I Downloaded Tinder And Fell In Love With Myself

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angela pham / Unsplash

Mickey suggested that we meet at The Dead Poet on the Upper West Side because he knew I’m a writer, and also because in one of my Tinder profile pictures I’m holding a Guinness. They have great Guinness, he messaged me, as though the wet, milky stout that pissed from The Dead Poet’s tap tasted any less shitty than others. If I had paid attention at Guinness Storehouse (where said picture was taken when I studied abroad in Dublin), I would have known that the skill with which the Guinness is poured could dramatically affect the taste. I didn’t tell him that at the time I was only holding the Guinness for an Instagram, that I only dipped my lip into the top of the glass to create a foam mustache for a clever Instagram caption (If you really mustache, I couldn’t handle more than a sip. Think they’ll let me shave the rest of this for later?), and that I only later added it as one of the five pictures in my Tinder profile because I thought I looked cute, fun. I didn’t like poetry. I didn’t really like myself. But when I scrolled through my list of Tinder matches every night—matches that I collected with perverse pride, like all those Pokémon cards I’d once slid so lovingly into plastic sheets and clipped in a binder just to look at, just to admire—I felt hope. There were so many men between the ages of twenty-two and thirty within fifty miles of where I lay in my bed, and any one of them could potentially be mine.

This was three and a half years ago, when I was twenty-two and in my first year of grad school and so depressed that I spent nearly every moment that I wasn’t sitting at class or scanning student IDs at the campus gym in bed. I tried, at first: I attended readings at my fellow classmates’ apartments, and volunteered for the lit mag, and went into the city with my roommates—New York City, brimming with entertainment, with possibility! But eventually, I gave up the charade and retreated deep within myself and the folds of my bed, and my roommates gave up knocking on my door. I slept, and watched Netflix, and swiped through profiles on Tinder. All those strangers, those men, felt so accessible and close, and it was a comfort. I had twenty conversations going at once. I felt less alone.

In college, it didn’t matter where the men I met were from, or what they were studying, or how many times they’d blacked out that week—in being accepted by Boston College, they all felt rubber stamped in my mind, all eligible and essentially Good. In the Real World, I swiped based on alma mater; besides five carefully selected photos, there was little else to go on. A degree from a prestigious college; a white-collar job; photos that didn’t include any guns, animal carcasses, sports cars, weed. Pretending to be a prospective bachelor, I scrutinized my own profile: former Boston College Pom Squad captain, Sarah Lawrence MFA candidate, cute and fun. Sometimes days went by where I didn’t shower, didn’t eat, didn’t leave my bed, but still, men swiped right on my profile, men chose me. I was eligible; I was what they wanted.

Tinder has a reputation—the men on it only want sex, the women on it are willing to give it to them. One guy asked if I liked whales and, if so, suggested we go humpback at his place. Another asked if I grew up on a farm, since I knew how to raise a cock. Some lauded their good luck in finding me. Others demanded to know why I didn’t already have a boyfriend. At least one guy a day invited me to sit on his face. I imagined them lying in their beds that were less than fifty miles away, scrolling through their matches, imagining, like me, all the ways their lives could be different. One guy, a former Dartmouth swimmer, messaged me nightly for a month with increasing urgency, asking me to please get a drink with him, just one drink, please, because he was so lonely that he could barely stand it. I blocked him, but I felt sorry for it. In my bio, I wrote, “Tindering ironically.” Admitting desire felt akin to admitting defeat.

It was me that asked Mickey to go on a date, a move so uncharacteristic that I can’t even explain it. By that point, I’d met up with three different men from Tinder. The most recent one had been a Fordham grad student living in his parents’ basement in Bronxville. The third time we hung out, I asked if I would ever actually meet his parents, and he told me, almost sympathetically, that I would not, because “this isn’t like that.” Maybe I asked Mickey to go on a date because I wanted to meet somebody’s parents. Maybe it was because I was so lonely I could barely stand it. Mickey was a George Washington University grad, a law student at Columbia, had photos with friends and in a suit and also one where a stuffed octopus sat on his head in a way that seemed cute, fun. Mickey felt like someone who could make my life different.

Mickey had gone on one other Tinder date when he still lived in D.C.—an aerospace engineer whom he took to the National Air and Space Museum. “She almost seemed bored,” Mickey told me. I pointed out that, being an aerospace engineer living in D.C., she had probably been to the National Air and Space Museum before. “Huh,” he said, like the thought had never occurred to him. I confessed to him that I thought poetry was stupid, and that I actually didn’t drink any of the Guinness that I held in that photo, that I didn’t actually like it at all, which was why the pint of Guinness he’d bought me that night still sat untouched in front of me. I told him that I didn’t actually like studying abroad either, that even though I posted pictures of me hoisting up beer glasses and grinning I was actually painfully lonely and had spent most of my time in bed watching Arrested Development and regretting the mistake I’d made in going abroad, a decision I made because everyone goes abroad, and everyone always says it was the best time of their life. I told him that even though I was captain of the Pom Squad, I was actually shy and self-conscious and spent most of college alternately starving or hating myself but stayed on the team because I liked wearing the uniform, and I liked who other people believed I was when I wore it. I didn’t tell him all of this on our first date, of course—on our first date I was polite and detached and ready to be whoever Mickey wanted me to be. It wasn’t until our fourth date, when I dropped spaghetti on the front of my shirt and picked it off and ate it with my fingers and looked up to find him staring at me, smiling, laughing—that’s when it occurred to me that maybe I could just be myself, if I still remembered who that was.

The day I deleted my Tinder profile, it felt a little sad—I’d spent hours amassing my collection of matches, and they and my hundred of conversations would all be lost. What if I’d missed another chance, a better match, a different life? I couldn’t know that three and a half years later Mickey and I would be sitting on our couch in Long Island City, bowls of spaghetti on our laps and our dog between us and that I would love myself again. I have a memory of being seven years old, of admiring myself in the bathroom mirror, of thinking, You do well on spelling tests. You can draw and dance and write stories, and you are nice to your parents. You are Good. I used to pretend that different women I saw on the street were me, but grown up and that we were in an alternate universe where little Corinne and older Corinne simultaneously existed. Now I imagine seeing my seven-year-old self, of telling her, you are deserving, you are good. I would tell her to choose the guy with the big eyes and the crooked smile who staged a photo shoot with his best friend to get the perfect Tinder profile picture, because he wanted to be in love, and he wasn’t afraid to admit that.

At The Dead Poet, when I told Mickey I didn’t like Guinness, he stood to get me another drink. “What would you like?” he asked. There were a dozen other taps, a list written on a chalkboard behind the bartender, shelves lined with a hundred different bottles. The possibility was exhilarating and overwhelming. I was newly legal, an adult, a New Yorker, but I still couldn’t believe it. I could have anything, but I didn’t even know yet what I wanted. TC mark

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