For basically all of my adult life, I did not “date” in the conventional sense. I can count on one hand the number of times I went out to dinner with a near-stranger and suffered through the usual litany of “what do you do?”, “where are you from?”, “what flavor of toothpaste do you like best?” get-to-know-you questions before arriving at the awkward kiss or no kiss part of the evening and retreating into my head to watch old episodes of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” to distract myself from the anxiety (what, is that not a thing?). Most of the time I’d simply meet people “naturally” while out and about, through friends, or as a result of work. And that would invariably lead to a drink or two or three, which often led to a one-night stand that not infrequently evolved into a many-night-stand that then became a relationship.
I’d like to think that now that I’m sort of a grownup, I’ve moved on from these often judgment-impaired, alcohol-abetted mating rituals, but the fact is that my life circumstances have changed significantly and pretty much demanded that I adopt a new methodology.
Several months ago, I moved from my urban home base to a tiny (TINY, like … less than 800 people tiny) town in rural New England for a job both incredibly satisfying and intensely demanding of my time. Said locality also bears the brunt of routinely long, harsh winters which adds further impediments to an already rather isolated/isolating existence. In sum, my social life is, shall we say, substantially less colorful than it was when I was living and working in a population-dense city where there were bars and music venues and cafes and sexed up individuals on nearly every corner.
So I did what any self-respecting Millennial would do. I took it to the internet. I’d had little use for online dating in my previous life. I’d dabbled of course, but never had much luck meeting worthwhile candidates, and the contrivances of the dates always felt inherently forced and unsexy to me. But now that I found myself encountering less than a dozen people a week and quietly wondering whether the snow plow dude was cute or if I was having a deprivation-based hallucination, it was time to join the masses of lovelorn technophiles.
Choosing the appropriate platform from which to cast my romantical net was key. After a short flirtation with a farmer-centric dating site (so. many. old. rednecks.) and what I thought might be a charmingly throwback-y stab at an actual in-print classifieds ad in an alt weekly, I had to consider my audience. Using tech-savviness as a filter seemed a good bet for at least narrowing the pool to people in my age group and socio-cultural bracket. So Tinder it was.
Because I live literally 30 miles from the nearest watering hole, I was not intending to use Tinder in the way that it was designed to be used — that is, as a casual hook-up app. I figured it would allow me to hone in on geographic proximity and also save me the bother of creating an annoyingly in depth profile a la OKCupid.
Most of my encounters with chaps on Tinder didn’t make it much past a handful of exchanges before they discovered just how in the middle of nowhere I lived. Offers to meet up with me usually began and ended with invitations for ME to drive about an hour and a half to hang out with them. There were a couple of in-person meet ups that had seemed promising on paper but lacked chemistry IRL. And then there was Chris. Cute, tall, dark-haired, tattooed, and evidently very tight with his adorable dog. We started chatting and I was drawn in despite a few key red flags: he was seven years younger than me and confessed to having a Dungeons and Dragons habit — neither of which are dealbreakers per se but both of which were traits shared by my most recent ex. I guess I have a type? To add insult to injury, he informed me he was a musician. In a ska band. Um, 1995 called, it wants its already repurposed musical trend back. FML.
And yet despite myself I found him compelling. He was into food and film and poetry, and his sense of humor — and more to the point, his appreciation of MY sense of humor — was extra refreshing after a slew of unfunny dudes who did not dig my knock-knock and that’s-what-she-said jokes. After communicating via Tinder and text for a solid week and making tentative plans to meet up (I’d go see him, as he didn’t have a car — another red flag?), he called me one night for a real-time, virtual pre-date phone-date date. Datedatedate. Date.
His voice sounded gravelly and oddly disinterested. Small talk and pleasantries were dispensed with almost immediately. Sure, most of the basics had been covered in our textual exchanges, but when less than three minutes into the conversation he began holding forth on how as a comedian (news to me, I thought you were a chef?) he is a true PERFORMER and it’s really important to get up on stage and say whatever the fuck you want “even when people think it’s misogynist” I started quietly panicking.
The conversation veered haphazardly towards a misunderstanding that had occurred between us previously, when I invited him up to where I lived to meet me and he said that he didn’t have a car and “it was too much of a pain.” I had interpreted incorrectly that he was referring to making the trek to see me as a pain, when in fact he was talking about car ownership, and expressed that I had been a bit taken aback before he cleared it up apologetically. He ribbed me for my misapprehension and as I was tripping over myself to explain, he interrupted with, “Just stop being a bitch.”
Stunned, I went silent for a half a second before making a joke that he should at least wait until the second date to start calling me a bitch. Was I being too uptight? Was this how ‘the kids’ flirted these days?
Without missing a beat he returned to his diatribe on standup comedy and how he enjoyed injecting provocative language into his sets — words like n***er and cunt and spic — as a way of inverting their power. This I simply could not stomach. “Oh, wow, says the WHITE GUY? How edgy of you,” I finally snorted. I could sense some back-assward faux-intellectual debate brewing and steeled myself for a brawl when he slurred a word and it dawned on me: Oh my god, this idiot is shit-faced.
“Are you drunk, dude?” I asked
“Of course!” he replied, in his irresistibly provocative [read: turd-like] baritone.
“OK, I don’t feel like being in this conversation anymore,” I said and hung up.
Dude called once, then twice. Then the texts started fast and furious. “I was just kidding!” “You seem like a nice girl.” “I’m sorry.” It was like the seven stages of grief in a 30 second text barrage. I merely replied with “Do not call me a bitch. Ever. You don’t know me well enough to kid with me that way. And if you did you’d know I don’t find being called a bitch funny.”
Luckily, after that he got the hint and stopped the text assault. But the experience left me gobsmacked and shellshocked by the strange casualness with which people supposedly get to know each other and communicate via these ever stranger social platforms. I suppose regardless of how we met, Chris and I would not have made for compatible partners in the long run, because I don’t tend to like alcoholic misogynists — at least not anymore. That’s one dating habit I’m happy to say I have abandoned as I’ve evolved into a quasi-grownup. Maybe an earlier version of me would have beat myself up a little for being uptight about a word that really shouldn’t be a big deal. But present day me has started to trust her instincts and is slowly shedding the impulse to apologize for them. Present day me will not tolerate being called a bitch by anyone, unless the word is preceded by “bad-ass” and delivered with a look of bewildered awe.
I can’t say that I’ve given up totally on Tinder, or on giving dudes who a small part of me knows are probably not ideal partners (terrible spellers and 25-year-olds and yoga enthusiasts oh my) a chance to prove my instincts wrong. But at this rate I’ll probably exhaust the pool of eligible bachelors in a 90-mile radius in another six months, and by then I’ll have my vetting system down to a science.
Here’s to the future. Bitches.
Original by: Lauren Gitlin