I’m On Five Dating Apps [Non-Fiction]
I’ve been on three dates in my twenty-two years. Every one of my friends has far more experience than I do, whether it be consistent relationships or sexual connections. I can feel pity pulse from them in waves that only I can see, like when you attempt to point out to someone how you can see heat coming off of the sidewalk, but you can’t describe it well enough for them to understand what you’re pointing to.
I’m eighteen when a friend I have known since kindergarten approaches me at the senior grad night fundraiser. He and his long-term girlfriend have broken up and when he tells me, I can hear his mom (“Honey, call me Cindy”) popping champagne several blocks away because “she had never liked that girl” and thought the two of us “would make a much nicer pair”. I don’t offer commentary, both because he’s my friend and because I doubt Cindy would like to know how everybody still talks about her son’s ex giving him a hand job during the junior band trip. He asks if I want to see a movie the next night and I agree, pleased to not be graduating high school without the slightest amount of experience.
Despite having a license and a car, his dad drives us to the theater. I stupidly wear heels, forgetting that we’re the same height and how sensitive he is about that. It rained, and he wants to “be a gentleman” and insists on holding my umbrella, his short stature leading to umbrella hooks yanking my hair and poking me in the eye. He read the wrong movie times and, instead of just going in with it having already started, he suggests getting ice cream with his dad and waiting for the next one. There were no seats, so the three of us stand in the rain, eating Cold Stone in silence. In the theater, his body remembers his anxiety-induced asthma and he proceeds to hack with the intensity of a man three times his size for the full duration of the film. I trip in the elevator on the way out to the parking garage and, in his attempt to catch me, he snaps my bra strap.
On Facebook that same night, we agree it would be better to stay friends.
I’m twenty-one and we match on OK Cupid. We make plans for Saturday lunch. Saturday morning, his friends abruptly visit from Baltimore and he doesn’t want to be a bad host. We reschedule for afternoon coffee on Sunday. I’m out the door to Starbucks and his friends are still there. We agree to a casual dinner on Monday. I’m at Hibachi when he gets the flu and sends me apology texts and offers to try again in two weeks.
I block his number and I’m fifteen again, being asked out by another boy and watching as his friends cackle behind him when I say yes and he runs away to join them. This is the fourth time and I know which bathroom stall to hide in, so it won’t echo when I cry.
I’m twenty-one and I’ve been on Tinder for three years. Nothing has culminated into anything outside of four text messages or inquiries of whether or not I’m into anal. My phone buzzes with a question concerning my favorite Neil Gaiman book and a GIF of a parrot bouncing on a branch. We exchange numbers and he suggests getting coffee together that weekend and I agree before I can talk myself out of it.
I arrive at Alchemy thirty minutes early. I’m wearing a sundress and I painted my nails and I’m reading A Single Man, hoping Christopher Isherwood will calm me down as he describes the beaches and cities of 1960’s California. When it’s been ten minutes since he was meant to arrive, I turn around to see that he’s been standing at the counter, reading the menu and hasn’t even noticed me. I try not to be crestfallen when I note that his khaki shorts are stained and his ‘Donate Blood 2015’ t-shirt has a hole in it. I approach him and confirm his identity. He shakes my hand. As he continues to glare at the prices, I offer to go to Dunkin Donuts instead, claiming I like their coffee more anyway. We leave, and I end up paying for him when he pats aimlessly for his wallet. We sit by the window and for an hour and a half, I listen as he tells me about video games I am not interested in and books I’ve read before and I chew on ice as he informs me that “Steven Universe is derivative, but Rick & Morty totally subverts the adult cartoon genre”. I feign an apologetic smile when my best friend calls me, and I inform him I have a finals study group to get to. I’m not even home ten minutes when he tells me he had a great time and would love to meet up again.
When I tell him I’d rather not, he backtracks and claims he had no real interest in me either.
I’m twenty-one and I’m in line at Staples, home for the summer and working a pleasantly tedious receptionist job. I need rainbow Pilot .07 Ink Pens and my brother took the car. My dad agreed to drive me after work as long as I picked him up a Coke, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a new binder. I’m listening to the audiobook of Sloane Crosley’s essays when I look up to see a girl who bullied me in high school checking out an elderly gentlemen two people ahead. Scrambling, I rush into a recently opened line and yank my headphones out, muttering a greeting and using my hair as a visual shield. I hear my name pronounced Del-eh-nee and I freeze, looking into the eyes of the eleventh boy to ask me out as a joke. He yelled at me from across our history classroom and asked if wanted to have lunch together alone. I barely say ‘okay’ before he offers to have ‘Del-og-na’ sandwiches, earning laughter from his surrounding companions, humor still found in the nickname given to me by a former friend after realizing that the spelling of my name reminded her of baloney. They make snorting sounds, making sure to remind me that the main source of their mockery came from my weight.
I make awkward small talk and he smiles, oblivious to my memory, and asks about my summer and school and I can’t stop wishing that they didn’t only have the king-size Reese’s in the check-out line.
I refuse a bag and change and as soon as I’m in the car, I tell my dad that I promised to call my grandma and to please hurry home before he can notice how hard I’m struggling to keep the tears inside.
I’m twenty-two and I’ve been telling my friends about a cute girl in my 18th Century Queer British Literature class. Everyone is a little too happy for me and I ignore how I know it’s because I’m a senior in college and I’ve never been kissed, let alone had a second date. I ask her out over text and she agrees on the pretense that we keep things casual. I’m already listing everything I know about her in my journal.
We agree to a study date, but exam season overpopulates the library and I offer up my apartment. I make her cinnamon sugar toast as she complains about her creative non-fiction class and I laugh as we both express our distaste for the same people. We quote John Mulaney and we watch Pushing Daisies. No work gets done. As she leaves, she squeezes my shoulder and I suddenly understand everything Walt Whitman meant when he sang the body electric. I meet up with my friends an hour later and tell them how well it went.
I’m in the middle of talking about how I’m going to lend her some Sam Sax books when she texts me an apology and says she just isn’t ready to date a girl and she isn’t out to her family and thinks I’m cool anyway and doesn’t want it to be weird when we have class together again next semester. I tell her it’s really fine, that I don’t mind, that I understand. I’m hurt, but her situation can’t be helped.
I find out from a mutual friend that she’s trying to date a girl from my screenwriting class.
I’ve been on three dates in my twenty-two years. I’ve been on six canceled almost meet-ups. I’ve watched my friends make-out at parties, helped them through break-ups, proofread romantic texts, plotted anniversary plans, and met a dozen new significant others. I’ve been asked out as a joke fourteen times and I remember the name of every boy by the sound of their laugh. I’ve been told eight times I’m not what girls want because I’m fat and feminine and I can’t remember how many times I’ve been told I’m not what guys want because I’m fat, loud, aggressive, stubborn, opinionated, snarky, whiny, harsh, bitchy, me.
But who is counting?
Delaney Burk grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and is currently studying English with a Creative Writing focus at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has been previously published in Marymount University’s Blue Ink and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Emanata and is slated to appear in the latter university’s Pwatem and Auctus. She loves to explore a variety of genres and formats, especially urban fantasy, the combination of comedy and horror, and slightly off-kilter realism. Outside of working to one day write for television or film, she spends her time hoarding lipsticks and watching Colin Firth movies.