A (sur)real week on Feeld with Michael the iii
October 30th, 2023
What is he really looking for? Attention.
There is an unfamiliar name in my book of lovers. The hardcover, cherry-red, 752-page, untitled and completely blank book was crafted by a book-binder who gave the dummy version to me after the client “went in another direction”. The vacancy of its pages foreshadowed the denouement of my first relationship and so it became a lover’s log: one per page, usually just the name, listed chronologically, with added information as deserved. “Félix?” It might not even have been his real name.
On Feeld my name is “Gattopardo” (talkative, clever, elusive). It is not “Michael the III” (writer, model, superstar), nor “Michael” (creator, worrier, germaphobe), nor “Mike” (anonymous, calculated, funny). It is certainly not my double-barreled name, which is only offered to second dates.
My experience on other apps has left me bored, disillusioned, or terrified by people’s immediacy. I’ve experimented with different bios to see if it conjures the desired results. For apps that offered too much quickness, I was forced to update my bio: “LATER not NOW”. Other times I have chosen a sentence describing my many sides, including descriptors like “friend” and “trickster” as fair warning. On my blank Feeld profile I write: “Reclusive yet outgoing.”
When people ask what I’m “looking for” I say “nothing and everything,” which isn’t an answer. A more reasonable response would be “a locally sourced, non-monogamous, long-distance-style online-relationship not measured by rapid exchange but by the qualitative benefits of communication.” What am I really looking for? Attention.
“Gutenberg” is my first match. “Gutenberg! A darling name for a child,” I joke, not realizing I had inadvertently roasted a real and not imaginary name. Why hadn’t Gutenberg chosen a nom de plume? There were rules, I thought.
Gutenberg communicates in a manner like the printing press his name recalls. Each sentence is heavy as lead and everything is in reverse. Gutenberg is in a relationship, he says, but they’re open. Gutenberg doesn’t mind if his partner has encounters. It was his partner’s idea, but when Gutenberg takes a lover it sends Partner into a state. Everything must be in secret, says Gutenberg. That’s their deal. Partner is out for groceries. Gutenberg must stop texting soon. Later Gutenberg describes their meal. I say how tasty it sounds. Gutenberg pictures us all getting along and sends a photo. I agree we all would get along. Gutenberg tells me I shouldn’t get any ideas; threesomes are not on their menu. I make a comment about open relationships requiring rules. Gutenberg agrees.
Would I like to meet Gutenberg? Not really.
I elect for a more formal approach for the next introduction. “Are you from Indiana?” I write to a handsome prospect named: “Indiana.” It is a question so basic it would be justifiable to ignore, but the reply arrives seconds later:
I wondered what happened to the in-between messages that should’ve happened next in normal conversation, but joined in, mimicking his declarative style: “Gattopardo is a film.”
"Visconti?” he replies, the question mark adding a dash of humility.
“Yes. Il Gattopardo (1963),” I confirm.
It occurs to me I’ve never actually finished the film and I say so, aware how my imaginary name is considerably more pretentious than his and wanting to do something about it. I add how I’ve even tried to watch it a second time without success. I offer the upside-down smiling emoji to relay performative shame. Am I trying too hard? His turn.
Indiana takes longer than usual to respond but eventually proposes: “Let’s watch it tonight,” undeterred by the possibility I may not be a film-finisher. Maybe it’s what he likes about me.
“Maybe,” I hesitate, tapping his profile as one does to see if I am free or not. Indiana is beautiful and not taller than me, has access to a cat, describes himself as submissive, non-monogamous, and sapiosexual. Film buff. Big reader. Open-minded, or so he says. He has a tree in his yard. Indiana produces music but is an “Analyst.” I consider forging a joke from the first four letters of his job title but don’t want to light a fire I cannot put out. Indiana is perfect for me. Is that a reason to meet?
“Tomorrow?” recalibrates Indiana, allowing that time exists farther in advance than this evening. I do not immediately respond and Indiana rephrases his question, now disguising the nearness of “tomorrow” by the name of the week: “Tuesday?”
I empathize with his frustration, sexual or social, whichever it is, explaining: “I don’t meet that soon,” and offer something closer to the truth: “I don’t go out much anymore.”
His response (“that’s cool”) feels like love.
Félix, I now remember, is the name of a club I frequented seven-or-so years ago. It was after 3am when Félix and I met, tired and hot, each of us somehow separated from our friend group. Because there wasn’t anything else to do, the entire club scattered on the sidewalk, allowing our clothing to dry before doing anything that might make us sweat any further. Félix approached politely. He looked half-in-love—I remember that—and inquired where I was heading next. I pointed: “McDonalds. Home.” Félix said he couldn’t leave his friends. I told Félix I’d buy him a hamburger if he did. In the morning Félix did not laugh at my jokes. I was glad when Félix claimed he had to go.
“…Great to meet you,” I said, the kind of lie that doesn’t matter but went on making me feel guilty anyway and bent towards honesty: “My name is Mike, by the way.”
Félix stopped on the threshold and turned as if about to reveal his name was actually Ralph. “Well, Mike the III…” Félix smiled. “No need to introduce yourself...I know who you are.”
On Feeld a previously overlooked profile presents itself: “Hey! What’s Gattopardo mean?”
“Leopard in Italian,” I reveal.
“Are you Italian?” he queries, echoing everyone’s guess.
I offer a technical truth, “No. I’m Canadian.” Then I decide not to be difficult. “But yes.”
“But do you speak Italian?” he asks and as if I were the one coming to him to brag how Italian I am. He makes more of his accusation by adding a magnifying glass emoji.
“Of course,” I lie.
“Amazing!” he exclaims and I feel proud of myself too. “You should teach me.”
Once more I ignore reality: “I could.”
I hadn’t paid attention to his name, but now I see the name: “Pupil.” Has it always been so?
Pupil replies: “I’d be a very bad student, Mr. Gattopardo.”
“That’s fine.” I begin, accepting roleplay as I always do, and making a quick accomplice of Google Translate. “Bene. Quindi inizieremo con le basi.”
Night after night, Pupil never asks for my real name. To him I’m just Mr. Gattopardo, and Mr. Gattopardo doesn’t need to explain his mental illnesses, or allude to germaphobia, and never once combines the letters o, c, and d.
Pupil sends a message that says: “Learning is so hard right now.” And so Mr. Gattopardo encourages him. “Just let yourself remain wide open to take it in.” This (and more) keeps us up well past our declared bedtimes. I go to sleep thinking of Pupil.
One night, Pupil confuses me. He sends a long speculative paragraph about his desired punishment for flunking a test and includes the supposed full name of his teacher: “Mr. Michele Gattopardo.”
“Mi scusi?” I ask, knowing because I taught it to him that he understands the question.
“I…need to be spanked,” Pupil efficiently sums it all up.
“No, not that. How do you know my name?” I ask, tossing aside the fact that I’ve made a career out of promoting my own name and likeness.
“You told me,” Pupil claims.
“No, I did not,” I assert.
“I thought you did. Anyway, I’ve seen you around. I know who you are.”
“It’s fine,” I send back, ashamed I’ve ruined our roleplay streak with something like ego. “I just didn’t expect it. I guess I prefer you knowing me as Mr. Gattopardo…I thought that was an absolute.”
“It was just roleplay,” he points out.
“I know it was.”
Three dots appeared on Pupil’s side of the conversion and then went away, allowing me to continue or move on.
“Your name isn’t Félix, is it?
Looking now at Pupil’s profile, I know how unlikely it is that he’d be the Félix, that I’d forget both his name and his face, but I had to ask. Ideas get rounded up in my mind. And then I can’t let go of it.
“So what is your name?” I ask, returning to the chat.
“My favorite name!” I exclaim.
“No,” I lie, because it is my favorite name. Without thinking it comes out: “Do you want to meet?”
“Sure!” Aitor sends immediately, seemingly ready for whatever comes next. “Tonight?”
I turn on the shower, disrobe, and diligently close the curtain behind me. The water dilutes my apprehension. With wet hands I reach toward the sink and grab my phone: