Goodbye and hello: August is transition month here at the post calvin. Amy Allen’s spot is being taken over by Katerina Parsons. Thanks so much for your two years with us, Amy, and welcome, Katerina!
I look at Brandon’s bare-chested, sullen-faced mirror selfie for only a second before swiping left, eliminating him from the pool of potential suitors. Matthew, next, is a baby-faced twenty-two-year-old grinning from underneath a gutted doe. Gross. Swipe left.
I downloaded Tinder telling my friends I just wanted to meet people, something that was hard outside of my solidified social circle. (Josh’s bio reads only “sluts are gross.” Swipe left.) I didn’t say that I was spurred on, at least a little, by the look that flits across my friend’s face when she reads a text from her fiancé, like a beam of light has appeared in the room to fall only on her.
I do not lack for love, but a part of me aches for the uniqueness that my friend feels—a love she does not have to share with friends or siblings, like the bag of M&Ms my mother would sort into eight neat piles.
Sometimes that seems like my deepest hunger—not only to be loved, but to be loved best. Hymns promise me Christ would have died for only me. Saint Augustine assures me that, “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” Despite this, and any “Jesus is my boyfriend” buttons, I knew deep down—he says that to all the girls.
Setting up a dating profile took five minutes and only a little blow to my pride: with a few clicks, there I was, smiling off into the distance with my toes in the sand of Lake Michigan, my hair tossed in the wind, an enigmatic T.S. Eliot quote my only commentary. This didn’t mean anything. I was doing this ironically. Other little lies.
As I flipped through a hundred faces, ground rules quickly emerged. I wouldn’t talk to anyone holding a dead animal, no one posing in front of a truck, no shirtless pictures unless they were at a beach, no one whose bio read “fitness is life” or listed Netflix as a hobby, who grossly abused commas or who posed with their arms around girls who were significantly hotter than me.
As my rules grew more ridiculous, my sense of power and futility increased. In a manic fit of swiping, I turned down everyone in a twenty-five-mile radius: from Glen, with his drunken bar pictures to Rick in his full-size clone trooper suit. Names and faces blended together in a blur of camouflage, shiny cars, and international backdrops: an unfiltered glimpse into the male ego, all of them screaming, Think I’m interesting! Think I’m funny! Think I’m sexy!
I didn’t actually know what I was looking for.
I matched with a few guys by some chance, which meant only that I chose their photo and they chose mine. We talked for a few days, and as dull as the conversations were, they were thrilling. To have a stranger want to know you. To open up to someone who has never seen your face.
Meeting these strangers after all this could only be underwhelming. They were shorter than I thought they’d be, which doesn’t matter, and less interesting, which does. I don’t remember what we talked about, only that they asked few questions and made long answers, that the dates were neither awkward nor unpleasant, but that they made me weary. We promised half-heartedly to see each other again. We did not, and probably will not.
It is an exhausting proposition—knowing and being known. I thought the endless swiping would provide some shortcut into the tangled process, but the hundreds of options only made me more tired and choosy and petty.
Jarred smokes; I don’t. Damian goes to parties; that’s not my scene. Eric plays tennis, and I don’t know how to hold a racket.
My real self swipes through these hundreds of constructed identities, snapshots that reflect the real Brandon and Matthew and Jarred only as well as I am represented by that ridiculous picture of me at Lake Michigan, hair in my face, staring off into distance.
On Tinder we are all figments of our own imagination, torn between the person we would like to be and the person we think others would like us to be.
It is not until I meet these people in person that the masks slip and I realize how silly the whole charade seems. When I make a connection, I doubt it will be because someone passes all of my arbitrary rules, or because one photo captured everything about them.
I may love a man someday who takes poor photos or writes bad bios or even—who knows?—plays tennis.
Until then, I think I’ll chance it in the real world.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).