WORDS: BENJAMIN ROMERO '16
IMAGES: PHILLIP VAN
Five minutes late.
The coffee shop was decent for suburban New Jersey. Well, if I’m honest, it was absolutely-smack-down-superb considering it was not Starbucks. I sat at the counter by the front window, an ample spot for eyeing anyone who entered the place. Behind me, a girl interviewed for a college.
“And then, I do Best Buddies because it’s easy. Well, it’s not like hanging out with handicapped people is easy, but compared to the other clubs, well, it’s just like, easy comparatively. Like low time commitment and, well, oh, and service, you know what I mean?”
Ouch. Ten minutes late.
I’m half finished with my latte and eyeing the fastest route to the bathroom. It’s clear I could make a run for it. “Got a stomach flu” or “my friend got a concussion inexplicably leaving me to care for them even though I’m on winter break from school.”
“I’m just parking.”
His text. Fuck, brilliant, arriving late. Being early shows earnesty. Or worse, interest. As he he was walking across the street, I recognized him immediately. Tall (enough) and good-looking in a good way. Not sexy immediately, but like he’s a good person. That’s my soft spot. He wore sweatpants to my jeans, and he smiled as he walked into what he believed to be the entrance. It turned out to be the store next door. Upon realizing his mistake, he smiled again but looked visibly flustered. He couldn’t have done anything more perfect, even if it was unintentional.
Charlie and I matched on tinder. I’d like to say I have no stigma attached to that, but really, love at first swipe is a poor pun. He was sweet though. My parents say I use that term as a kinder way of saying ‘dumb.’ I mean it in this instance, though perhaps this is foreshadowing. We had a similar sense of flirting. He’d text me a picture of his sister; I’d say she was more attractive than he was. I’d suggest we meet up; he’d say ‘yeah maybe whatever.’ That type of thing, endearingly condescending.
I’ll spare you more summaries of flirting to say the first date went well, and the second and the third. It was January of Winter Break. Neither of us expected anything long term. He went to Cornell, a school known for, among other things, being in Middle-of-Nowhere, New York. I went to Wesleyan, a school known for, among other things, being in Middle-of-Nowhere, Connecticut. Still, he spoke in high terms, as if our relationship had more substance than a swipe.
“You know I’ve never had this happen before.”
We were in the back of his red pick-up truck, which made feel like I was in Grease or, worse, The Last Song. A costume change, and I’d have to use the word ‘necking’ and ask for his varsity jacket. Needless to say, I was into it.
“We just fell into things well. I don’t know how to explain it. It just hasn’t been this easy with another guy.”
I agreed. We had good banter and good chemistry. He could keep up.
“I like you.” He paused and kissed me. “A lot.”
We stared at each other, long and languid. He dropped me off that night and sent me a goodnight text. For those reading along, full disclosure: this is the peak.
Tinder bills itself frequently as a game. It linguistically twists previously unquantifiable romance into tangible moves. You have ‘Likes’ to use; you can even ‘Super-Like.’ You are either in or out of some nebulous geolocation of ‘Discovery.’ When you finally match with someone, it reads, “Send Message” or “Keep Playing.” It combines the terminology of middle-school dating with the know-how of Mario Party 4.
With Tinder, Grindr, Hinge, Bumble, and the rest of the flock, I am able to access hundreds and thousands of eligible mat(ch)es. Each app is a concoction of swiping and matching, messaging and favoriting, and bumbling around. And this is critical. Technology is not ahistorical, an objective instrument I adopt with strict rules. It has ideology and narrative. If it is framed like a game, it will be treated as a game.
The day after our Grease moment, a friend of mine from home sent me a screenshot. It was Grindr, and the picture was undeniably the bow-tie clad Charlie.
At first, I felt upset. I liked Charlie. Pause. A lot. How could he be on Grindr? Then, I felt irrational. He didn't done anything explicitly wrong. And then, I felt some combination of surprised, disappointed, over-it-yet-into-it, and mostly, confused. I felt lost, at once angry and at once jealous at once bashful. The question that loomed ominously on my mind: had I been looking as obviously too?
Even as I had talked to Charlie, I hadn't turned my phone of. Tinder still notified me of my score increasing and notified me that I had more swipes to use. It kept me playing. Even as I swooned, I played the game. In a culture saturated with more and more content, am I training myself never to be static? When do I stop swiping and start settling? When will I know to stop stop playing the game?
Charlie and I continued talking, but we never hung out before I went back to school. Later in the month, he suggested coming to visit me, but I decided against it. I couldn't get out of my head that the screenshot had illuminated something vacuous about our interaction, as if it had pulled back the curtain to reveal nothing there. He was just one of many, I guess.
After I declined, he said “Good luck with everything because I’m not really sure I’ll be seeing you again. Not something I’m happy about but it’s just kind of the truth of things.” The truth of things, I guess.