After becoming single for the first time in eight years, I decided to give dating apps a try. I’d heard from all of my friends how terrible they are, but I was feeling newly empowered by my independence. Besides, I was tired of feeling left out of the memes about racy Tinder messages and first date catfishing nightmares.
One Friday night, I fed the dog, cracked open a canned rosé, downloaded all the major players, and crafted some witty profiles I was proud of.
Of course, I fell hard for the first guy I met up with — we’ll call him Jake. One date in, and I was already acting like a first-rate millennial junkie — incessantly checking his Instagram, endangering my life by responding to his texts while driving on the freeway.
Our first date was a dream. He was funny. He thought I was funny. We swapped crazy stories about our super Christian upbringings and all the ways we’ve since rebelled. Our chemistry was practically dripping off of the table. I’d never felt so sexy, so charismatic, so dazzling. And the parking lot make-out was hot. I thought I had beat the game that seemed to stump the rest of my generation. Or, at the very least, that I just had beginner’s luck.
We had a second date at his place. It was equally hot, and even more intimate. I went home in a daze thinking that maybe I really was just a serial monogamist, that somehow I’d always just stumble into relationships. Even if it was my first stab at Bumble.
Then he ghosted me. I’m pretty sure my last ditch effort at communication with him was a Starship Troopers GIF that I sent at, like, 11 pm on a Tuesday. Don’t worry, I’m cringing just as hard as you are right now.
I should’ve known I wouldn’t get off that easily. Isn’t a solid, stone-cold ghosting like a rite of passage in the dating app scene? And, damn, it really does feel just as terrible as all the memes say.
I felt utterly worthless, but now, I was armed with a new mission: to prove to myself that I wasn’t. So, I decided to dive back in, as my best friend suggested to me, “blind and swinging.” One guy — we’ll call him Phil — handled my ballsy opener with such grace, I decided to give him my number right away. A few hours later, I had an iMessage from him, but it wasn’t a text. It was a voice memo.
Turns out, Phil is trying to reinvent the online dating scene by developing a voice-based dating app. He believes we can learn more about a person and get a better sense of their compatibility by actually hearing their voice. I agreed, and I liked hearing Phil’s voice. It seemed to match his gauge earrings and the hint of a shoulder tattoo in his second picture. I voice memo’ed him back. We decided to meet for a drink.
After a couple rounds, we went to his place and had painfully mediocre sex. While we got dressed, I noticed a microphone next to his laptop. What’s that for? I asked, wondering if maybe he dabbled in voiceover. He said he had a podcast. Just like every other white boy in LA. Charming.
I left knowing I didn’t want to see him again, but despite myself, I decided to find his podcast when I got home. I hit “play” on the most recent episode. It was about me. Not only was it about me, but it included a lengthy recording of one of the voice memos I had sent him before our first date.
It wasn’t the lingering smell of latex on my skin that suddenly made me feel cheap, but the power of the very thing that Phil had been pitching me over drinks all night — the sound of my own voice.
It’s not like I shared anything personal or incriminating. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing that could later surface in some scandal. And he only gave my first name (no, he didn’t have the decency to change even that).
Still, I felt utterly exposed. The way in which he’d taken my voice and placed it in his mouth, used it to further his platform. A message that had been intended for one person, beamed to the ears of whoever happened to be scrubbing by. I felt used, robbed on a level that no one night stand or even Jake’s ghosting had reached.
The sex had been consensual. Using my voice had not.
Maybe that’s the real difference between experiencing someone in real life versus digitally. When I’m in bed with a man or chatting up a cute barista, I know that whatever happens — no matter how awkward or clumsy or lackluster — it isn’t being recorded. And that’s what sits with me so uneasily about this whole online dating app world — that there’s a searchable history of all of it.
I mean, you can’t even delete and block your ex from your phone anymore without your MacBook reminding you of the entire text thread you’re desperately trying to forget. There’s an archival history of all of our blundering openers. A “read” receipt tagged to each time we get ignored, letting us know exactly where and when another person decided we weren’t worth the time of day. And in my case: audio recordings of my hesitant laughter, my stuttered attempts at saying something interesting to a stranger.
It makes me wonder — who owns all of these soundbites? Are they still mine? Or once I hit send, do they belong to the guys I’m so eager to impress? To the apps or to the web? In all of this — what do we give away and what do we keep?
The irony, of course, is that, while I’m on Phil’s podcast, he’s now the headline of this piece. And so the endless cycle goes — as if we’re all just recycling our experiences, consuming and re-consuming one another, at once incestuous and disposable. One person’s shitty first date is prime content for another person’s witty meme.
Perhaps there really is something to a modern and secular reimagining of the concept behind “waiting until marriage” — of saving ourselves, in a way, for in-person connections. I don’t regret the one or two night stands, but I regret sending Phil those voice memos. I’d like to save the sound of my own voice for a guy who isn’t using it to prove a point on a podcast about his latest tech startup. I’d rather hear a guy burst into laughter at one of my smartass openers than read his “haha” at my desk at work. And god knows, I’d give anything to trade the shame of my last three unanswered texts to Jake for an in-person explanation as to why he ghosted me so hard it made me question my sanity for days.
I’m a millennial through and through. I admit to having the same incessant need to plug in and share my every thought online as the next. But when it comes to the game of dating, I think I’d like to be just a little less accessible. A little less searchable. My heart on my sleeve, and less on my screen, so to speak.