On the afternoon of December 25, 2015, you would have found me on Tinder, swiping right and largely left while on vacation in New Orleans. The people who spend their Christmases flexing phalanges are exactly who you’d image: atheists, fellow Jews on holiday, and those whose family ties fall somewhere between nebulous and nefarious. But there was more in the air for me than just Mistletoe Swampwater Daquiris (a thing), for this was to be my first Tinder date. Was I excited??? No. We all know Tinder’s a big pile of shit.
But I reasoned — and my travel companion Daniel concurred — that Christmas is an ideal time to acquiesce to the thrills and repugnances of modern dating. Tindering on vacation means that every date is destined for long-term doom, which was oddly comforting. Vulnerability, that old “getting to know someone” standby, was squashed like a muffuletta between a tourist’s incisors. Hallelu!
Given all of this plus the fact that very few things are open on Christmas, I hopped onto Tinder with Daniel faithfully Grindring by my side.
Getting a date
Once you decide you’re OK with online dating, the next step is to actually find a date. This part, as it turns out, sucks tremendous garbage-dump juice. Weird gender succubi take shape here, I hate to report: males tend to swipe on everything while females tend take on a more reactive role.
Initially, I responded to everyone who wrote to me because how do you really know who’s a schmuck and who, heart be still, is a non-schmuck? How do you suss out a good match in this vast and pixelated libidinal sea? It feels cruel to so casually ignore and reject people — and dozens of them, and in microseconds! This is why anyone who reached out to me with anything non-perverted received an answer.
If you think this logic is sane, I’ve got some sad news for you, homies: it isn’t. You may have noticed that the internet brings out the worst in people, and online dating is a breeding ground for nuisances, depravities, and rotten gender hullabaloo. We have not yet figured out how to translate the best of humanity into technology.
But who’s got time for all this half-baked intellectualizing? Certainly Daniel and I did not. Swipes were accumulating and vacay time was ticking. And eventually Daniel threw down the gauntlet: “Please pick a schmo so we can go eat 10,000 beignets at Cafe Du Monde.” So I buckled down!
And finally, someone seemed to pass the test. His name was Ray (his name was not actually Ray), and he was visiting New Orleans with a friend as well. We all decided to meet at a famous Irish bar in the city center, one of the few places that was open on Christmas.
Prepping for the main event
It goes without saying that a reduction in sobriety was needed beforehand. So Daniel and I made our way over to Carousel, a rotating cocktail lounge that, despite its name, is not filled with carnival tchotchkes. Allegedly they perfected the Sazerac here (which was invented, also allegedly, at an eponymous bar across the street). I don’t care much for Sazeracs, or for spending $16 on cocktails, but I was going on a Tinder date soon! Butterflies were brimming, banshees were traipsing my intestines about to and fro, and days of beignets were bungling about somewhere in the same vicinity. Suddenly, I scrambled to hit the giant red panic button that would eject my tuchus into the sky.
“I want to bail. Let’s just hang out the two of us. Screw men!” I probed.
“Oh, stop being a child,” Daniel said. He’d already found a guy on Grindr 200-feet away and was engaged in his own mini-glowing-screen romance.
“I just hate first dates. Or want to meet someone in a normal way. Or something!”
“This is a normal way! Look around. There are a hundred people here, and all of us are congregating in the groups we came in with. Most people just look at their phones, get wasted, and hope for some connection while avoiding it all. So if it takes an app to meet someone now, then who cares?”
“I guess so…”
“Plus, I’m going to be with you. And if it’s terrible I’ll just pretend someone died and we’ll leave.”
Boy had a point! Some friends, no matter how much liquor you ply them with, simply wouldn’t be down to join you on your first real app date. This is not the case with my beloved Daniel.
So we imbibed more, chatted on mundanities, obscenities, and philosophies. Feeling jazzed by the conversation along with the actual jazz pouring in from the side streets, my resoluteness sharpened. Soon we made our way over to the wackass bar where it was all slated to go down.
Once we arrived, Daniel and I grabbed a new set of libations and headed to the grated metal tables outside, next to a flaming fountain and vulturesque waiters. They glided by in frantic figure eights, donning oversized leprechaun-green suit jackets that I suspect have been in establishment circulation since the ‘70s.
“You must be Rachel and Daniel.” TinderDudeGuy Ray had found us.
The first thing I noticed was his shirt, a vintage green short-sleeve button-up, speckled with red palm trees, penguins, and skiing figures. It was a pattern befitting of hipsters today, though I am certain that at the time of its manufacturing a designer promptly found himself at the unemployment office. Ray felt familiar to me instantly because of that shirt: strangely, a thought of my college boyfriend came to me. Ray was undeniably cool, an easy smile, his stupid shirt, a supremely serene and positive demeanor. I was instantly attracted.
We moved over to Ray’s table, joining his friend and two girls they’d met earlier. You’d think the group dynamic might make the date awkward, but everyone was interesting and extremely fun to drink with, and I exhaled.
Ray and I talked of the usual things, what we’d seen thus far in New Orleans, what we did for work, etc., and then religion inadvertently came into it.
“What’s on your necklace?” he asked. “I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before.”
“Oh, it’s a Jewishy thing.” I’d worn it that night because I liked the pattern, but I’d forgotten what the words across it even meant in Hebrew. I wondered what it might imply to him.
“Are you Jewish?”
“Yep. But you know, Jews are like a race and a culture and a religion, so I don’t know how much that explains things.” Hoo boy, here we go. Now we’d have to talk about God!! I’ve no aversion to God talk, but it’s not exactly on the “top 10 sexy things to talk about on date one” list. I continued, “What about you?”
“I’m not religious, but my family is Muslim and that’s how I was raised.”
“Well, that would explain why we’re both here on Christmas.”
He laughed, I relaxed, and a cheers was had. As we got more comfortable, we cracked our shells a bit, let some yolks spill out into the oxygen, tested what was safe and what would be reciprocated. At some point I noticed him angle his chair towards mine, and soon after he kissed me (#holla!) — but I tried to minimize the PDA because I am not a goon and knew I already owed Daniel 1,000 drinks for giving up a perfectly good Grindr date to attend my heterosexual-filled date.
We spent a few hours all together at the bar, drinking electric-red frozen monstrosities that seized our hearts with palpitations, before we headed to the streets, brass jazz trumpets spilling out onto the hot pavement and chattering crowds pinging like a timpani. I was reminded traveling’s insouciance, of meeting strangers below a new city’s smattering of stars and sky.
It was not what I expected from Tinder. Ray was smart and handsome and not a serial killer. His face had such a subtle softness to it, and the kind of eyes that put you at ease — two wells of sincerity, two gemstone yolks that would have appeared too intense if they weren’t framed by such a kind face. I could see sorrow there too. And I found myself completely endeared.
When we got outside, Ray and I separated from the others so we could wander alone for a bit. We talked about how in many parts of this world, and in virtually every other time period, our night together would never have materialized: thinking of my grandparents in New York and their Jewish traditions, his grandparents in Turkey and their Islamic traditions — seemingly universes apart, and yet, all people who found, built, and survived in a community in which religion was integral. It didn’t feel weighty, but we mused a bit on it anyway. Embedded in the words was an overwhelming sense of self-determination and the luck of birth. Even just that we were both privileged enough to own phones, ones that geo-locate some version of romance for you whenever you want. The neurons contemplated: ridiculous life, surreal times, fortuitous atoms tapping toes — perhaps to an Armstrong jangle.
Eventually we called it a date, I wound my way back to the hotel, and crawled in next to Daniel, who was happily splayed out in a frozen daiquiri coma. Ray and I actually met up a few more times throughout the trip too, which was a nice surprise. Daniel reassured me that I hit something like the dating app jackpot, and this kind of experience is fairly unusual. “Cool!” I thought.
But that is, you know, it. The denouement tied up a thing that was drama free to an absurd extent. Which is what I’d assumed going in: future tense, null and void; vulnerability, vanquished. It came into view when writing this: Ray is not really a focal point, though the whole narrative allegedly surrounds him. I don’t think of him outside the scope, the arc, the memory anchored by the brain and not the heart.
Extrapolating the meaning of life, just because!
Romance is Proustian. I’m reeled into the vastly different cities I’ve traveled to that somehow enfolded such similar elements: for instance, I am back to age 21, with two Canadian men we met in Paris who roamed around with us for the weekend. I sentimentalize those days and use ridiculous language to describe it, like this: my profligate Parisian days, bleeding with wine and museums and wide soft-bricked streets, one of the boys and I pairing up, kissing at 2 a.m. by rose bushes beside the Seine, which was so corny we shook our fists in the air. And then a group of men passed us, smiling, asking us if we were engaged, we told them yes, they bought us shots, and my boy asked me, stars and liquor exploding in his irises, “Are we falling in love in Paris?” And I laughed because I did not know what to say, I never mistake love for something else, but I did not want to damper his excitement, and I was so happily swept up too. And we hid on a hostel staircase until the sun rose, and then the men left, and I remember my boy’s gait, the back of his head, walking away, and though we’d said otherwise, I knew I would never see him again.
And I felt that way again with Ray as it was happening, it was packed into every step though I could never explain that to him: it was young, fizzy, the world a wholly possible thing, a human whose life forever intersects with mine but also knowing never again.
Daniel said, “Why couldn’t you see him again? You live in New York. Everyone comes through New York.” He wasn’t wrong, but your guts tell you no despite the fact that you don’t believe in premonitions. It doesn’t bother you. Whirlwind romances are best severed quickly. An amputation preserves the fantastical whole. You’ve been through this before and you can rest on that.
It circles back to a fairly simple thought: once you find people you connect with, it doesn’t matter how you found them. It is a miracle when you zoom out and consider it. Because you carry all of your life with you when you meet someone. You bring it into every room as you pick your lips upwards, expose your cuspids, draw out your palm, and say “Hi” to a new person, who is also, amazingly, doing the same thing.
It’s not baggage, and even if it was, there is no moral qualifier to it. It’s why even though I felt odd going on Tinder in the first place, interacting with another person is still just that. It’s the same groping — sweetly, but groping — to connect, because it is what they refer to as the “the good stuff in life” and it is what everyone you know is looking to do.