Rekindling old flames: Reflections on Tinder, dating, and relationships
By: Emma Hardy
Jack* was late. I sat in a plywood booth off to the side of the small bar, worried that the dimly lit atmosphere was too romantic. Would he get the wrong impression? Should I move? I didn’t move.
I pretended to write in my notebook, but my eyes were glued to the door. Finally, he walked in. He was tall and cute in a gawkish way, like I remembered from his profile. He took one step inside, turned around and walked straight back outside. No-one had stood up me before, and this seemed a remarkably bold way to do it. My phone buzzed: “I’m here, just getting money from the ATM”. Oh, okay then.
My palms were sweaty by the time he returned. I bypassed a handshake and went in for a hug. It was stiff. Our bodies bumped disjointedly off one another.
“Take a seat,” I said. And he did.
“So,” I started, “Why didn’t we work out?”
This wasn’t our first Tinder date, but our second. However, unlike most second dates, ours had taken over six months to arrange. And I was definitely not single.
The idea had come to me a few weeks earlier. I was reading on the couch, snuggled up against my boyfriend in an idyllic picture of domesticity, when my phone went off. Thoughtlessly, I picked it up and read: “One year since Shaggy. Thank you!”.
Like a rush of vertigo, I remembered that day exactly one year ago. The text was from my first Tinder date, AJ*. He had taken me to a Shaggy concert. It would be a cop out to say that I was a totally different person back then, but the sentiment is there.
I had downloaded Tinder a few days into a pretty big break-up. Like many before me, I claimed that I was only using it for a laugh. In reality, I wanted to feel desirable. Tinder gave me access to countless women, men and non-binary people who were interested in me. Sure, it sometimes felt like a festering pit of straight dudes, but those dudes liked me. And given I was still living with my ex, I needed every distraction I could get.
AJ had played the role of the perfect rebound. Different in every way from my ex, he was straight, masculine, and had most of the world as his oyster. He was a homeowner at 23 years old, so forgive me for not affording him my sympathies.
AJ was great because he was fun and I didn’t have to care about him. We went on two dates and then he went back to the UK, relegated to the domain of witty anecdotes and inappropriate banter. Until, of course, his message popped up in my WhatsApp.
Settled once more in the cosy embrace of monogamy, I thought back to my short six months on Tinder. Why had it worked out with Max and not the others? I’m not polyamorous, but I could imagine myself with any combination of the men and women I had matched with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so in love it borders on delusional. Max is perfect. He’s taller than me, but still small enough that I could take him in a fight. He’s everything I look for in a partner, really. Still, it seems arbitrary that I fell for him and not, say, the cute screenwriter who accidentally sent me texts meant for her sister. Or the beautiful activist with the giant dog.
So I decided to draw back on the tenuous connections I had made. I re-downloaded the app and started to scroll through my forgotten matches.
Jack was patient with my questions, if not a little condescending. I remembered the kiss at the end of our first date. I hadn’t enjoyed it. He had been too eager, too awkward. Then, meeting him again, too defensive.
“Why didn’t we work out?”
“Because you bailed on our second date.”
Oh, right. I’d forgotten about that.
I asked Ellery*, the cute screenwriter, the same thing. I liked her more than Jack, but I had blown her off too.
My fickleness became a pattern. I went on one or two dates and then promptly abandoned them.
“Bad timing, I guess?” said most of my dates, and I wanted to agree. Everything could be reduced to an alignment in the stars. It wasn’t us; it was something bigger. It’s easier to blame timing than acknowledge the truth: we all wanted something better.
Tinder opened my eyes to how many fish are in the sea. What had started as a distraction soon became an obsession. Behind every match stood another, better, newer, more interesting and more exciting match. And another, and another. And, perhaps, behind those matches, was Lea Seydoux. I had to keep swiping to find out.
I entered every interaction already waiting for the next one to begin. I was the millennial technophobes warn you about: emotionally disconnected, attached to my iPhone and loving every second of my miserable anti-social existence.
Then I met Max. I wish I could pinpoint some greater connection, or say that I knew straight away, but in all honesty I greeted him with the same disinterest I gave everyone else. When he didn’t take me home after our first date, I messaged the activist with the giant dog instead.
Eventually, something changed. Perhaps I was exhausted: overstimulated by a surfeit of possibility. Perhaps the early symptoms of an RSI forced me to abandon my right-swiping ways. All I know is that I stopped searching for the next best thing, and started focusing on what I had in the moment. And now?
That’s the best thing I could ask for.
*Names have been changed.
Emma is a Melbourne-based writer who loves pottery but has never seen Ghost. While you won’t find her on Tinder anymore, you can always hit her up on Twitter: @bitesizedfem