My blood ran cold: Tinder? The dating app? The-‘you’re next door, hook up with me right now’-Tinder? I panicked. I didn’t want to hook up with people right now!
I resisted the urge to just throw my phone out the window of the car. “Why did you put me on Tinder?!”
Sarah’s expression suggested I might be overreacting a little. “It’s… a dating app and you’re looking for someone to date?”
“Yes, but not right now at this second!” I told her, trying frantically to uninstall it. What if people could see I was on there?! “Could you maybe ask me before putting Tinder on my phone?”
Sarah wrestled it back from me before I could get delete the app. “You would have said no.”
I made a snatch for it. “Shouldn’t that be a key indication to, I don’t know, not do something?!”
She put a hand on my thigh. It was enough to shut me up for a second. “Gem, I love you, but your default position on everything is no. You’d never step outside of your comfort zone if I didn’t ignore you most of the time, and you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone and talk to strangers to actually date them.”
That wasn’t fair! “I can step outside my comfort zone!”
She scoffed. “Yeah? When was the last time you did something you felt even slightly not okay about?”
Last Friday when I went to a gay bar, I thought, locking eyes with Min in the rear vision mirror. We both kept our mouths shut, though.
My silence gave Sarah the answer she expected. “Yeah, exactly. Come on, using Tinder’s really easy,” she told me and, figuring she’d made her point, gave my phone back to me so she could lean over to me and point at a button on the screen. “You tap that and make yourself discoverable, and swipe left if you don’t like someone, and right if you do.” She made the motions in the air for me. “If they swipe right on your picture, too, you can message each other.”
If they swipe right on you, too, then— I looked up at her, stricken. “Wait, does this mean they’ll see my picture too?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Yes, Gem. People generally like to see the person they’re considering dating,” she told me flatly.
“What’s wrong with them seeing your picture?” Bree wanted to know. “It’s not like you’re hideously ugly or anything. What would you be hiding from them?”
My entire self, I thought. “Can you at least give me a fake name so they don’t figure out who I am?”
Sarah shook her head. “It’s linked to your Facebook profile, you’d need to make a whole fake—”
OH MY— was she kidding me? “It’s linked to my Facebook profile?? So, like, everyone will know I’m hopelessly desperate?” I gave my phone back to her. “Get rid of it. Unlink it or whatever, because what if Dad finds out? I’m so not okay with—”
She pushed it back at me. “It doesn’t tell people you’re on there, Gem! It just takes info from there! Do you want to be single for your entire life, or do you—”
“No! But I also don’t want to be in the supermarket and have people go ‘is that the girl from Tinder who you swiped left on in two seconds flat before—”
There was a loud HOOOOONK and we both shut up for a second, blinking at each other before we finally realised the sound was Min leaning on the horn. She waited until we were quiet to stop. “Okay, kids, time out,” she said to us and let a silence hang in the air for a moment before she kept speaking. “Gemma, Sarah’s right, Tinder is probably a great way for you to meet people without actually having to meet them straight away. But—” she interrupted Sarah as Sarah went to agree with her, “rather than just diving straight into it, perhaps Gemma can do some research on Tinder before she activates her profile so at least she has some idea what she’s doing…?”
I exhaled at length, really glad Min wasn’t going to announce Sarah she was right and I needed to stop being afraid of strangers—because I already knew that, and just saying ‘talk to this stranger right now!’ wasn’t going to change anything—and her idea sounded way better. It would be nice to at least have some idea at all what I was doing and what to expect on it. There were probably even some metrics I could look up. And maybe there was some way to be, like, invisible or something and just quietly look around…? “Okay, I can do that, I guess.”
Sarah looked like she was going to protest, but with everyone ganging up on her, she just sat back. “Okay…” she said somewhat uncertainly. “Sorry, I was just trying to help…” She sounded a little hurt.
Ouch. “I know,” I told her, reaching out and putting a hand on hers. I knew what I was like. She looked relieved at that, and turned her hand over to squeeze mine. After a moment, she gave me this beautiful smile.
And gosh… I don’t need Tinder, I thought.
Her smile faded a little. “I suppose we should probably choose some good photos for your profile first, anyway…” she conceded, and stuck out her other hand for my phone. I gave it to her.
Bree had been watching us, and then turned a pair of positively starry eyes on Min. “You’re going to be such a good dad,” she told her, and Min shot her a lopsided grin.
After a few minutes of flipping through my Facebook, Sarah grunted. “Just a question,” she asked. “Do you have any recent photos of anything other than Mr Crumpet and me in your albums?” I didn’t like how I looked in photos—which she knew—so I grimaced at her. She chuckled. “Thought not, but I tell you what: I know where there are stacks of photos to choose from.” She then leant forward and patted the shoulder of the driver’s seat, glancing at me with a smile as she said to Min, “Hey Dad, can you drop me off at Gem’s instead?”
I immediately brightened.
“Sure, honey,” Min responded in her best gruff dad voice, and a few minutes later, we were both climbing across the tiny back seat of Sarah’s hatchback and trudging up the stairs to my apartment.
“I don’t see why photos are that important,” I was telling her as she opened my door with her key. “As long as they can clearly see I’m okay-looking, isn’t that what matters?”
She stopped in the middle of what she was doing to turn to me like I’d said something positively blasphemous. “Whoa, okay,” she said, hands up in a ‘yield’ motion, “I forgot I was dealing with Little Miss Numbers. Here’s the 101 of Marketing: do not underestimate the power of a well-chosen image in selling a product. It’s the difference between a successful sale and an unsuccessful one, and since Tinder has basically no profile section, your photos are the only thing to differentiate you from all the other stacks of cute girls. People need to look at your photo and be like ‘I want to get to know her’.”
I just blinked at her. I supposed I’d better start listening to all this stuff if I was going to be in her department. “Oh, okay…”
“So, let’s go pick a panel of photos that’ll have anyone you want eating out of the palm of your hand.” She let us inside my flat, pausing for a moment to wink over her shoulder. “Or, like, eating out of wherever.” She winked.
Ugh. I shoved her. “Sare!”
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?” She laughed, dropping her handbag on my kitchen bench and surveying my living room; her earlier comment about ‘stacks of photos’ might have been a slight understatement because my walls were plastered in them. “Yeah, I think we’re pretty safe to find something, don’t you think?” she asked me with a smirk, and then flopped onto the couch, grabbing my laptop off the coffee table and opening it on her lap. “Is your password still the same as—?” she began to ask, but then abruptly stopped, looking delighted. “Nevermind. I’m in.”
I need to change my passwords, I thought, momentarily panicking that I’d left gay stuff open on there. I was pretty sure I hadn’t, though, and she didn’t say anything.
While she was doing that, I changed into trackies and went to sit next to her on the couch so I could read up on the torture device she’d had installed on my phone before I was forced to subject myself to it.
I was in luck: there was tonnes of reading material about Tinder, and it was all mostly statistics. I supposed with 50 million users they’d be stupid to not want to measure all sorts of things, wouldn’t they? It was a demographics and behaviours app as much as it was actually what it advertised itself for. So, instead of reading up on how to use it, I got stuck reading usage stats (2:1 men to women) comparisons between women’s and men’s behaviour on the app, all the statistics about how often people matched (12% of the time), and a bunch of other stuff. I wondered what it would be like to work at Tinder and have access to all the raw data? I spent about five seconds fantasising about how cool that would be and what I’d learn about people before I realised I’d probably just end up with a longer list of other benchmarks I hadn’t reached in my own life as a result.
“Wow…” Sarah was saying wistfully. I looked up from my phone; she was tabbing through photos of us hiking in the Tatra Mountains. “Do you remember this place? We were like 21 or something.”
I shuffled towards her so I could see the screen better. We both looked so young; that was way back when Sarah had short hair, too. “Isn’t seven years ago a bit too old for a profile photo?” I asked as she scrolled through them.
She looked a bit sheepish. “I got side-tracked,” she admitted, and then switched back to the more recent folders. “Remind me never to complain about how many photos you take again, by the way.”
For a couple of hours at least, we sat together on my couch and looked through most of my more recent photos together, and it was such a nice way to spend an evening that I forgave Tinder for existing. Sarah’s face was so animated as she scrolled through each album, and watching her eyes light up when she remembered something special that had happened, or somewhere amazing we’d been, or someone cool we’d met… it was way more interesting than the photos. She was really enjoying herself.
Eventually she chose three pics she thought best represented me: one was a photo of me in China during an ice festival, wearing a sunhat, sunglasses and eating an ice-cream (“It shows you have a sense of humour!”), another was one of me passed out on the couch with Mr Crumpet sleeping on top of me (“The ‘aww’ factor is very important.”), and the third was a picture of me looking completely absorbed in a big, fat maths text book and chewing on a pencil (“It shows you’re really smart.”).
“And now,” Sarah announced, closing my laptop after she’d uploaded those photos. “We should probably take one that’s a little bit sexy to seal the deal.”
‘Take’? “What, like right now?”
She stood awkwardly because of her belly. “Yeah, of course! Maybe in that red dress you bought? Then you can wear it when you go on your first date with them.”
Oh, gosh… “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea? You looked amazing in it, I have proof!” She tapped her breast pocket where I knew her phone was. “I suppose we could just use that selfie you took, but I think it’s better if you try and look just a tiny bit seductive? Like, ‘I’m cute, I’m shy, but I bet you want to nail this’?”
I may have looked a little wide-eyed as I followed her into the bedroom. “Except whatever ‘sexy’ is, I’m the opposite. I think I’ll leave the whole red dress thing to Natalie, she can actually pull it off.”
“Or Henry can pull it off, anyway,” Sarah said with a smirk. “And with any luck, we’ll find someone to pull yours off, too!” She opened my wardrobe door. “Okay, where is it?”
“Err, not in there,” I told her, and pointed at my drawers. “It’s with my undies.”
She gave me a weird look. “Why?”
“Just wait until you see it.”
She narrowed her eyes and then walked over to the drawer. “Okay, well, I’m going to open it,” she said like she was issuing me a warning, her hand hovering over the handle, “so if I’m going to find anything in there other than undies, you’d better tell me now…”
What else would be in there? “Like, dirty lingerie or something?”
She rolled her eyes and opened it. “No,” she said. “Like a vibrator, or sex toys or, I don’t know, like chains?” She laughed at my expression. “Don’t laugh! I used to wonder if you didn’t hook up that often because you’ve got, like, really kinky tastes or something…”
Hah. “I would have told you.”
She was already rifling through my drawer. “Would you?” It sounded like a throw-away question, but the way she said it…
Gosh, did she know? Did she know the kind of things I was feeling for her and that I might be gay?
While all the blood was draining out of my face and I was panicking about that, it also occurred to me it might just be a comment about the other night when I went out without her and lied about it. Actually, on reflection, that’s probably what it was.
…but we were talking about sexual preferences, weren’t we?
“Here it is!” she announced, interrupting my personal crisis and holding the red dress up. “Wow, that is really thin.” She paused. “Good. Okay, throw it on!” She tossed it at me.
I caught it. So we meet again, I thought apprehensively, and then wriggled into it while Sarah was rifling around on my tallboy for jewellery to match. After she’d passed me some earrings that I hadn’t worn in about five years and I’d found some patent stilettos like Natalie’s to match, she got right down to business.
She was like a professional photographer. Not because she took good photos—although I supposed they were as good as photos of me tended to go—but because she was super professional while she was giving me directions about how to stand, how to pose, what expression to have, etc. It was surreal being dressed in this tiny little revealing dress with almost every part of me on display while Sarah, still dressed in her full suit, manually posed me and ordered me around. In a weird way it was kind of sexy, and I bet all the photos she was taking of me were rosy-cheeked and heavy-lidded.
“There,” she announced after she’d decided she’d taken the Ultimate Tinder Shot and I’d completely ruined my undies. “I guarantee you will score now. You have Sarah Presti, Marketing Extraordinaire’s Seal of Approval on your photo selection. You’ll have anyone you want!”
Anyone? I thought to myself, watching her choosing filters for the photo. I sighed.
“I’ll have a good think overnight about what your profile should say; you only have small amount of space and it really needs to pack a lot of punch,” she told me, grabbing her handbag and giving me a loose hug while I was still in my tiny dress. Her suit fabric felt coarse against my bare skin. “You want to come over tomorrow night and launch it?”
Did I want to spend more time with her!? “Of course!”
She smiled at me, and I think she was about to say goodbye when her smile faltered a little.
So did mine. I also panicked and assumed it was because she’d suddenly realised what my pink cheeks meant. “What’s wrong?!”
She took a breath, and for a moment all I could hear was the sound of my own pulse in my ears and my brain screaming that she was onto me. “Hey, Gem… can I ask you something?”
It took her a moment, and during that moment, I’d imagined every possible scenario of her asking me if I was a lesbian and if I was into her. “Am I too pushy?”
I blinked. There were so many levels on which I didn’t expect that question that I found it really jarring. Jarring, and a huge relief. “Oh,” I said, laughing really inappropriately and then hating myself for being so insensitive. “No…?”
She didn’t look reassured. “You can tell me, Gem,” she said. “Is that the reason you didn’t invite me out the other night? Because I’m too pushy about this stuff?” She looked like she expected me to deliver a killing blow on her. She was dead serious.
It was weird, because she was almost never like this; her self-confidence was something I’d coveted for an entire decade and one of the things I admired most about her.
I swallowed. “No,” I told her, putting my hands on her shoulders. “No, of course not. I just—” can’t tell you the truth, I realised.
“You can say it,” her voice was really quiet.
“Say what?” I asked her. “It’s not even about that.”
“Then what’s it about?” She locked eyes with me.
We stood facing each other. Her lip was quivering a little, and gosh, I wanted to wrap my arms around her, kiss her passionately and say, ‘that’s what it’s about!’. I couldn’t, though, no matter how much I burned to do it. That would be the end.
Instead, I desperately tried to grapple for some at least slightly believable excuse. “I guess I’m just really stressed out over this off-shoring stuff,” I told her, flushing bright red. “And, you know, finding out I’m the only single one out of all of us now…”
Sarah was looking right at my cheeks. For a second I expected her to tell me exactly what I could see she was thinking—that it was bullshit—but she just swallowed and forced a laugh. “God, would you listen to me?” she said with false cheer. “Of course you are. I’m sorry for being so emo! I can blame this on pregnancy hormones, right?”
I felt sick. “Yeah, sure.”
“Good,” she said, and then gave me the warmest, tightest, strongest hug, that she nearly suffocated me with her big stomach. “Bye, Gem,” she told me brightly with no trace of the doubt she’d expressed a moment ago. “See you tomorrow!” She showed herself out, leaving me standing uncertainly in the centre of the living room in my little red dress.
I felt terrible.
I shed all my stupid dress-up clothes and roughly scrubbed all my makeup off, sitting back down on the tiny sliver of warm couch Mr Crumpet hadn’t opportunistically spread himself across. I was messing up big time, I needed to make a real commitment to this Tinder thing that everyone raved about so I could just stop messing up and get a damn partner—that was unless I really wanted to lose Sarah forever.
With that in mind, I mustered a whole tonne of personal strength and didn’t just drown my sorrows in interesting Tinder statistics. Instead, I diligently studied how to use the damn app and what I should and shouldn’t look out for.
I was busy browsing through all the options in the ‘discovery settings’ tab and trying to decide what my parameters should be to maximise my likelihood of ever being matched with anyone, when I got down to one particular option and stopped: whether I was looking for men or women.
I stared at it for a second. Deep, deep down inside me, I had a very strong reaction to that question: I immediately knew what I wanted to select, and, gosh, it was terrifying.
But what if I check it and someone sees me and sees I’m looking for women? I imagined the horrified looks of my neighbours finding out I was a lesbian, before I remembered that the only people I’d be matched with were other girls looking for girls, too.
But someone might find out anyway, I thought, worrying about it. Sarah might find out somehow if she looked at my matches… but, then again, I knew I could delete them and delete conversations, couldn’t I? I’d already read about that. I could just switch it back to men and pretend to launch it tomorrow night, she’d never know.
It would be okay, I repeated to myself, no one needed to find out, and I could just stop if I really hated it, couldn’t I?
Oh, gosh, I think I’m going to do it, I realised, both horrified and exhilarated. My heart was pounding as my finger hovered over the button, and in my head I could hear Sarah accusing me of never stepping outside of my comfort zone without her help. This was one thing I had to do without her, though, wasn’t it? For us. I had to do it for us.
Okay. Okay then.
Oh, my goodness…
My finger shaking, I checked ‘women’, unchecked ‘men’, and tapped ‘make me discoverable’.