Through The Looking-App: The Shattered Fantasy Of Tinder

How do you prepare for the expiration of a dream?

August 28, 2020

virtualreality

t only took one sip of a first-date drink to remember that the dating apps were just shallow green screens, across which we flung our fantasies on loop.

I replay my mental montages; I’d dreamt them slicker with a joke, less needy, more flip, more flirt. I’d seen them taller, fuller, ending the night wedging me up against the backseat of their car. My profile says that I am here in Portland for a solo summer writing retreat and they ask me if I will write about them and I parrot, do you want me to write about you?

Flickers of fantasy, desire all dried up, scenes on loop. They are missing a tooth on the left side of their mouth and when they smile I can see how emptiness is its placeholder. I let them kiss me, after they ask, in their car, but my right arm won’t move from the door’s handle; they are not rough enough, but alone in my bed I can compensate.

Tomorrow’s girl will get my references, make me laugh. She’ll hold her shoulders the alert, squared way, make room for me to drape my head across.

Places queers like to fuck in Portland: the gender neutral bathroom, the Nike outlet store on weekdays when it’s not too busy, the gay day dance party, the movie theater at matinee hour.

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On the app, E asks, of my basketball photo, is that you in the red shorts? Later I will wear those red shorts to meet strangers I don’t know at the park three blocks away. Boys’ size large bought from a Goodwill in my hometown, they hang baggily at my knees, swoosh between my thighs. The ones my ex used to wear as pajamas on the nights she slept over and I tugged them off of her lithe, athletic body.

What will you wear on the date to meet your projected fantasy, I ask myself in the mirror. How do you prepare for the expiration of a dream? Sometimes I imagine myself more masc — tucked-in and t-shirted — even though I always show up femme: black silk, lipliner, jeans riding high on my hips, coquetting.

This date like all the other dates that came before: I am let down. I tell my therapist that I am on Tinder here, and she prophecies, Oh?

Without fail, the dog leaves the room every time we Skype, giving us our privacy. It is 3:00 pm in New York and noon in Portland; every week holds teenage possibility. My intimacies are ephemeral like my longings, fragmented through screens.

Social media spits up the happenings: Judy on Duty, Temporary Lez Bar, Queer Soup Night. I don’t make it to any of them or I make it to all of them — hard to say. The days are long but weeks short; I make plans and then flake. The writing wells up the same way desire does — with urgent force, requiring me to attend immediately to it.

With E, though, I keep our dates. On the first one, she downed her seltzer, digging her fingers into the tall glass, shamelessly scooping handfuls of ice into her open, laughing mouth. When she comes over for lunch, I have prepared a greek bean avocado salad. I pickle the radishes and onion; I prep the berry cobbler starting at 7 am. She is wearing white shorts, a shirt that ties around her slim waist, revealing her tattoos. We sit on the back porch of a home that isn’t mine and she tells me that after the first year of therapy school, everyone breaks up; everyone becomes queerer.

We pet the dog, who doesn’t leave when I ask her if these are friend dates or flirty dates. There’s just not enough time, she laments. But my time is as infinite as the Internet; I have no obligations beyond 1,000 daily words; I have hours for imagined desire. How do you prepare to live in the liminal precipice between reality and fantasy?

The dog sleeps the day away, while I putter around, picking kale and mint from the garden, moving between journals and books, their spines up, abandoned at their middles.

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I once had a friend who, during her last year at Oxford, lightened her reading load by bringing herself to orgasm every time she finished a book. I aspire to this. In two weeks I will be back in Brooklyn, conjuring up a narrative of my West Coast summer, balmy, dreamy, steamy.

At the nude gay beach, someone has brought a blown-up inner tube version of a mechanical bull. I do not like this game because it is exhibitionist or because I am insecure — hard to say. All the queers here have tattoos and I have none; every summer since coming out, I have attempted to do something permanent to my body to catch their attention: undercuts, piercings, abandoning my bras.

The ink I can never decide on, but I know that the sex I want to have is private, between two people: verbal and rough and loving. I don’t want to long for my ex but I do want fine, straw-colored hair like hers to pull. Meanwhile, on the bull, everyone rocks the sides while one person tries to stay on top, looking hot and remaining composed. I watch from the sidelines.

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Eventually I make it back to the basketball court; queers who I have never met before keep showing up. There is forced conversation. I make the three. The gay astrologer I have only encountered on the internet DM’s me, asking: Did you ball out. Did you ball hard. I tell her yes, fantasize about meeting her in real life although she lives on the opposite coast — performing this pent-up aggression.

Later, when I finally find the author’s profile, I know immediately who she is, the books of hers I have read and coveted. I think of the conversations we will have together, how, when I invite her over to the house and open the red wine, she’ll top. She asks me my sign, but doesn’t tell me hers. I go to readings hoping to bump into her, but she stops texting, and summer slows to a near-stillness. In the backyard, I move from porch to hammock, overhearing the neighbors, on Sundays the churches, on Saturdays the farmer’s market.

People on the street look familiar, and soon enough I run out of swipes, even with a distance clocked to 50 miles. The app always returns me back to those penetrating pink circles, vibrations of potential, pulsing outwards, signaling the hunt.


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