Girl On Girl: Tinder, Modern Love & Watery Maybes
New York Fashion Week just happened. Of all of the things I’ve discovered in my first year living in New York, Fashion Week is one of my favorites. Think of the Fleet Week episode of “Sex in the City,” but with queer women and more leather jackets. The fall/winter Fashion Week in February felt like a consolation for putting up with the hell that was my first winter in New York. So, at the tail end of summer, now that my vitamin-D levels are almost normal and my skin is dark enough to match my foundation again, I figured I’d kill it on Tinder.
So, I swiped through a lot of pictures of tall girls in short dresses, and then I deleted the app off my phone. I had Tinder ennui.
We have so many opportunities to say yes in the world of love that we have lost our ability to say no which leaves us stranded in a watery maybe.
There have been a lot of words written about Tinder and what it means for modern dating. There are essays on essays about the dangers of excess, the death of romance, and the misogyny of hookup culture. But, as a queer woman, I recognize the internet as an essential part of dating. Your immediate dating pool can be small and incestuous, gay bars are not always the best place to find a meaningful relationship, and accidentally hitting on straight girls can be awkward and embarrassing. I don’t feel like online dating is ruining true love, but I do think that by expanding our opportunities to say yes, we forget how to say no.
I am deep millennial, but I do remember a brief period in my life where I dated the old-fashioned way before online dating became the social norm. I ended up in two relationships this way. The first girl I met at the bookstore that she worked at. I spent several weeks going in and buying cool books and magazines to seem hip and cultured before finally actually speaking to her and asking her out. The second I made out with drunkenly at an underwear party at a gay bar. The best part of our story was that, when we met, I offered to buy her a drink and then handed her the money because, uh, I was only 18 and couldn’t legally buy alcohol yet. The common thread in these stories is that I had to establish concrete interest and they had to reciprocate that same interest before we ever hung out. Our first dates started with mutual curiosity and interest and the rest came pretty easy.
Online dating is a routine. I passively swipe through faces. I’m only moderately discerning. I swipe right on girls that seem attractive or interesting, but they aren’t necessarily the kind of girl I’d stalk at a bookstore. Getting matches doesn’t feel that special, it’s more like taking a second look when you’re at the bar. If conversations happen, it’s just a variation on a script. When it’s not “hey” or “how’s your day?”, the most common first messages I get are “Is that your dog?”; “I like your hat.”; or “You look good in flannel.” There isn’t that much information available on Tinder, so there isn’t that much room for creative introductions, but in excess, it feels stale (and it wreaks of lesbian stereotypes).
First dates off of dating apps and sites are tricky and, obviously, a drink at a bar is key. It’s a public place that is easy to escape or draw out depending on the situation. These passive first dates leave a lot up in the air about mutual interest. It often leaves you wondering whether you liked them or they liked you or if the date even went well. There are some deeper insecurities like whether or not your profile picture is true to real life, if you’re more charming through texts, and, oh god, did you really wear the same outfit in your profile picture to your date? First dates that double as first meets are historically terrible. People in the ’90s hated blind dates and, in this decade, we volunteer for them.
There was a time where if you met someone that you wanted to date, you had to look them up in the phone book (I can’t even remember the last time I’ve even seen a phone book) to call them and ask them out on a date. If the Super Like on Tinder is thirsty, then what was that? Facing awkward rejection while establishing so much interest that you would find them in the white pages takes something that I don’t think we have anymore. It is the antithesis of the thought we put into “playing it cool.”
I grew up in the digital age. I work in tech. I love it for increasing communication between people, the accessibility of information, and the fact that someone can create a web app that lets you use Donald Trump’s face to draw pictures. The internet is amazing. But I can also see where it had made me completely socially awkward. I use Lyft instead of hailing cabs. I use Seamless instead of having to call a restaurant and order delivery. I email customer service to complain instead of calling to complain to a real person. If I’m mad at a friend, I’ll reorder my Top 8 and make a passive aggressive MySpace bulletin about them. We have all of these apps to avoid these tiny interactions that used to empower us. There is no digital equivalent to the times where you accidentally answered the phone when a telemarketer called and had to explicitly say “I’m not interested.”
It’s these tiny incidents in life that build up our ability to express ourselves. So, we forget how.
I can think of very few people that I’ve met off of any dating app that I would have searched for in the phone book just to ask out. Instead, I passively date. I go out on a lot of first dates where I don’t know if they’ll be interested in me or if I’ll be interested in them. It’s “take it or leave it” dating. Our watery maybes.
Scrolling through my Tinder matches, there are a couple of ways that things can go. One person messages and the other never responds. Conversation happens, but quickly fizzles out. Numbers are exchanged, but plans are never made. Plans are made, cancelled, and then never rescheduled. A first date happens and we never talk again. A few dates happen and we may or may not have slept together, but now our only interactions are through Snapchat stories and the occasional Instagram creep. The thing that all of these scenarios have in common is that there is nothing explicit about it. There is no “I’m not interested” or “I have a girlfriend now” or “I accidentally slept with someone else immediately after our first date and I took that as a sign that things probably weren’t going to work out between us.”
It was only six years ago that Joe Jonas broke up with Taylor Swift during a 30-second phone call. The consensus was that she deserved more than that and that Joe Jonas was kind of a dick. A few months ago, Charlize Theron ghosted Sean Penn and we were all kind of impressed, and kind of mortified. I can’t even count how many girls I know who stepped out for cigarettes on a date and never returned. It’s cold. We’ve embraced these passive goodbyes as a part of our dating culture. We don’t have to speak to someone when we cancel on our Lyft driver when we decide to stay out longer and, now, we don’t have to explain to someone why we never followed up on making plans for that second date.
This leads to an awkward dance to the sounds of mixed signals and feigned ambivalence. You don’t want to come on too strong in the event that someone just stops talking to you. You also might spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not to take initiative to schedule another date. You spend a lot of time wondering or you make someone else spend a lot of time wondering. I once made out with a girl at the end of a date and then didn’t text her to make plans for a couple weeks, mostly because I was busy with houseguests and wedding travel. When I did finally see if she wanted to go out again, she responded with, “Yeah, I guess we could get a drink some time. We’re friends, right?” I don’t know if my silence came off as disinterest or if she had decided she wasn’t really feeling it. We never discussed it. And then our ships sailed.
On the other side, when I’m faced with that in-person confrontation of “Are you or aren’t you?”, I balk. I cannot tell you how many times I have kissed someone at the end of a date just to be polite and avoid awkwardness. And then never spoken to them again. After a quick survey of my friend group, I’m not alone in this.
There is an argument to be made about how, because of online dating, people forget that there’s a real person on the end of the conversation. Looking at the messages that my straight female friends get from straight dudes, that probably isn’t that far off. But, there’s an important point to be made about how easy it is to ghost people or cancel plans now. We now say no at a lower emotional cost. That means we can say yes more.
And I’ve said yes a lot. I’ve said yes to conventionally attractive women that I knew I had nothing in common with. I’ve said yes to women I knew I wasn’t attracted to, but had a lot in common with. I’ve said yes to a lot of numbers that I’ve since lost and to a lot of people who have now become real friends.
A couple of years ago, I started talking to someone on OKCupid that I wasn’t completely convinced that I would like. So, I told her my dog had diarrhea and cancelled our first date. When we finally did meet, it was a painfully awkward brunch where she was hungover and I had forgotten to take my narcolepsy medication. Naturally, we fell in love and started dating. I had been listless, but ended up on this date with her because our schedules worked out, and then we worked out.
I’ve given myself so many opportunities to not be interested that it’s made the times where I have been interested so much more clear.
When I compare my modern love life to my extensive knowledge of ’90s rom-coms, I can see some glaring differences. The biggest one being that I have never been in a relationship with someone thinking they were about to propose, only to find out that they were actually dumping me to go to Harvard Law (sorry, Elle Woods). Basically, I have never found myself in a relationship rooted in obligation or convenience. There are so many different opportunities to meet new people and so many more socially acceptable situations for dating. I don’t need to waste mine or anybody else’s time by trying to define a relationship where there isn’t one. It’s an unspoken understanding. And when it’s real, you know it (or you’ll know it when your soon-to-be girlfriend yells at you for trying so hard to keep things casual when they obviously aren’t).
In a world where marriage has evolved from a business agreement between your parents, to a business agreement with your partner, to something that you did out of love, to something you don’t really have to do at all, there is no wrong or right way to find love. Tinder might have turned casual dating into an endless stream of faces and a perpetual communication limbo, but it’s also increased our access to human connection at a lower risk. And I’d rather wade in a thousand watery maybes any day than have to cold call them from the white pages.