was almost ready to delete Hinge when I saw him. Throughout the pandemic, this app had brought me nothing but wasted hours with underwhelming men. I’d had enough of socially-distanced dates in the freezing cold, and exchanging small talk while clutching store-bought tinnies like we were 15 again.
But then, T. He was a tall graphic designer based in London, and very good-looking according to the carefully curated selection of photos on his profile. We matched on a Sunday evening, two weeks before Christmas, and immediately started asking each other the big questions. “How do you see the world?” “What do you want from life?” “Are you the person you make out to be on your profile?” And so on.
Before long, we had switched to voice notes. His voice was deep and he spoke slowly, his notes thoughtful and drawn out. We spoke until the early hours of the morning, sharing passages from the books we were reading, our favourite poems, and videos of what we were doing. There was an instant familiarity. After just a few conversations, he already had a nickname for me. One he used with a breezy confidence that made me blush.
We spoke late into the night for four days straight. Smart, romantic, and interested in everything I had to say, T seemed like the person I’d always hoped I’d meet on a dating app. The one that had only ever existed in my own head, until now.
We had our first phone conversation just before Christmas; it lasted four hours. Conversation flowed as if we’d known each for years rather than days. We moved easily between subjects, covering everything from our families to our career goals. He told me he was “a maverick”. “I need to do what I want, when I want and can’t help but rebel in the face of another’s directive. You’re dealing with an infinite-infant here”, he warned. Before we hung up, he asked for my address. Reared on a diet of Disney and Prince Charming, my mind wandered fancifully to bouquets of Christmas flowers, boxes of festive chocolates, and a card outlining why, after just four days, this stranger thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. I gave it to him immediately.
Our late-night conversations continued thereafter with gusto. Even on Christmas Day I found myself stealing five minutes periodically throughout the day to listen to a voice note and send an update of what my family and I were doing. It felt thrilling to be exchanging so much, so quickly.
So immediately at ease was I in T’s virtual company, it took all of two seconds for me to agree to spending New Year’s Eve together. The plan was that my housemate, Emily, and I would rent an AirBnB near his house in a small village close to Brighton. We could go for a walk on the 30th and then again on New Year’s Eve shortly before midnight. The perfect romantic start to 2021.
Everything was sorted until he rang me the morning we were due to leave and explained he was worried about us meeting now that the rules had become stricter. This was true – we should have thought about this sooner. The issue was that we were already on our way.
“Oh this is very interesting,” he said. “OK, let me go away and think of a plan. If you’re going to be in the area anyway I am sure there is a way we can meet. I’ll call you later.” He never called.
We arrived at the Airbnb – still no word. Until, eventually, I managed to get him on the phone and we agreed to meet in a nearby beer garden. He was more gangly than I’d expected: Big, brown eyes. Fluffy hair. Stiff. We hugged, awkwardly. I felt flustered. “You’re not a catfish!” I exclaimed, trying to fill the silence. “Haha, no.” He replied.
He introduced himself to Emily, who immediately thrust a glass of Prosecco into his hands. Meeting for the first time alongside my best friend was never going to be the smoothest of endeavours, I grant him that. But I didn’t expect the afternoon to be quite so… disappointing. Our dialogue up until that point had been an uninterrupted stream of ideas and flirtations. Now that we actually had to talk to each other face-to-face, without the grace period that talking to someone online offers, something was missing. Meeting for the first time with a friend demands a strange performativity that I was unprepared for.
The conversation was stale, shallow, and wholly uninspiring. About an hour into our accidental three-way date, the maverick sank into his cosy armchair and pulled his beanie hat over his eyes, indicating he really needed a nap. Was I actually boring my former suitor to sleep?
We said our goodbyes and he promised to ring the next morning to discuss our New Year’s Eve plans. I felt flattened and hopeless, as though I’d been manically preparing for a big audition. But at the very moment, I’d stepped onto the stage, I’d seized up in fear and panic. One shot, I thought, blown.
I woke up early the next day and reached immediately for my phone, hoping he would have messaged overnight and we could both laugh about how awkward the previous day had been. He had messaged, but not in the way I had hoped.
“Meeting up made me realise I’m not ready for anything right now. Maybe you’re not either? Thanks for musing with me this past week.”
And that was that. Except I was still in a small village in the countryside with my housemate for New Year’s Eve for no reason other than to anxiously chew over what it was I said or did that wasn’t enough for this man. Someone who, admittedly, I’d only met once, but with whom I’d shared so much in such a short amount of time that it felt like we were practically together already.
On New Year’s Day, I messaged him, a simple “happy new year”, thinking we could perhaps start anew.
No response. A few days later, sitting at my kitchen table, I wondered whether I’d made the whole thing up. Had I projected my own romantic fantasies? Was I the crazy one? Deluded, perhaps?
But then he was the one who’d suggested we speak on the phone, I reasoned. The one who’d asked to spend New Year’s Eve together. He was the one who’d made a list of films and TV shows for us to watch together at the earliest opportunity. He even suggested we go away to France for his birthday. We owed each other nothing, but we gave one another something. I’m still glad we met.
The doorbell rang, interrupting my spiralling thoughts. I opened the door and the postman thrust into my hand a package. Then I remembered I had given the maverick my address. He had sent me a vintage-bound travel book about Paris with a note inside the cover that read: “You’ll be needing this. T x.
He must have sent it on Christmas Eve. Five days after we’d first matched on Hinge – six days before he’d call the whole thing off.
I turned to Emily who’d been sitting next to me at the kitchen table, book in one hand, freshly made coffee in the other. “Shall I laugh or cry?” I asked. “Laugh” she responded. “Always laugh.”
Female friendships really are, I was reminded, the greatest romances of our lives.
Some details have been changed to maintain anonymity. No lockdown rules were broken in the making of this article.
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