I went on my second Tinder date on the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day. We met for Mexican food just south of Union Square. I don’t know what I ordered or how I kept my calm throughout the meal, listening to my date talk about the fact that he and his entire family were healthcare professionals. That morning I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Just a few days earlier, I’d downloaded the dating app with reluctance. “It’s perfect for our mobile lives,” a single coworker pitched me. I wasn’t sure I wanted a dating app to be essential and ever-present. I’d used online dating sites before, but associated them with leftovers, rejects who can’t find anyone the normal way.
Once I was diagnosed, though, I became determined to find a match—and quickly. I thought I needed to meet someone before I started cancer treatment, before my body was laid bare by surgery and then chemotherapy and radiation. In this brief time and space (a month), I thought I would still be a me that was lovable.
But no one—not even the old me, with long hair and real breasts—is lovable on Tinder.
Digital people are just too easy to dismiss. In a recent piece for Time, Aziz Ansari tells a story about watching Derek, an OkCupid user, browse profiles for an online dating focus group for his book Modern Love:
The first woman he clicked on was very beautiful, with a witty profile page, a good job and lots of shared interests, including a love of sports. After looking the page over for a minute or so, Derek said, “Well, she looks OK. I’m just gonna keep looking for a while.”
I asked what was wrong, and he replied, “She likes the Red Sox.” I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe how quickly he had moved on. Imagine the Derek of 20 years ago, finding out that this beautiful, charming woman was a real possibility for a date. If she were at a bar and smiled at him, Derek of 1993 would have melted.
My three most significant encounters on Tinder all happened to be with lawyers.
I swiped right on the first during Thanksgiving; he swiped right on me during Christmas. He wanted to meet but I was self-conscious about my fresh crop of short hair. When I was considering how to tell him I no longer had the mane of hair in my pictures, I had a flash that he’d be OK with it—and he was. His mom had had breast cancer, too.
For two months we had a cyber sex relationship. At a time when every aspect of my femininity had been assaulted, he made me feel sexy again, like a woman worth desiring.
I was in touch with the second lawyer for a week before we finally met for drinks. He was a standup comedian on the side and really made me laugh—he also made me feel lovable, like cancer didn’t matter and I was still the weird, funny person I’d always been.
But at the time I was still trying to extricate myself from previous entanglements. From the beginning, he could sense that our match was unbalanced and would try to cut me off. Eventually, I’d reach out and then the whole thing would blow up again.
Tinder still felt right because I didn’t exactly want to commit to being on the market—to being a person worth dating, a person capable of dating. Though I did want to find someone.
One night last summer, while I was in the middle of chemotherapy, I had dinner at the apartment of family friends in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. My mom’s friend, whom I’d known since I was a baby, underwent radiation for DCIS, what doctors think is pre-cancer of the breast, some years ago.
In the middle of our trout and greens, she asked me what I was most afraid of. The question caught me off guard; I was embarrassed. I said, “Dying,” but it was a lie. Closer to the truth would have been saying: getting cancer again. But what I was truly afraid of was dying without having found love, which felt like a shame of a different magnitude.
Alana Massey concludes her brilliant essay, “Against Chill” for Matter with the following:
So, ladies and gentleman…we have reached peak Chill. Or at least I hope we have. Because Chill is the opposite of something else too: warmth. And kindness, and earnestness, and vulnerability. And we need just enough of those things to occasionally do something so remarkably unchill as fall in love.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman says it even more succinctly as Lester Bangs in the movie Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
I’m pretty sure my default state has only ever been uncool. Only a handful of my Tinder matches turned out to be something more than a first date. Each time, what was best about those experiences were how uncool they were, how honest, how unblinkingly I could say I had cancer and they could respond in a way that made me feel like it didn’t matter.
I almost cancelled my first date with the last person I met on Tinder. He complained that I wasn’t using question marks when asking, “How are you.” I thought he was rude for complaining. (See NYTimes on new texting rules regarding punctuation.) He told me to consider our first fight out of the way.
Our second date felt awkward, and again, I told myself I was done. The third time we went to see comedy and his laugh carried on in this exaggerated way that seemed to pitch higher at the end. At first I was embarrassed, but by the end of the night I felt something that led me to act very uncool.
We talked about everything and I actually listened. He told me about his grandparents’ farm. He laughed when I made him detail each college he applied to. He held the door for a 95-year-old woman coming out of a bank near West 4th Street. In Washington Square Park, he juggled and walked on his hands and asked if I had any tricks.
The goodness in him reminded me of something inside of myself that I had forgotten—a purity, a morality, that I didn’t know I was longing to return to. And for that, I am grateful.
I haven’t used Tinder since. I don’t know if I will again.
The app quickly came to feel selfish and self-serving in its promise of on-demand attention, chatter, dates or sex.
With each swipe we distance ourselves from the reality that these are individuals, not images, lovable in their own web of idiosyncracies and contradictions, private pains and insecurities. That effect, perhaps, was magnified by the particular dating scene of New York City, which has threatened to break my spirit in a way that cancer never has.
I can’t quite muster the strength to date. And still. I want to find a love that is organic, that is singular, and utterly uncool.