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A Multimedia Story by Jill Marbach

III. Find Matches

A boy named Tristan was smiling at me through my phone screen. My very first potential match. He had delicate features, and every one of his photos was a selfie. His bio was a Shakespeare quote: “I prithee, pretty youth, let me be better acquainted with thee.” I was pretty sure Tristan was not what I was looking for. Swipe left it is.

Noah's CherryPick profile

Immediately after Tristan disappeared, Noah was in front of me. His profile seemed to be mostly theatre focused. A photo of him with a bunch of other guys wearing all black, a photo of a dramatically lit stage with no people on it, a selfie where he wore a t-shirt with a lighting grid and the words “Well Hung.” His bio read, “Looking for the light of my life. It’s a rogue, LED moving light that doesn’t need to be rehung.” I found myself laughing at the bad joke. I stayed on the profile for another minute but decided I wasn’t really attracted to him despite his sense of humor. Swipe.

I kept looking through profiles, mostly swiping left on okay guys. It wasn‘t long before I started to worry I was being too critical—was I too picky even for CherryPick? Just when I was losing hope, I came across Eli’s profile. He was cute, seemed utterly normal in the best way, and all his top artists were Broadway casts. I was into all the shows he had listed, and there were even a couple I hadn’t heard yet. I decided I needed to make my move and swipe right.

Popup of Eli's profile with the text, 'Sweet! You two picked each other.'

Jackpot! My first match! I had been working on a couple of opening lines for just this occasion.

Okay everyone go around the room and say one fun fact about yourself. Mine is that I hate flying but love airports.

This one was a good way to easily learn something about a guy, especially if his profile didn’t give me a lot to work with.

What's your favorite meme?

A topic that was near and dear to my heart. This was a good way to gauge his sense of humor.

Hey, you're really cute!

This was generic to say the least, but if I wanted to start a conversation and didn’t know what else to say, it would do.

None of those felt quite right for Eli, though. As my first ever match, I wanted to send him something personalized, something to say I was interested in actually talking. I looked through his profile again for ideas and decided I couldn’t go wrong with a show-related question.

I haven't listened to Six yet but everyone seems to be freaking out that it's coming to Broadway. Is it worth a listen?

Six was listed under his top albums, so there was a good chance he would want to talk about the show. Even if it didn’t lead anywhere, at least I got a good musical recommendation.

I went back to swiping, scrutinizing each profile I saw. I hit a lot of no’s and then chastised myself for being too hard on guys that might be okay and then chastised that thinking because it might lead me to settle for someone I wasn’t attracted to or an asshole or a guy that liked Cats. There was no winning.

People often compared swipe apps to games, something fun to do at a party or while shitting. I got how it could be fun for some people, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was taking this all very seriously because my future could be on the line. I needed to be smart. If I fell for another idiot who was going to waste my time for a year, at least it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying to find something better.

Eventually, I matched with a few maybe’s and figured that if we had decent chemistry when we talked, there was no harm in seeing where it went. There were also some guys that I thought seemed genuinely cool, and I was excited to see if they would like me back. And of course, there were the guys that I swiped right on that clearly didn’t reciprocate. I tried not to take it too hard, but it definitely felt like a blow to the ego.

I continued on like that until one profile completely tripped me up. The photo in front of me was one I knew well. It had been his Facebook profile photo for as long as I had known him, and now here he was, using it on CherryPick. I flipped through his other photos, but there was no mistaking the boy in front of me as anyone other than Joshua. Here was one on our campus, one by the mountains near his house, one with his dog, Happy.

In all of my fears about online dating, I never expected to come across someone I knew, and certainly not someone I knew so well.

I mean, I knew him relatively well. Does making out with someone count as knowing them well?

Notes that reads 'The List of Reasons Why Actually Getting on Dating Apps is So Scary 1. It requires you to be vulnerable and put yourself out there 2. Like Mom said, creeps 3. It’s so much work, and what if it’s all for nothing? 4. It won’t be anything like Aziz Ansari wrote about in Modern Dating 5. You might see someone you know'

There were only a handful of boys I would say I had history with, and Joshua was on that list. It was a pretty short history, but still. He ended up being the reason I realized I couldn’t get on board with hookup culture.

At the time, we were a degree away from friends; we hung out with the same people and liked one another enough but never really had a chance to connect. Then one night, we did connect. All of our friends went over someone’s apartment to rewatch a movie from when we were kids. It had laughably bad animation and jokes a little too mature for the target audience.

Joshua and I had been almost flirting leading up to this night, so it wasn’t an accident that we ended up next to each other on the couch. Pretty soon our knees were touching, then our arms, then we were holding hands. In the dark of the messy apartment, it all seemed exhilarating, like anything was possible. Without a second thought, I offered him a ride home at the end of the night. He took it, and we spent the car ride joking and retelling the worst scenes of the movie or the best jokes our friends made.

Everything felt perfect when I pulled up at Joshua’s dorm. He looked at me from the passenger seat, thanking me for the ride, and I looked back, saying it was no problem and trying to communicate so much more. He must have been able to read my mind because he leaned in and kissed me.

This was exactly what I wanted! A spontaneous moment was a nice, attractive, grounded boy. I could replay this kiss for the rest of the night, waiting to see if he would text me tomorrow as I imagined what this could all be.

Only, when I pulled away from that first kiss, he kissed me again with more passion, and suddenly one simple kiss was turning into a make out session and Joshua was suggesting we go into the backseat and I agreed in a panic, sure that I liked him but not sure I liked where this was going.

My anxiety spiked, listing off all the reasons this was a bad idea. I kept making out with him anyway, and he kept saying nice things and running his hands through my hair and down my back. It was only after he reached for my shirt that I found the nerve to speak up.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. I think maybe you should go.”

Joshua looked genuinely confused, which was fair because he had no idea what was going on in my head, and that was probably for the best. When he asked why I wanted to stop, I couldn’t come up with any real reason. There wasn’t any one thing I could pinpoint, only a million little things: I’m not ready for this, this is going to ruin our friendship, I don’t even know him, it’s weird that he likes me this much, why is he so damn polite, what will we tell our friends, we’re still going to have to see each other all the time when this ends badly.

panic attack gif

Instead of trying to articulate any of that, I told him I wanted to go home, and he got the message, although it was probably the wrong message. He probably took it personally, assuming I wasn’t interested in him or that he did something wrong. I let him leave without trying to correct any of that because what was I supposed to say? That I did like him, there was just a part of my brain that was scared of all of this? That I just don’t do well when things move too fast? That I have a tendency to shut down instead of advocate for my needs? It just felt easier to not say anything. Neither of us reached out to each other, and we never really talked about it. We still hung out with the same people, but there was a new distance between us. Sometimes Joshua would say a joke just to me, and I would feel that same spark, but the memory of that night would make me anxious all over again.

That was my only brush with a casual hookup, and it wasn’t even with a stranger. I couldn’t imagine trying to do so much more than that with someone I didn’t even know.

I looked at CherryPick once again. Joshua was grinning at me. I didn’t even know he used dating apps. He was the kind of guy everyone liked, girls especially. He was nice and funny, a little dorky but also confident. Despite all of that, here he was, and now I had a decision to make.

After everything went down between us, I justified it by telling myself that my freakout meant I wasn’t really into him. The sparks I felt had been a fluke, and he was really just a rebound crush from my awful ex. There were a ton of reasons why we might not work, so why push it?

Looking at him again in this new context of CherryPick, I found myself rethinking all of that. Maybe I pulled away too soon last time, was afraid to get hurt again so I wrote it all off before it even began. I was in a much better place now, ready for something new and exciting. Maybe I was finally ready for Joshua.

I mustered up all the courage I had and swiped right on my screen. I waited for the message that told it was a match. There was a long minute of nothing. Okay, I reasoned, I’m probably farther down in his queue. I refreshed the app, then swiped through some other profiles. Still nothing.

I realized with some dread what that meant. He swiped left on me. He wasn’t interested. My only saving grace was that Joshua would never know I swiped right on him, so if nothing else my dignity was still intact. Instead, my hopes were just crushed, and I was left wondering what I could have done differently. The answer, though, was nothing short of going back in time. If we could have given it a real go back then, went on a real date and given him a shot, maybe we would be somewhere now. Maybe we would be really happy together, and I wouldn’t even need CherryPick.

All of that was pointless thinking, though. Joshua made his decision, and I was fine with that. Or I would be, in a little bit.

Next: Chat with Your Matches

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