The first message I received from Andrew was hilarious and ridiculous. I responded with something equally witty, and we instantly “hit it off” in this world of transcribed pick-up lines.
He gave me a phone number, and we agreed to meet at a Chelsea beer hall. I arrived at the agreed-upon time, but the texts I sent to Andrew’s number yielded few responses.
Hey, are we still up for meeting tonight?...
I’m close. I’m in a red coat….
Are you here?…
I grew impatient and began to worry I was getting stood up, until a tall man, with rosy cheeks and a Where’s-Waldo-esque cap, approached me, grinned and adopted an apologetic face.
“Hey, I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I actually couldn’t respond.”
He's either an indigent with no phone or he doesn’t live here and therefore can’t contact me without Wi-Fi, I thought. He continued.
“I’ll be honest. I actually don’t live here.” Bingo.
“I’m visiting from London, where I do live, and I didn’t have a phone able to respond.”
I had no issue with seeing a man who didn’t live in New York City; I had met plenty of them, but then came the zinger.
“And also, the thing is,” he rubbed his neck sheepishly, “I’m here with some other guys, my friends. But I wanted to ask if you would still stay and join us -- we want you to.”
He smiled nervously at me. I was nonplussed: the thought of meeting more strange people verged on appalling, a veritable Tinder impropriety; but I had already bought beer tickets and it was the holiday season, so I gave him an admonishing smirk and agreed.
He led me to a horde of Australian men, identified as Doug, Steve, Dan, Peter and Will, all gracious, charming, and living in New York. They toasted me, proclaiming their dedication to ensuring the night be worth my while.
Andrew and I exchanged brief glances; only a few remarks were shared solely between us. In fact, for the first few hours of our date, I actually had little direct, individual interaction with him.
The night proceeded. They convinced me to consume Mexican food and pitchers of margaritas at a nearby restaurant. Once there, I didn’t even sit next to Andrew, but across from him, wedged into a cluster of other men.
They all joked with me, shared stories, complained about New York or work and asked about my life. The questions and answers that typically existed solely between one and one’s Tinder Date over a couple of pints was instead diffused.
I was asking everyone questions and everyone was asking me; I learned about Andrew while I learned about others, indirectly, in a manner that proved less like a job interview for sex or love and more like a dinner party, even though everyone was a stranger.
The table conversation was fragmented, consolidated, jolly. Only a few times was it indicated that Andrew and I were both indeed on a date, were complete strangers, were wondering internally “Do I want to go home with this person? Do I want to see this person for longer than the passing two hours?”
The reality of our situation was dimmed and the sharp, often uncomfortable, edges of modern dating were smoothed out by distractions of the other men.
At one point, I texted my friend from the toilet.
On the Tinder date…
How is it going??
There are six of them.
What do you mean? Six men?
Yes. They multiplied. There’s him and five of his friends.
Is it odd?
Actually, it’s kind of great.
I found myself enjoying the slow acclimatization to the man across from me, his smile and the way he built on his friends’ jokes, the way he responded kindly when the quirkier Steve said something odd, how he refilled his friends’ cups with margaritas, and the way he was slowly getting more tipsy, his smile growing broader, his cheeks redder.
This contrasted with how I felt on other dates, where I faced the man, head on, in full recognition that this was not how we had expected life to progress when we were 13 and dreaming of our crush who lived down the street, attending the same classes.
We didn’t grow up thinking we would sit across from a stranger like they were a potential employee, asking questions, trying to tell if their stories were true, if their tipping indicated a deeper personality pattern, if their whole demeanor was a façade that would shatter to pieces on the next date or in a potentially intimate moment.
Trust constructed on these modern software-enabled dates was just that, fully constructed rather than built through observations of your date’s character around other realities. You don't normally get to see your online date in situations not centered on you, but reliant on interactions with a broader community.
We finished dinner, moved to another bar; people multiplied. I met Doug’s girlfriend, Emily (identified as the mysterious number to whom I was sending texts over the last couple of days; she had relayed messages from Andrew, through Doug, to her, to me, and back again.) Andrew saddled up next to me. I remember getting flush, growing giddy while I spoke to him, all the while wondering what on earth had gotten into me.
Amidst all the new people, I chatted, bought Doug, Andrew, Emily and I a round, was bought rounds in return, flirted increasingly with my Tinder date and felt a part of something.
I saw Andrew in a habitat that, although it wasn’t mine by right, was being shared, and seeing his relational existence to something other than myself made getting to know him more complex and more nuanced, more a depiction of a potential reality.
It became a supposed glimpse into the life that I would hope my significant other and I would have in the future, an existence that involved multitudes and not just he and I across a table, drinking wine.
The next morning, Andrew and I lay around and talked until Doug called and the three of us merrily jabbered on speaker-phone, discussing their plans for Andrew’s last day in the city. He left soon after.
It has been several months since that night. We exchanged a few texts a while back, and I met up once with some others of the group, but the relations didn’t hold. I never saw Andrew again.
Yet, the experience solidified a difficult reality of modern dating for me. I, like many others, idealize the idea of meeting someone through friends, amidst my community.
For months, on future dates, I would wonder if he would bring his friends. I wondered if maybe I should bring my friends.
But it never happened again, and after a year using Tinder, I finally found myself deleting the small flame from my phone. I can only hope that the next development in dating technology might better meet the needs of a millennial generation longing for interaction that relies less on two-dimensional first meetings and more on replicating reality.