When Anonymous Sex on Tinder Turns Into Something More

How I went from “Let’s have sex, and I promise I won’t call you back," to falling in love.

By Matthew Kane

I downloaded Tinder after a few of my perpetually single friends boasted about their conquests. “Dude, it’s sooooo easy to get laid,” they said, flipping through photo after photo of single girls living in an apparent fifty-mile radius of my buddy’s apartment.  It felt sketchy, like a bowdlerized variant of the “Local Girls Looking to Fuck” ads on porn sites I’d deny ever visiting, but it seemed to work for them, and there was no credit card required. 

At first, I sent messages like, “Let’s have sex, and I promise I won’t call you back,” thinking it was a cute way to cut through the bullshit of pre-hookup flirting.  It worked with minimal success; I did have some of the strangest, quasi-BDSM sex of my life with a local co-ed who knew exactly which angles to take selfies from. But the majority of time, I was dismissed with little more than an elongated “ewwwww.”  Still, the near-constant stream of refusals didn’t matter; I saw it as a numbers game, one far less unnerving than the barroom alternative.   With Tinder, I soon found it’s not hard to be thick-skinned behind the relative safety of an iPhone screen—much easier to rationalize being judged on a maybe out-of-date photo than face a drunkenly self-reflective cab ride home.

So I’m not sure why then, when I matched with Kelly, I just typed, “Hey there.”  

She responded positively, and we talked over the next few days until I finally confessed I was looking for something casual.  

“I’m not looking for a ring.” 

“So, are you down to hook up?” 

“I’m down to meet.”

Kelly was twenty, in college, and inexplicably without a fake ID, so any hopes of strong drinks drowning the awkwardness of a pre-hookup meet and greet was out of the question. As I sat waiting on a park bench outside our agreed-upon burger place, compulsively smoothing wrinkles in my shirt that were never there, I wondered why any college girl with a veritable buffet of horny dudes available a literal step from her apartment would resort to fucking on Tinder.  My mind drifted to my only previous encounter, and I assumed I would once again be tricked by a co-ed’s penchant for meticulously choreographed angles. 

And in a way, I was.  Kelly was either a poor judge of photos or excessively humble. Her face appeared rounder in her profile; her cheeks more pinchable. But when she arrived, with a toned body and a doe-eyed beauty, she looked like what I’d imagine the girl-next-door would look like if I had been fortunate enough to grow up knowing one. All I could muster was a muted “fuck.” 

Over burgers that lived up to their “Five Napkin” name, she told me about nursing school, how hard it was growing up in Vermont, then moving to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts—the good New England states as we would call them.  She expressed her plans for the future, always what college students do when ambitions are still an acceptable substitute for accomplishments, but it was refreshing to be on a date, or whatever this was,  where it didn’t begin with “So, what do you do?”.  We talked without much pause, her playfully arguing her maturity extended beyond toga parties and twin beds, and I wondering why the beautiful girl with the big brown eyes was trying to impress me. 

Our immediate connection superseded the initial promise of sex, and we agreed to wait.  When we parted ways that night, after she pulled me close in a crowded subway but before we ended a kiss, I asked her how long her relationships usually last.  She shrugged, “About a month, but let’s not talk about that.” 

She texted me before I even made it home: “Maybe we can squeeze in date number two around all your other Tinder girls.” I deleted the app. 

What had begun as little more than a prerequisite to a semi-anonymous hookup had turned into a first date and then, a few weeks later, a relationship.  We agreed to exclusivity after Kelly, her head resting on my chest and those ethereal brown eyes staring up at me, told me she wouldn’t see me anymore if I slept with anyone else.  She kissed me under my chin and I traced my fingers down the length of her stomach, her laughing, tickled from my light touch.  

I didn’t sleep much that night. I couldn’t stop smiling. 

Our relationship moved quickly, but, for me at least, it made sense.  Between our first two dates, I moved to my first “real” apartment in Boston, finally leaving my parent’s home in suburban Massachusetts.  Post-collegiate underemployment and a slavish obligation to student loan repayments had effectively put a pause on the transition from graduate to whatever being an adult means, and I suppose, in retrospect, I was playing catch-up. New area rug. New career. New girlfriend.  

But neither of us imagined ourselves in a relationship born from the late-night booty call of apps, so we played with the truth and told our friends that we met in a grocery store when I asked her the difference between a Clementine and a tangerine. But, really, what did it matter?  We liked each other, so much so that while walking back from a late-night movie hand-in-hand, me playfully teasing her about her uncanny ability to splay her body diagonally in her sleep, an older gentleman asked how long we had been married.  We laughed and said the things new couples always do. “Oh, we’re just dating.” 

Over the next few weeks, she would cook us things like chicken parmesan, and I’d ask an older co-worker to teach me about pairing wines with red sauce.  After dinner, we’d lie on the couch, her legs across my lap, and we’d talk for hours that passed like minutes.  I’d go home, and she’d send me texts timed for when I’d walk in my front door; messages like, “Look at you being all romantic. You’re too cute.”   

Moving this fast gave me pause, and several of my friends warned against dating younger girls prone to mercurialness, but I believed Kelly when we she assured me she was no longer the wanton undergraduate she once was.  “I co-op anyways,” she said, “so it’s basically like I’m already working.”  

If I had not in a sort of post-collegiate arrested development, I would like to think I’d be smart enough to avoid Kelly, (and for that matter, really any girl who still has a poster of Audrey Hepburn haphazardly pinned above her bed). I would have been firm in my knowledge that we would inevitably want different things in life. I was looking for something long-term, which I guess, at 24, is only natural. But so, too, is wanting to explore at 20.

Almost precisely a month after we agreed to exclusivity, Kelly was offered an internship in Ireland, a place she had once told me she had always dreamed of visiting.  She accepted, and although I was initially angry, how could I blame her? She was 20. She was doing what college students who haven’t figured out their lives do.   

I always wondered why someone would let her go after just a month. Now I know, it probably wasn’t their choice.

A few days after our breakup, she texted me:

“What if we kept things casual?”

I agreed, asking to see her soon, but she explained she wouldn’t be around the coming few days because a guy from home was staying with her. I imagined he had heard of our breakup and convinced Kelly to visit under the guise of “comforting” her. Or maybe she invited him. I really don’t know. But I couldn’t torture myself over what she was doing or who she was seeing. I couldn’t have her in my bed and wonder whose she was in the night before. I couldn’t do casual.  

I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony. 

She’s not in Ireland yet. I like to imagine that when she gets there, and some Colin Farrell-looking guy asks her about her relationship history, she’ll laugh and twirl her hair, and say, “Oh, my longest was about a month.” And he’ll have no idea what he’s in for. 

As for me, I matched for the first time on a re-downloaded Tinder the other day.  

“Hey there.” 

Image via Flickr.

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