You aren't getting any! Don't ask! I'm not interested and I don't care!
That's more or less the translation of that T-shirt. I sifted through 10 years of photos to find the exact right pose that showed the entire text. In the process of that sifting, I realised how "me" I've stayed over the years. The same obsession with emotion and the mind, the same passion for capturing every tiny moment on film...the same reckless disregard for social rules...any rules in fact. The same pain over loss and the same small body tucked inside a large, private Wonderland.
A man stopped me at a red light once and asked me if I was sporting a new social movement. That's in fact the only, interesting story behind that T-shirt. I was wearing it for a reason, much like the majority of my outfits over the years have been worn for a reason. I was showcasing the nonchalance and dysfunctionality of my city of birth.
Bucharest...a very different place compared to 1990. I didn't think anyone would notice but I did it anyway. The same way I continued to write articles on pamphlets and drop them casually on the metro benches.
Someone did notice, because someone always does.
Amongst the dozens of people that cross my path coincidentally or intentionally, there is always one that notices. Sometimes that one person hangs around for a couple of years because it's a fun trip down my rabbit hole. At some point though, they must resurface for air...or not.
Over the last year or so I've been perusing various dating websites. Call it anthropological research, if that sits better with your conscience. There are plenty of reasons behind my "research", with the lightest reason being socialising. Ten years living in a country and not a single other human besides my partner whom I can call a friend (a few that are between acquaintance and friend). I'd been wondering about that for quite some time. Getting older, having kids, working full time and essentially not having enough money (or time) for high level entertainment are all reasons for the decline in my social life. I doubt it matters which country you're in when taking this context into account. However, there's more to it than that.
Just like my T-shirt almost 13 years ago, this current milieu warrants its own T-shirt. What would be the shirt (because I'm into frills, glitter and tight stuff these days) that would illustrate my social life in Belgium, Brussels...and thereabouts (Flanders mostly).
"Friend with Benefits"
One native, Dutch-speaker, on the ever-growing popular application Bumble, replied to my comment as follows:
"Autistic here in Belgium, everyone is alone, giving to charity once a year for Christmas. This makes them feel caring and sociable."
Ahh, so it's not all in my head after all! I'd thought to myself after reading that comment.
I've had all kinds of men (very rarely women - they usually don't answer anything and disappear) treat social interactions as easy commodities. You can exchange one phrase or talk intermittently over the course of a year without actually reaching any kind of point. In this case the point being either friendship or sexual relations, or both...or in certain cases the seemingly desperate search for a real relationship. My goal is very specific so I cannot comment much on the relationship part.
I find nothing wrong at face value with either being too direct or too vague. I do however, criticise timing and tact. Let's call them the TT's of all kinds of fuckery (almost sounds like titties if you say it fast!)
And then there's the ghosting part. The most insufferable part of all virtual social interactions. In real life, once you've connected to someone physically (say a hug, to not get into any perverse details) it should technically be harder to erase your partner in crime from existence. And yet, it isn't. It's easy come easy go with pretty much any start-up relationship. And my man pointed rightly to me that since my previous partner erased me from existence, each rejection is a reminder of how weak the force is between two people at present.
"Nothing can unite Belgians."
That was another random comment within the context of a discussion on social dynamics. It didn't come from the same person or even the same background.
Not long ago I had to get out of the tram and walk to the next station (again an interruption on the Brussels line!). It was dark and I'd long lost the habit of travelling around Brussels by public transport (or any transport for that matter) and I figured it would be better to just ask. I was already late for my rendezvous. A Belgian of African origin took up my enthusiastic request for help and we walked together. We talked obviously; That long lost art of spontaneous contact and conversation! One topic leading to another he jokingly mentioned how it was them Africans that had brought the heat to an otherwise cold and detached land.
"Yes you did" I replied laughingly. "And so have I!" I added.
"Goodbye! Nice to meet another real, African girl!" He waved as we parted ways. It was half in jest of course, considering my white, mixed heritage. However, he'd been sincere in his compliment. We kissed and hugged and parted ways.
Friendliness here is often mistaken for sexual solicitation, both ways. Otherwise it is looked upon with suspicion: "You aren't getting any!" (Meaning money - or sex).
And as my faraway best friend wisely said during one of our calls: "Ja...about that...when it comes to friends with benefits, I've learned that most often it becomes more benefits than friends."
I'm not cut out for this sort of thing.
That and I'm just getting too old for this mediocrity.
During a strange video call with an unlikely candidate for my intellectual curiosity, he vividly stated how the "adolescent" mentality lies at the core of many of the social problems here. A lack of maturity to treat human connection as more than just a mutually beneficial transaction.
I've worn this imaginary friend-with-benefits T-shirt since setting foot in Belgium, 11 years ago. I wore it, washed it and wore it over and over until recently when I had to take it off. Standing naked spirited, I realised that underneath it all, it hurt. It hurt for the benefits to have outweighed the friendships. It hurt to be erased together with the bits of reality created with that person.
One must essentially go with the flow of the times. Pretty much the only way to stay serene in an environment of adulterated opportunity. And yet...why?
Yes...why go with that flow? Who benefits? Me?
I mean, show me the empirical data behind the guaranteed result of happiness arising from such unanimous surrender.
Ah well...no one can measure that sort of thing properly.
Therefore, it remains a matter of personal opinion whether people's attitudes should be left unchecked and unchallenged.
I'd say to all my past, present and future friends with benefits:
"Get unhooked from the great VR machine and step outside to breathe!"
Because here, we're all hooked to a Matrix of our own making.