The first week after I moved to Ireland, at the age of 20, was probably the worst of my life.
My acceptance letter into the Modern Literature graduate program at University College Dublin came to my house in Hamilton on August 20th. The course started on September 4th. I had nowhere to live and nowhere to go. I was deeply in love with my roommate who was seeing my friend behind my back. My mother came with me to Dublin, apparently for the express purpose of dealing with her grief of me leaving by having late night screaming matches constantly for the four days we shared a hotel room.
My first apartment in Dublin was somehow over two bars. It was the swing of the Celtic Tiger. You have to understand that Ireland was so poor for so long, that when they got rich, it completely went to their collective heads. Think about how you feel in the last week leading up to your pay check, when you have $10 in your bank account. When payday finally comes, you go nuts and buy a round for the whole bar. Imagine if an entire country did that. That’s Ireland.
I was broke, lonely and heartbroken. I was starting a graduate program I wasn’t sure about, and lived dangerously close to two late-night alcohol dispensaries. I stopped sleeping, stopped eating, started sleeping around a lot and eked out a disappointing European existence. The fees for college were well over $12,000, none of which I could pay. My dreams of becoming a literature professor myself were quickly extinguished by the utter hopelessness in the eyes of my own professors at University College Dublin. The thousand-yard-stare of these professionals who dedicated their live to a love of text, only to have their magnum opuses read by other members of a small incestuous community of academics.
It was during these two years in Dublin that I accidentally developed a habit of sleeping with other women’s boyfriends and husbands. I say “accidentally” in the most accurate way, as I never learned these men were someone else’s boyfriend or husband until the girlfriend or wife would inform me of this, usually in angry/tearful phone call. The first time I got this call, it was to say the least, awkward. The second time, I was a little bit better prepared, or as prepared as one can be. The third and fourth times it happened, however, I could only answer the women’s responses with a mix of ennui and incredulity. After I had to explain to my boss’s wife as to why her infant son would be seeing his father on every other weekend from now on, I swore off dating for a while.
It was some strange coincidence that during my years in Dublin, more than once I began to pursue a Vocation. More than once I sat down with a nun at my local church—which I attend more than weekly—and spoke to her about the process of a life of devotion. I stood there in church every Saturday and most Sundays and felt every fiber of my being lit up with belief. God was something that I felt personally in my life every day. I spoke with Him, I thought. I had that personal relationship people trying to save you on street corners talk about. Jesus was the only person I was in love with who was seeing other people and didn’t care.
But it was during this time, that my mother gave birth to my little brother. I met him two days after he was born in 2007 and everything I had felt all of those hours in mass flooded from my heart in one fell swoop. I knew then that becoming a nun was at least, not for me. Although, in retrospect, perhaps I did not have to reject that life as vehemently as I did.
It wasn’t all bad. Dublin’s a great city. If you have money and want to party, it should be your first stop. Everyone speaks like they’re stuck in a Henry James novel. They use the word “grand” without irony. I made great friends and met the love of my life while living there.
I always think of Conor and myself as pretty emblematic of the 21st century. We’re way too educated, non-monogamous, now-atheist, cycling enthusiasts. We met in the most 21st century way anyone could think of. We met on Facebook.
Conor is 31 and has been in university most of his adult life. He has four degrees at varying levels. One night after half a bottle of Chablis, I realized I was lonely and horny and spent some quality time on Facebook. I was renting a 50 square foot bachelor in Portobello, Dublin for what was $900 a month (€600). I plugged in everything I wanted in a man: alive, single and in Dublin. I’d like to say I only poked Conor that night. I’d like to say that, but two weeks later I set up a date for Friday with an almost painfully attractive Economics Ph.D student from Stuttgart and a date for Saturday with Conor.
I slept with Mr. Deutschland on the first date. It didn’t work out with the German economist though. He was too funny, I guess.
The date with Conor was a disaster. He burped constantly, said all the wrong things (like how much he disliked Canada when he lived in Vancouver for three months), and he seemed almost scared of me. When Conor walked me home, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep with him. I’d be a lady this time and give him a firm handshake. My last words before I closed my door were, “You’d better call me.” And he did. That was three years ago.
He had gone back to school to become an engineer at 28. He was going to be stuck in Dublin for the next three years, at least. He moved back in with his parents who, to this day hold an amusing, cordial disdain for the top-heavy Canadian girl who enamored their son. And sex, oh my, Saving Private Ryan didn’t start as abysmally as our sex life did. Conor attended a very prestigious Jesuit boarding school in Ireland, featured in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as Joyce himself had been an alumnus of the school. The Jesuits kept him and the other boys hidden away from women most of his formative years. He lost his virginity at the tender age of 23. One thing the priests did instill in Conor, however was an enthusiasm for learning. Conor is nothing if not enthusiastic.
While we spent the next year falling in love, Ireland lost its financial shit. I hopped from job to job, desperate to keep my head above water. In September of 2008, it became clear that there was nothing for me there other than my love for Conor. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my most recent positions, though, it’s that love is expensive.
We tearfully parted, with some brief vacations together for the next year and a half, until he moved to Toronto to be with me. I cheated on him, he cheated on me, but we always came back together. We talk a lot. Our conversations are about everything from Irish politics, to the beginning of the universe to Gossip Girl “plots.”
It’s almost impossible to talk about how in love you are without sounding like a jackass. It just is. The world will always revolve around the sun, the poor life decisions of celebrities will always take up mainstream news time, and any description of your love will be douchey. We can all just accept it and move on. The best thing about our relationship, however, is how boring it is. It is so fantastically boring. Nothing ever just happens. Anything romantic is planned weeks in advance. Our relationship is a warm Aran sweater on a cold day; comforting, familiar, often unflattering and deliciously boring.
So the big question, when I mention my boyfriend to other girls at my agency is always, always, always, “Does he…know?”
And the answer is, “Of course he knows. What a silly thing to ask.”
It baffles me how someone could live with their boyfriend and keep escorting a secret. Or more, accurately, why anyone would choose to spend their downtime and life with someone you had to lie to. The only thing that’s going to get you through those hard times is a solid foundation of trust, honesty, and communication. If you think love and commitment is going to catch you when the bottom falls out, when you argue about sex and money and goals, it won’t. My only tried tested and true relationship advice I could possibly give someone is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I’ll blow the lid off of this for all of the civilians out there: most escorts have boyfriends. If you hire one, whatever she tells you, 90% of the time she has someone waiting for her at home, probably someone nicer, better adjusted and better looking than you. Sorry. Most women (and men) in the sex industry have boyfriends. Most of them, in my experience, are cool with it. A highly evolved version of human being does exist and Conor is one of them. It’s hard to imagine yourself as one of these people if you aren’t one already. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine being someone, and then you’ll wake up one day and be that person, whether it’s an escort or the man who loves one.
I try to put myself in the position of men a lot. I’ve learned so much about them in my job. I wonder if I’d be the kind of man who could date an escort. I’d like to think I’d be as cool as Conor is. Maybe there’s something heartening about getting something for free other men pay dearly for. There was never any moment of hesitation. When I paid off the first credit card I owed on, all of the old, hairy fat men I had slept with instead of him melted away. I was happy in my life for the first time in a long time.
At the risk of sounding like a jackass, happy about someone’s happiness, that, to me is love.