Love U: The right swipe and romantic reassurance

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

From break ups to make ups and everything in between, “Love U” captures the nuances of college students’ relationships. “Love U” runs in DeeTs on Mondays.  

I started going on Tinder dates while studying abroad in Turkey. “Tinder tourism” we called it, and it worked out great. I joined a swim team, found my favorite coffee shop, and met some great friends. It wasn’t so bad for my ego either – Turkish men were eager, responsive, and attractive. It wasn’t until later that I found out how unbalanced Turkish Tinder was and that I was one of only about one hundred women using it in all of Istanbul.

None of these interactions ever amounted to anything more than a friendly meal and stimulating conversation. Somehow all the men I found attractive in five pictures weren’t as attractive to me in person. They were all wonderful people, interesting and sweet, but the truth was I was still wrapped up in a romance from back home. No one compared to him and no matter how entertaining my dates were, I always found myself online when I got home, exchanging messages with the infamous (if unattainable) one.

I chalked it up to wanting what I couldn’t have and resigned myself to getting all I could out of our digital romance while I could. There was always a sinking sensation that it would never work out between us, even once we were back on the same continent. But it was an easy suspicion to ignore. I Facebook-stalked my nostalgia away, and spent my bus rides to school fantasizing about when I would be back.

Even then, I was aware that I might not have been fully acknowledging the potential of my romances abroad. I never went out with anyone more than once and my mind never lingered on any one person. I wanted to spread my wings, diffuse my obsession for this far-away one with indiscriminate, almost-romances. I was the stereotypical cultural consumer, dating, wandering, living without consequence. I had a threesome, went out with someone I met on a bus. I did it for the story, for the “experience,” to forget my infatuation back home. It was easy to brave rejection from people around me when there was always someone else on my mind.

It wasn’t until I was about to leave Turkey that I realized how much I had used the people close to me. My roommate, who I had occasionally hooked up with, bashfully asked me to spoon with her our last night together. I did for a while, then got too hot and rolled to the other side of the bed. When we went our separate ways, she to Germany, me back to Istanbul, I hardly gave it a second thought. It wasn’t until my other steady fling insisted on saying an official goodbye (he wasn’t content with sneaking out of my apartment the morning before) that I realized that people had actually cared about me. People had loved me. People would miss me. And I had held myself apart from all that.

It was a difficult realization to come to, and a sleepless last fifty hours in Istanbul didn’t help. I missed my flight out of Canada and sobbed to the woman at customer service. She chased me down the hallway with a calling card after she made arrangements for my next flight, imploring me to call someone, anyone. I took it and thanked her, bleary eyed and shaky. I didn’t call anyone.

I spent that summer hiding. I was confused and ashamed and I wasn’t sure why. I knew that I had not been emotionally present during my stay, and that somehow made it feel like the past six months hadn’t ever happened. It was a blank space, an alternate reality, a sample of what life is like in sensory overload. That was all an excuse though – I was mentally checked out while I was there. I had been living a hypothetical future, not the life I was in, and that was the hardest thing to reconcile. I had wasted my time in a fantasy that would never pan out, using the people who were closest to me in the process.

The far-away one did me a favor by having a girlfriend when I returned. I should have known – he hadn’t initiated conversation in a month. The little exchange we did have was formal and halting, but I chalked it up to us both being busy. I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t worry about anything then.

I knew something had to change, something drastic, something immediate. The longer I waited to dive into my present, the longer I abused the people I loved. I sent long texts to my friends and lovers, trying to explain my new understanding, to apologize, to promise to be better in the future. This was a turning point for me and I wanted to let everyone I ignored, hurt, or been otherwise inconsiderate of, know that I was going to change my ways. I spent some time wallowing, enumerating all the ways I had been a horrible person, and purging them into sorrowful, self-deprecating texts. Then I went back to Tinder.

At first, it was just to make myself feel wanted again, to regain some sense of confidence, if a shallow one. It only took maybe one or two boring conversations for me to realize how useless this tool was when the goal was not to explore the city but to hook up in some dimly lit apartment after half-heartedly browsing Netflix. I changed my bio line to something purposely obscure and absentmindedly browsed through boy after boy while I sat on the toilet. I worked a lot and wrote a short story. I stayed in most nights and devoted my days to reestablishing my real life.

Then to my surprise, someone commented on my bio line. “Walter Benjamin’s my boi!” he wrote, “It’s rare to find a girl on here who reads.” He wanted to meet for drinks at a bar Downtown, somewhere I’d never been before, and I thought why not, it’s like Tinder tourism in my home base.

When we sat down, he asked me if I liked White Russians and I knew he was going to be a good one. We talked for four hours, I had the best White Russian of my life and we shared an awkward kiss as we parted ways. He was interesting — he worked as a chef, studied engineering, and dreamt of ways to combine the two. He had two chickens named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. For the first time in along time, I felt romantically present.

I saw him at least twice a week before he left for school in NorCal and almost every day for the last week he was in town. He said if he had more time with me, we’d be falling in love, that I had set a new standard for people he would date in the future. I, unable to be quite as eloquent, sat in meaningful silence trying to suck tears back into my face.

We talk every day still, via text or on the phone. There hasn’t been a day since I met him that we haven’t been in contact and I have plans to go see him in a couple weeks. But I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing in this situation again, living in this future fantasy of someone far away. I still struggle with the fear that I’m sinking back into the nowhere mindset I had in Istanbul, discounting the importance of my everyday interactions because I’m thinking of someone else, somewhere else.

Is this the millennial, post-modern, cosmopolitan fate? To have the capacity to carry on long-distance relationships via video chat, texting, and calls, but not the maturity? To be forever confronted with the transience of romance, never knowing where academia and jobs will take you? To be restricted to a thousand short love affairs because of the day and age? We’re all embarking on our adulthoods, or our conception of them, following jobs, schools, aspirations. Things change so fast it makes more sense to swipe right and meet for drinks with a new person every month. But there’s something so secure in knowing there’s a text waiting for you, someone specific out there longing, something a million eager Tinder matches couldn’t replicate.

Who knows. Maybe it’s easier for me at this point in my life to seek affection from someone I rarely see. I’m a senior with two jobs and a full class load. I have projects, literary, artistic, and professional to complete and a future to plan for. Realistically speaking, I know I get too invested too quickly when romance is actually available and I don’t have time for a relationship like that right now. My life functions better being alone, but yet, some part of me needs the gratification of being loved by someone, even if I can’t see them.

Maybe this is what some people get out of religion ––  the reassurance that some benevolent being has them on the brain. And maybe that’s the same as Tinder, just as diffuse but perhaps a little more tangible. There are bottomless pairings to love you, date you, woo you, maybe, somewhere, when the time is right. Someone invisible but real, someone you’ve never met but might. How can I make myself be present here when the best person for me right now is so far away? How can I make myself be present there if there may be someone better (and closer) a right-swipe away? But most importantly, how will I know when I’m present and when I’m slipping away?

Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in narrative studies and cognitive science.