DISCLAIMER: Names changed because we already know people I go out with once like to read this blog and leave comments six years later.
“Oh wow, someone else just recommended that book to me,” Carl smiled. “You know when you hear something twice in one week, you’ve got to pay attention!”
I grinned and nodded, sipping my can of sparkling wine. The gas fire pit cast a faint glow across our faces.
“It’s the book that got me into hiking!” I went on.
The conversation meandered from food to family to the outdoors, just as it had done the night before, on our first date.
“You guys, I’m so, so sorry to do this,” a head popped out of the tent behind us. It was my friend, Sara. “I can hear everything you’re saying; I’m so sorry. But it’s 1am and I can’t sleep.”
“Oh my god,” I whispered back, mouth agape. “I had no idea! I’m so sorry! We’ll wrap things up right now.”
I glanced at Carl, mortified.
“I seriously thought it was like 11,” I grimaced. “Do you know how to turn this thing off?” I gestured towards the gas fire pit, which was fastened to a large propane tank.
“I think so,” he said, leaning his long, lanky frame forward to unscrew the tank.
I got up and turned off the twinkle lights that another friend had set up in the surrounding trees. Oh man, I have to pee. What is this goodbye gonna look like? I wanted Carl to kiss me, but not here, in the middle of the woods, with five friends’ tents within earshot, my bladder bursting.
“Thanks so much for inviting me to come by,” Carl said sweetly as we walked over to his car, our phone flashlights illuminating the path. “Let’s hang out again this week.”
We hugged, much less awkwardly than when he’d first arrived that night. On our first date, the evening before, we’d realized we were camping in the same location the following night. It felt like Fate, so we seized the opportunity to meet up again for dinner at my campsite. He was clearly nervous, walking into a group of five strangers – and a blonde chick he’d just met.
When I’d handed him a plate full of homemade food, I had noticed his hands were shaking.
I hadn’t been on a date in over a year, and found his timidity endearing and comforting. In fact, my last blog post was about how I prefer the long game, and Carl certainly seemed like a long game kind of guy, letting me take the lead and not making any swift moves. The only downside was that we’d met on a dating app.
Somehow, in between these two blog posts, I found myself on Bumble. Okay. I strategically placed myself on said app in the hopes that I would virtually ‘bump into’ my current crush and present him with an easy way to ask me out.
Instead, I matched with Carl. His profile and photos were positive and sweet and stood out amongst the men holding dead fish, looking for a ‘swing’ partner, and/or living in a van.
By day three on Bumble, my crush no where in sight, I was about to throw in the towel when Carl sent a follow up message. I realized I couldn’t find a single good reason not to meet up with him.
“I hope this doesn’t seem too forward,” I wrote. “But I don’t think I’ll last much longer on this app; do you want to meet up for a drink tomorrow or Thursday?” We settled on Thursday, and our first date then quickly became our second.
“Oh my god, I felt so bad,” Sara said first thing in the morning, as we all sleepily emerged from our tents.
“Me too!” another friend, Rachel, chimed in. “I was trying so hard not to eavesdrop, Jules, and then I remembered I had ear plugs!”
“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “This is a dream come true! Witnesses and firsthand feedback on a date!”
“[My partner] Dan kept gripping my arm,” Sara laughed. “It was like listening to a soap opera. He thought Carl was going to invite you back to his tent!”
“So how are you feeling about him now?” Rachel asked. “What else did you talk about?”
“Oh I can tell you!” Sara said with a smile. “There was a long part about kitchen appliances.”
“Yeah, it was another titilating conversation,” I chuckled. “But I think he’s really cute.”
“And he said he wants to see you this week,” Rachel’s fiance, Tim, added. “The fact that he specified ‘this week’ is a good sign.”
“He’s definitely into you. I can’t believe he stayed until 1am!” everyone concluded.
When I got home, I kicked myself for metaphorically sitting by the phone, twirling the phone cord, waiting for a boy to call. I’d been down this road so many times; it was impossible not to count the hours between dates and texts.
On Monday, two days after our campfire marathon, Carl texted.
“How’d the rest of your weekend go?”
We entered into a painstakingly slow back-and-forth over the next couple of days, each waiting hours before replying to the other. When is he going to ask me out for this week?!
I texted a few softballs his way and he let them crash to the ground. I tried again. In response to his sadness over summer ending, I wrote:
“So what needs to happen on Carl’s list before he can part ways with summer in peace? ;)”
“Not really sure,” he replied. “I don’t plan things out more than a week at a time. Maybe another good hike or two and another weekend of camping. Then bike riding in the fall is always amazing.”
I slapped my forehead. Good god, Carl. Help me help you. Since I’d already dated a Carl, I knew what I needed to do. I waited until the next day and took a deep breath before texting:
“I feel like you’re forgetting something important on this list… Like, I dunno, ‘hanging out with a hot blonde’?”
I included a couple of smirking emojis at the end. Less than an hour later, he replied.
“Well I would like to spend more time with you. Definitely good company to be around!”
I stared at my phone, wearing the same expression as when watching people in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Is that a bathing suit bottom or actual shorts? Before I had more than a moment to consider my reply, he sent another text.
“Although I should be upfront and say I’m not sure I feel a romantic connection between us. If being friends works for you, then great… if not I understand.”
Tears pricked my eyes and I closed them, feeling that old familiar nausea pool around my stomach. The One-Two Sucker Punch. I knew it well. I laid down in bed and let it sink in. How in the ever loving chipmunks did I -and five of my good friends- read this guy SO wrong?
I decided to share the news sooner rather than later. After unmatching him on Bumble and archiving his message thread so I didn’t have to see it in my text feed, I sent a screenshot of Carl’s final messages to several girlfriends.
“Oh thank god,” Sara wrote back. “Now I can finally say it. THAT GUY WAS SO BORING, JULES. That’s why I kept saying, ‘Yeah….but do YOU like HIM?'”
“I just told Tim and he was like, ‘Wait, HE said that to JULES?'” Rachel added.
Two days later, I deleted Bumble, not caring that I left several people hanging. I immediately felt re-centered and relieved. I can’t help but think that the gamification of dating, the endless carousel of two-dimensional profiles that we can dismiss with the flick of an index finger, created this entire experience – along with so many similar ones for so many people.
Thanks to technology, we treat dating like a crappy buffet, wading through one disappointing dish after another. We don’t stop and savor. We don’t wonder what’s behind each ingredient. And why would we? Every second there’s another tray wandering by, and we don’t even care that it’s turning our tastebuds numb.
Do you think dating apps are the devil’s work? Discuss.