We read every Monday. Eight of us, give or take a few, depending on the week, gather from seven to nine and read in silence, spread across blankets in my front lawn or curled up with candlelight in my living room. We neglect our phones and laptops. No one talks. We’ve set this space, this slowness, apart from our lives of deadlines and multitasking. Some weeks, it feels holy.
It was a few weeks ago, in the glow following those two well-read hours—one housemate, David, finishing his chapter of England: a History; my other housemate, Will, describing last week’s trip to Squamish; my girlfriend refilling her wine and another friend preparing tea, three others planning a Harry Potter movie marathon; and all of us content, here, lingering past bedtimes to bask in this friendship—when Will interrupted his own climbing story and said: “I just realized I met everyone here through Josh’s online dating.”
* * *
A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead are triple-handedly trying to reinvent Tinder and are interested in group dates. If you and two friends are up for an adventure, let us know!
They looked friendly enough. Cute, too, but that probably wouldn’t be the point. I had suffered through enough bad Tinder dates to abandon all hope of swiping my way into love. I showed Will.
“Huh. Yeah, I’d do that.”
Sarah, the brunette, owned the Tinder account, and she and I had a mutual friend whom I had met back in high school—he and I had both been interviewing for a scholarship to the same school, him successfully.
“Did any of you go to Westmont?” I typed.
“Yes! All three of us!”
“I almost went there! My roommate and I went to Calvin College.”
“Christian colleges represent! Woot woot.”
We planned a group date. Will and I picked three restaurants and Sarah and her roommates whittled the options to one: Mamnoon, modern union of middle eastern cuisines.
* * *
Is this weird?
I don’t know. It’s kinda weird.
What if they like us?
Oh, you mean like if they want to smooch us?
Exactly. And they’ve got three smoochers but we’ve only got two smoochers and that’s—that’s bad smoochin’.
* * *
“I mean, Tinder doesn’t have the best reputation, and I don’t know how to ask this well so I’m just gonna ask it—” Will was staring at our food, or maybe just staring away from anyone else. “How have your other group dates gone?”
Sarah laughed, her roommates blushed, and Will smiled, a winning mix of charm and awkwardness.
“You guys are the first one!” Sarah said. “And it’s great!”
We were eating family-style, passing unpronounceable dishes clockwise and counter-clockwise and scooping no-one-knows-what onto each other’s plates. We had skipped the menus and asked the waiter to design a meal for us, and no one had paid enough attention to his descriptions to remember what we were eating; paying attention to the waiter would have meant paying less attention to each other.
The five of us compared jobs and colleges, shared dreams and Christianity. We covered writing: my hitchhiking, Will’s essay about sex. The five of us stayed in Mamnoon as the tables emptied around us, and then, once we realized the time, we left in a stumbling mess of apologies to the waiter, split-tab calculations, and last-minute stories stuffed between goodbyes.
* * *
Can we text them?
It’s been like twenty hours. Way too soon.
But maybe they want us to text them.
Does the three-day rule apply to friend-dates? I don’t know the rules for friend-dates.
We should text them.
But we don’t want to look desperate.
But we really like them.
* * *
“I didn’t tell you about the not-dates!” The ferry was cold and loud, and Sarah had to shout. We huddled together like penguins on its front deck, our hoods blown sideways across our faces.
In the days before Mamnoon, Sarah told us, one Tinder account had asked the Westmont Girls if he could have a date with just the brunette. From another: “So how does this work? Do we each pick one of you ahead of time?”
“Has anyone said anything since then?” I asked.
Sarah shrugged. “I deleted it.”
* * *
We have to friend-zone them.
I know. I know.
If one of them likes one of us, we gotta shut that down before it takes off. We’ve got too much at stake here.
But it can’t be too obvious. That might backfire.
* * *
Fog floated across the soggy hills like a scene from the English moors, but damper. The five of us shivered in rain jackets and wool socks. Sarah was quiet, which meant everyone was quiet. She carried our energy. We hiked half a mile before Laurel cleared her throat, did a half-laugh, and said, “Sarah has something to tell you guys.”
Will and I glanced at each other. Laura looked at the ground. Laurel watched Sarah expectantly.
“Guys,” Sarah started, “I’m dating someone.”
Will and I didn’t have to glance at each other this time.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t want to tell you guys in case it made it weird! It’s not weird is it? I don’t want it to be weird!”
“It’s not weird.”
“But we met on Tinder and I don’t know. It really isn’t weird?”
“Can we meet him?” Will asked.
“He lives in Olympia but he wants to move up to Seattle so hopefully you can meet him soon because Olympia is really far away.”
“What’s his name?”
* * *
We need to meet their friends.
They’re basically Calvin College people.
Which is why we need to meet their friends.
I know. I’m agreeing with you.
Oh. I wish Calvin were closer. They have so many Westmont people here. Why can’t we have that?
We will. They’ll just be Westmont-y.
* * *
That December, the Westmont Girls packed thirty people into their two-bedroom apartment. Will and I made the guest list. Two months of friend-dating had led us through a corn maze, a handful of dinners, and two long walks on the beach to arrive here, at their Facebook-coordinated Christmas party, where we would meet their friends and their friends would meet us. We would go public. Out of the closet. Full-fledged, appear-in-groups friends. We all felt the shift approaching, like animals that sense an earthquake a minute before it strikes.
Will and I planned our outfits (respectively, an ugly Christmas sweater and a red button-up under a not-ugly green sweater), decided how much we would drink (two each), and bought an appropriate contribution (alcoholic eggnog). We stoked the few, reluctant sparks of our extroversion and snuffed the crackling, comfortable fireside of our introversion. Coffee helped.
We met alumni of Westmont College, and also of Hope, and Seattle Pacific, and Biola, and Wheaton, and Moody. Orthodox, Evangelical, and Episcopal mingled among denominational vagabonds. David was there, and Sarah’s brother, too, and Will and I found ourselves entwined in Christian colleges—”You know Andy?!” and “My brother went there!” and “Founders or Bells?” shouted over a roiling, laughing, sweating compression of life surging in and out of chairs and couches and rooms.
“How do you know Sarah and Laurel and Laura?”
“Oh, you must be—you’re the Tinder Boys!”
Will and I never even got the chance to lie. We were known already. The Tinder Boys.
* * *
What do we think of David?
Sarah’s David? Not what I expected, but I think I really like him.
Well, he swore. Like a lot.
Yeah, I didn’t think Sarah would be down for that.
I like that, though.
About her or about him?
Both, I think.
* * *
The six of us rented a cabin on Orcas Island for a weekend. Winter Plans, we called it, and we outfitted Winter Plans with hiking boots, Settlers of Catan, and swimsuits for the hot tub. This was another shift, a bigger one, and we were giddy and honest and glad.
“It’s hard to make friends after college,” I said, halfway through my third glass of wine. “Good friends, I mean. You don’t have classes, or clubs, or dorms.”
Will nodded his agreement.
The six of us stayed up until two in the morning the first night, and then we dragged all the beds into one bedroom and talked for another two hours. The second night, we stayed awake until five.
We refused separation until the last; back in Seattle, a two-hour drive and a ferry ride away from our cabin, we went to an evening church service together. We sat exhausted and puffy-eyed.
* * *
Will, David, and I share the lower level of a Seattle duplex. Will and David share bunk beds. Sarah and Laurel visit our home every Monday for reading night, with the occasional addition of Laura and some of their—our—other friends. We all live a web of borrowed books, shared meals, and hike recommendations, a web woven thick and chaotic and beautiful with the girl from church and the Internet, who has thrown her own strands to Sarah and Laurel and Laura through painting nights and dinner parties; with a new Westmont friend whose aunt spoke at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing; with the Christmas party’s Hope College representative, who joined that trip to Squamish and moved in with her—our—friends; and with a dozen others whose lives cross and splice and weave throughout Seattle.
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.