The last thing I expected to be doing a couple of weeks before a romantic getaway with my boyfriend was staring slack-jawed at his smiling face among a sea of dick pics and X-rated action shots in a seedy hookup site’s search results. Yet there he was on Adult Friend Finder with a hokey username below a clear picture of his face. For a smart man, he was a massive idiot.
The breakup was swift. He told me he was only on the site for porn and declared: “Either you believe me or you don’t.” Considering that his bio on the site started with ”I’m primarily looking for sex,” I didn’t believe him. Then he broke up with me.
Soon after, I was left alone with the Adult Friend Finder account I created to discover my ex’s. So, I did what any angry hot-blooded single woman would do. I started checking out profiles.
In no time, I was awash in a sea of lewd photos — limp dicks, hard dicks, spread-eagled men inexplicably displaying their assholes. Instantly, I had messages pouring in ― most of them so ridiculous they didn’t even deserve a reply. More than once, I asked myself what in the hell I was doing, but I didn’t delete my profile.
Eventually, after being disappointed and disturbed by the quality of gentleman callers, I decided to edit my profile and lay it out like I was on any regular dating site. I talked about enjoying music and the theatre, being a voracious reader of modern literature, and my desire to find someone intelligent and engaging. To prove I was totally over the semiliterate penis parade, I made the first line of my introduction: “Who’s got brains to go with their balls?”
This earned me some more refined suitors whose opening lines only hinted at the intent of the site instead of outright telling me all the gruesome and misspelled things they were going to do to me. What their messages lacked in overt vulgarity, they made up for with arrogance. Without fail, their lead foot was a profession they were sure would fill me with uncontrollable sapiosexual desire.
One example was the guy who bragged, ”Aerospace Engineer here. Big symphony lover. I read the New York Times every morning. Brains enough to go with my well-formed other parts.”
Of them all, my favorite self-promotion was, ”If critical thinking is your aphrodisiac, then I must be chocolate, oysters, and green M&Ms all rolled into one.”
I wasn’t nearly as impressed as they all hoped I would be. On the other hand, Mr. Engineer’s profile picture displayed some impressive muscles. My thirst for revenge on my ex (and thirst in general) led me to reserve a hotel room and agree to meet with him a couple of weeks later.
But right after I arranged my rendezvous, a surprising message landed in my inbox. A guy wrote me an email filled with questions. About me. After a little “I can’t even begin to say how gorgeous you are” and “Your beauty pales compared to your intellect” were some shockers like, ”What’s your favorite genre?” and “Who’s your favorite author?”
This new contender was a high school Latin teacher and the first guy to genuinely have manners without rambling on about how wonderful he was with three paragraphs’ worth of academic and career credentials.
“I’m Paul,” he ended his message, “and it’s a pleasure to meet you, I hope.”
We exchanged our email addresses. After a little correspondence, Paul won Mr. Engineer’s hotel room date.
In lieu of a cellphone exchange, the first nudes of our relationship were Roman statues at an art gallery. We wandered through the exhibits with Paul acting as both date and guide, entertaining me with the stories behind the mythological characters in the works on display.
Paul lacked all the bragging and preening of the other men who sent me messages. Rather, he was refreshingly normal: average build, a little on the short side, graying hair. His standout feature was a voice made for radio, deep and pleasant.
After our museum trip, we had dinner, then drinks, then we headed up to my hotel room. All told, a rather successful first date.
Not long into seeing each other, Paul mentioned that he was sick. An inherited condition had shut down his kidneys years before, and his body was currently working with one donated by his father.
His attitude was amazingly accepting about the whole thing. “I’m going to be bummed when this kidney runs out of steam,” he admitted. “I’m not looking forward to being on dialysis. But I’ve lived with this all my life, and it’s just another one of those things.”
I couldn’t believe someone could call end-stage renal disease “just another one of those things.”
“You have to get through it and get on with it,” he shrugged, “because otherwise what’s the point?”
In addition to being impressively resilient, Paul was interesting and respectful — a rare find among the creeps who had contacted me — and a catch by any other standards, as well. But I just didn’t have the energy after the whole blowup with my ex. I backpedaled our relationship to friend status, and over time, we mostly fell out of touch.
Months passed. I eventually opted out of relationship attempts altogether and was spending lots of quality time with my cats. One day, an email showed up.
“Most of you know that my transplanted kidney has been declining for a while,” Paul wrote. “My doctors think that, within a year or so, I’ll need another transplant or dialysis. I’d like to avoid dialysis, though. It can lead to complications, and even when it goes well, I understand it’s kind of miserable. Also, living donor kidneys are more successful than cadaver organs. And so, my doctors have asked me to try to find a donor. ‘Bring us a warm body!’ was their specific instruction.”
It wasn’t a lack of desire to help that prevented me from responding ― it was the Army. I was enlisted at the time and doubted the military would be keen on the idea of a soldier getting an organ removed, even for a worthy cause. I reluctantly archived the email and crossed my fingers that someone else would come along who happened to be willing, able and Type O.
Around a year after our first date, we met to catch up and see a play. Though there were plenty of parts worth laughing at, the performance was pretty gloomy. As the main characters spiraled toward their inevitable ends, one grimly mused, “Dying is not romantic.” I looked over at Paul and saw that his eyes were bright with tears.
His dialysis had begun. He was paler, weaker, slower, and more miserable overall. He was “getting through it and getting on with it,” but it was taking a toll on him.
My friend was dying. It was not romantic.
I got home from the play and sent an email to Paul’s transplant coordinator. “I’m hesitant to jump in the potential donor pool because I’m in the military,” I wrote. “I’m not certain I could actually get approval to donate.” I begged her to keep it a secret from Paul, not wanting to get his hopes up.
Everything after that was a flurry of tests and paperwork. Physical, CT scan, EKG, chest X-ray. Psychiatrists from the civilian and military worlds both interviewed me to make sure I wasn’t too unstable to make my own decisions. Every time I turned in one document, I needed a signature on another.
Throughout the whole process, statistics constantly ran through my mind. The average wait time for a cadaver kidney is five years, and Paul had just been put on the national waiting list when he began dialysis. At any given time, the list has nearly 100,000 people on it.
My secret from Paul didn’t stay under wraps for quite as long as I wanted. Before I got a thumbs-up from the military, another of his friends who was going through testing heard from the transplant team that there was a strong contender waiting for the Army’s permission. She spilled the beans.
When he found out, Paul told me he immediately felt what he could only describe as pure joy. He was elated and relieved, but most importantly, “for the first time in months, hopeful.” I tried to feel confident that everything would work out, but was terrified of disappointing him if I ultimately couldn’t donate.
It took four nail-biting months of waiting. After getting medically cleared and pushing paperwork all the way to the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, my request was finally approved.
When Paul and I met again in the hospital after the surgery, I was flooded with a relief there aren’t words for. I’ve been told I should be proud of myself. I’m not. I’m grateful. I gave a good man more time. He’s so much healthier now and off dialysis. My kidney is serving him well. With luck, it’ll hold out for many years to come.
I often get asked why I was willing to donate to someone I hadn’t known for very long, even though any health complications could’ve jeopardized my Army career. Most people who would shell out an organ for someone are doing it for a family member. Many say they couldn’t do it, no matter what.
But here’s the thing: Paul was dying. It would’ve been a long, slow road of suffering while he waited for a cadaver kidney that probably wouldn’t have been as functional as my living one. People don’t need two kidneys to live a normal life. I wasn’t that likely to experience negative side effects and it turned out that I didn’t. Those who make it through the donor selection process are already healthy, so the surgery doesn’t usually affect them much. And I can’t stress this enough: Paul was dying. I wanted to save the life of my dying friend.
Realistically, Paul probably did me a service, too. Revenge-screwing some muscle from a hookup site wasn’t the safest life choice I could make. Paul was proof that there were still decent men in the world, but any other online rando might not have been one of them.
Since the surgery, we’ve remained friends. Though we don’t see each other very often, we talk online almost daily. A while back he married another Latin teacher, whom I’m sure he also wooed with Roman nudes.
If you’re considering becoming a living organ donor — and I strongly recommend you do — you can get more information here.
Liz Armstrong is finally wrapping up her undergraduate studies after spending eleven years in the Army and a handful more bobbing aimlessly through life. A student at the University of Maryland, College Park, she is pursuing degrees in English and Chinese, though how she will apply them remains a mystery. She lives with her wife and three cats.