There are two categories of people in the world: ‘like’ and ‘nope.’ And with Tinder, I can finally sort them out with just a couple of photos. If I see someone I might want to meet, I swipe their photo to the right. If I’d rather not, I swipe to the left. Easy as sneezing.
But swiping has consequences.
Swipe left and that person is gone forever. Erased from the Earth. Swipe right and they swipe right too, well… that’s a silly little thing called love.
I’ve heard it called vain or silly. Others swear it is a great way to meet people. But my own experience of swiping for love has been anxiety. Terrible, crippling, existential anxiety.
My parents met at a party 30-something years ago. They exchanged a few words, and then my mom left. My dad, smitten, ran to a phone booth and searched for her number in the giant book where people used to find those things.
But it wasn’t there. And my dad went home dejected.
When he tells me this story, I feel a sense of panic. Like my life is hanging in the balance. I know how it turns out, because I’m super alive, but while he explains the time it took to track her number through friends and acquaintances, I feel like Schrödinger’s Cat. For three days in the 70s, I was both dead and alive, and with just the slightest nudge, I might not have existed at all. Nor my sisters. Nor the home my parents built. Decades of love and happiness hung in the balance.
It is frightening to consider what had to happen for me to be me.
And now, decades later, I am two years older than my parents were when I entered their lives. Phone books are an anachronism and instead of a phone number, we have countless other ways to connect with or miss one another.
Just over a year ago, I was offered the chance to volunteer outside Toronto. There were three locations — and the chance to stay put — to choose from. I opted for London by a hair (the one in Ontario), and when I got there, I fell in love. It didn’t last, but it did exist, and for a time it was wonderful. I was as happy as I have ever been, I have memories I treasure, and I am a better person for them.
And it is strange and frightening to look back on those few days when I could have chosen to go somewhere else. I remember thinking one city may have better coffee, and another better shawarma. That maybe the other presented a better chance to swim. An incredible future lay before me, and I remember so clearly how I sat at my desk and pondered its coming with indifference. The experiences that followed are such a core piece of me now, it seems impossible that a year ago I existed without them.
Which brings me back to Tinder.
At first it was exciting. My phone was linked to thousands of people. I held thousands of potential futures in my hand. But the more I swiped, the more I wondered what I was missing.
What if my dad never found my mom’s number?
What if I never went to London?
What if I just swiped the mother of my children to the left?
I know we can’t hope to guess every consequence our decisions may bring. But I feel an intense weight to what is supposed to be a light thing.
Behind every photo there is a person, and in every person a potential future. Maybe just a date, maybe years of memories.
A cottage full of old mugs that don’t match, and a covered porch where we drink coffee in the rain. Or a house full of children, and early Saturday mornings at the hockey rink.
I imagine my dad’s story 30 years from now. ‘Your mother was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, but my thumb twitched in excitement and sent her left and now you don’t exist.’
I can’t let go the implications. A world of limitless paths and just two feet to walk them. That what grows to become everything begins in an innocent, innocuous moment. And now I have an app filled with moments.
I know it’s not just Tinder. Every decision has consequences. Every place we choose to live is a thousand places we will never know. Every person we marry is a few billion we never will. Every job we take, every cafe we enter or walk past. Every choice eliminates a handful of others.
I read a story about a man trapped by the burden of possibility. He lay in bed all day because while he was there he might do anything, but once he made a choice he could do just that one thing. He was held in place by the weight of everything he couldn’t give up.
Choice is a privilege. I shouldn’t complain. But I can’t escape of weight of swiping away the future.
Tinder is the burden of choice made tangible.
But it is also opportunity. A chance to meet people I might never have crossed paths with. To maybe find the person I’ll make my future with. And I think that’s the key, on Tinder and everywhere else. To embrace what I am walking towards, not regret what I am walking past. Better than walking nowhere at all.
But a part of me will always wonder about the life I might have lived if my thumb hadn’t twitched that time.