Solve for i – Chapter Ten

Suddenly, I felt extremely exposed: I was online. I was discoverable. Women were probably looking at me right now, and in the middle of that panic, all I could think about was that ‘sexy’ photo of me in the red dress featured in my profile and how much I didn’t want anyone else—especially other women!—to see me in it.

When my first potential match popped up on the screen and she was wearing a modest dress shirt, that was the clincher. I tapped back for what felt like eternity until I got to the settings page and hurriedly turned off discovery.

Wow. I sat back, taking a few deep breaths as I stared at the photo of me trying to be sexy.

That photo has to go, I decided and deleted it from my profile. I hoped that nobody had seen it before I took it down. I hoped that the first potential match hadn’t; I had this horrible mental image of walking down the aisle at the supermarket and coming face-to-face with her knowing she’d seen that awful photo. Or coming face-to-face with anyone who’d seen my photo.

…Oh, gosh, that could actually happen, couldn’t it? Because I was searching for people within 15km of here…?

On top of that, I had this horrible momentary panic that someone I knew would see me, recognise me and out me to the entire world when they found out I was looking for other women. They would be looking for other women as well, Gemma, I reminded myself, you’re being ridiculous again.

Well, I needed to stop being ridiculous and pull myself together. My fears were completely irrational. Logically, the chances of me bumping into someone I saw on Tinder approached zero. The chances of them saying something or outing me were even smaller—because then they’d be outed too, wouldn’t they?—and, really, I had nothing to worry about.

Taking a deep breath, I did the logical and rational thing and turned discovery back on.

That woman in the modest shirt popped back up onto my screen. I considered her; she looked nice, I suppose? I probably wouldn’t have picked her as gay—or ‘bi-curious’, anyway, which is what her profile said she was. Suddenly, I realised my own profile was empty.

I tabbed back to settings again and stared at the empty text box for what felt like five minutes while a thousand million women probably looked at my profile and thought, ‘What a loser, she doesn’t even have a description’ while they swiped left at the speed of light.

My mind was completely blank and in the end, I just typed, ‘I’m brand new here and I have no idea what I’m doing’.

Then, I sat and stared at that for the longest time. Was that pathetic…?

Ugh, I give up, I thought, mentally throwing up my hands. Maybe it was pathetic, but I was also both ridiculous and pathetic and those women had a right to know who they were considering getting involved with.

I went back to searching and back to that woman’s portrait to decide what to do with her. She wasn’t really my type—not that I really had any idea what my ‘type’ would be, but she wasn’t it—so I should probably swipe left. That felt rude, though, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. In the end, I swiped right because it seemed like the polite thing to do.

I had to swipe through a bunch of profiles of women looking for threesomes, and I’d started to worry that the 19% of women who’d had same-sex attraction and/or experience were all mostly married to men before I finally started to get some lesbians and single bi women, too.

There were actually tonnes of women on Tinder, because no matter how much I was swiping, there were still stacks more on my screen. It was kind of reassuring how normal everyone seemed. I mean, not that I really believed all lesbians were a particular way, but it was nice to have clear evidence it wasn’t true. I just wasn’t really sure if I was attracted to any of them, though. How did I tell?

For research purposes, I spent some time staring at a few super risqué lingerie shots pretty girls had up on their profile (and I’d been worried about people seeing me in a dress?) but couldn’t figure out if I felt anything for them. In fact, I felt pretty neutral until I swiped through to someone who helped me answer the ‘are you attracted to girls other than Sarah’ question.

There was nothing particularly special about her at first, she had short, kind of boyish hair and a cheerful but ordinary face, and I’d been scrolling through pictures of her in a soccer game, the usual party shot with friends, etc, when I got to a photo of her in a tailored suit and ray bans, giving the camera a bit of a suave grin, and it was hot.

I stopped scrolling, my eyebrows up. Why was that so hot?

Maybe it’s because she looks a little bit like a man there? I wondered hopefully, except she didn’t, she was just wearing men’s clothes but otherwise was clearly a woman. That grin, though

I wanted to swipe right. It wasn’t just a kind of ‘I guess’ moment, either, I actually wanted to swipe right and see where it went. But what if I swiped right and never heard anything because I wasn’t her type? She was probably after other athletic girls with tonnes of energy like her and I was definitely not athletic. Yeah, I probably wasn’t her type.

…but what if I was?

It made me sweat just thinking about it: I’d have to actually talk to her, and I had no idea what to talk to lesbians about. Ordinarily when I wanted to let someone know I was interested, I just got really drunk and slept with them, but it wasn’t like I could just jump her while drunk because then she’d expect that to lead to sex and I was acutely aware of the fact I didn’t really know what I was doing in that regard, or even if I could actually bring myself to do it at all. Imagining the finer details of sex with women was actually pretty confronting.

I got into a sweaty, panicked gridlock in my brain about what to do with her and eventually solved it by just swiping right before I could talk myself out of it. There: it was too late to worry about it now.

Then, while I was recovering, I went into the kitchen and had a few mouthfuls of wine to lubricate this whole decision-making process. When I got back to my phone, though, my screen was different to the way I’d left it. I unlocked it with interest, wondering what was going on, and ‘It’s a match!’ popped up on the screen.

It’s a—All the blood drained from my face. Did that mean soccer girl had swiped on me too? I was frozen with a mixture of excitement and shock and then I realised the other tiny photo wasn’t of soccer girl, it was of the bi-curious girl in the modest shirt who I wasn’t very interested in.

Oh. I was suddenly super aware of the fact I wasn’t interested in her and now she thought that I was, and I was either going to have to tell her that I wasn’t interested in her—and there was no way in the world I was going to do that—or I was going to need to find a way to get out of it.

While I trying to figure out how the hell that would happen, a chat notification came through.

Shit. I opened it, but the second I had, I wished I hadn’t. ‘Hey gorgeous… love the freckles 😉 redheads are my fave’.

If I wasn’t sweating before, I certainly was now. How could I tell someone I wasn’t interested in them after they’d said that?

Another one came through before I’d figured out what to do. ‘I’m free tonight if you’d like to catch up for a late-night rendez-vous J J happy to come to yours’.

I wasn’t—oh my gosh, was this a booty call? No! There were so many shades of ‘no’ that I spent a few minutes googling what to do, and eventually decided I should just pretend I hadn’t seen the message and unmatch her, and maybe she’d think I’d uninstalled Tinder or something.

The second after I’d done it, though, I imagined what it would be like to be her and never get an answer for that message, and I felt like the biggest asshole in the world.

Okay, I think that’s enough Tinder for tonight, I decided, hoping I hadn’t really hurt her feelings. Before I got ready for bed, I did my best to delete all evidence of girls from my phone, hid my profile and reset it to ‘men’ in preparation of pretending to launch it with Sarah tomorrow.

Then, I lay awake for ages feeling totally stupid for not being brave enough to tell that girl it was an accident and that she was gorgeous but I wasn’t interested.

Reassuringly, the following day on the train, my fears about being discovered and outed to the world proved unfounded: I didn’t see any of the faces I’d seen last night on Tinder. No one seemed to recognise me, either, and the only person who paid me any sort of attention was the guy I accidentally bumped into who gave me a hard look that suggested my parents should be very disappointed with how I turned out.

Before I went into the office, I double- and triple-checked my phone to make sure there was no sign of gay anywhere—I had no idea how to use Tinder but I was pretty sure I’d been thorough—and then went to endure another day at work.

It was more tedious than usual because Finance and Admin were only doing the bare minimum they could get away with to hang out until their redundancies—assuming they were off-shored—so I had nothing to fix and spent the morning imagining I was working at Tinder and had all that raw data to play with.

I wondered what percentage of people unmatched with matches? It was probably a really high number; I couldn’t be the only asshole who’d ever done it. I tried googling some stats for that but I couldn’t find any, and somehow I ended up side-tracked and wondering if that soccer girl would swipe right on me. According to the stats I found women actually matched with each other far more often than men and women did (18% vs 12%), so that boded well, didn’t it?

I was busy trying to figure out if there were any age-dependent variables in that—seriously, why did pop-culture articles never cite their raw data sources or their methodology??—when someone leant over my partition and said, “Will we see you there this time, Gemma?”

I looked up, startled. “Where?” I hurriedly hid my phone screen.

It was Anil. He was squinting at my phone, and I immediately felt really guilty for being caught playing with it during work time. “At the union meeting on Friday.”

Oh, right, that; the one with scary Natalie. “Nope,” I said, slipping my phone into a drawer.

His eyebrows went up. “That’s a pretty strong answer.”

I-It was? Whoops. I grimaced, and I could feel my cheeks going red because everyone sitting around me was watching me.

He gave me a measured look—maybe Henry hadn’t spoken to him yet?—but in the end, he just said, “Well, make sure you come on time to it if you change your mind,” in a tone that held a note of ‘and don’t let me catch you wasting time on your phone during work time again’. Then, he continued en route back to his office from wherever he’d been while I wasn’t paying attention.

I could still feel everyone around me staring at me after he’d gone, and just as they all went back to work, Spud said from behind me, “Are you really not coming to the meeting?”

I just shrugged as I swivelled around to him, because I was worried if I actually said something it would come out wrong again.

It turned out to be the worst thing I could have done, though, because I seemed to have struck a nerve. “What, like it doesn’t matter?”

What likeno, that wasn’t what I meant at all! Because he looked really angry, though, the words caught in my throat.

“I don’t know, Gemma, aren’t you worried about your job?” he asked me, his bushy brow low over his eyes. “All of us here are scared shitless that we’re not going to be able to pay our mortgages and you’re just sitting there messaging someone on your phone all morning, and now you’re not even coming to the union meeting… Do you have another job lined up or something?”

Shit. I could feel my face burning. How did people read me like this?! “N-No!”

“I think you’ve got another job lined up,” he said. “And even if I had one, too, I’d still come to the meeting to support my co-workers who don’t.” With that, he gave me a somewhat disgusted look, and turned back to his desk.

I felt ill. He was never like this; was I really being that insensitive? I had been on my phone all morning, so I probably was, wasn’t I? I couldn’t do anything for a few minutes because I was so shaken. I felt like it was karmic punishment for unmatching that poor woman. I didn’t want to look at my phone again—I bet everyone was watching me now to see if I was as bad as he said—so I tried to find things to do to my spreadsheets for the rest of the morning.

One thing was for sure, though: it looked like I was going to that damn union meeting on Friday. At least Sarah would be pleased.

I couldn’t tell her straight away at lunch, though, because I was worried she’d be upset that I was planning on not going to it after I’d let her believe that I was. She gently persisted with me about why I was so off-colour until I spilt the beans, and to my surprise she didn’t seem as upset as she had when she found out I’d lied to her about going out on Friday night.

In fact, she gave me a long, comforting hug—I loved that she always smelt like that perfume I’d bought her—and then said, “He shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, but I think the universe is clearly telling you something about going to that meeting.”

“I can’t go to it,” I lamented, still too shaken to eat my lunch. “I’m moving to a cave in the mountains where I don’t have to deal with people. I’ll install Wi-Fi and never leave.”

“Nah, don’t let one asshole colour your opinion of humanity,” Sarah told me, patting me reassuringly and pushing my sandwich towards me to encourage me to actually eat some of it. “Ignore him. You might not be working with him much longer anyway, assuming the rumours are true.”

“But he’s not an asshole, though, he’s normally really nice,” I corrected her, not very tempted by my sandwich. “And I was on my phone all morning which was kind of insensitive.”

She gave me a look. “All morning? What on earth were you doing?”

Shit. “L-Looking up Tinder statistics?” I didn’t have to say which statistics…

She seemed to accept my answer anyway. “Well, yeah, you probably shouldn’t have done that, but that doesn’t make how he spoke to you okay, either. Seriously, don’t take him going off at you too personally. He’s just really worried about his job and taking it out on you. Anyway! Speaking of Tinder,” she said, segueing to a no less stressful topic, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I’ve figured out exactly the right profile description for you.”

She made me wait until we got back to her house that evening though—taking the train together again!—so she could check Min’s professional opinion on the photos she’d chosen.

The house was chockers when we arrived; Rob was back from whatever worksite he’d been at over the weekend which meant I had the oh-so pleasant experience of watching them reunite and pash like teenagers on the front porch, and Henry and Min were camped out on the living room couch playing some tense shooter game on Min’s PlayStation.

Sarah waited until Min and Henry were finished whatever they were playing and then grabbed my phone and gave it to Min so she could check out the photos. Min threw me a silent and anxious glance before she flicked through them.

While she was in the middle of doing that, Sarah, who had been watching over Min’s shoulder, made a gruff noise and leant in towards the screen to check on something. “Wait, where’s the dress one?”

Oh. Oh, gosh. I completely forgot I’d deleted that one! I glanced at Henry; he had looked away to check his phone, but I had a feeling he was listening intently. It made me super self-conscious. “Well, I was thinking the other pics are enough…?”

She looked at me like I was nuts and opened her mouth to probably tell me exactly that, but something stopped her. She closed her mouth and swallowed.

Min came to my rescue. “This is a great set of photos,” she said giving the phone back to Sarah. “You chose these?”

Sarah was still watching me. “Yeah,” she said. “I did.”

“Dare I ask what they’re for?” Henry inquired politely, indicating he had been listening.

Sarah looked away from me. “Gemma’s going to go on Tinder tonight to look for a date,” she said with her usual cheer, but her eyes were veiled.

“Tinder, as in the dating app?” Henry clarified, and we all nodded. He immediately looked concerned by that. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? You have absolutely no way of knowing what kind of person you’re talking to.”

Sarah shrugged. “You never know who you’re talking to anyway, do you? You could be having a drink with an axe-murderer at the pub as well. Tinder is just the 21st century version of that. Here,” she said, handing my phone to Henry. “Check out the photos we chose.”

Henry didn’t look any less concerned, but accepted the phone from Sarah anyway. At least with the dress photo gone I didn’t really mind Henry looking at them—he gave them all a seriously professional one-over with nothing more than appropriate interest—and after he’d done that, he stood up and stretched. “I think that’s my cue to leave you three,” he said, feeling around in his pockets for his phone and then finding it on the table. “I’ll say goodbye to Bree myself on the way out.” Min went to show him out anyway, and he gave my phone back to me on the way past.

That left Sarah and me by ourselves in the living room.

She waited until Henry and Min had gone before she took a breath. “You definitely want to do this, right?”

It was so weird her being this hesitant. “Yeah, of course.”

We sat down together on the couch to get going.

I don’t know what I was expecting. To have to act interested for her benefit, I guess? I did a bit in the beginning, but it was just so nice to have our heads together as we sorted through men that I didn’t have to act for long. It was actually kind of fun.

Sarah had some seriously strong opinions about guys I honestly felt very neutral about, and there were several points we differed on: moustaches (she kind of liked them, but I hated them), muscles (they got an automatic yes from her, but I was indifferent) and other tiny details that I thought were important and she didn’t. “Trust me,” Sarah promised me. “That ‘my future partner must have these qualities’ list just goes right out the window when you meet someone. Rob ticks no boxes for me and he’s the nicest man I’ve ever met.”

By the end of the night she almost had me thinking I could date a guy and be fine with it—there were actually some men on there that I’d be happy to give it a shot with—but mostly, it was just so nice to be sharing something with her. She was forgetting to be hesitant and un-Sarah-like and had gone back to her old bossy self.

I liked it. I liked this Sarah, even if I’d privately swipe differently than she was telling me to.

At the end of the night, she gave me a big hug as we both yawned. “Do you want to stay?” she asked. “We can make up Rob’s couch in the man cave.”

Not unless he’s the one sleeping on it, I thought and shook my head. It wasn’t a good idea anyway; if I did that, I’d be late for work again and I had enough problems with Anil already.  I snuck out of Sarah’s before Min could insist on walking me home, and got back to my place before midnight.

It was late and I probably should have gone straight to bed, but I turned on the heater for a couple of minutes to warm my flat and then somehow ended up on the couch with Mr Crumpet on my lap, and it was therefore impossible for me to move.

Luckily, I had my phone. I didn’t have any matches from tonight’s foray into heterosexual Tinder, though, so it wasn’t like I had heaps of people to talk to. I started to look through my likes again anyway, thinking there were some okay men there who might be really nice to get to know. I wasn’t holding my breath on them swiping right on me, though, and I didn’t really know what I’d say to them if we matched.

I sat back against the spine of the couch and stared at my wall, idly stroking Mr C’s long fur while he purred. I wasn’t not attracted to the guys I’d picked, I didn’t think? They were okay.

It was just…

…I don’t know, I’d come this far, I guess? I kind of wanted to see where this woman thing went.

Quite a large part of me hoped it was just a big mistake and I wasn’t really gay after all, or at least that I was a bit bi but would be fine to live out my life dating guys. However, another part of me wanted to turn Tinder back to ‘women’ and see if that soccer girl would match with me.

Since I was stuck on the couch, and since there was no one looking over my shoulder, I decided to just do it.

After all, what did I have to lose, right?

Continue to Chapter Eleven


5 thoughts on “Solve for i – Chapter Ten

  1. Oh, Gemma, I can relate. Feeling like an incredible arsehole for something the moment you can no longer take it back is a terrible feeling. I just hope my first experience on Tinder isn’t like that. *crosses fingers*

  2. “What did I have to lose, right?” is probably the dumbest thing anyone can say ever.

    This is actually pretty much like my first Tinder experience, lol. (Minus the looking for guys bit). Hope Gemma has better luck than me.

  3. The whole, “She closed her mouth and swallowed.” part has me super nervous for Gemma now. Does Sarah know now? I feel like I’m being paranoid like Gemma too but still, it seems like the list of things Sarah likes on guys is her way of seeing if Gemma is into dudes. I hope I’m just being paranoid. I’m gonna scream if Sarah ended up finding out somehow. Can’t wait to read what happens next week 🙂

  4. I think Gemma made the right call in deleting the picture of her in the dress. It’s not representative of her style or personality. And even if it was, just using Tinder is a big, productive step for her in terms of exploring her sexuality and dipping her toe in the dating scene, so it’s okay to take a tiny step back if it makes her feel hugely more comfortable.

    “What do I talk to lesbians about???” Overthinking it: the chapter.

    I’m glad to see Gemma getting excited about a career thing. Though, that does make it seem like Marketing might not be as bad a fit for her as I initially thought? If she likes reading about demographic data and trying to figure out how people make choices as app users / consumers? I can’t empathize much with that myself, if I imagine a “dream job” it’s more about doing interesting analysis than what I’m analyzing.

    And as soon as I think “maybe Marketing could work out”, we see how easily she gets pushed around at the workplace, haha.

    > She looked at me like I was nuts and opened her mouth to probably tell me exactly that, but something stopped her. She closed her mouth and swallowed.
    Hmmm. Sarah just be thinking “I’m too pushy and I need to back off” here or it might be something as serious as “I’m uncomfortable with how much Gemma’s life revolves around mine”… I’m curious to see how Sarah will react to Gemma showing up in Marketing.

  5. Pleased to see Anil remains the moral compass by which Gemma’s true north is set…

    Oh Henry, you luddite. That was kind of adorable how he was worried though. Just confirms however that he’s shagging someone if he’s not even considering Tinder and the world it might open up for him.

    With each chapter I feel the growth of what will ultimately be Sarah’s enormous hurt that Gemma has not confided at least her sexual confusion. I’d understand her hurt, too.

    That all said, glad Gemma is going to throw her hat into this gurl game.

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