20 Something: Dating in the Early 21st Century, The Tinderverse

“You should come over tonight.”

Jumping the gun. Ignore.

“Hey.”

Boring. Ignore.

“Wanna see my dick?”

Block.

“You seem like a wonderfully insightful person, and I would love to get to know you better.”

You can tell this from my picture and one line about being in school while working full-time? You are both insincere and unoriginal. Ignore.

As I scroll through the messages, I wonder how we, as a society, have come to this. I wonder when courtship and dating turned into dick pics and not even an attempt at pick up lines. I rarely try to start conversations because I still subscribe to certain potentially sexist notions about what is his job as the male and what is my job as the female. However, on the rare occasion that I do encounter a male specimen who appears to be gorgeous enough—or a female in general, because sexist notions get thrown out the window in that instance—I have a go-to pick up line involving icebreakers and the Titanic, which may not be all that witty or effective but at least I’m trying something here.

The most depressing thing is that I’ve seen online dating work—at least at first. I met my former fiancé on OkCupid. Clearly that did not work out, but we had a good run. Of course, that is also the reason why I can’t bear to return to that particular dating site. Instead, after my latest breakup—which was a doozy involving him bursting into tears while I told him it was totally fine that he was breaking my heart—I somehow ended up on Tinder. This app is the place where all chances of meaningful relationships go to die. Swipe right if the person’s two pictures and Imgur link look attractive; swipe left if they remind you of Caliban. If you swipe right on someone, and they also swipe right on you, there’s the option of actually starting a messenger conversation with them. It’s essentially the straight person’s answer to the app Grindr. Although users can post a little something about themselves, many don’t bother. Users can also post up to six photos; some stick with just one. It is the perfect metaphor for the modern dating world of my generation: superficial, pointless, and mildly addictive.

I am proud to say that I did not discover this app on my own. About a week before my relationship imploded, my neighbors broke off their engagement. They were close friends of ours, which is probably how the ensuing drama—think soap opera in all caps—unfolded. I got the guy, and my ex got the girl. Unfortunately, not in a romantic sense for me and only in an STD sense for him—that last bit is conjecture, but if you knew her, you’d understand. My new best guy friend is the one who introduced me to Tinder after refusing in the most chivalric fashion not to let me fall into his arms as the damsel in distress that I so desperately pretended to be. This was incredibly vexing as he is probably one of the few decent human beings on Tinder, and as such, he almost immediately met a lovely young art teacher with a tragic back story and a love of animals. I sometimes wish that my life could be so cinematic.

At any rate, prior to meeting his future fiancé—again conjecture, but if you met her, you’d understand—my friend and I started a little wager of unspecified terms to see who could get the most matches on the app while being very picky about our right swipes. I won by a lot. However, I’m not convinced this should be a point of pride because it’s really not difficult for a photogenic female to gain matches. After all, the app was originally intended as a way to meet people in your immediate vicinity when boredom strikes, which in plain English translates to a hook-up app. Based on a few of the quoted messages above, it is easy to see that many users still view it as such. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s what bars are for.

On the other side of the coin, mon coloc—roommate in anglo-speech—also joined the app, and he had a terrible time getting any matches at all. While I am a petite, pretty female, he is a somewhat overweight, nerdy male. These stereotypical categories fall into opposite ends of the desirability meter for apps like this. Luckily, mon coloc is resigned to being a bachelor for a very long time, and he suspects that he may turn into a crazy cat man in his thirties. I would love to help him out with this situation, but unfortunately for him, I am an unintentional cooler for my male friends, and the only way our relationship could be any more platonic would be if he were a eunuch.

So, my friend met his next girlfriend, mon coloc met no one, and I had ten conversations going on at once. Mostly with people named Jacob, James, or Josh. This resulted in an absurd number of faux pas on my part. I know that my name is not particularly original, either, but I don’t see how parents expect anyone to keep their children straight if they insist on choosing the same letter of the alphabet for their names.

My first attempt at taking things from online into the real world was a total failure. To be fair, each of the handful of attempts were bad, but this was probably the worst. He was one of the J names; I forget which one. We had lovely conversations online, and he seemed to be a very understanding and empathetic gent. Plus, he bore a slight physical resemblance to the friend who conned me into joining Tinder. When he asked me to grab coffee and hang out, I thought it sounded like a swell idea. The details were a bit off, but a heartbroken young woman rarely thinks clearly when trying to jump back into the dating pool less than a month after the initial heartbreak when her ex has moved in with the unmentionable across the walkway. With that mindset, having him pick me up to grab coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts was not a bad idea. Neither was going to hang out at his house—thirty minutes away in Del City.

This could have easily turned into a date rape awareness video. Fortunately for me, my poor judgment was countered by his very sweet nature. We just watched Big O and Squidbillies while cuddling. I forgive him for his mediocre attempts at making a pass. I was so charmed by his mostly gentlemanlike conduct that I was willing to see him again. This could have been the beginnings of a budding romance. It wasn’t, but it could have been. The next evening that I saw him—which wasn’t nearly as soon as he wanted because he was already a level five clinger—he came to my apartment to watch a movie with mon coloc and me. There are few things that I hold sacred. I am a very giving person, so I gladly share most things that I have with people I care about. I had only recently met this boy, and thus I did not yet care about him. I would still have been willing to share, but I could not forgive the assumption that he was welcome to the beer in my fridge. A six-pack of Ziegenbock is not as holy as, for example, a bottle of chardonnay or Jack Daniel’s honey whiskey. However, once the six is down to three, do not touch my beer without my permission.

I’m pretty sure he still has no idea what he did wrong. It is possible that I could have trained him better over time as I have other stray puppies, but by this second meeting, his minimal charms were already wearing thin, and I had no patience for the task. I learned a valuable lesson, though: anyone, no matter how sweet-tempered, is a potential beer thief.

It was about this time that I learned another important lesson: never give out your phone number to these people, especially prior to meeting them in person. I think the guy that taught me this was one of the few whose name did not start with J. I never actually met him, but he apparently had an aversion to the instant messaging system of the app. I was naïve, so I agreed to move to the realm of slightly more real world texting. This particular would-be Casanova spent considerable time attempting to coax me into hanging out with him at his friend’s place where he was house-sitting. Even in my heartbreak haze that situation set off alarm bells that I couldn’t ignore. I have since had to block his number because even four months later, I would occasionally get a text asking “what’s up?” I somehow doubt that he even remembered who I was by that point.

I only met two other guys in person during this period. One isn’t particularly worth mentioning. He was too similar to my ex for me to let him hang around long for one thing. The other guy taught me another good lesson, though. He was another J name. Actually, he might have had the same name as the first guy, so I wish I could remember exactly what it was and stay away from men of that moniker from now on. As with the first J, we had wonderful online conversations, and he seemed to be an intelligent fellow, which is incredibly difficult to find in the pits of online dating. It took him nearly two weeks to work up the courage to ask me to dinner. I met him at the restaurant—point one to me for being smarter on this occasion. He wanted to get sushi, so point two goes to him for trying to be swanky. Also, he paid for dinner but didn’t fight me over leaving the tip, so he gets double points for that one. I wish I could say we had a delightful time in each other’s company while enjoying delectable Japanese food, but the food was only mediocre. Moreover, the conversation was stilted, and I wasn’t drinking my usual Gekkeikan because I was driving, so I didn’t even have the help of alcohol to make the conversation move forward a bit. Part of it was most likely my fault as I was having trouble remembering which J name he was at this point, so I had no idea what topics we had already covered in our online chit chat.

I thought that the lackluster nature of the date was apparent to us both, but when he walked me to my car, he still suggested a second date. I made some polite noises about god knows what, and he said he would message me—this being after the persistent non-J name guy. He did attempt to message me the next day, but he soon gave up. I felt terrible that I let him pay for dinner when even halfway through the meal I knew it was going nowhere. I explained all this to a male friend of mine—who, incidentally, was trying to chat me up but could never quite follow through on paying me a visit—and he told me to stop being such a girl. I’m still not entirely sure what was implied by that, but the lesson I did pick up from the bad date was: some people are not good with social situations in person, and I am too judgmental to deal with that.

Often while on Tinder I had to wonder how else I could possibly meet people because this was clearly not working. The world is so terrified of itself that encountering a stranger in a public place is far too dangerous to lead to a lasting romance—or even a first date. My grandmother was a waitress at a diner in Watertown, NY where my grandfather was stationed with the Air Force sometime in the late 1950s. He used to frequent the diner with his buddies. My grandmother maintains that the four men only ever ordered coffee, but my grandfather swears that he fell in love with her when she threw a hamburger at him. There was also something in the story about a bet between my grandfather and one of his friends over who would get a date with her first; I prefer not to spoil such a sweet romance angle with egotistical gambling, so I try to ignore that bit of the story. This kind of meeting would most likely not happen today.

About the same time I joined Tinder, I tried the whole letting things happen naturally in the real world. All I discovered is that I am very attractive to black men. Near my place of employment, there is a burger place where I used to grab lunch regularly—right up until a buff guy in a leg brace began continuously soliciting my digits. He wasn’t unattractive, and I have dated outside of my race before, but some little alarm in my millennial head was screaming “Run away!” So, I kept giving pathetic excuses for why I shouldn’t give him my number until finally he wrote his number on a napkin and slipped it into my to-go bag. In hindsight, perhaps I should have given him a call—or more likely a text—if for no better reason than to be able to keep eating those delicious veggie burgers. I’m not even sure if he still works there, but I avoid going anyway.

My second real world incident was actually at my place of employment. It could have been the start of an epic romance to tell my grandchildren about later. It wasn’t, but it could have been. I was moving a group of Fisher Price toys from their normal home at the back of the store to a display by the entrance, despite knowing that a week later someone—probably me—would be moving them back to the toy section. I was deep in contemplation over this weird retail logic when I was tapped on the shoulder by a young man carrying a backpack, which is extremely shady practice in a retail environment. He smiled and said, “Are you married?”

I just kind of stared at him because he could have said: how are you today; where are the bathrooms; or even, are you single. I’m going to blame the next awkward five minutes on my utter confusion at his choice of conversation starter. I would also like to say that is the reason he walked away without my number, but I’m not really sure that is the case. I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling slightly flattered but mostly wondering why I am so fine with giving a potentially fake person online my number but not a flesh-and-blood person who sucked up the courage to ask in a public setting.

The worst part about both of these scenarios is that I have had daydreams while working about meeting someone on the job. My grandparents’ story was very inspiring to me as an adolescent, and my job is not mentally stimulating enough to occupy my full attention, so my mind wanders a lot. I remember being stuck on a cash register one day checking out a customer—in both meanings of the phrase. I think he was talking about camping, which as a general rule I am iffy about, but for some reason I agreed that Broken Bow—or was it Arrow?—sounded lovely in January. Despite a few extra moments lingering at the register waiting for a price check, the transaction was over all too soon, and he walked out of my life for good. I like to think that would not have happened had I met him on the dating app instead of in the real world.

I eventually gave up on the Tinder experiment. There’s no way to actually delete the account that I could find, but I removed the app from my phone. It was harder than I expected to let go of all the positive attention—even in the form of unsolicited penis pictures through the app’s Moments function. Moments allows users to share pictures with all of their matches at once. The matches can then swipe right or left on the picture and potentially start a conversation that way if they are so socially inept that they need a little inspiration. I found that it was rarely used in that capacity, and I marveled at the utter confidence and low-level of brain activity required for guys to utilize it in the more exhibitionist fashion. But in the end, I did let go of the attention. I decided that no matter how difficult or unpopular meeting someone through natural channels might be, that is how I want to meet the next person I date—despite already passing up two opportunities to do that.

Of course immediately after this resolution my ex came wiggling back into my life. I wish I could say that my attempts at Tinder-dating and my new apartment had driven all thoughts of him from my head, but—not to be sexist or anything—I’m a woman. It actually might be more accurate to just say that I’m a person with feelings. I did make him show me the STD test results before I let him start staying over, though. If I learned nothing else from my foray into online dating, it’s that I can never be too careful. Well, that and never give a stranger access to the mini fridge.

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