‘Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.’
– Sholom Aleichem
It was the first real date I’d been on since I split with my ex, and after five years of being out of the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After he’d taken me for dinner and for a drive in the countryside, I found myself sat on the edge of his bed, watching as he peeled off his shirt to reveal his bulging biceps and washboard abs. I was half expecting him to start unbuttoning his jeans or to start tearing off my clothes, but instead he threw on another t-shirt, sat down next to me, and handed me a joystick.
I was a little taken aback by his offer but found it strangely endearing and oddly romantic. I accepted and we played side by side, only interrupting game play every couple of minutes to lean over for a soft and tender kiss.
It was this memory that played on my mind as I watched two beautiful Australian Shepherds springing through the tall grasses in the Viennese countryside- I’d known these dogs since they were puppies, they belonged to some of my oldest friends, and although I’d known them for as long as I could remember, until that morning we’d never officially met.
We were the modern-day equivalent of pen pals, we’d met in an online game when I was a young teenager and, through the power of Facebook, I’d watched their relationship blossom, seen them get married, and over time began to consider them some of my closest friends.
After being tricked by a hot boy with a fake profile, I’m all too familiar with the dangers of making friends over the internet, but this was somehow different. They were friends who had always been there, they’d been there for the lengthy duration of my past relationship, offered their sincerest congratulations when we got engaged, consoled me when it all fell apart, and encouraged my exploits in my newfound singledom. They knew me so well that they were able to point out boys who were my type before I’d even clocked them, and they even included the skate park and local cruising spots in my personalised tour of Vienna.
Aren’t they those children you want to have sex with? they asked, pointing at One Direction as we curled up on the sofa and watched the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. They knew me inside out regardless of the fact that we’d only ever conversed via the internet. It seemed strange that many years ago we’d probably strolled through some virtual forest together, and now here we were, laughing and making jokes in the real thing.
Despite the reams of conversations we’d had over the years, though, there was still one unanswered question that lingered on my lips. I’d never asked them how they’d met, and when they gave me the answer I was surprised to find out that they too had found each other in an online game. After endless virtual conversations, they agreed to meet and shortly after fell head over heels in love.
And so as we sat side by side at their computer desk, guised as virtual prostitutes hustling young elves out of their hard earned gold, I was met with a pang of nostalgia. As I saw them playing together, like they had done for many years, I saw a beautiful yet unconventional connection and truly witnessed how in love they were. Unconventional love was something I was familiar with, a man loving a man, a woman loving a woman, an Italian mother loving her adopted Vietnamese son, it was something I could understand.
So when I hugged my oldest friends goodbye, I thought of the boy who wanted to play computer games on the first date, and for the first time I realised how lucky I’d be to meet another one just like him.