For months, a friend and I texted each other screenshots of other people’s Tinder profiles. Most of the time, the images were of strangers we would never actually consider going out with — the more outrageous the profile, the funnier.
For him, that meant the 30-year-old girl from Kentucky who said her personality matched her large breasts, or the 25-year-old University of Wisconsin graduate who said her legs were like a 7-Eleven (always open). For me, it was the 25-year-old CEO whose photos showed him balancing a laptop on a bikini-clad woman on all fours — my friend joked that the woman was probably his cousin — or the smiling business consultant who looked at least two decades older than his stated age of 37 (playing detective, my friend snooped around for his LinkedIn profile and confirmed our suspicions of deceit).
Sometimes, our superficial game would take a dark turn when I would send him a profile of someone I was interested in and ask his opinion: Do you think he’s full of it? The subtext: Do you think he’d murder me if we went out? One was handsome and described himself as both a globe-trotting war correspondent and a world-class chef (we both agreed he was full of it).
Other times this friend would send me profiles of women who looked like upgraded versions of myself: Maybe we shared the same hair color or glasses, but she was thinner than me and had a cooler-sounding job. When he would remark how funny their bios were, I had to wonder whether he was trying to get a rise out of me. Had I become jealous of his dating other people or even looking at their profiles — the very foundation of our text flirtation?
This friend and I had been casual acquaintances for years. We both hung out in the same social circles and often bumped into each other at events hosted by mutual friends. Eventually we exchanged numbers, but our friendship was always platonic. It helped that I had had a boyfriend for almost as long as he had known me.
But when I became single about a year ago, something shifted in our relationship. When we found ourselves on a group text one day, it quickly gave way to our own private text conversation, which then snowballed into a daily, sometimes hours-long digital affair that grew increasingly intimate. Our jokes about other people’s Tinder profiles gave way to real conversations. Staring into the glow of my iPhone in bed at night, I confided to him things I sometimes hadn’t even told my friends, while he detailed his entire family tree, described conflicts at work and revealed a close friend’s recent tragedy.
And then, just as I was starting to develop feelings for him, the inevitable happened: I came across his Tinder profile and panicked. I was at a bar in his neighborhood — where I had coincidentally invited him to join me not even an hour prior. He couldn’t make it that night, but I still had this irrational fear that if I swiped right on his profile and we matched, he might think I was stalking him. So I swiped left, dismissing any chance of us connecting through the app. But had he already come across my profile — and if so, which direction had he swiped? Weeks passed, and our connection intensified, but he always seemed to be busy or out of town when I suggested we grab drinks.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. What were we doing, and where was this even going? Once I got up my nerve, I typed those questions into a text box and hit send. Then I waited. One hour passed, and then another and another. After hundreds — maybe thousands — of text messages sent back and forth between us, this was the one he had chosen to ignore?
And then, my phone buzzed with a new message. But it didn’t look like the one I’d hoped for: It was a screenshot of a Tinder profile. I’d just poured my heart out, and now he was responding with his preferred method of diversion, I thought, like we were right back where we’d started.
I unlocked my iPhone screen, ready to explode, and looked at the image he had sent: It wasn’t a stranger’s Tinder profile, but his own. The bio had been edited since I had seen it, and this time it was written just for me. “Of course I like like you, Jenn,” read the first sentence.
The rest of it, which was about the awkwardness and the thrill of developing feelings for a friend, was as sincere as it was funny and charming: Each line was riddled with inside jokes we had developed to make fun of other people’s dating profiles. I couldn’t stop staring at it and smiling. It was exactly the kind of smart, clever gesture that had made him so attractive to me. Knowing how frustrated I had been, my friends were elated, too: One of them even joked that she would tell this story at our wedding someday.
But like most bonds that form on — or in this case, around — Tinder, our wedding was not to be. Neither was a first date, it turns out. After getting over the hurdle of admitting we shared affection for each other, our texting continued as if nothing had changed. He was always too preoccupied with work or travel plans to meet up, and eventually I started responding to his daily text musings with flat, one-word answers until one day, our communication stopped entirely.
Both of us single and lonely, wading through the cold world of online dating, maybe we had latched onto each other for attention and validation, projecting better, funnier versions of ourselves via text message. Today I’m still swiping through strangers’ profiles on Tinder, only now, the one person I liked to make fun of them with is no longer around.