, “you won’t keep getting these offers. You’ll wait until it’s too late. Then no one will want you.” I was 21. I had never had a boyfriend. I thought that perhaps what my mom was saying was true. Maybe one day they would stop asking for me. But what made me sad was that my mom was so willing to send me on my way with a boy she had never met. Didn’t she care to investigate if he was worth my while? Did she think I was so valueless that my life would be over after 22 if I didn’t have a man to take care of me? It took me a long time to understand that once upon a time, someone had said this to my mom. For her situation, it had been true. She was just scared for me. It took me some time to convince her that women could make it on their own now. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than being a slave to circumstance. But there’s still a big stigma for Indian women to be sexually independent. I take a big risk when dating, but the risk has always felt worth it. I stayed single for a very long time by choice because I wanted to try new things on my own, find out who I was and to not be defined by anyone else. I wanted to meet lots of different people along the way. Then when I found what I was looking for, it would be even more special. And then I would know for sure I wanted it for the right reasons. I wanted love to be an adventure. Well I gotta say, life has certainly given me that, and the pleasure and the pain that comes with it. Thanks Universe, you tricky bastard!

Ugh, okay so here goes. I’m writing this to make sense of something that threw my mind into absolute chaos and stripped me of my sense of security. I’m writing it to say the things that went unsaid in a time when I didn’t have the words. Emotions are lightning and words are their thunder. They came a little later but have a resonance all their own that demands to be heard. I’m writing this to have a conversation about masculinity, and privilege and morals. I’m writing because it keeps me sane. This is the story of the first time I was head-over heels in love with a boy I couldn’t keep. This is the story of me learning what my values are. This is me learning the cost of doing what I believe to be right. This is the story of me and my Tinder Soldier.

I’m 27, I’ve been on dozens of online dates by now. Most of the time I don’t even get excited anymore.Yet, on my way down to Pike Place that warm July day, I felt full of nervous energy. The guy I was headed to meet had hit me up on Tinder a few days earlier. We had a rather sarcastic and tongue in cheek interaction that had been fun and fresh compared to the tired old “Sup?” and “Wanna hook up” messages that often flood in. He’d offered to buy me a drink that week so here I was, tired after a long day of work, tired after a long night of my sick dog keeping me up, walking through the closing market trying to collect myself. I then headed down the alley past the gum wall to the Alibi Room. I had chosen the location because it was close to work and because it was a quiet & well hidden little pub that has an excellent happy hour menu. My work wife had taken me there years ago so we could complain about work and life properly and laugh about the absurdity of it all. I smiled as I walked in, thinking about the times I had been here before.

I scanned the room and didn’t see anyone that quite matched the profile pic I had seen. I was a bit annoyed because I like to make an entrance and now I would have to wait for him. Rude.

For some reason I turned around right as the back door opened and he walked in. My glance stopped him in his tracks and we both stood there staring, trying to decide our next move.

My usual thought when I meet guys from online apps is, “Oh I guess that’s him.” When I saw this guy, I thought “I hope that’s him.”

He had frozen in place until I spoke. Still maintaining eye contact (which is rather bold for someone as timid as I am) I asked him, “Are you R?”

“Yeah, and are you Gia?”

“Yes.” I extended my hand to shake his. He took it quite gently but firmly. We took a seat by the window. I ordered a rum and pineapple juice. He ordered a whiskey. It was a good whiskey too so I was already impressed, being a fan of the brown liquors myself (check out the Hard Kaur Perspectives episode on Women and Whiskey – it’s a fascinating history). We spent a good deal of time talking about the summer adventures we had both been on,  hikes and rafting and the like. His eyes had such a particular blue glow in the sunlight. His skin was tanned nearly darker than mine – He said it was the Italian in him. It was contrasted nicely by his white cotton shirt that hugged his well muscled yet lean body in all the right places. Even his jeans fit right. His blonde hair and beard were neat and yet scruffy at the same time. Just all out well kempt but rugged. We were both leaning into the table and all my tired was gone. We jumped from topic to topic and he sat smiling and engaged as I talked about my recent trip to Italy. I told him about my family and how I still choose to live at home.

“There’s something so depressing about coming home to an empty house. I like when my dad is reading in the living room and my mom is humming in the kitchen, and my dog comes running up to me every night and me and my sister sit around in our pajamas talking for hours. It’s just warm. It’s home.”

“I love how close Indian families are.” He smiled.

We took a stroll down by the waterfront by the aquarium and stood on the dock looking out at the ferries and islands in the distance laughing about something or another. He told me about Bollywood movies he liked, which I found endearing, having grown up with those films myself. He seemed soft spoken, gentlemanly and kind. He told me more about about his trips all over the world. He talked about his trips to India, Cairo and then Iraq. He explained that he had training to be a Navy Seal but had blown out his shoulder and had gone through some surgeries that prevented him from pursuing that line of work. He was now enrolled in the pre-med program at the UW. That all sounded exciting to me. He had some intense interests and owned guns but seemed like he was reasonable, responsible and was pursuing a stable life. He had an interest in travel and my culture. I was all about it.

“Who are you?!” I asked laughing, wondering how someone so young had seen so many places.

“Ha, I had a rich dad. He left us and summer trips were his way of making it up to us.”

He also had brought up  his ex twice now – seeing as they had traveled together.

“Okay,” I started, noticing something in his voice, “Tell me about this girl. Are you still hung up on her?”

“No, ah,” he insisted, smiling and lowering his head a bit. “It’s just that she and I run in similar circles since so many of our interests overlap.”

“Do you think exes can be friends?”

“No, but she does.”

“I guess it depends on the situation but for me it’s always been good to let go after a point. You don’t have to forget it but your past doesn’t have to come with you. That’s always worked best for me.”

“Hmm, I like that.” We both stared at the waves coming in.

We exchanged numbers and I headed out to catch my bus home. He texted me as I got on the bus. He sent his whole name, told me it was a lot of fun talking to me and that he promised he wasn’t still obsessed with his ex. “It’s okay to have a history, I won’t judge you for that.” I wrote back.

“I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.”

I smiled the whole way home.

A few days later we met up at Greenlake for an evening stroll and gelato. He lived nearby so he showed me his place. It was pretty minimalistic, but clean. Just a desk, no chair in his office because of his bad back. He had several pairs of hiking boots and shoes lined up. (I was already planning hikes we could go on together) A large outdoor knife laid out on his wood desk next to his laptop. His bed was made but very simple. Just a blue down comforter, blue sheets and two pillows. I found the simplicity refreshing. Yet teased him for not having a proper couch. “I’m still sort of moving things in. My buddy and I were going to Ikea later this month.” He grinned sheepishly. There wasn’t even a TV set up. He did have a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince stacked on top of his small book pile. I flipped through it smiling. I remembered reading it in high school during the summer for fun.  

“It’s small but it’s dense.”

“I haven’t started it yet.”

We sat on his desk, legs swinging, talking about this or that. He listened very well, leaning in close so that our bodies were touching but he never moved to kiss me. I had work the next day so I reluctantly said goodbye. But he agreed to come get a drink with me that Thursday. My co-workers and I were having a happy hour. I figured it would be good to see how he acted around other people. It’s always good to weed out social weirdness early. He seemed more than game to come hang out.

I got a text from him as I reached my house sit. (I house sit all around Seattle. #GypsyGia)

“Hey I had a great time talking with you. Sorry if I move slow. Just kinda how I am”

“I like that about you 🙂 But just so I know, are you just looking to hook up or for something with more substance? You won’t scare me away either way, I just tend to be more cerebral with stuff like this cause my heart is a psychopath and tends to get me into trouble”

“I’m ideally looking for something with substance. I’m kind of tired of hookups.”

Should I have been skeptical? Yes. Was I? Nope. I went to bed that night feeling optimistic af.

Then he came out to meet my co-workers. That interaction went well too. And after dinner and drinks, he came back to where I was staying in Seattle. One of my many house-sitting gigs around the city. Watching him interact with my co-workers had put me at ease and he seemed much more relaxed as well. He held me close as we walked down the streets toward home. We sat on the couch and talked about wanting houses in the country with dogs and horses and watched The Good Place. His soft deep laugh would send a humming pulse up my spine that I could feel in the roots of my hair.

My parents were not physically affectionate with me as a child so sometimes I forget how much I’m craving touch. He wrapped his arm around me and I lay my head on his chest while winding my arms around his waist. As his warmth and scent washed over me I let out a contented sigh and for the first time in a long time, I was completely at peace with everything. And totally present. I wasn’t thinking about the past or looking to the future. I just wanted to be there holding him. Acting totally unlike my usual cautious self and yet finally feeling like myself for the first time, I took his hand and led him upstairs to the bed. The moonlight streamed through the window as we lay down together and the soft summer wind from the ocean swept through and fluttered the drapes. That night is ours so I won’t say too much more.

His friend was visiting for a week so it was a while before I saw him next but he kept in touch, sending me photos of them hiking and doing some target practice. My friends watched me with faint smiles as I sat texting him back with an enthusiasm they hadn’t seen in me in a long while. He came over for dinner the next week. I was now house sitting in the UDistrict. I made him dinner and he made us some Aperol Spritzes. We took advantage of the warm day and went for an evening walk around the neighborhood and ended up by Lake Washington watching the boats pass as the sun set in the haze caused by all those wildfires. I stood there at the edge of the water with my head on his chest listening to his heart. It was rapid and then grew calmer the longer we stood there. We went back to the couch, were he wrapped me up in his arms again, and we sat talking for hours. He had this ability to be present and completely engaged. He never even looked at his phone when he was around me. By chance, the topic of exes came up again. I told him about my ex and his drinking problem and how lying was a triggering thing for me. He was quiet as I told my story and promised to be honest with me.

“That relationship taught me that love wasn’t enough. Like, you can love someone all you want but that won’t always keep you together because other things get in the way.”  I said. He agreed.

The next morning I watched him as he sat on the couch petting the cat, his white shirt and untidy golden hair gleaming as the morning sun came through the window.

“Do you ever feel like you’re still just a kid pretending to be an adult?” He asked with his head tilted to one side.

“All the time. There’s a reason adulting is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you are.” He laughed.

“I like that.”

We both headed off, me to work, and he to home, but not before making plans for the next day.

We had agreed to play a little game to get to know each other better. We had five questions – we could ask each other absolutely anything by the end of the week and the other person had to give an honest answer. We would meet at Greenlake and ask each other our questions. My work wife and I went out for a sushi lunch and we made a list of the things I wanted to ask him.

The next day I was in the middle of expense reports and wondering when I would write that article I had meant to write and make time to work on my next art project when he texted me that he had a fever and severe abdominal pain and wouldn’t be able to hang out. I was really disappointed and concerned.  I figured I’d let him rest and didn’t keep texting to check in. As it turns out, he ended up going to the hospital to rule out appendicitis. I didn’t hear too much from him for a few days but he did check in Friday night to say it wasn’t appendicitis and he wouldn’t need surgery. He said he would explain more later. I was glad he wasn’t dead, but still uneasy about something.

The next day I waited and waited for more news. Nothing.

The next day came a message where he explained that he had shrapnel in his body. Yes, you read that right. One of the pieces had come loose from the scar tissue and had become infected. He said no more about it. His mother was in town so he would be busy for a few more days.

“How did the shrapnel get into you?” I texted. No response. “I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m sorry for checking in all the time but if you need anything this week, please let me know.”

“You’re ok! You’re not bothering me. I just tend to isolate when I’m feeling down.”

“I understand. I used to do that. But when you’re ready, I’ll be here.”

“I’m not very good at letting people help me but I’ll try :)”

I didn’t hear from him for two days. I was mildly anxious the whole time. I wanted to see him, to hold him to comfort him. I wanted him to comfort me. I wanted to know what the fuck a 25 year old was doing with shrapnel in his body. Was a he a World War ll veteran somehow? What a ridiculous turn of events. I supposed that perhaps something had gone wrong during his Navy preparation or maybe a hunting accident. But there was no real way of knowing. I desperately trawled the internet for the effects of shrapnel on the body. Apparently many people live long happy lives without it bothering them. The human body is very resilient and can encase foreign bodies rather well. Others face complications when the shrapnel punctures organs or becomes infected. So I sat around worrying and being confused until finally he texted me that Thursday. “I’m alive”. He apologized for the flakiness lately but wanted to see me that night or the next if I wanted to “I’m all yours if you’ll have me”. The knot in my stomach loosened. I was busy that night but told him I’d be over Friday.

Friday came and I felt productive at work. I showered during my lunch and got ready for what I was expecting to be a nice night together. I drove over after work and gave him a big hug expecting to be relieved. Something felt weird about his energy. I thought it was probably because he hadn’t eaten dinner yet and was probably still getting over the infection. But I felt uneasy.

“So why are you full of shrapnel?”  

“You’d better get some drinks in me first.” He sort of laughed.

We headed down to The Back Door in Fremont, by Roxy’s Diner for dinner. We sat down and both ordered Manhattans.  We chatted about this or that but my mind was still focusing on the shrapnel. The conversation slowed down and I sat back and waited.

“When I didn’t get into the Navy I flew to Iraq on my own. I fought with the Kurdish soldiers against ISIS. I did this for months at a time. I would come back to gain weight and then go back.”

I suddenly started having an inside of body experience. I was a prisoner in my own skin. He suddenly felt far away from me. Like I could now comprehend the distance between stars. I looked down at my drink for a long while trying to absorb this information, I thought about his place and how bare it was. I thought about all the times he had said his politics were “complicated”. I thought about how he didn’t have a Facebook or any web presence. I realized this wasn’t a joke. I then tried to absorb the pain that came with the realization that this was a goodbye of sorts. I felt like a sybil looking into the tea leaves as Vesuvius grew hazy in the distance. Knowing what was coming next yet helpless to do anything about it. I knew how hard leaving would be. I knew it like how you know it’s going to rain.

He watched me uncomfortably for a long while. I regained enough composure to say,

“Um, have you killed people?”

“Um, nothing confirmed, but maybe.”

“What do you think about the morality of that?”

“Well I mean, it’s ISIS. You saw the videos.”

“Sure, I suppose some people need to be stopped, but still. This seems a little, I don’t know. The Middle East is complicated. We talked about all those proxy wars before. Um, shit, what did you like about it?”

“It’s like tapping into an old biology. You are living in the moment. Only talking to the people around you. It’s about survival. And the guys I hung out with, nothing scares them. They see bullets wiz past and they just laugh.” I studied him hard. Something about that made sense. But something about it also felt like devolving, not evolving. I didn’t have the words for it at the time because my mind was reeling from the sheer absurdity of my predicament. I was sitting in a speakeasy style bar in Fremont having a candle lit dinner with a mercenary. What the actual fuck? I looked at the waitress. I wonder what she saw in my face?

“But you paid your own way there? No government backing?”

“Yes I paid my own way. I wanted to do this for a living. I wanted to get the experience somehow.”

“I’m trying really hard to understand.”

“ I hate to say it but if you don’t get it now you never will.”

Silence.

“Would you go back?”

“Yes.”

The check came. I was very ready to leave. I reached for my wallet.

“Here, I’ll get this.” He said. “I owe you for a lot.”

I got up and walked out. He followed.

We walked out towards the Fremont bridge, towards the water. It was a warm night. He tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. I tried to focus on something else, tried to shake the feeling of loss that was barreling down on me even though he was right next to me. We stood by the water looking at the boats and the city lights. He had mentioned before that he wanted a boat. On our first date, actually.

“Want to hear a poem?” I asked. I recited poems to myself when I was trying to keep my mind from shattering. It’s a calming ritual.

“Sure.” He put his arm around me and pulled me in. It didn’t feel as warm as it used to, but still felt nice.

I stood there looking out at the ocean and recited “Sea Fever” by John Masefield in a slow rhythmic confidence that steadied me. It’s one of my absolute favorites.

He squeezed my arm. “I like that, that jives with me.”

I didn’t say anything.

We walked back towards his apartment and we talked about random things. I don’t even remember all of it. I do remember telling him about an old high school teacher and what he had taught me about thinking for myself.

“What are you looking for?” He asked me.

“Someone who stays.” I said “Someone who has my values. And puts in the work. Just someone who stays. I think I have abandonment issues.”

“Me too.”

We went back into his place.

“Did you vote for Trump?” I blurted out as we walked through the door.

“I didn’t vote. But I might have, just to throw a wrench into things. I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary.”

“ I know things aren’t perfect. I know it was a shit election but still…”

“I honestly think we need a monarchy. Or anarchy. A little anarchy is good.”

I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. I too have been disillusioned by the past few years. Our democracy seems rather flawed and shaky. Our media and people are divided. Corporations rule everything and the planet it dying.

I understand that at times things feel futile. And something about how willing he was to put his feelings in to action intrigued me. I also wondered if he perhaps knew a truth about the world that I didn’t. Was I the naive one? If the government is corrupt, should individuals take things into our own hands?

But he couldn’t be right. That’s why every cell in my body was in panic mode, something felt so wrong with what he had just told me.

Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve done so far. The rest is up to us to be better. 

I grew up in a Sikh household where service, education and equality are promoted above all else. Sikhs serve free food at all their temples to anyone that enters, regardless of caste or creed. We are also heavily militarized and considered a “martial race”. This saint soldier identity was borne of many decades of abuse and forced conversions and genocides. Sikhs started off as poets and musicians and peaceful farmers and became warriors; everyone carrying swords and weaponry for protection. Defense of the defenseless it’s called. I was told to never be offensive. You only fight to defend yourself and others. And you never go looking for a fight. Like Mufasa says to Simba “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.” But if trouble finds you, that’s different. (Punjabi men have their own issues and misogyny exists in all cultures but I’ll save that for a later rant.)

Honestly, the US foreign policy has always felt like looking for trouble to me. Or creating it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I don’t know enough about the Middle East and all it’s proxy wars to pass any definitive moral judgment on what this Tinder Soldier did, perhaps the Kurdish rebels appreciate the extra support. But I have to say that the Middle East is so complicated that even seasoned professionals have difficulty navigating the social and political arena there. The Middle East is not a playground to go test our soldier fantasies. Random white dudes from Colorado running off to be mercenaries sounds like adding another variable to an already tense situation. Because violence begets more violence. 

I also feel that without proper diplomacy, military actions are unjustified. And if we took actions to alleviate poverty and increased education (both at home and abroad) we could decrease the amount of conflict across the globe. Poverty, inequality, and ignorance breed hate and war faster than anything. And terrorists are made, not born. The US supplies more weapons all over the world than we ever had the right to. If you go back and read my blog entry on Amy Chua’s Tribal Politics, you get a better understanding of misguided American foreign engagement. 

We are a mishmash of genes + environment. But we can change our environments. We build our cities and societies, and since we have a pre-frontal cortex, it might be great to use it sometime and build a more harmonious environment with nature and social progress. Something with more kindness and dignity. Something with less toxic masculinity. But perhaps that’s naive of me too, but if you look at the data on violence throughout history, the general trend seems optimistic. I think we are getting better. I hope we are getting better.

I wasn’t able to put any of these feelings into words that night. I wish I had said more to him. Maybe I could have made him see my side. But part of me shut down because I didn’t think I could change someone who was so radical already. I also was afraid he may lash out if I offended him. I didn’t know the fucking guy! I was scared and the part of my brain that formulates arguments said, “If you keep staying, you on your own, bitch.” I just couldn’t formulate a proper argument. But what scared me most was that part of me wanted to stay. He tried to cheer me up, holding me close and trying to make me laugh. I stayed the night. I needed the comfort and plus, coming home in the middle of the night would have looked weird to my parents when I had told them I was staying with a friend. I slept fitfully and woke early.

“Are you okay?”

“No. I’m sad. I keep thinking about the fact that you could just up and disappear anytime to some far off war. I don’t really know how to be with people. Being alone is lonely sometimes, but that’s a pain I can control. It’s familiar. Letting people in is so hard. I keep letting people in and it hurts. I’m tired of it hurting.” I got up and got ready to go.

“I wish I had something more to say. I just don’t know how to say it. This is really confusing. You kinda threw me for a loop.”

“I won’t leave you.” he said in a sort of boyish tone.

I gave him a big hug. “Thanks for saying that.” And then I walked out the door.

I sat in my Jeep and called one of my best friends. I knew she was open minded and smart. I knew she also had more conservative brothers. I wanted her opinion. I also just needed to tell someone what happened.

She listened intently and comforted me. She made no value judgments and just let me talk. I then went home and told my sister. She was much less open minded and told me to immediately break it off.

I asked him to meet me at Greenlake the next day.

It was raining a bit. Not like that sunny day when we came here for our second date. I felt heavy, yet porous. My bones felt brittle. I had lost weight.

I explained to him how much I value stability in relationships and how he didn’t sound like he had the stable life I was looking for. He told me that he understood and that he may be moving to Bellingham as soon as December and didn’t want to hurt me, but he still seemed like he hoped we could still see each other.

It was like he was now happy he could actually talk to someone about his secret life and told me that he and a friend wanted to 3D print a gun. I bristled.

“Um, I don’t think I feel good about that, especially legally.”

“I used to be more liberal like you.” He started. “About 7 years ago I would have fit right into this town. But I kept seeing so much hypocrisy in liberals. And people are so tribal.”

“I know people have negative sides, especially in group situations but it’s not that bad.”

“Other groups don’t care about us.”

“That’s not true.” I said softly. Had he forgotten that we were both different races?

“I mean individually people are okay, I guess.”

“Well if I saw people bleeding out on the street, I wouldn’t ask them if they were Republicans before I helped them.”

“Yeah…”

“I just try to have a good influence on my sphere of influence, those people and things around me. I just try to be the best I can be where I am. I, I think I’m going to head home.”

“Do you want to hang out later this week?”

“Um…. I think I’m housesitting…”

“Let’s play it by ear.”

“…Yeah okay.”

He hugged me and we walked away from each other as the grey misty rain started to become heavy droplets. It was such a deep ugly lonely and I hope no one ever feels that way.

I broke up with him the next day because my anxiety kept mounting. I was confused and felt betrayed. I felt like I couldn’t even trust myself. He took it pretty well even though he wanted to keep seeing me. He apologized for saying that someone like me would go crazy in a warzone the day before. He told me that I was very stable and competent, but he just didn’t understand the fear. I told him that a little unarmed female had ample reason for fear. Even though this whole thing had destroyed me, I said goodbye as kindly as I could. He left me alone.

Days went by and I grieved. My friends reached out and showered love on me but when they left, I went straight back into that dark pit. I even started looking into a therapist to go see about how lost and confused I felt. What with all the lovely rapists being nominated to the Presidency and Supreme Court, with so many men in my past being let downs, and now this mercenary without a cause, I was feeling pretty cynical about life.

I also started feeling like I was losing my mind. Did this guy even exist? Was anything he told me true? I decided I needed to find him online somewhere. He had to exist. I had a friend who was still enrolled at UW as a nursing student look him up in the student directory. He didn’t exist.

I went onto White Pages and typed in his phone number. It wasn’t registered to him or anyone with his last name.

Finally, I found his sister on Facebook. She was this woman power, artsy, hippie. I was so shocked at how different they were. She was very well educated and into liberal causes. She shot things with her camera, not guns. I had a work friend Friend her on Facebook and I scrolled through her feed until I found a photo of him.

He existed. And he looked so . . . normal. My stomach knotted up on itself again. I wish I could say I hate that beautiful bastard, but I’m just confused and sad. I kind of pity him. The idea of masculinity he has sounds like an unattainable and exhausting pursuit. Especially when it seemed he just wanted some affection and understanding. That’s all he seemed to seek from me while we were together. He had clung to me like a drowning man and nearly drowned me in the process.

I’d like to think that the majority of American men are more stable than this. I know they can’t all be this bad but what concerns me is that pretty much every mass shooting in the past forever, has been a young white dude who had been radicalized,  raised to think they know best and have been given easy access to powerful weapons.

Something is happening to American men and it’s not a good thing. I hope that men will start reaching out to other men and walking them off these ledges. We need to tone down our rhetoric. We need to stop getting sucked into limited media vortexes and echo chambers. We need to find our common humanity. And get common sense laws passed.

It’s been a month now since I’ve had any contact with him. I’m getting better every day. But my world view will never be the same.

I believe art is the antidote to the meaninglessness of life and that stories help bridge distances between us. They let us have difficult conversations and allow us to see the complexity of the world in a simpler way.

I hope this story helps stir discussions or impacts someone positively. At the very least, it’s helping me cope. I’m more certain of what I believe in now. I’m encouraged by the love and support I’ve received from my friends and family, for the honesty they gave me. I have hope for the world yet and I don’t say that lightly.

And as John Masefield wrote in his poem: “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

May we all steer our ships by the brightest star in the sky to some brighter tomorrow. That’s my hope for everyone. Even my Tinder Soldier.

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Tinder Soldier

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