I have never been a science person. My ex was all equations and experiments, but I was always words and pretty paintings. He approached everything practically, while I figured inspiration and intuition would guide me. At restaurants, he would order and eat with precision—that isn’t to say the consumption of food was particularly neat, but the plate was carefully navigated with order. While he meticulously ate his food in sections like a primary-colored pie chart—first all the fries, then the burger, then the steamed broccoli (never any back and forth, never any mixing), I would impulsively blurt out my order—a lightning bolt of sudden inspiration hand-delivered by the gods (sure, it usually ended up being chicken strips with fries, but there was always at least some pretense of browsing hurriedly and then abruptly selecting something on the spot). But after our relationship came to an end, I became more the scientist than ever.
I had watched my friends hover over their phones and their dating apps, analyzing photos and deconstructing sentences with the care of a close-knit writing workshop chugging towards a deadline. I was the homely relationship lady of my friend group who never gussied up to go out and pry a spark of passion from the clutches of a grimy bar with sticky beer-glazed floors, and I never had any sort of dating apps. I was a little curious about the cast of characters it offered, but mostly, I was pretty judgmental about it all. Love (because some people do believe that actual love will blossom from the spaces between text messages) was supposed to happen effortlessly and with a Michelle Branch song in the background.
Once I was single, I realized I could see what all the swiping was about. I looked at Tinder the way I did The Bachelor—I was very much against the entire premise and hated myself for participating, but it also seemed entertaining, provocative and addicting and everybody had weird made-up careers like “twin” or “vegan.” I had read articles about the sinister, calculated art of Tinder and had been very much convinced that it was for both the desperate and the soulless. So it was perfect for someone just out of a relationship.
I had no actual expectations, but realized that I could now browse, cast judgement, and fish for compliments (a few of my favorite hobbies) guilt-free. So, one night, when there was probably a laundry list of other things I was supposed to be doing, huddled on the couch between two of my roommates, I made a Tinder account. I very quickly became an apprentice to the trade of swiping left or right, and before long, I had it down to an exact science. This “science” was mostly an extensive list of can’ts.
Prospects can’t: Brag about their height or how much they love the gym, have photos featuring children of unidentified parentage, have song lyrics in their bios, photos with guns or dead animals, blurry pictures, only one picture, or only pictures where they’re in a group, any mention of Satan, or any sort of gesticulation towards the crotch region (to name a few). Bonus points for a witty profile.
I was proud of the can’ts because they fused the two worlds: very serious, sophisticated scientific methods and the creativity of hilarious humor.
One of my first profile pictures featured me leaning against a Homer statue while wearing an inflatable sumo suit, and after waiting patiently by the phone for Lorne Michaels to call, I decided to move on from potentially problematic character sketches to the scintillating wit of the written word. I told myself I wasn’t going to be that stony-faced gargoyle who sent a soulless unpunctuated, “hey.” I would wow the unsuspecting men of Tinder with my hilarity. “I bet they’ve never met a girl who’s funny,” I thought.
It should be noted that this wasn’t just about shoving men onto cyber bar-stools and mercilessly subjecting them to my C-list comedy club standup routine like someone desperate for an audience. I genuinely thought it would be better to start a conversation inspired by their brief, and rarely creative bios, than by their filtered physicalities.
It began one night when I decided to go on a serial joking rampage. Quip after quip, I chuckled as my fingers flew across the screen. (Imagine a close up of a cartoon villain’s gloved hands typing away in a maniacal frenzy in a dank, dimly-lit lair. Now imagine that but in a 90-degree New York apartment, also dimly lit but only because I was afraid of even the tiny glimmer of heat that the lamps might omit). I sent out three funny and thoughtful messages to three different guys. I sat back proudly awaiting responses to these zesty zingers.
There was not a single cyber chuckle.
The lineup of tiny portraits in tiny circles dotting the top of my screen was unimpressed. Or was laughing too uncontrollably to respond.
There was the guy whose profile invited prospects to drink tea and talk about the weather. When we matched, I messaged, “The weather was pretty nice today, what do you think?” He was unimpressed. There was the guy who just had a list of activities organized into three rows, including the trying-to-be cheeky sport of burning his tongue on pizza. This cryptic three-row rundown was agonizingly close to the perfect syllable count for a Haiku, so I messaged him to tell him so. No acknowledgement of my cleverness, just a “hey how’s it goin’?”
There was another guy whose profile had a few of the classics: a random professional photo, an alcohol photo, a shirtless photo, and dog pics. Two dog pics. Guys on Tinder seemed to love showing off animals almost as much as they love to show off their bodies. Swiping through the deck, you get to see fish they caught, deer they shot and cute puppies they probably borrowed from a friend to distract from their flaws.
This guy really wanted to ensure that you knew he was a sensitive canine-lover with not one but two photos with dogs (and one was wearing a suit and tie). I decided it would be funny and cute to just call him out on taking this not-so-subtle ploy to the next level, “Most guys usually have one dog pic. You have two. I respect that.” He did not appreciate the originality of pointing out his unoriginality.
There was another guy with a suspiciously perfect swoop of hair, and a consistent playful puzzled brow. It would be cute if he didn’t look so lost and confused. Like a model who was beamed here from another planet. There he was looking confused in front of paintings, on couches, eating hot dogs, and drinking beer. I was pleased that I noticed this stylistic pattern in his photographs like an observant art historian. I sent him a message telling him he managed to look cute while looking mildly puzzled (it was snarky and complimentary all at the same time, it was foolproof!). He must not have liked being accused of being confused.
“‘What an outstanding citizen’ -Barack Obama” one guy’s profile said below the obligated comment on his height. I told him it was always reassuring when a guy is Obama-approved. Nothin’.
After seeing countless profiles demanding that girls attempt to be gutsy and initiate conversation, I was baffled that my hilarity went unacknowledged. Maybe the invitations were only seeking leggy blondes with that perfect mix of feminine flirty and cool girl sporty, not awkward writers trying out their puns. I was defying gender norms, cutting down their share of the work by initiating, and supplying them with foolproof comedy. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting a standing ovation, or at least a “haha.”
Admittedly, much of the humor was quite dry. I usually doled out droll playfulness that was probably a bit more bitchy than witty. But, while I put forethought into what I said, I wasn’t putting on any pretenses. These were exactly the kinds of jokes I would make in real life (greatest hits edition). I had taken a pretty sincere approach in displaying my personality–I’m obsessed with puns and your dog even though I know you’re kind of exploiting Fido to woo women.
A few weeks ago, I wanted someone to get me Cookie Dough Bites while I watched the Democratic National Convention in my basement. I told my mom I wanted a boyfriend. She told me I wanted an errand boy. But they don’t have an app for that yet. The can’ts have retired to couldn’ts, but I’m still preparing my next comedy routine just in case.