Things get weird fast. While waiting for Michelle to respond, I instigate conversations with both Ashley and Lori. This is the digital equivalent of hitting on a woman at a bar while the woman you’ve been hitting on is in the bathroom, a tightrope walk the analog me would never attempt.
“Nice forearm stand,” I write to Ashley, a woman of striking cheekbones and auburn hair, who in one photo is doing the classic yoga pose, a cup of tea by her side, the newspaper spread before her, as if to convey that this is how she spends most mornings.
Will she be impressed by my observational prowess? Who cares! I’ve already turned my attention to Lori. But Michelle messages me back: “Just got online… crazy week! But I’m feeling naughty! So what’s up… Want to have some fun? ;)”
Well, that was quick. While Tinder has been called “ Grindr for straight people,” a reference to the app that has become a staple for gay men looking for no-strings-attached sex, I find Michelle’s overt randiness more suspicious than titillating. I try to steer us into more innocent terrain: “What part of the city are you in?”
The question doesn’t seem to register with Michelle: “I want a guy that can make me cum….” she replies. “Have u ever made a chick orgasm?? Haha .”
As it sinks in that Michelle is probably an enterprising 15-year-old boy in Bangalore, earning pennies to direct me to a pay site, both Ashley and Lori get back to me. Ashley is a yoga instructor working on her Ph.D. in political science – an appealing combo, since I’ve taken up yoga and pretend to be interested in politics; Lori, meanwhile, informs me that she has just graduated from LSU and, having “fallen in love with the Ebola virus,” plans to attend medical school in a year. In fact, Ashley and I have been getting along so well in 2-D (or is it 4-D?) that we decide to meet up in 3-D, making plans to have drinks the following night.
Because Tinder is purposely casual, rendering indistinguishable the boundaries between those looking to hang out, hook up, and get hitched, I’m not even sure, as I leave to meet Ashley, if I should think of this as a “date.” Whatever it is, I wish I could report that it turns out to be life-changing, and that, as I write this sentence, Ashley is in the next room, reading the paper in a forearm stand, wearing nothing but lingerie and trusting that I’ll accurately convey the glories that have bloomed between us. But the truth is, the moment I see Ashley at the bar of a dimly lit restaurant in the French Quarter, I know exactly where this is going. Namely, nowhere.
It isn’t that she isn’t beautiful, but physical attraction is a beguiling force: instantaneous, pheromonal , one no amount of digital chemistry can will into existence. Making our maybe-date more awkward is the fact that Ashley and I have already covered, via text, the most time-honored icebreakers. ”
One particularly disillusioning moment comes while I’m on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland, when I end up chatting with Maya. She tells me to meet her in a club that night, and as I wait, I try to keep my expectations in check, reminding myself that . . . holy shit! Look at her! Wearing a gauzy tank top, a tiny vintage skirt, and scuffed leather boots, Maya exudes the sort of arty cool that a certain type of man (i.e., me ) is predisposed to crush on. She sidles right up next to me and wraps her arm around my waist (good sign!) and asks for a shot of whiskey (better sign!). I’m confident this is going to be the night that converts me into a Tinder proselytizer. But the moment Maya takes her shot, a friend materializes out of nowhere, grabbing her arm and yanking her into the crowd. I hang around, repeatedly texting her through Tinder (“Hey, were you real or an acid flashback?”), before realizing she had a system rigged to let her friend know if she needed rescuing from the “Tinder dude.”
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