“Hey girl I’m tryna f—k hbu”
“Thick bisexual communist EXTREMELY kinky sub/bottom, walk me?”
“If I could have a superpower it’d be turning into a girl so I can let my friends hit LOL”
Mindless scrolling. My eyes burn from the exertion of keeping open after 1 a.m. on a school night, and yet I can’t seem to stop cycling through Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. I feel frantic, manic; I feel like I could scream from the frustration of it all. The straw that breaks the camel’s back comes in the form of a man who says I should leave a comment if I “love music and viewpoints.” I throw my phone across the bed, though the fact that I have to do it gently to avoid waking up my roommate negates any catharsis I might feel from the act.
My eyes burn from the exertion of keeping open after 1 a.m. on a school night, and yet I can’t seem to stop cycling through Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.
I’d been joking for some time that my Berkeley goggles were in the mail, but the truth of the matter was that after four months of school, I still hadn’t acclimated to the general populous who gravitated towards the Holy Trifecta of Hinge, Bumble and Tinder in Alameda County. They were hypersexed and proud of the fact; every profile toted at least one headless, shirtless pic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow updated for the 21st century. My friends half-jokingly accused me of slut-shaming — I argued that it was not slut-shaming to not want unsolicited nudes sent to me by men after a measly four hours of acquaintanceship.
On Halloweekend, I’d stood in a tightly-packed frat house, nursing a red solo cup and watching with a mixture of fascination and repulsion as two freshmen made out passionately against a wall. The sweaty bodies gathered around them didn’t seem to register; at least, the suggestive movements of the boy seemed to indicate that he was not aware of anything save for what was right in front of him.
In a weird, misplaced way, I envied them. Not for the physical intimacy, but for how carelessly they flaunted it. And perhaps it wasn’t careless at all — eighteen is, perhaps, the last year of your life where it’s socially acceptable to thrust your tongue down someone’s throat with a few dozen onlookers gathered around. At that moment, I was suddenly overcome with a wave of regret. I had spent the last week of my teenagehood, the week before Halloween, desperately wishing it was over. I convinced myself that my need for male validation was its primary side effect, that there would be some mystical revelation on the eve of my twentieth birthday which would break this compulsion.
And yet here I stood, freshly twenty, with no revelation but the one that told me I was in the oldest age bracket at the party.
I convinced myself that my need for male validation was its primary side effect, that there would be some mystical revelation on the eve of my twentieth birthday which would break this compulsion.
I made my excuses to my friends and left the party early, wandering around Northside in a half-assed Halloween costume that I deemed “Dead Hollywood Starlet,” and which was, in reality, a too-big, sparkly red dress I’d fished out from the free pile at my co-op, and lipstick smeared on my lips and cheeks and throat like someone had cut it open with a knife. It probably wasn’t a good idea to be roaming the streets by myself at 12 a.m., but teenage bravado was apparently transmitted through observation alone; for the first time since the semester started, I didn’t want to call Bear Walk to walk me back home. I wanted to walk the streets, my thin stockings the only barrier I had against the Northern California chill which I still wasn’t accustomed to, and luxuriate in being alone.
In the middle of my aimless wanderings, my phone buzzed. When I looked down at it, a 25-year-old man I had been talking to on Bumble, who had initially struck me as a diamond in the rough in that a) he didn’t start our conversation with a sexual innuendo, and b) his responses were fast as a whip and made me laugh out loud, was offering to send me dick pics.
I laughed so that I wouldn’t cry, swiped out of the app, and punched in the number for Bear Walk. My isolation suddenly felt intolerable; I wanted to be around other people, so suddenly and fiercely that it made me gasp. I was sick and tired of Bumble, Hinge and Tinder, of unsolicited dick pics, of craving male attention and feeling revulsed when I got it.
I was sick and tired of Bumble, Hinge and Tinder, of unsolicited dick pics, of craving male attention and feeling revulsed when I got it.
My Bear Walker came some 15 minutes later, blinking with surprise to find me sitting on the curb, shivering in the cold. I recognized him as someone I’d walked with previously — we had a fun conversation before, and yet I was humiliated by his presence; the first time I’d walked with him, I’d (platonically) asked for his Instagram, which he firmly but not unkindly refused. He had informed me that Bear Walkers can’t give out social media information, but in my hypersensitive state, I had felt as lecherous as the guys who would immediately proposition me on Bumble-Hinge-Tinder and not take no for an answer.
Still, I forced myself to be pleasant and upbeat, even finding myself telling him what had just occurred with 25-Year-Old Dick Pic Man. I spun the story as something hilariously out of pocket, even though I’d been close to tears because of it just moments before, and the Bear Walker laughed in all the right places, as I’d hoped. Encouraged, I talked about various other encounters I had in the past week — a guy I’d been holding a torch for since the start of the semester having a girlfriend all along, a girl I’d matched with on Hinge suddenly volunteering at my internship and both of us looking like deer in the headlights when we spotted each other, a classmate in one of my upper-div classes who I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be with or just be, period.
I was careful to talk about them in a self-aware, ironical tone, making them sound like a series of loosely connected misadventures which wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Girls. The Bear Walker responded appreciatively to them, chiming in with his own dating mishaps, and I laughed and smiled and thought, I am being so normal right now.
Here was another 20-year-old disillusioned with dating — truly the most banal and quintessential of all college experiences — and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of being singular in my dating mishaps. At the same time that I felt righteously justified in my revulsion, it seemed like an overreaction when considering my friends’ responses to the same type of overly flirtatious men and unsolicited nudes. I would complain to them about the aforementioned, and they would universally respond with a sympathetic-but-ultimately-world-weary, “Honey, that’s just how men are,” a phrase I felt more apropos coming from the lips of beehive-wearing, chain-smoking ’50s housewives than 21st-century college girls.
I do not want to be jaded, I mused to myself after the Bear Walker and I reached my co-op, and I waved him goodbye. I’d had a limited handful of experiences with dating: a situationship back in LA with whom I hadn’t spoken in over six months, a dozen men and women across the Holy Trifecta with whom I’d exchanged a few lines of small talk and that eventually puttered out into radio silence, and not much else. My older sister, meanwhile, had been on some 300 dates by the time she was my age. Never mind the fact that almost none of them took place while she was at Berkeley (Berkeley goggles were still a necessity when she was a student); the disproportionality of our experiences made me feel nauseatingly inadequate. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t find someone who wouldn’t make our conversation at least partially sexual within the first few hours of speaking? Or that I reacted to their advances the way I imagined a Victorian woman would — in desperate need of a fainting couch, and correspondence with a local newspaper to air their complaints?
I knew, rationally, that the problem did not lie with me. Whatever men on Hinge-Bumble-Tinder would say to me was completely out of my control — my profile prompts, consisting of mediocre jokes about committing tax fraud and being a Libra, didn’t seem on paper like they’d invite an array of pervy responses — and yet, that very loss of control made me feel panicky. I craved male validation only in the sense that I wanted to be told I was pretty/witty/laugh-out-loud funny; to be commented on sexually, by strangers, made bile rise in my throat. I did not give them permission to do so, and yet they didn’t need to have permission — viewing my profile was seemingly permissive enough. The smart thing to do would be to take it down — all of them down — entirely, and yet some stupid, stubborn part of me was convinced that there would be someone who would make all these unwelcome encounters feel as though they were leading up to something better.
I knew, rationally, that the problem did not lie with me. Whatever men on Hinge-Bumble-Tinder would say to me was completely out of my control — my profile prompts, consisting of mediocre jokes about committing tax fraud and being a Libra, didn’t seem on paper like they’d invite an array of pervy responses — and yet, that very loss of control made me feel panicky.
When I had dinner at my co-op that night, a boy I was sitting next to at the table called me a hopeless romantic. The context of our conversation was about my supposed infatuation with Europe rather than dating (I argued, then and now, that preferring to walk the level streets of Amsterdam rather than fighting for my life on the hilly streets of Berkeley does not make me a Europhile), but even so, I had to admit he was right.
My profiles on the Holy Trifecta would be kept intact because I desperately wanted to believe there would be someone to justify all the misery I’d had with dating in the past, never mind the majority of my experiences pointing to the contrary. And more than ensuring my exhaustive efforts would remain devoid of results, I still desperately craved the validation I had been searching for in the first place. I could wax rhapsodic on being conditioned by patriarchal, societal norms to crave men’s validation all I wanted, but the truth of the matter was that anyone’s validation would do. Man or woman, Berkeley student or Stanford (in my more lucid moments, I would marvel at this lapse in standards), I would gladly take anybody that would give me the time of day. Surely, I thought as I brushed my teeth after dinner, I’ll find one person — just one person — who’ll make this all worth it.
As if on cue, my phone buzzed with a Hinge notification; a guy named Todd had liked my profile. When I clicked on his, the first prompt cheerily informed me that he goes crazy for mommy kink and bong rips.