By Katherine D. Morgan
This pandemic has already taught me some crucial lessons about myself.
The first was that I never knew how to thoroughly wash my hands before. Second, I learned I don't have any relevant hobbies, because before getting laid off, I defined myself by working anywhere from 30 to 60 hours every week.
But the most important piece of information I've taken away from the past three weeks is that there is apparently never a bad time to swipe on a dating site.
It's OK to admit you're lonely, especially now. People have been told to seek out a friend for the end of the world, and what better time to find that person than now, when days consist of changing from sleep pajamas into business casual pajamas and spending hours preparing the sourdough starter recipe plastered all over Twitter? There are certainly worse things for a single person to do with all this newfound time.
On the other hand, as a Black woman living in a predominantly white city, I haven't found much success with dating apps even in the best of times. At least, not the success I'd like. My friends get asked to coffee or bowling or the movies. I get propositioned for sex. I've certainly had a few good dates here and there, but it's not frequent enough for me to fully understand what I truly gain from putting myself out there.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not one of those people who stress they can't describe themselves "with such a limited word count." I'm both a writer and a Capricorn—restrictions and deadlines are usually where I thrive. But I like to think of myself as an acquired taste. The difficulty is that I can't just immediately meet these men so they can think about how my smile lights up a room, or how I can see a photo of an actor and tell you which episode of Frasier they appeared on. I'm better in 3-D, but these apps reduce me to less than that. In the end, I stay on these apps because they're the only instances of dating I've known.
But maybe this pandemic would change my luck.
After swiping through Portland for a few days in social isolation, my friend mentioned that Tinder is making its passport feature free until April 30, allowing users to swipe anywhere, even if you're not within 50 miles of state lines. I decided to try my luck in Chicago. I grew up there and have considered moving back sometime in the future. "What's the harm?" I thought, punching in the ZIP code for a neighborhood I've been obsessively researching on the Zillow app.
Suddenly, I was living in a whole different dating world. The men wore nice dress shirts to social events, instead of the same old red-and-black flannel shirt! They held jobs with interesting titles! There were more beards than I could count! I was living the dream. Well, until I read their dating profiles or had to otherwise interact with them.
One man wanted to know if any potential partners were interested in the act of "quarantine and chill." Yes, totally, I'll definitely leave the comfort and safety of my home during a health crisis and travel to another time zone for a below-average experience on a futon bed in some guy's mother's house. Another man asked if I was the "projected spread of coronavirus because your curves are anything but flat." I felt my soul rise out of my body and leave a cold shell behind.
Conversations didn't last very long, but hey, I was having a good time exchanging screenshots with my friend of all the horny men who didn't care if I happened to cough while exchanging bodily fluids with them. Is this love? Convenience? Or a little bit of both?
While swiping late one night, I matched with a native Chicagoan who worked as the manager of a restaurant before the pandemic hit the city. The conversation started out flirty enough, then teetered in a direction I wasn't comfortable with. But he seemed nice, so I went along with it. We went from messaging to talking on the phone to FaceTiming within a span of an hour. Every five minutes, he asked me to take my shirt off, then backed off when I told him I wasn't comfortable enough. It finally got to the point where I just wanted him to leave me alone. So I gave in. He screenshotted the image and backpedaled when I confronted him for doing it. He didn't believe he had done anything wrong. He really liked me, he said—in fact, he loved me. He wanted me to say it back. He continued to tell me how pretty I was, and how much he liked me even though we had known each other for less time than it takes to get a table at Jam on Hawthorne on a Sunday morning.
It continued like that for another two hours, him begging me to reveal more and more, until I finally got the courage to tell him I was going to bed. He wished me a good night, told me he still liked me. I stayed up for an extra two hours, staring into the darkness of my bedroom. I felt ashamed, disgusted. I messaged him the next morning, telling him it wasn't going to work out. He sent a single word in response: "OK."
I reached out to a few friends, telling them how the interaction made me feel. I had set boundaries for the conversation, yet ignored every single one of them, even as the knot in my stomach continued to grow. One friend told me this is a common manipulation tactic certain kinds of men use: accepting your boundaries, only to chip away at them, little by little, to get what they want.
It's funny to be a 26-year-old woman, still learning how some parts of the world work. None of my friends—all women, I must say—shamed me, yet I was so quick to shame myself. The next day, I woke up, showered and cried. I'd learned another lesson, put best by the hosts of the My Favorite Murder podcast: "Fuck politeness."
I'll be OK. I'll be more than OK. Now I come equipped with the permission to say "I'm done" and really mean it. I'll be back. I'll continue swiping, continue hoping, all throughout the night, in a city not too far away from you.