Though my rom-com loving middle-school self would recoil at the thought, my early college years were unlike any Meg Ryan movie I’d ever seen or hoped to live vicariously through. Tom Hanks didn’t email me his innermost thoughts and feelings, nor did Billy Crystal kiss me on New Year’s Eve. I did, however, meet someone on Facebook who, like me, knew the lyrics to Asher Roth’s “I Love College” by heart (the one that got away).
After two deeply upsetting dips in the pool of high school romance, I abandoned my search for the perfect relationship, or any relationship, really. College was the time to explore, to kiss strangers and befriend bartenders, to forgive beer spills and eat whipped cream directly from the can (hello, freshman 35!). No man would stop me from living my college experience to its fullest and most disgustingly cliché. Cranberry vodka was my drink of choice and short-term was my level of commitment.
My two years as a basic college girl reached its peak during a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. After learning to say both “Let’s take shots” and “Play Beyoncé” in Italian, I felt as though I had acclimated to the culture completely. Compared to Manhattan, Florence was the ultimate college town. Four months abroad and I’d rid my system of its self-destructive party girl tendencies—it was time to get back to my rom-com roots.
When I returned to New York City that summer, I took the first step in subjecting myself to the rigors of real-life, adult romance: I downloaded Tinder. Okay, it’s no Wuthering Heights, but I did intend to meet someone I could actually talk to.
At first, my experience was just a haze of heartfelt “dtf?” messages and an insane self-esteem boost. I’m seriously embarrassed by how dramatically my Tinder matches affected my confidence. It probably helped that my profile photo came from the Halloween I dressed up as Emily Ratajkowski’s scantily clad “character” in the “Blurred Lines” music video (not proud of the costume, but the photo was Tinder gold).
After three days spent collecting hilarious screenshots and swiping my way to carpal tunnel, I happened upon a kind face I knew I’d seen before. This great Tinder prospect had competed in (and won!) my freshman dorm’s annual all-male pageant. I remembered his face, and that he’d recited poetry as his skill, but there was one other memory that had stuck out to my then 19-year-old self: the night of the pageant, he had announced to the crowd that he was engaged.
I had so many questions—foremost: were you allowed to start a Tinder conversation with “Are you engaged?” Driven mostly by curiosity, I swiped right.
“What does it mean to write in circles?” he messaged me, a reference to what I can now acknowledge was an incredibly stupid line in my Tinder bio ("Writing in circles since '96." Clever, right?). This was the first (and last) message I received on Tinder that didn’t include a thinly veiled sexual invitation and/or innuendo. It’s a little clunky, but you could say he had me at “What does it mean to write in circles?”
From then on, everything was fair game. We talked about our childhoods on the West Coast, high school experiences we were willing to forget, our favorite movies, our favorite places, the plight of commuting from New Jersey (we both lived there at the time). After hours, days spent getting to know a man I’d never met, we planned our first date. We’d meet at Think Coffee—a quick, easy rendezvous in case we found each other insufferable in person.
Two days before we planned to meet, I found myself several chardonnays into dinner, wondering what my Tinder match was up to. To my surprise, he was actually in my town, Hoboken, taking a walk from his neighboring Jersey City. I don’t make a charming first impression, so drunk-me decided to push for a spontaneous date. “Why don’t you just come over?” His reaction was what I expected: hesitation, tinged with the vague fear of a Tinder murder-plot.
After some cajoling, I finally convinced him to stop by my Hoboken apartment. Considering I’d already told him about the building’s bug problem and the ancient, possibly haunted stroller parked in the lobby, this was quite the victory.
While I prepared for my (potentially engaged) Tinder match’s visit, I realized my pre-first-date anxiety was gone. Though drunk on a weekday, bathed in a June cocktail of sweat and metallic eye makeup and wearing a supremely unattractive set of pajamas, I felt totally fine. No wardrobe drama to be had and no roommate pep talk needed.
Sitting on the steps outside my building, cigarette in hand, he said “hello.”
That night I learned that my Tinder match was 1.) Not currently engaged, and 2.) Someone I could actually foresee a second date with. We made it past that second date, and the next one after that. Two-and-a-half years later, we’re still going on dates—though most of them now take place in and around the living room we share in our Brooklyn apartment.