NEW YORK DISPATCHES: RULES OF THE GAME
Illustration by Josh Perkins
6 July 2018
“There is no one new around you.”
It’s a message I’ve often received in California, where land is plentiful, people are spread out, the highways have 12 lanes and the only train is the Amtrak, on which the only convenient place to go is Los Angeles Central Station. I’ve gotten the message so frequently, I’ve come to expect it. Getting it in New York was a new accomplishment.
I am, of course, talking about Tinder. By my first week in the city, I had already exhausted all available men within a 20-mile radius—from where I am situated, that includes all of Manhattan, parts of Queens, Brooklyn and the edges of New Jersey.
Getting the “no one new” message here was either the height of my own self-loathing or an impressive feat of immense dedication. Had I just won the game, or lost it?
Indeed, Tinder has always felt a bit like a game, where you tally up matches and messages and disappointments. Dates are positive points and failed dates are negative ones. Second dates are rare but worth even more. The only end to my imaginary game is entering a committed relationship or quitting out of frustration. The latter is undeniably more likely than the former.
The only people keeping track of this game are the tech bros at Tinder. I can imagine them now, wearing Patagonia, sitting in comically large office chairs in some overly air-conditioned building in San Francisco. Between breaks at the ping pong table, they make spreadsheets of all the lonely, single people of the world looking for romance or at least trying to alleviate some boredom. For now, I belonged to the second group of people.
In the morning, there were more men on my phone. If you let it, the game can be all-consuming and never-ending. And If you’re going to play the game, you need to know the rules.
The first rule, as established via drunk conversation with my older sister, is never to obscure your face. Which can take many forms. Don’t face away from the camera, don’t wear large sunglasses or hats that hide your receding hairline, don’t use all group photos, or anything pixelated.
Don’t take gym selfies. Too many pictures of your abs mean you’re compensating. For what? I don’t want to know. Dogs are encouraged but exotic bets are not. I don’t care about your pet turtle.
I was reminded of these rules on one of those first nights in New York. This was late May and the weather had yet to turn into the soupy, humid, hell-scape it is now.
“What’re you doing tonight?” the message read.
I know this question almost always leads to the next one: “Want to come over?” Which in turn, almost always means casual sex. Innocence is dead.
It was already 10 PM but I truly wasn’t doing anything and I was desperate for some company. So, I grabbed my freshly minted MetroCard and took a 30-minute train to the West Village. He lived in a narrow third-floor walk-up, above a bodega. It was quintessential New York.
He came downstairs and the realization that he doesn’t look the way he does online set in. He’s tall but not as tall as I am, dirty blonde hair cut “fuckboy” short on the sides. His face was longer in person, nose a bit more pointed. None of these things are bad but they didn’t add up to someone I found particularly attractive. I use “he” not out of a commitment to his anonymity but because I genuinely don’t remember his name. He later unmatched with me.
I was stuck, leaving now would make me the asshole so he lets me into his apartment. There was a large pizza box discarded above the fridge. I ask for a water and figure I might be able to manipulate my way into keeping things platonic. He’s from LA, Pacific Palisades to be specific. I pretend like I know exactly where that is, but in reality I know very little about LA.
For someone from California, he was surprisingly unwilling to talk about it. I could sense his growing annoyance with my forced chattiness.
“Want to go to my bedroom?”
“I think I’m gonna finish my water,” I delay. When I finish, I ask for another.
“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a model,” he said with the confidence of someone who genuinely thought he should be.
Record scratch. “Oh…” *long pause* “…that’s um neat” I responded with the same bewildered monotone I might use if someone told me they had a pet turtle.
I should preface what comes next by saying my face often betrays my emotions. I get shit for it all the time. My friend’s look over at me during lecture and know exactly how I feel about the kid in the back making smartass comments. Yes, the Frankfurt School was elitist. Thank you for enlightening us all with your obviousness.
In hindsight, I probably hurt this guy’s feelings out of sheer facial expression but believe me when I say he shouldn’t be a model. There are already too many models in New York. Throw a stone in the city and 2 out of 10 times you’ll hit a model (super true math by Josh). After meeting so many, I’ve learned that "model" is usually just coded language for “man with inflated ego.”
Conversation had pretty much stopped. He gets up, walks to his bedroom to check his phone and when he comes back he says: “I think I’m gonna go to bed, can you leave?” It was only 11 PM. I knew this probably meant: I’m going to see if it’s not too late to have someone else come over.
I bit taken aback, I grab my stuff and rush out the door. I hear him lock and deadbolt it behind me. I didn’t think I deserved this. I mean, I didn’t even say anything.
So, I made a sort of defeated pseudo-walk of shame to the subway. The night was clear and the typical West Village crowd was enjoying it. I wasn’t, on that uptown 1 train, I cemented my belief in the fragility of the male ego.
It’s emblematic of my recent dating life, a series of awkward failures, but at least New York is beginning to feel more like my Carrie Bradshaw fantasy.