On 31 December of each year, I do a review of the past year. I look at what I’ve learned, what went well, and what didn’t. I revisit what I know for sure. This year it’s a little later because of, well, stuff. And by stuff I mean life and all that that entails. It has been a jam-packed year, though. Moving to Vietnam does that to a girl. From nearly dying to reinventing myself as a writer to almost falling in love, there hasn’t been a dull moment. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But what it has done is cemented in my mind what I know for sure, and I will be sharing these things with you over the next month or so. Here’s the first one.
It was meant to be…
At the end of August, one week before I returned to Australia for five weeks (I had to move out of my apartment in my home city of Adelaide so I could rent it out, and I decided to bring my cat back to Vietnam with me and she needed to be vaccinated and that had a waiting period), I met a man. A lovely Vietnamese man with excellent English, crossing the road in Saigon. A man who was worried about my safety (if anyone has ever visited Saigon and tried to cross the road, you will know what I mean). We got chatting (after I told him I lived in Hanoi and was used to crossing the road and he had nothing to worry about), and we swapped numbers (because he travelled to Hanoi for business and he would be there in two weeks and would I like to catch up?), and before I could say sexy times, I was strolling down the street with him to listen to some music — and he was playing. Drums, guitar and bass guitar. He said he was a businessman. And divorced. With two children. And Catholic. And music was his hobby. And at 48, a respectable six years younger than me.
Ignoring my three-month rule (why, oh why?) at the end of the night, we adjourned to my hotel. For sexy times. He left early in the morning, making it clear he wanted to see me again. And he did. He came to see me the next day before I flew back to Hanoi. And then we messaged every day (and talked once a week) for the five weeks I was in Australia. I thought it would fizzle, and was overjoyed when it didn’t. And when I got back to Vietnam we still messaged every day until I went to see him at the end of October. And every day after I visited him in November and December.
I was falling for this man. He was a lovely boyfriend: reliable and communicative and smart — and when I saw him, kind, thoughtful, warm and loving. The sex was amazing, and became more so with each visit I made to Saigon to see him.
Trouble in paradise…
And therein lay the problem. Despite frequent requests for him to come to Hanoi and visit me, I always travelled to Saigon to see him. The first trip there didn’t bother me. My work was more flexible than his (he said he had meetings with his customers on the weekend that he had to attend plus his daughters still needed him). I stayed in a hotel, because it was the first time I’d seen him since my return to Vietnam, and I wasn’t sure if it was a “thing”. And he didn’t suggest that I stay at his place. I vaguely noticed he didn’t spend the night, and that I didn’t see him during the day. It didn’t bother me because I had work commitments, and he promised me he would stay on the Monday night (he said he was worried about what his daughters thought of him if he stayed overnight, and weeknights were better because he could say he was on a business trip. Who was I to interrogate him about what he told his daughters?). He came with me to two work events (at night, although he disappeared during one for an hour to meet his school friends. I’m told it’s a thing in Vietnam). And he stayed the Monday night as promised…
I believed him because I had no reason to doubt him. Until I started doing the maths and added up all the excuses and subtracted all the missing time and divided every fucking thing by inaction.
The second trip to Saigon, I stayed in an Airbnb. And on the third.
It was on the third trip — I wanted to ring in the New Year with him — that I realised things were not as they seemed. He had promised to spend more time with me, when in fact I got less. I arrived on the Saturday, and he came to my Airbnb about an hour after I got there. He could only stay a short time, he said, because he had his regular catch up with his school friends, but he would try to see if I could come (and he would introduce me as a work colleague) if they went for karaoke. I was surprised at the secrecy, but needn’t have concerned myself. Karaoke — and the subterfuge — didn’t eventuate, and I met him a few hours later at a restaurant (where he proceeded to smoke outside and take phone calls). After dinner we went to a bar, listened to some music and had some beers. He dropped me off at my Airbnb around midnight and didn’t come upstairs to my room. I was disappointed, but accepted it. What could I do?
I slept late the next day, and messaged him. When was he coming to see me? He messaged back: he had things to do and would pick me up at 7.30 for dinner, but he couldn’t stay the night even though it was New Year’s Eve. His daughters, you see. They were smart and knew that business trips didn’t happen on New Year’s Eve. I was disappointed — again — and was starting to wonder what the fuck I was doing there in Saigon. And what the fuck was going on.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought about all the things that didn’t add up: I didn’t know where he lived (he has never invited me to his house, despite me asking) or where he worked (although that shit is easy to find out on LinkedIn). We weren’t Facebook friends (he wanted to keep a low profile for his daughters and business — he said he couldn’t have me tagging him in my posts and updates). He only stayed over on weeknights, when he could claim he was on a “business trip”. I rarely saw him during the day when I visited (only on Trip #2 did this happen, and it was for just a few hours). I’d not met any of his friends. He had never come to visit me in Hanoi. And all the Grabs (taxis to get around Saigon) were done on my account, not his. I was conscious that I was doing all the heavy lifting: airfares, hotel accommodation, visiting. I was the one investing, not him.
The penny drops…
Then the penny dropped with a heavy clunk. My lovely boyfriend was still married — or at the very least, attached — and not so lovely.
I confronted him. He assured me that he was 100% single. But my intuition wouldn’t back down.
And I had an uneasy feeling that things wouldn’t end well for me, and I told him so. How do you know, he asked. Experience, I said. And that uneasy feeling followed me back to Hanoi. I was reminded of The Italian. That same feeling of unavailability, of unwillingness to choose me or make me a priority, of me being sidelined.
And that feeling wouldn’t let up.
So I ended it. My intuition tells me that I am 100% right.
And despite a couple of messaging sessions after I called it quits, I have not been convinced otherwise. Nothing has changed. None of my questions have been answered. And now this man has dropped off the face of the Earth.
I have to say he was clever. Very clever. He told me enough of the truth that I didn’t suspect he was being dishonest or playing me or stringing me along. He talked of his plans for us for the future, of business projects we would work on together (I even registered a website and designed a logo), of the travelling we would do, where we would go. He made me feel sexy and desirable and told me so regularly. I believed him because I had no reason to doubt him. Until I started doing the maths and added up all the excuses and subtracted all the missing time and divided every fucking thing by inaction.
Despite all this, I’m proud of myself. I loved (or was prepared to love) with complete abandon and openness and trust. I was prepared to risk being vulnerable and the possibility of being hurt because I bought into something I believed in. It — we — could have been amazing. Was I hurt by this man? Of course, and I was deeply saddened by his cavalier disregard of my feelings. And his dishonesty. Will it impact my ability to love in the future? Abso-fucking-lutely not. To quote my dear friend Melissa, my side of the street was squeaky clean.
What I know for sure is that not everyone’s motives and intentions are pure. Especially when it comes to sex and matters of the heart. And the only way to really figure that shit out is with time.