You, Me & Translator Makes Three

Aug-2017

How much do you really need to be able to communicate in a relationship? When you’re from incredibly different backgrounds AND there’s a language barrier, should we just accept that communication is going to be difficult, and maybe this isn’t going to be one of those deep and meaningful relationships?

When I first matched with The Whitecaps Player on Bumble, I wasn’t sure he was definitely a player. (The Whitecaps are Vancouver’s local football/soccer team that play in the MLS) There were pictures of him in some kit but I thought he may have been a member of the coaching or support team and in our first messages he attempted to tell me he was the mascot, Spike. I told him that was unfortunate because I don’t like birds (Spike is a kingfisher) and eventually he gave it up and admitted he played for the team.

The problem was his name on Bumble didn’t match any first name of a player on the squad, so in an attempt not to be scammed by some guy claiming to be a professional football player (yes, I live in North America, but the game you play with the ball at your feet I will almost always call football) I started a pretty in depth Google search and a reverse image google search.

Wikipedia gave me all I needed to know – the name on Bumble was his middle name. He was born in Africa, grew up in the US and had just been traded to Vancouver from a US MLS team. I was going to start dropping some of that info into our messages to let him know I was onto him but didn’t want to seem like a total stalker. I figured it probably wouldn’t be a good look.

In our chats we realised we lived a block from each other and made plans pretty quickly to meet up that night. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) a friend messaged me and asked if I wanted to go see Lady Gaga in a box at Rogers Arena that night. I wasn’t the hugest Lady Gaga fan but I wasn’t about to pass it up. I had just made plans to meet him though and I didn’t want to do the typical Vancouver thing and bail… but when I mentioned this to my friend she told me to bring him too. God love my friends for their deep understanding about the need not to inhibit any dating opportunities.

The crazy thing is having a first date in a box at a Lady Gaga concert with a bunch of friends of mine probably wouldn’t be the weirdest date first date I’ve had. See Canada Day Boat Guy. So I asked him. He called me boujee for going to a box, asked if I always did “such fancy things” and eventually said thanks but Lady Gaga wasn’t his thing. I understood, it was a stretch to think he’d be up for it. But we both lived a couple of blocks from the arena so I thought it might have worked.

Instead he told me to go and text him later. I don’t need told twice so I did. We texted a little during the concert and as it was wrapping up he said he’d walk to meet me at mine. I don’t remember the exact details of the text exchange, but it was clear her wasn’t coming up to my apartment, it was more just that we were so close by that we may as well just meet in person, even if for 10 minutes.

As ended up happening, we sat in the lobby of my apartment building for about 45 minutes chatting. We briefly mentioned going to a bar but that never happened and I think we were both equally just testing the water.

When he’d arrived it was entirely apparent how drastically different we were, at least outwardly anyway. He looked like he should be in a music video. He had a pretty solid gold chain around his neck, and fairly sizeable diamond studs in both ears which glistened under the bright, lobby lights. He was in a designer t-shirt and long shorts, designer sneakers with socks pulled up to mid-calf and a cap. I could not have felt more like a white girl if I’d tried.

There is nothing cool or urban about me, nothing remotely edgy. And here he was looking like he could have been part of Migos and friends with Drake.

I wondered how it looked to people. Not that I cared, at all. But I was genuinely interested in what people thought when they looked at us sat there. Did I look like a groupie? Did I look like his personal assistant? Cause I wasn’t sure I looked like his date (if sitting chatting in my lobby even qualified as a date). By this point, I’d dated a whole host of ethnicities but I think with The Whitecaps Player it was so visually stark, it really opened up a whole host of different thoughts.

Regardless, he had this really lovely demeanour about him, he seemed pretty quiet but funny, and super relaxed. Like almost horizontal. I was fascinated by what he saw in me. Because again, the quiet and relaxed thing? Yeah, probably not something I’d describe myself as.

Given his texts and knowing he’d been in the US for about 12 years, something I definitely wasn’t expecting was the language barrier. Well, I guess it was less of a language barrier and more of an accent barrier. He had an incredibly thick, French African accent which, much to my surprise, I found incredibly attractive. He was telling me about a game they were going to play in Salt Lake City and I thought he was telling me how the attitude of the other team was terrible, but he was really talking about the altitude and it took us a while to get there. We just laughed when we worked it out, or rather I laughed and he looked at me like he couldn’t understand why I had a problem comprehending the English language. This was to be the first of many of these interchanges.

Thankfully, we did still manage to laugh together. It has always been one of the reasons I’ve said that dating someone who is ESL (English as a Second Language) probably wasn’t something I would want to do. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone not getting my jokes. Although I guess that’s a better reason for someone not getting my jokes, than that they just aren’t funny…

Sitting in the lobby that first night I was pretty intrigued by him. I had so many questions about his upbringing, his family, playing in the MLS, moving to Vancouver… so much. This is why sometimes, just sometimes!, I love dating. Meeting someone who you would likely not otherwise encounter and getting to hear their stories – it’s the best!

But it was getting late so we said goodbye and agreed we’d meet up when he got back from their game in Salt Lake City. He kissed me on the cheek, gave me a slightly awkward hug and started the short walk back to his place. He told me he wished he’d driven, which I presumed was a joke!?

We texted a little during the time he was away and when he was back we arranged to go for dinner. He walked to meet me at my place and we decided on a super casual bar nearby,, because “he didn’t want to walk far”. Um, which one of us is the athlete? So we walked at his snail’s pace the couple of blocks up the street.

Going into the bar I thought I saw a flicker of confusion from the hostess about whether we entered together or not. Was I imagining it? I mean, I got it, we didn’t look like a likely pairing, but I’d even tried to dress less.. I’m not even sure what… to go out with him. Unfortunately my Gucci sneakers and ostentatious bling were nowhere to be found.

Conversation over dinner was slow, in that he even talked at a slow pace. It took a while before I saw him get even remotely animated about a topic. But it was still easy, despite a couple more misunderstandings. We talked sports, and growing up, and working out, and diet – he ate 3 plates of chicken wings.

He walked me home, again kiss on the cheek, awkward hug, and a mention that he wished he’d driven. Maybe he wasn’t joking the last time!?

On our 3rd date he came over to mine. I was pretty tired and he was leaving for another away game the next day so we agreed we’d watch a movie. I don’t even remember what we watched. But I remember being stressed about what we were going to watch. I was pretty sure we’d have very different tastes in movies, not counting the fact that I don’t even really like movies, and what if his preference wasn’t an English language movie. LIke is that a choice we make.

We didn’t end up really watching a lot of the movie, which is maybe why I can’t remember what it was. Instead we talked, watched YouTube videos on his phone and eventually, finally!, he actually made a move on me.

There had been a few brushes of his hand against my leg, a rub of the back, or a grab of the shoulder but they were all incredibly brief. I was beginning to wonder if he actually wasn’t attracted to me at all (which of course in my head this was down to the fact I was so different to him) and instead was just a bit bored and looking for company, having not been in Vancouver for long and not having very many friends outside the team.

But after making his move it was very clear there was at least some level of mutual attraction between us. And he had one of the leanest bodies I’d possibly ever seen – yes we got naked, yes there was sex. There was not an inch of fat on him, he wasn’t super muscly in a bulging biceps way, you could just tell he was incredibly fit. His skin stretched over his long limbs in the most perfect way and I’m pretty sure it glistened… or maybe I imagined that.

The sex was also pretty great, albeit my overriding memory was one of having to dodge his gold necklace as it swung at my face every so often when it would slide round from the back of his neck where he tried to keep it out the way as we got down to it. Now, I’ve been hit in the face with worse, but it was kinda off putting. There was also zero post-sex snuggles. Dude was not a snuggler. That much was clear.

In all the times we met up, and hooked up, we never spoke about what we were doing, who else we were (or weren’t seeing), when we would next see each other, nothing. It was super casual and it was ideal. I enjoyed having that level of understanding with someone without either of us having to say anything. Which was handy considering the language barrier we were always trying to navigate.

I can so often get so caught up in my head and want clarity and something more concrete agreed. But with The Whitecaps Player, maybe it was because I couldn’t see it going anywhere anyway, because he was always likely to move again with his job, because we were so starkly different, I don’t know, but I was really ok with the unknown. With the simplicity that we would text each other every so often, we would see each other about once a week and there were no other expectations.

Generally it was always a dinner, we went to a movie once, or he’d come over to mine. Nothing ever “happened”, my friends would ask how the date was and all I could ever reply was “fine”. I enjoyed the chillness of just lying on the sofa with him, him normally falling asleep because apparently training in the MLS is exhausting… Eventually one night I did end up over at his place. We were both out. Him celebrating after an incredible last minute winning goal he scored against his old team and me at a wedding. We messaged during the course of the night, and for the first time our texts turned more than a little flirty and eventually downright dirty. I got dropped off at his apartment after the wedding and arriving on his doorstep still in my full gown (it had been a VERY fancy wedding) made it even more clear to our differences as he was there in what looked like an outfit almost entirely designed by Balmain, and something that James Harden may have worn.

My point about the differences between us, is not because they mattered to me at all, truly they didn’t. It’s more to highlight how I’ve never encountered the awareness about it before. And I wonder if the Chinese guy or the Persian or any other ethnicity I’ve dated, have felt the same just the other way around? But that me, from my place of white privilege, has failed to notice? Is this what it’s like to truly notice skin colour? I’m aware enough to know that me saying “I don’t notice skin colour” is racist in itself because there are different skin colours and they’re not to be ignored, and more obviously, also not to be the reason for any change, particularly negative, in behaviour or level of respect shown.

It was a mindframe I hadn’t encountered before in dating and if I was feeling those things I wondered what his thoughts were around dating a white girl. Did he even have any? Was this topic so much part of his daily life that it wasn’t even a separate conversation, it just was life? In some ways I’d wished he and I would have had a deeper relationship to have been at a place where I could have asked him these things, and used the situation as a way to educate myself. But I also knew it wasn’t his place to have to educate the white girl on race.

Instead I read books like The Shock Doctrine and Caucasia, both of which I finished after things with him had kind of petered out, but the experience had awakened something in me whereby I wanted to try and understand more and not just stay ignorant because I could. Again, Whitecaps Player’s lackadaisical approach to everything meant he seemed neither perturbed nor even interested in that aspect of our very casual relationship.

As seemed maybe inevitable, as his season was coming to an end so too did our dates. We never had a conversation about it, I just knew he was going back to visit his Mom in Maryland and then was heading back to Africa, amongst a few other vacation spots while on the off season. What I hadn’t really banked on was that during said off season, he’d also be traded to a team back in the US and so he was never back in Vancouver as far as I know, and things were just done. No words said, or needed.

It turned out the guy I could communicate the least with, was the guy I didn’t really need to communicate with at all, and it was as refreshing as his cool, taught skin.

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