Hospitality, exploring new places, having fun, discovering other cultures, experiencing the extraordinary, meeting worldly folks. Wow. I was sold. Couchsurfing and a quirky young man on a world trip: that must be a golden combo. Doing something abnormal. Something ‘crazy’ with a unique dynamic. Yeah! I really felt like it as a rookie backpacker. That’s why I polished my outdated profile into something slick. It all looked appealing, concise and complete. However, there was a big problem: I had zero experience, hence zero references. And without experience, hardly anyone takes you seriously. The vicious circle of starters is so frustrating. No need to dispair though. In great spirits, I posted a message in several groups. I also sent dozens of cheesy copy-paste requests to active members. Throwing out as many fishing lines as possible was my thoughtful tactic. Something will bite sooner or later. Just be hopeful, patient and optimistic. Have faith in your fellow humans. Who risks nothing, gains nothing.
The fishing float vanished. I was quick of the mark and pulled in with a jolt. Then I quickly examined the catch. It looked like a healthy, middle-aged specimen. Obviously not the cream of the crop, but still. Well done. The gate to personal travel is now wide open. Finally, the dusty trophy case would be filled with medals. They’ll trigger other people’s trust of ‘look, he’s not a total Muppet.’ Luckily I managed to pull it off without any ranks. I even got picked up, what a service. So the introduction went well, first impressions were good. He was a nice man with interesting ideas. Yet doubts struck. I suspected he was gay… and used Couchsurfing for certain things. I seized the opportunity when he went for a number two. In record speed, I read every letter of his profile. Preferred gender: male. Sleeping arrangement: in the host’s bedroom. I scrolled through the reviews, most of them written by young men. With dismay, I read two negative references in which his sexually-minded ways and seductions were described in great detail. I broke out in a sweat. This was even ‘worse’ than I imagined. Goddamn! Welcome to the lair of a horny lion.
I smiled in discomfort while shaking my head. Ha, smart-ass. What an achievement to miss so many hints at once. Speechless and with goosebumps, I indecisively stared into the void. Well… Now what? The toilet was flushed. Shit! Okay. Just stay calm and act normal. Sure. Not. An eerie silence filled the living room. This is it. Now I’ll have to bare my buttocks, whether I want to or not.
”You’re suddenly so quiet Ben. Something wrong?”
“Nah, all good.”
* After a short silence, I got the giggles.
“What’s so funny?
”A memory of a night out. I smashed something in the pub and got kicked out”, I said dryly.
* After a short glance, I laughed out loud. He laughed along half-heartedly.
This dumb mischief was the hard-needed distraction. While sharing the details, I tried to come up with all sorts of excuses to leave. There I was, sitting uncomfortably on that couch. I dutifully started an irrelevant conversation, a bit like porn models do in front of the camera. What happens afterward is, well, general knowledge. Not today though, as far as I was concerned. I don’t turn my back on adventurous experiments. But doing naughty things with a man, no way. I’m not homophobic, though. Live and let live. I just had to evade the almost tangible ‘silent hope’ in a mannered fashion. The big question was how. Condemning him wouldn’t be fair since it clicked perfectly well before this realization. In fact, I appreciated the fact that he came clean on his profile. Now it’s my turn. Be honest and respectful. Running away would be the easy way out. A blooper like this isn’t the end of the world. Simply stay. I sensed he wasn’t a creep or a serial rapist. Just a single guy who ”surfs” for potential/opportunistic sex dates. Old news. He’s not the first. And certainly not the last.
After that night-out story, I spoke about a former fling and nice girl I’d met on the trip. It was quiet on the other side. He clearly got the hint. Luckily, he took the ‘loss’ well and we carried on in the same old way. We talked about current affairs, society, philosophy, psychology, cultures, basically everything for hours. In between, he spoke about his ‘previous life,’ his ex-wife and adult children. Such a transition is apparently possible. Fascinating. Okay, bedtime. He had – thank God – a spare bed in his bedroom. Neat and tidy, as described on the profile. Despite all the verifications, security mechanisms, reviews and information, a profile remains just an image. It can all be a carefully created deception. You never know.
I lay down and closed my eyes. ”Good night. Don’t worry, I won’t sneak into your bed at night’, he joked with laughter. ”Good. Sleep tight’. You’d better stay out, I thought. Hands off my ass. Otherwise you’ll get a punch in the face. Couchsurfing, bloody fantastic. I let out a phony laugh about my false start. For a moment, I thought of all the women who also experience this to a greater extent. Poor bastards. Oh well. Something like this can happen with a;; the unwritten expectations, rules and (significant) cultural differences. Especially when there are half strangers within the game. Nevertheless, positive atmospheres keep dominating. The rematch will come. It’s enough for now; I’ll be gone tomorrow morning.
Travelling has become more predictable in the digital age, fortunately (un)pleasant surprises remain in all times.