I was looking for something when I installed a dating app, but I’m just not sure what it was. Maybe it started off as a search for human proximity deep into a very strange year, but I know that wasn’t what I found in the end. There is, of course, a lot that I’m not telling you. Such as the fact that I was lonely. Loneliness is complicated and difficult, and it is, by rights, deeply private too. But still, you should know that I was profoundly lonely when I did it. It had also just recently started occurring to me as I attended one wedding after another, that I was the only single female left in all my friend groups —a strange affliction I had not anticipated at 26.
Perhaps it was the clear-cut ‘immorality’ that enticed me. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d recently been told by the man I had loved for four years that he’d never marry me, the man I’d written a 65-page book of poetry for —complete with hand drawn illustrations and a red hardcover. He cried when I gave it to him, babbled something about how nobody had done something like that for him before. I remember being stirred by satisfaction as I watched him cry, mentally adding another name to the list of grown men I had moved to tears.
But I digress. The dating app.
On a whim, I downloaded Bumble, hoping that maybe a suitor-in-waiting from the twin city area would appear with the swift move of a fingertip. The online dating landscape was at once rooted and rootless, anchored by my phone’s GPS but encompassing a 30km radius. It’s all rather simple you see: a couple of swipes, a deluge of notifications. I came across somebody I knew from real life every few swipes. A former boss, a gym bro from university, my brother’s friends. This narrowed it down for me a little: I only wanted to talk to someone who didn’t know me in real life. So, I talked exclusively to strangers. Preferably strangers within a 5km radius, so that if I wanted to, I could meet them before I had enough time to change my mind.
Anything interesting anybody had to say to me had been said already. I talked to a man who told me it was making him skeptical that someone like me would match with someone like him. Unmatch – Low self-esteem is not an attractive trait in a man. Someone who took all of 4 minutes to tell me LSD changed his life. I lost the patience for conversations of the sort circa 2015 — to the left he went. A man, another man, and a third man. I was soon approaching carpal tunnel syndrome from swiping left.
I even came across the profile of a convicted rapist and murderer from my city whose very public case the entire country had been following for 5 months. “What makes a relationship great is a sense of adventure”, his profile read. I’d like to say at this point that this was enough to scare me, to put me off from swiping. I’d like to say that I uninstalled, spent a week shaken up. But I didn’t. I just screenshotted his profile, sent it to a few friends, and after the expected “oh my God”s and “imagine- I would’ve even swiped right if I hadn’t known”s, I was back at it. Like I said, my loneliness was large enough to fill all five lanes on the highway. I could be driven by little else.
I soon found that even after my albeit unsophisticated filtration process, the ‘strangers’ I was interacting with weren’t really strangers at all. The dating pool (or should I say cesspool) in the twin cities is so agonizingly small, it’s bordering on incestuous.
Online dating is tricky when you’re a desi woman living in a small town. If you don’t put your pictures up, you’ll likely get little response so what’s the point? On the other hand, if you put your pictures up, you’re paranoid that you’ll be recognized at D. Watson buying another tube of the same coffee lovers’ toothpaste that has failed to do anything for your stained teeth, and be forced to acknowledge (and explain) your bumble match’s existence in front of your mother. More importantly, what about word somehow getting out and one of the aforementioned brothers friends telling aforementioned brother about it? What about any potential future long term relationship or marriage prospects thinking of it as a dealbreaker? “What about my loneliness?” I countered, and kept swiping.
When I finally met the men who had piqued my interest enough to warrant a coffee date, there was plenty to learn. One was a Harvard graduate, who texted me “What’s in your head? What’s in your heart?” every couple of days. He told me he did theatre in college and when I asked to see pictures of him in stage makeup, he reminded me that dating men 10 years older than myself meant they no longer had their college pictures handy. One tasted of cough syrup- which was alarming, given that my antics were also taking place smack dab in the middle of the covid pandemic. One owned several brick kilns near Jhelum and talked of little else. He told me if I visited the kiln with him, he’d show me that the earth there was so warm, you could be barefoot on a December night. The best, of course, was the one who told me it was a turn off for him when women had to pee. I apologized for not leaving my bladder at home out of consideration for his sensibilities, but I don’t think he caught the sarcasm.
Nonetheless, I was patient audience to all their performances and idiosyncrasies. I laughed at the jokes, was appropriately coy in response to the compliments, offered just enough information about myself to be intriguing, but not enough for them to actually know me. I widened my eyes and hoped it would be interpreted as naivety and interest. Every time, I returned home feeling weary and smaller than before. My spirit was bored and exhausted.
Bumble’s true benefit in my life only manifested after a few weeks of sorting through local profiles and going on half-hearted dates. I unwittingly started comparing my days with those of my friends and the stability and comfort they drew from their long-term relationships and marriages. I could no longer ignore that I also wanted to be in love with someone the same way, and not to just ‘put up’ with someone because they are available and a willing participant in the perpetual swiping loop. I was certain at this point that whatever I was in search for, was not waiting for me on Bumble.
And then one morning in September, I woke up to an email from the Bumble team telling me my account had been permanently banned for ‘buying or selling’. I was not, to clarify, buying or selling. But I felt relief wash over me —it was finally over. The decision had been made for me. My nights were finally my own and not spent twiddling my thumbs over a glass screen with my bangs in my eyes and desperation in my heart.
I didn’t find what I was hoping to on Bumble. But I still have a feeling it’s out there somewhere. The Harvard grad still sometimes texts to ask what’s in my heart. I promise I’ll tell him as soon as I’m able to figure it out.