The worst part of every Tinder date I ever went on was the moment before the date actually started. I hated scanning bars, trying to identify a girl with whom I’d exchanged a few glib texts. What if I accidentally didn’t approach my date, but some different dykey girl in a backwards panel cap and short-sleeve button-down? If and when I did find the person I was actually supposed to be meeting, how were we expected to greet each other — hug? awkward wave? the classic, coolly nonchalant head bob that conveys “why yes, I am gay, and I acknowledge that you are too”?
The fleeting predate clumsiness, in the end, was always a small price to pay.
Online/app dating is allegedly destroying romance and turning us all into chiller-than-thou cyborgs, but as a lady who is into ladies, here’s my review: It fucking rules.
I’m on the femme-ish side of the presentation spectrum, where I tend to tragically blend in with the boring straight majority; in a pre-app dating world, the only surefire way I had of alerting someone to my gayness was recklessly flirting my way to a point of no return. I had to be sure I wasn’t misidentified as a friendly straight girl, who are notorious accidental flirters. No, I’m not brushing against your forearm and smiling a lot because I’m friendly, I have wanted to say too many times. It’s because I am a raging homosexual.
Eventually I learned to name-drop lesbianism in casual conversation so I’d avoid making a complete flirting fool of myself. But with dating apps — whether big players like Tinder or Hinge, or queer women-oriented minors like Her — there in front of you are all the female-identified people who are also looking for female-identified people, brought forth conveniently from the roar of the wild to the quiet simplicity of your screen. No furiously whisper-guessing about someone’s sexuality with your wing-women; no accidentally falling for not-even-questioning-a-little-bit straight girls, as were the hallmarks of our pre-digital youths. From the get-go of an app date, you know and she knows. A weight’s been lifted.
I discovered the potentials last spring, when I was living in Paris by myself. I knew no one. I didn’t speak French. But with the powers of Tinder and OkCupid, I found women to have adventures with. Some encounters turned into full-fledged flings; some, memorable friendships. Only a single outlier turned up a dud: French; a human resources major; hopelessly boring, but pleasant enough. The rest were worth it.
There was the soft-spoken grad student from New Zealand with whom I walked for hours through the Père Lachaise Cemetery, searching in vain for Jim Morrison’s grave while we compared the queer cultures of our respective countries. There was the American with a teeny-tiny septum ring and a head of wild curls, gleeful over any chance she got to escape the apartment full of French children where she was au pairing; we sat along the Seine, drinking red wine from the bottle, commiserating about femme invisibility and disagreeing about Wes Anderson (my take: overrated). There was the Moroccan onetime rugby player, who rolled me cigarette after cigarette on a poorly lit street corner as we talked tackles and heartache in the dark.
I wasn’t wary of going home with strangers the same way I might have been if I was meeting up with guys. (God bless you, lesbianism.) Women can be shitty dates, but they’re less likely to be creepy or violent ones.
And most of the time, there is just something magical about meeting other queer women.
We could have zero physical chemistry. We could read entirely different books, like entirely different movies, have entirely different dreams. Yet always, no matter what, we’ll have queerness in common. Maybe we won’t share anything beyond L Word references, or Kristen Stewart crushes, or a strong mutual dislike for the gaggle of straight bros making too much noise the next table over — chances are, on a first date, we’ll find something to hold onto. An app’s algorithms have alerted us to at least the base potential of compatibility; after that, rolling with it is up to us.
When I moved from Paris to New York, I was worried that app dating would lose its sparkle without the backdrop of smoky French bars and cobblestone streets. My first Tinder meetup back in the States was on a hot summer day in the West Village, at a grassy intersection teeming with summer activity. There weren’t sparks, but we’ve remained friends, bumping into each other IRL on occasion and texting each other pop culture commentary often.
For my second Tinder date in New York, I used my signature move, plopping myself on a bench in front of a bar in my new Brooklyn neighborhood with a book. I felt her hesitant approach from my periphery, but I didn’t move until I heard my name. “Shannon?”
I looked up. Short-sleeve button-down shirt, backwards panel cap — just like so many other lesbians on a first date. But there was no way I’d ever have confused her with anyone else. She had a splash of freckles across her nose and an enormous, beautiful smile. Her name was Jess.
“We’re wearing the same shoes,” she said as I stood. I looked down. We were. White Vans. A pretty gay touch. That was it: the first generic queer connection, where everything always begins — it’s never strong enough to carry through a date on its own, but it’s that first nudge toward comfort, toward companionship, toward finding commonalities that go beyond queerness. And discovering differences, too — the good and the bad. Those would all come in time.
I know that most of my online dating good fortune has probably been pure, dumb luck. But I was also willing to search for the women who weren’t immediately in front of me. I was willing to only exchange a handful of texts before arranging to meet. I hate texting. If we’re going to get together at all, no time like the present. I was in another new city. Anything could happen.
Jess, a musician who grew up in Wyoming two time zones away from my Connecticut hometown, messaged me first, and just a few hours later, we were comparing shoes on the sidewalk. She’d just moved to Brooklyn herself, from college in Nashville. We had no overlapping social circles, no shared histories. If she’d simply passed me on the street — that day I was long-haired, red-lipsticked, and wearing a very impractical pair of white lace shorts — I doubt she would have known to approach me at all. We’d likely never have met if we weren’t both idly fooling around on Tinder, willing to devote an empty afternoon to an assuredly queer stranger on a moment’s notice.
That moment grew into a year. This weekend, we’re moving in together (#uhauling). Early on, I thought about making up a fake meet-cute to tell people at parties. But we met on Tinder, and then we met in real life. And the only part that matters is that we met.