Wanderlust: Expat Life & Style in Thailand The Relationships Issue - Page 22


meet the following evening with my friend ’ s date and her pals . I was invited along .
What followed was a pleasant , wholesome evening of drinking , chatting and dancing with a group of charming , intelligent people — male and female — while the “ Tinderella ” and “ Tinderfella ” got to know each other in a safe , fun environment . I was sold . When I got back to China I installed Tinder , set my location range to a radius of 100 miles and began swiping .
If you ’ re not familiar with the app , swiping left on a Tinder profile means you don ’ t like the person on the screen , whereas swiping right means you do . When two users like each other a ‘ match ’ is created , allowing the couple to interact .
I accrued a healthy number of matches — a good ego boost during a time when I was often alone — but I didn ’ t meet any of them . I just liked playing the Tinder game and innocently flirting with my matches .
Until I met Laurel .
Dating , for most of us , is genuinely difficult . We lurch from one incompatible partner to the next in what seems like an endless search for “ The One ” — a perfect match , a soul mate who , we Westerners are certain , has got to be out there somewhere .
But it is not an easy task to find these special persons , so we sometimes need a little help . Enter the dating industry .
Since the birth of the newspaper in the 17 th century , personal requests for love have featured alongside our daily diet of politics , sports and scandal . From there , each breakthrough in technology has been heralded as the answer to the riddle of love — the solution to your happily ever after .
Despite these different mediums , professional matchmaking has never quite been normalized . Even the rise of the internet did little to alter the perception that people who used dating agencies were a desperate bunch . Internet matchmaking seemed to be the last resort of the old and unattractive or a hunting ground for gold diggers and con men .
The smartphone , however , changed everything .
Laurel , an American journalist living in Bangkok , was on assignment to cover Art Basel Hong Kong at precisely the time I would be visiting on a visa run . The moment I saw her profile , I had a feeling that this quirky and stylish young woman would become significant in my life . I swiped right .
Days later , I received a notification that Laurel and I had matched . I was pleased , almost too pleased , and
Even the rise of the internet did little to alter the perception that people who used dating agencies were a desperate bunch .
spent ages trying to come up with the appropriately alluring greeting that would deliver the essence of my wit , charm and suitability as a mate in a few short sentences : “ Hi Laurel , you look cool !”
To my delight , a couple of hours later , the subject of my scintillating words of seduction responded : “ Hi Al , so do you !” It was an auspicious start , but unfortunately
Laurel had arrived in Hong Kong at the same time I was leaving , and we were unable to meet . But we did continue to send each other messages . At first , it was just on Tinder . As our conversations grew longer , we made the commitment of becoming Facebook friends . Before I knew it , we were talking for three or four hours a day , sometimes more .
I had started to care very much for Laurel , and I became determined to meet her . I couldn ’ t stand the thought of our relationship fizzling out in the face of one of us meeting another real-life human . So I booked a flight to New York , where Laurel was staying with family over Christmas .
My friends were skeptical . The idea of having a relationship with someone I hadn ’ t even Skyped worried them . “ Haven ’ t you heard of catfishing ?” they asked .
I had . Catfishing is a phenomenon whereby unsuspecting people are lured by fake dating or social media accounts into love affairs with people who aren ’ t who they say they are . These relationships can produce emotional strife and financial ruin .
So when I landed at LaGuardia on a cold December evening in 2014 , I was hoping for the best . But I was also prepared for the worst .
I had made alternative arrangements for accommodation , lest Laurel was not the woman I thought she was . My worries grew as I stood waiting in arrivals ; it was a freezing evening , and the airport was very quiet . I wandered outside into the light snowfall to see if I could catch sight of my date . But as time passed , there was still no sign of her .
Forlorn , I was about to go back inside the terminal and call my friends when I heard : “ Hey , Alastair !’ I turned around and there she was : My beautiful American online girlfriend .
We spent an idyllic week on a houseboat in Far Rockaway , at the edge of New York City . I was amazed that we got on so well . Everything that Laurel purported to be was true . She was attractive , funny and daring — a creature of impulse with a quick mind and a heart of gold .
The only negative was that we had to leave each other again , which actually brought me to tears one morning as I sat on the small jetty outside our houseboat .