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These Apps Will Be The End of Us
"And on the seventh day God created Tinder."
Shane Who I Didn’t Fuck in Seattle was waiting for me at the entranceway to the Norton Simon Museum, slouched at a round glass table catching a cylindrical blast of autumnal SoCal sun. His legs were so long they extended beyond the underside of the table’s circumference. His beige, suede desert boots were propped atop one another like small, dusty hills.
“Hey,” I said, pulling out a chair. My bones quaked beneath my skin, my body charged like an electrical socket from the raw spark of self-consciousness coursing betwixt two strangers who connected online through Tinder.
“I need caffeine,” I said to him.
“Are you sure?” asked Shane Who I Didn’t Fuck in Seattle. “You seem really amped up.”
Weeks earlier, I had flown to Seattle for a work trip, ensconced in a comped hotel room with a bed frame crafted from Douglas fir trees and sweeping views of Elliot Bay. I was lonely and alone and stoned off a pre-roll from the cannabis store in Belltown, a lethal combination when one is a depressed, neurotic, divorced, working mother of teenagers out of town for 72 hours, and it seemed like as good a time as any to swipe right on, say, a Pacific Northwest tech guru who could snake my clogged bathroom sink and bankroll my kids’ future college tuitions.
But all the Tinder tech gurus within a 20-mile radius were named Chad and wore Aviator Nation sweatshirts in their profile pics–unzipped to assert their virility vis a vis tangles of ample chest hair–and their bios included quotes by Elon Musk.
It had been a strange several weeks leading up to Seattle. September had come with a flurry of pre-Yom Kippur apology notes from various dating app matches gone awry: Hinge Israeli #23, Off-Broadway Orchestra Pit Bass Guitarist, Thousand Oaks Hockey Dad, Bumble Drummer (May they be inscribed in the Book of Life). Then came Ye and the resulting round of sanctimonious social media standing-up-to-Antisemitism, a dizzying period of conditional solidarity with the Jewish people that had everything to do with saving face and really nothing to do with Jews. To wit, a gentile novelist friend from a pocket of Vermont where not a single Jew has ever lived was beyond relieved when his agency dumped the Jew-hating rapper: “CAA reps me for TV and film,” he DM-ed me. “So, this is personal.”
Meanwhile, Jews were running around with collective generational PTSD from eons of Antisemitism, wondering at the weirdness of society (albeit an infinitesimally tiny slice) suddenly taking notice, even if it was only to preserve their social standing in an entertainment industry founded by European Jewish immigrants whose progeny today could not land jobs playing Jews in films or TV series about Jews because everybody still hates Jews. So that was odd.
The idea that Jews control anything has always been absolutely completely insane. Does anybody on earth have control? In Seattle, staring out at the inky blue bay, rain swiping sideways against the glassy husk of surrounding skyscrapers, it was clear that I controlled nothing. I was rounding the bend on year two of my divorce, and the cumulative stress and anxiety–career, kids, money, and mostly just my head–had mounted to the point of rendering me near-paralytic. My mind had morphed into a black oil slick. Everything was dark and dull, and I spent most of that summer and early fall imagining what it might be like to fall asleep and fade away forever. I was Jewish, and I was powerless. I desperately wanted someone to save me. And I didn’t care how desperate that sounded.
Shane–whom, at that point, I didn’t know I wouldn’t fuck in Seattle or any other greater metropolitan area–wore lucite glasses and possessed a hard, narrow stare like Michael Fassbender in the Steve Jobs biopic. His eyes were giant and leonine, green with gold flecks. Shane wasn’t a tech guru, but even better, he was Jewish, a thoracic surgeon at one of Washington’s premier public hospitals, and a fiery advocate of socialized medicine. When he wasn’t mending lungs, Shane was an artist, partial to the works of Rembrandt and Cezanne. But he also had a thing for the altarpieces of Moretto da Brescia, an obsession that ate up half of his Tinder Bio section. Along with pictures of him hiking on Orcas Island and diving off a raft into the crystalline waters of Lake Crescent, Shane’s profile included sketches of still lifes–bowls of cold fruit, barren trees, skulls, faces, and forests.
“Shalom,” I messaged.
“And on the seventh day God created Tinder,” Shane wrote back.
We went back and forth like this until I landed back in Los Angeles, graduating to phone calls and Facetimes. For a week, we logged marathon-length gabfests on par with middle school heart-to-hearts. We spoke about the deleterious effects of nicotine on a person’s brain receptors. We spoke about Spain. We spoke about swimming and the triathlons in which Shane competed during med school at NYU. “It’s like we’re 13 again,” gushed Shane. He penned epistolary novels via text, his literary style straddling somewhere between A.R. Gurney and the nineties novels of Nick Hornby.
“I feel like I’ve hit a winner with you,” Shane wrote late one late night. “I feel like I could talk to you every day and never get bored.”
I sent Shane my articles and essays to read. In return, he sent anatomical sketches of body organs: hearts and lungs and brains. He scribed long, detailed descriptions of exhausting days in the operating room–of patients thriving, patients dying. He spoke about the song that was playing on his iTunes “Surgery Soundtrack” the day a 59-year-old cancer patient undergoing a robotic lobectomy unexpectedly expired on the table: Nina Simon’s “I Shall Be Released.”
“Can you believe that?” said Shane. “No other song would have done. I blamed myself for a while. What if I had been playing something else?”
Shane was newly divorced and had two pre-teen daughters, both of whom hated him but in a way he reasoned was “developmentally appropriate.” Shane was witty and sarcastic and never failed to mention the “large shaft” of his phallus, admitting it was more impressive in girth than length.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I won’t send you a photo. I have a strict no pic before dick policy.”
Within 10 days, Shane booked a day-trip to Los Angeles to meet in person, his planned itinerary for us was like a Sunday staycation piece in the Los Angeles Times: museums, sushi, a pricey Russian spa where they served cold, poolside borscht.
Shane was either impossibly romantic, or bipolar. Maybe he was both.
“I’m crackling with excitement for our date and wondering at my good fortune,” he texted.
We strolled the Degas floor of the Norton Simon and came close to holding hands until I babbled something about ditching Los Angeles for good and applying for a staff gig at the Seattle Times, something I hadn’t even thought about until just that very minute. It made no sense to suggest such a thing. Shane was a stranger to me, and a move wasn’t feasible anyway. My kids, their dad, my job–all of it was in Los Angeles. Besides, I had endured Boston winters as a child and survived undergraduate studies at Cornell where the roads froze over and nobody recognized you under your hooded Patagonia jacket. More apt, I was no grunge rock star. I possessed zero drumming or guitar-strumming talent. A city wherein it rained nine months out of the year held zero artistic appeal.
Nonetheless, Shane was tall and beautiful and walked the museum with the intensity of an art history fanatic deciphering meaning in every stroke of plaster and paint. And I was poisoned by the arrow of love’s empty promise.
“Maybe I’d get more writing done if I got out of Los Angeles,” I told Shane. “Maybe the clouds in Seattle would be good for me.”
I regretted it immediately, but it was already too late, and Shane brushed away my hand in a way to suggest that he had been wrong to fly down from Seattle for the day for a girl he met on Tinder. By the time we stood opposite Dancers in the Rotunda at the Paris Opéra (1879-1882), the pressure of a plane ride and a return flight in 10 hours ballooned beyond either of us knowing how to handle it.
One could argue Shane was the crazy one for flying down for the day, but here I was sounding equally like a lunatic for planning a flight–and a life–back up.
“You wanna go draw?” asked Shane.
In the Sculpture Garden, on a bench on the edge of a pond exploding with lily pads, Shane emptied his backpack, inviting me to choose from an array of watercolors, pencils and sketch pads. Shane went to work painting Matilija poppies; I filled a sheet of cartridge paper with Shane’s name in block letters, decorating in the ‘S’ and ‘H’ with tiny circles and stripes. We spent an hour like this, Shane hunched over his sketchbook, the buttons on his forest-green flannel popped open at the bottom to reveal tightened rivulets of tanned abdominal flesh from a recent medical conference in San Diego. Shane’s art was far superior to my Kindergarten etchings, but a wave of calm washed over me as I colored the letters with shades of pink and green and blue.
“You hungry?” he asked.
At the sushi restaurant, Shane used plates of yellowtail sashimi and wasabi sauce as stand-ins for surgical instruments, sliding them around the table to indicate which way his scalpel moves when he was slicing open a patient. At one point, he balanced chopsticks on his nose and my laughter echoed throughout the eatery. Our waiter delivered the check and Shane performed the most impressive feat of potability on which I’d ever laid eyes, downing a tall glass of ice water in one singular sip.
“That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” I told Shane.
Outside, waiting for the Uber to take us to the Russian spa, I leaned in to hug Shane. Again, he pushed me away.
“I don’t think this is going to happen,” he said.
“Never?” I asked.
He shook his head no. “Never,” he said.
Until that moment, that Tinder could be a catalyst for platonic interactions had never even occurred to me.
“Then why did you fly down here?” I asked.
Shane shrugged. “I miscalculated.”
“Which part?” I asked.
Shane thought about it long enough to press cancel on our Uber ride. Finally, he answered: “I didn’t realize you’d have feelings. I didn’t realize that I would, too.”
And then, because I had to say something mean, I said, “And you live in Seattle. It never would have worked out.”
I hoped that had cut him hard.
When I saw he looked wounded, I recovered some internally. “I guess,” he agreed, scrunching up his eyes, the ones that everybody was always talking about.
Shane’s departing flight was still six hours away, but I refused to go to the spa. This was my protest move.
“You want to buy art supplies?” Shane suggested.
Shane roamed the aisles of Blick, filling up a basket with brushes and painting palettes and graphite drawing paper.
“I’d like to buy you something,” he said, directing me to a spinning rack of gel pens and archival markers.
I wasn’t feeling much of anything at that point, maybe just empty, but really no more than usual. I pulled a $26 turquoise Lamy fountain pen from the rack and placed it in Shane’s basket.
“Thank you,” I said.
He arranged the pen, along with his own pile of items, on the counter.
“Let me know how it writes,” Shane told me.
On the Uber ride back to my house, I wondered–marveled even–at the fact that my post-divorce dating life had officially mutated into a scene from Say Anything, the longing for intimacy devolving into a writing instrument.
Someone far more adept than I was at suffering romantic rejection might have banished Shane to the airport. But his return flight to Seattle was still several hours away. Unlike Shane, I had an impossible time rejecting anyone.
At home, on my sofa, Shane invited me to lay my head on his chest. And I did. And he held me, my hand reaching up from time to time to scratch the sharp blond hairs of his beard.
"I don't want you to leave," I said quietly. "Do you? Want to leave?"
This time, Shane didn't think at all. "Not really," he told me.
And we lay like that for an hour, falling asleep as the hazy October sun faded behind the shrubbery marking the periphery of my rented Craftsman's lawn.
We awoke to the sound of an ambulance siren roaring across the street. And Shane Who I Didn’t Fuck in Seattle (or Los Angeles) scrambled to order an airport ride.
“Call me next time you’re up in Seattle,” he said.
When he was gone, after I deleted my Tinder profile and vowed to never swipe on anything ever again, I examined my brand new pen, twirling it around my fingers and relishing in the sound of its soft, tinny click. Suddenly, a pile of forms I’d been ignoring for months–life insurance forms, credit card forms, application forms for my daughter who would be entering high school next fall–beckoned for the pen’s attention. It was, so far as pens go, one of the prettier ones I’d ever owned. I used it to fill in everything. Several hours later, every form was complete, the bubbles beside each democratic candidate on the Midterm election ballot now a bright cobalt blue. It was a shiny ink, gleaming even. The paper drank the link, almost desperately. It clung to the paper like the pen needed it to live.
Later that week, Shane texted.
“I really was delighted to meet you,” he wrote. “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you all of me.”
“That’s OK,” I texted back. “No person can give you everything.”
That very next day, Governor Gavin Newsom won.*