I joined Tinder for the second time because my roommate and her girlfriend split up. There are a lot of reasons why people join Tinder: they’re lonely, they want sex, they want to date outside their social circle, or, hey, maybe they’re lonely. Not me, though. I joined (for the second time) because I saw my roommate scrolling through Tinder while we watched television together, and I thought, “wait, me too.”
When you’re not on Tinder, you forget how fun Tinder can be. Let’s not get it confused: Tinder is awful. But still. It’s a constant distraction––perfect for a delayed train ride or a slow elevator. It’s a constant surge of notifications and validation. It’s a rush. I have so many matches. I am hot and I am fun.
He and I match sometime in mid- to late-July. I’m in the process of only right-swiping bros and body builders. I saw Magic Mike XXL and thought, “I could have one of these.” So far it’s a disaster. Someone calls me a “soft girl.” I get a message at 3 a.m. that just says, “you work out.” I imagine it’s a question but the punctuation is misleading.
That’s not to say I’m really putting in the effort. When I match with people more attractive than me, I troll them until they respond or ignore me. The only way I know how to flirt is to tease hot people. It’s not effective.
I message him first. I send him the same taunting message I send to five other guys that same night. I don’t mean taunting in a sexy way. I mean, I’m making fun. I’m being bad. Later I find out that his Tinder strategy is to right-swipe every girl. It’s okay. He responds to my message with a nothing answer. He’s not playing ball. That’s fine. He’s allowed.
The next day, he asks me what I did to piss off men that day. I cock an eyebrow, or I would have if I knew how. I’m listening. I mean, Tinder is on a screen, but I’m paying attention nonetheless.
We start to message regularly. Occasionally on Tinder you face a kind of disconnect––someone who can’t exactly figure out what you’re going for. In fairness, texting is hard, but we’re on the same page. Game recognizes game. We’re flirting with abandon and we don’t care about it. It’s great.
I go to ask him out, by which I mean I go to show my friend his profile. “He’s a thousand miles away,” my friend points out.
What the fuck.
“You’re a thousand miles away,” I message him immediately.
“I am,” he tells me.
“What the fuck.”
“I was in town for a music festival,” he explains. “I hate it when people write ‘just here for two days’ on their profile so I didn’t. It felt skeezy.” He’s not wrong but also he’s a thousand miles away.
“If you’re a thousand miles away, how will we ever kiss?” I ask him. It’s the most forward I’ve ever been on Tinder, but there’s nothing to lose. Don’t make me remind you he’s a thousand miles away.
There’s almost nothing to say at this point. He’s a guy I talk to on Tinder. There are a lot of guys to talk to on Tinder. The only saving grace is that I’m going to his city in two months. My best friend from college lives out there. Would it really be the most ridiculous thing, I wonder, to see him out there? Seems almost too convenient.
“Maybe I’ll see you,” I tell him.
“Yeah, maybe,” he agrees.
HOW WILL WE
What follows is both strange and completely ordinary: we don’t stop talking. We exchange numbers. We become Facebook friends. We follow each other on Instagram. We become “friends,” in quotes, because this is the 21st century, and I’m not sure how to explain what it is we are. We communicate regularly, if not constantly.
One night I’m feeling particularly lonely and I teasingly suggest FaceTime. “Teasingly suggest” is how I ask anyone to do anything these days; I can safely fall back on “oh, I was kidding” the second the seams begin to fray. He takes the bait though, and with my phone propped up on my nightstand, we talk for too long. I watch him write my name on his wall calendar for the weekend I’m in town.
I get a little embarrassed to talk about it with my friends, but I do because I also can’t keep my mouth shut. The concept of an internet friend is not new to me. I am a child of LiveJournal and Myspace and Tumblr. I do most of my networking through internet friends. I’ve sent mail to total strangers. I’m not afraid of it at all. It’s the opposite. It’s good to have someone to talk to who doesn’t have stakes in any part of my life. The convenience of internet friends is location: you’re all online and if you’re not, you’re not. No one ever has to be online and in turn there’s less holding people accountable. It’s easy. It feels good.
He sends me songs on Spotify. I send him #longreads.
We tell each other about dates we go on. They’re all underwhelming. They’re laughable. We act like we know the other’s type, but we don’t, really.
“What do guys do that you hate?” he asks me.
“They don’t listen,” I explain. “They talk and talk. I get to a point where I hate them the second they open their mouths.”
“I like listening to you,” he says.
I send the blushing, smiling emoji. It’s all we’ve got.
The weeks leading up to my trip start to dwindle. The pressure builds. It might be the most nervous I’ve been in my life for a first date. I delete Tinder from my phone. I start to tell a handful more of my friends, even a few coworkers. Mostly what I tell them is that I’m terrified.
“The good news,” someone tells me, “is that it’ll either be great or terrible. Either way it’s a story.”
AND THERE’S SEXIST
AND THERE’S GROSS,
BUT WHAT’S WORSE THAN
The worst crime you can commit in the 21st century is to be boring. There’s horrible and there’s sexist and there’s gross, but what’s worse than boring? There’s no story with boring. There are no screenshots. You don’t make it to the sitting face-to-face part of Tinder with a crazy person; you make it to that place with a seemingly normal one and then if they bore you? Woof. What a nightmare.
So, worst case scenario: I’ve gone one thousand miles to sit across from someone who bores me.
He and I agree to meet on Saturday night, the second night of my trip. Better to do it towards the beginning, in case I need some kind of buffer zone afterwards. I’m with three of my college friends for the weekend. They know the deal. Well, they know most of the deal. My college friends, God bless them, are not the types to meet up with strangers. But they get me. We’re all hot, young, cosmopolitan women here.
“We’ll call around eleven,” they tell me, “and if that needs to be your out, we’ll come get you.”
It’s a plan. I depart our dinner, scared out of my fucking mind, and head to the bar where I agreed to meet him. I beat him there, of course, because I beat everyone everywhere. The bar’s on a corner and so am I, leaning against a brick wall like a two-dimensional love interest in an indie film. I wait, and a girl with a shaved head walks in. I think about cutting off all of my hair.
I’m scanning the sidewalk looking for him and suddenly: there he is, bounding up to the bar. He’s taking earbuds out, he’s grinning like an idiot, and I think: I have to do this, this is about to happen, I can’t control it.
I don’t remember what we say to each other initially but it’s warm and it’s friendly. We hug. We laugh. It feels like this is a normal thing, and we’re nervous and intimidated by each other in a normal way. We head into the bar and right up to the counter. He does the classic move of putting-his-hand-on-my-shoulder-while-he-tries-to-figure-out-my-drink-order. You’d know it if you saw it.
“Ginger ale, right?” he asks.
We sit out on the patio with a pack of cigarettes between us and we talk for three hours. When I say I don’t know what we talked about, I’m being honest. The conversation was uncomplicated, like muscle memory, like picking something up you’d never meant to drop. We laugh a lot. We look each other in the eye when the other person speaks. It’s going well.
At one point, I show him something on my phone, and as I go to put it away, he grabs my left hand, looking at my nails.
“What should I paint my nails?” I had texted him earlier that week.
“Don’t ask me that,” he had told me, “that’s not even Boyfriend shit.”
“Silver,” he says now.
“I thought it would be fun,” I explain. “I thought, ‘even if I don’t get laid, I have silver nails.’”
He smiles. He lets go of my hand. “I don’t see a lot of silver nail polish.”
There are more drinks, more ginger ales. There are more stories. There’s a reshuffling of seats, and suddenly we’re next to each other instead of across. Our knees touch. It’s very high school, parts of this, but not all of high school was bad. I get the call from my friends, just checking in, and I tell them to leave me behind. I’ll find my way back.
We decide to go to another bar. We walk quietly through the neighborhood. The nerves had dissipated for a while at the other bar, but now, who knows? A second bar is unforeseen territory. Even on a regular date in my own city, I’d be anxious going to a new location.
He stops in front of a Mexican restaurant. “I think we should go to that bar back there.” He nods a few storefronts down.
“But,” he says, “I think we should kiss first.”
We kiss on the street, like idiots. I’m laughing. I can’t help it. It’s pretty funny, all of this.
He pulls away and nods, more to himself than to me. “You want another ginger ale?” he asks.
It’s more of the same at the second bar, but maybe with less pressure. We talk, we laugh, we kiss. We’re sitting closer now, backed away in a little corner with our legs touching under the table. He reaches for my hand at one point and I let him take it.
I DON’T GET LAID,
I STILL HAVE
He asks the worst question: “What happens now?”
“What are my options?”
“Well,” he says, “the way I see it, we have two options. We do this, and we have this, and then this is it. It’s done. Or you know, we do this, and we have this, and then we, you know, talk. Maybe we talk more.”
“We’ll talk more,” I tell him, definitive at first, and then: “Right?”
He smiles. “Sounds right to me.”
We wind up back at his place after an unclear amount of time. We talk more. We laugh more. We kiss more. At one point, we’re sitting on his couch and he’s just touching my hand, running his fingers down my palm. He asks what the lines mean, if anything. I wish I knew, I told him. He presses his thumb against a scar I have at the base of my thumb, a red, uneven crescent shape I’ve had since I was 10.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he admits, and then: “Just trying to be close.”
We don’t have sex. There are multiple reasons for that, but this is the one I’ll choose to share: there’s no urgency. There’s no rush. There’s none of that we-have-to-fuck-or-we’ll-die feeling. I’ve had that, and it’s pure and strange in its own way. But once again, that isn’t what this is. It’s a first date, after all. Weeks and weeks of this, and we still barely know each other.
The morning is difficult. Mornings are always difficult. It’s not the hungover, light-of-day “what have I done?” type of difficult. It’s a “how do we end this?” type of difficult. It’s about closure, but that’s a myth. We don’t get a conclusion. Does anyone these days? 8 billion connections with no conclusions. So, instead, we get me standing at the doorway at 9 a.m., saying, finally, “we’ll talk.”
My friends ask how it all went. I say it was great, but I can already feel the specifics of the whole thing escaping, like trying to remember a dream you just woke up from. I forgot who sat where, which block this was, what time we went to bed. I put it out of my mind. The rest of my trip passes unremarkably. I go back home to my apartment and my job and my friends who live by me. I don’t re-download Tinder.
It is both dramatic and a lie to say we don’t talk again. We do talk again: about an Instagram he posts, about my Halloween costume, about Shia LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies. We’re talking but we’re not sharing. “We should FaceTime at some point,” I suggest, and he agrees, but we both know what we’re doing. We’re placating the other. We’re being polite instead of honest. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
“We’ll talk more” was not, in fact, the right answer; it was just an easy one.
The temptation to get back on Tinder hasn’t surged since the fall. I’m doing alright without it. I’m distracted enough as is. I still make my friends show me their Tinder matches. It’s fun. I can’t say no to it. I love to weigh in. I swipe through, laughing at bios, laughing at pictures, laughing at half-hearted attempts between two people, just trying to be close.
Fran Hoepfner is a writer and comedian from Chicago. She’s also on Twitter.