Allow me to zoom out for a moment in the interest of understanding emotional unavailability. I live in Montreal which is a predominantly French-speaking, functionally bilingual city. If you want to speak French or English (or other languages depending on neighborhood), you’ll likely be understood. In many moments over the last seven years, especially during elections, it's felt hostile and isolating to be non-Québécois but at the same time, because of cheap rent, it’s the kind of city where you can deliberately hide away and never grow up. Technically all cities are “choose your own adventures” where we can integrate or isolate as much we choose, but this is particularly true for Montreal as an English-speaking person. My story with MTL goes back 15 years when I came as an Albertan summer student and decided I’d live here when I was grown up. However, at 21, my main goal in life was to travel and live in foreign countries, essentially be a foreigner and Montreal was a place to be foreign while living at home. Foreigner = outsider. Foreigner = separate.
Consider my living in Montreal as a brick in the wall.
I’ve lived in five different Montreal neighborhoods and along with each new phase of my experience, have made new friendship circles. That is to say I’ve met a lot of people and have even become very close with some of them, but at some point, have retreated in the interest of protecting myself from those same people.
Consider the changing nature of my friend groups another brick in the wall.
If there’s such a thing as a dating pool that’s limited to one metropolitan area, I can confidently say I’ve lapped out in Montreal. It’s a really strange and awkward feeling when, after going off dating apps for many months at a time, I periodically download Tinder or Bumble only to see many of the same men who were there the last time I logged on, some for years. The forever-singles. The brokens. The alones. The unavailables? Here are some of the ways that I’ve made myself unavailable in love:
- I talk too much and I don’t mean topically, or intellectually, but in the way that I create this giant cloud of “I” around me replete with smart answers about who I am and where I’ve been. You're going to enter my story, mine.
- I use sex as a weapon and seduction has been my killer.
- I have chosen to share my inner emotional world with men who were not interested in it longterm: married men, gay men. I have never made myself available to a man who was genuinely interested in me as a person. I have, of course, met men who were interested in me but I haven’t been attracted to them.
Consider my dating choices as many more bricks in the wall.
After a series of moves, I finally landed in the southwest neighborhood of St. Henri about a year ago. I live across from a beautiful park with a fountain and an outdoor public pool which I’ve swam in a few times this summer. The Lachine Canal is a block from my doorstep and some of the best bars and restaurants in the city are right around the corner. I ride my bike to and from work every day and in winter months, take a 15-minute metro ride to work.
But the best part of my new St. Henri life is my apartment. A brick wall runs its entire south side. I’ve arranged my books along this long wall along with some of my favourite prints by Hantaï, Miró. I’ve filled the sunny front room with plants and mid-century furniture. Most of the pieces I’ve accumulated in my seven years in Montreal make this apartment a perfect mix of contemporary and vintage. It’s my dream apartment. I self-indulge like crazy in here: lounge, admire my beautiful things, dance around, drink expensive tea, wear nice clothes and shoes, take photographs of myself, and take long baths with beautiful oils. Heaven.
Consider the bricks in my apartment as the most beautiful, most exquisite of them all.
Hotman arrives at my door looking dapper and humid from the heat. He loves my place. Loves it. Asks me how I got it, how long I’ve lived here. He’s immensely charmed by all the books and prints and furniture and plants. He can’t get over it.
“God it just makes me want to move into my own place so bad,” he says. Hotman lives with a few roommates because he’s traveled a lot of over the years and has remained unsettled by choice.
He and I have agreed over text that we’ll be “friends” but now he’s here in front of me and I feel our mutual attraction and want to immediately throw the friend boundary out the window. I want to touch and feel close to him. We take the blanket out to the park and lay down and I immediately tackle him.
“Woah now, what about being ‘friends’?”
“Yeah, I know but like friends can cuddle, right?”
“Joy, you’re trouble.”
“No I’m not!”
I am though -- I have trouble keeping my own promises. I notice that Hotman refers to himself in 3rd person sometimes and frets about these different characters he embodies.
“You might not like today’s version of me. The version you met last Friday was ‘dapper’ me, then last Sunday it was ‘host’ me, but today I’m just 'tired' me.” He makes a different sound effect for each version.
“To be honest, I’m less interested in ‘dapper’ you, but I get why you’ve constructed that personae, how it serves you in your career -- everybody wants a handsome, charming man nearby.”
I also notice that he’s teasing me a lot more than he did on Sunday night and some of it stings, but maybe he’s just tired. After we’ve been cuddling for an hour, he complains of having a headache and I tell him to lay on my lap so I can massage his neck and head. I stroke his temples, massage his perfect, meaty earlobes, examine the faint freckles on his perfect, tanned skin. We look like we might be in love on that white blanket just a few meters from the fountain. Being around his beauty is intoxicating and makes me want to be beautiful, too. Beautiful enough. I realize that this is the thing with beauty: it so quickly draws you out to a state of observation and cuts you off from being present. Yet I'm stroking his hair and rubbing his neck knowing this will only last today. Eventually we go get ice cream and pique the interest of the guy who works there and always sees me come in alone. We spoon up the ice cream under the hot sun, our faces are very close but not touching. We admire a sweet and cherubic little girl playing nearby. Earlier in the day, I'd gone to the market to get groceries and bought two steaks just in case he wanted to keep hanging out for dinner. We head back to my place and he swoons over my apartment again.
“Love the brick here, love it, love it, love it.”
"Do you want to stay? I've got steaks to cook."
"Yeah, sure I'll cook the steaks, you do the rest."
We quietly make the dinner together listening to music. At one point he turns to me and says, "We're a good match."