“You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t know for sure. Yet it doesn’t matter. Now tell me why.”
Now maybe Cobb had a point when he said this in “Inception”.
Like Soren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” a lot things in our life involves jumping from one side of reality to the unknown. The scary thing about jumping from point A to B is exactly that it’s uncertain, after all, that’s why Kierkegaard named it “leap of faith.” If it was certain, he might as well have labeled it, “leap to wherever-it-is-you-want-to-get-to,” then throw some red rose petals on your way.
Dating, in the digital age, is much like Cobb’s train analogy. More specifically, the type of dating that begins (and sadly almost always) ends online.
The only difference is — yes, you are waiting for a train, and yes it will take you very, very far away – but no one tells you that the train station you’re getting yourself into is like the MRT. Online dating is like waiting for a train in North Avenue station during rush hour. It’s filled with people, it’s sweaty, it requires you to be in places you don’t squeeze yourself into, it takes up hours upon hours of your time, and your patience, and maybe your determination, and lastly, it can get pretty physical.
For those who are not aware of how these train stations look like during rush hour, and for some magical reason has never seen, heard, or even smelled, these places, let me paint you a picture.
The queue snakes from the station’s stairs all the way to the muddy ammonia-scented sidewalks that sometimes reach other establishments, like the big red roadside hotel strategically placed next to the station, while the line itself looks like the word’s longest conga line minus the festivities.
The train can only accommodate so many, so you gotta channel your inner Spartan and shove yourself in there. You gotta keep your valuables close to your chest, remember that not everyone is your friend, and if you aren’t careful, these possessions might get crushed, or even stolen.
Some commuters are in it for a short time, and that’s understandable. Maybe they need something immediate and their train stop is just a few stations ahead, or maybe they’re in it for a single-trip journey. Meanwhile, others might have already invested in this mode of transportation, they’ve got beep cards loaded for long trips, and they’re prepared for multiple entries.
Whether you’re a person clutching on your first online dating single-journey ticket like a rosary, or a veteran who can keep your feet on the floor when the train screeches to a stop even without the train’s handles, this story is for you.
I won’t claim to be a dating app connoisseur, if anything, I only used the app for a few short months. But what I do have are stories from friends and acquaintances who have been using these apps, and their stories and the lessons I’ve learned are the ones I would like to echo today.
Waiting for the train
When you go to Bumble, or Tinder, or any other dating app, the supposed queue is invisible.
When you wait for a train, you have an idea of where you want to get to. For me, I thought I wanted to find a long-term relationship in the app, and the possibilities felt endless. There are several hundred people on queue (which is a living hell in real life commute), but here, it’s both a blessing and a curse.
Treat it like a double-edged sword that you can swing right or left, but remember to see it as it is – a lethal weapon that might cause your own or others’ destruction.
Cute photo, wants to be in a relationship, doesn’t smoke, has cute dog. Swipe right.
Goes to the same university. Not usually the person you find attractive, but has a pretty interesting Top Spotify artist list. Swipe right.
Barely shows his face, doesn’t have any description. Swipe left.
Cute photo. Wants something casual. Swipe left.
The match queue getting longer is usually viewed as a good sign. It’s a fountain of affirmation, a quick boost of self-esteem when you see the number of people who liked your profile swell up.
In this virtual jungle, it’s easy to view people as nomads with no name, no homes, no emotions. If you miss one, there’s always more coming. One of the things I learned while traveling such uncharted land is to treat this so called “option to choose” like a double-edged sword indeed. Remember that when you swing it right or left, it can be a pretty powerful and lethal weapon that might cause you your own or another’s destruction. Swiping right is almost equivalent to opening your door to a stranger, and that’s when you should always hold yourself responsible for whatever or whoever passes through those frames.
When you wait for a train, you have an idea of where you want to get to. For me, I thought I wanted to find a long-term relationship.
Every person has their own criteria for swiping left or right. First impressions matter. When you’re using the app, know that much like any other social networking sites, these profiles are curated.
I’ve had friends who add several photos in their accounts in various haircuts, styles, and even activities, just to give that sense of versatility. A friend once showed me her account on Tinder and explained to me exactly how she chooses her photos. She says she wants to come across as someone who can be funny, sexy and a bit of an intellectual. You’re trying to convince the person viewing your account that ah yes, I’m very outgoing, just take a look at this photo of me on top of a mountain, or maybe, I’m multi-talented: I can play the guitar and the bass and play soccer. Here’s me doing all three.
After that first impression online, there comes the opener and the conversation. Having a shared interest is important, after all, that is the hazard of meeting a stranger online. You need to connect in some level — like maybe your interests, hobbies, or maybe even your careers, because the supposed first level that exists for people meeting in real life (like maybe same friend groups or same environment) might not be a given factor.
One of my memorable first encounters was with M, he worked for a company that I might have considered applying for. One of the attention grabbing things I placed on my account as a conversation starter was a joke that if anyone wanted to go out with me, they should send out a resume. I jokingly messaged M that maybe I should be the one sending my resume to him.
Back then, I thought I wanted a long-term relationship from the app because I’ve been single for as long as I can remember. In college, I was a busy bee who was always squeezed in one or three projects all at the same time. I filled my hours and days with academics, sports, music and friendships, and I have nothing to complain about, it was a good way to spend my days.
But it was always at the back of my head, the need to be with someone. I was under some delusional notion that love would just knock on my rented apartment building in Quezon City out of the blue, and ask me to sign a paper to confirm I received it.
For me, installing Bumble was a big step. It meant that I was finally actively seeking out a significant other. My personality was influenced by feminist ideas that “women can do it too!” while also still somehow dictated upon by the typical backwards tradition of passivity, as women are expected to be passive receivers of love. My decision was ultimately encouraged by my friends who have also been using the app. Although majority of them were still unsuccessful in finding people in these platforms, they encouraged me to give it a try anyway.
Back then I thought that having a relationship was the pinnacle of living your best life. It’s like there’s a checklist for a college student: clear skin, enough sleep, org life/acads balance, great scholastic standing, great friendships, and a love life. And if it so happened that you have that last item on the list, it didn’t matter much that the others are taken for granted. And who can blame us?
And who’s to blame when we’re slapped with the reality that some can’t even send a simple message saying “ttyl”? And can we be blamed if we’re suddenly horrified by men who act as if some of us are disposable sex toys with movable legs? It is a tragedy to exist in reality.
When the train arrives
So you know the risk. You know it’s crowded. You know you might get elbowed in the face but you buy a ticket anyway. You get in line, and you hope for the best, just as I did. There I was, thinking I wanted to meet new people and explore uncharted territories in this app, and I did.
I once matched with a guy who thought height was an issue. He hesitated before asking me out because he thought I was taller than him. Back then, I was using a different app which didn’t include people’s heights. I didn’t see it as an issue, but I respected his dillema. After all it was a stereotypical gender-based expectation that he probably had a hard time facing, and sometimes these applications tend to magnify the things we are most insecure about ourselves.
I also talked with some of the strangest strangers, like a guy who likes walking around campus at night. He told me that he goes for a walk to clear his head, he said he usually did this, and he invited me to join him if I wanted to. But it was 10 in the evening. Logic won. I didn’t go.
In my stay in Bumble, I’ve only gone out with two people. For someone who said she wants to be in a long-term relationship, I found myself ending up in two pretty casual ones instead (not at the same time, of course).
When you talk to people online, it’s important that you immediately establish what you want to get out of the interaction. From my experience, some men can be pretty blunt and sometimes even graphic about what they want. There’s no harm in having a purely physical relationship, if you’re sure that is what you want. I’ve had friends who met with their Bumble matches for the sole purpose of satisfying a need. The important thing is to always establish ground rules and consent.
I think I was pretty lucky that M was the first person I went out with through Bumble. M’s very blunt. When he expresses himself, he can be downright rude, but I have always appreciated that he respected me and my decisions. Right off the bat, he told me he wants something casual. I felt like the wicked stepmother offering Snow White an apple. I knew what he said and what he meant and yet I was the one with this small seed of hope planted in my brain that maybe he’ll change his mind eventually, and that there can be something more between us.
What I liked about M was his passion. He loves film. When you love what you do or when you talk about the things that make you human, you glow like an oil lamp in a dark cave, and I gravitate towards that kind of light. But often, M says things that would leave me speechless. On our first date, we barely talked. Mostly because we watched a movie, but it’s also because my chatty demeanor was absorbed by his silence. After the date, I was almost sure I would never talk to him again. But then on the way home, we shared a ride and for the first time all night, we talked. He told me random details about him and I was finally able to just communicate with him. When he got out of the car, he sounded like he was also uncertain of whether we would see each other again. So was I.
Back then, I felt like I was bending over backwards to fit men into my idea of a relationship. In more ways than one, I knew that M and I weren’t meant to be. With M, I’ve never felt any tenderness when he touched me. The only things present were urgency and consent. Even the way he asked for what he wanted was methodical. “Do you wanna make out behind those cars?” “Can you wear a dress?” But the problem rested in me. I was so adamant to reach the magical rainbow of a good relationship that I was willing to crawl in the mud and squeeze into weird corners to get there. And maybe I simply liked having someone around. I liked the fact that every evening, I could look forward to talking to him or that I had stories to tell my friends about my life that didn’t revolve around my acads or my projects.
And it was fun and exciting to be with someone again. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of things that make you feel good even when you know they aren’t right for you.
So I went with the flow. When he said he wanted something casual, I initially told him that wasn’t what I was looking for, and he stayed. Eventually, I realized during that part in my life that a serious committed relationship was not my priority either. There was a degree to be finished, a novel to be written, and a ton of hurdles to be jumped over before I could get out of college. Adding another person into this transitory phase sounded weird and misplaced.
Plus, once you actually get on the train, you realize, staying there is hard work.
Movies fooled us into believing that love was this cutesy montage of you and your partner doing all these cutesy little things and saying all these quotable cheesy lines, but the reality is there is a lot of down time. Nobody tells you about the minuscule of a second of darkness that doesn’t make it in the cut. There will be days when you barely talk. Maybe you’re too busy living your separate lives: you have to write and he has to work. You’re out driving all day and you only get to talk in the evening when you’re finally home.
I discovered that my stamina for online conversations was fairly low. There were days I just wasn’t in the mood to pick my phone up. On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes waiting for a response can be excruciating. Those seconds ticking on the clock stung me like ant bites, especially since the men I went out with had busy work skeds. It was understood that they couldn’t respond to everything on the spot.
When I was with M, I asked him for all sorts of movie recommendations that we were able to make a list. I told him I was going to watch them randomly and message him about what I thought about them, and it somehow worked. I knew that when you’re talking to someone online and they take longer to reply, it’s best to make use of your time and do your own thing. A friend once confided the same dilemma to me about her significant other back then. I know a lot of people whose lives revolve around their significant others; the lack of response online has created wedges to these relationships.
I’ve learned to think of it from the other person’s perspective. After all, if I had days when I don’t want to talk, then so could they, right? This was a self-discovery that I never thought I’d reach. It was never on the agenda when I started waiting for the train to arrive, but there I was, months later, seeing my skewed reflection on the blurry windows of the trains that passed me by. And for what it’s worth, that’s what I’m most grateful for when I look back on using the app and meeting these people.
When you get off the train, when the train leaves without you
For me, the app didn’t work.
I felt like the little boy at the end of “Araby” — a little angsty but for the most part disillusioned by my notion of what love and a relationship should be.
Call it a cliché but in the process of actively looking for love, I saw something else — a clearer reflection of myself. I learned who I was and how I acted when faced with a potential partner. I think that’s an important part. I met a version of me, and I was meeting her for the first time.
Communication is important when you’re entering a digital relationship. Whether or not you see it as a relationship, there are standard protocols in communicating with someone online. When we start establishing relationships in a virtual sphere, it’s easier to fill the gaps that a physical presence cannot supplement with our imagination. As a writer, sometimes imagination takes the reins of my mind, and rationality takes a day-off and heads to the nearest spa.
With N, I think it’s safe to say that we were both too eager to find something real that we skipped a few stops on getting to know each other and went straight right to the part where we do what couples did.
I remember the anticipation to meet for the first time. With M, I was pretty disappointed when we couldn’t connect on the same level we did online. That was one of the risks of online dating, we create and curate personas and we say things we would never dare say in real life.
N had the tenderness I craved, which M lacked. But what N lacked was the spark and passion. Again, I felt like a contortionist in a circus act. N saw someone exciting and adventurous. So I tried to fit that mold. I wanted to watch a movie, he wanted to go out for a drink. He said the liquid courage would help us ease the awkwardness of the first date. I agreed.
I felt like a mime. If he could drink an entire glass in one chug, so could I. I was blindsided with N, the things that happened when we met are still a blur. Like jumping on a ring of fire, I took each of those offered drinks until the tail of my clothes caught some awful embers and got burnt. After that one meeting, I never saw him again. After N, I never dared to open Bumble again.
In James Joyce’s story, the boy looked at the sky and saw darkness. He found out that he was a creature driven and derided by vanity and it caused him anger and anguish.
As for me, I like seeing the stars in the sky. I like seeing things as part of a bigger picture. Once, I created a replica of the constellations on my apartment’s ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars. Whenever I turned off the lights and looked up at the ceiling, they would glow and remind me of how even the stars, no matter how scattered, had some sort of pattern. I might have never found love in Bumble, but what I found was peace within me.
I saw my blurry reflection on the passing train distorted from all the contortion I’ve been doing to find love, when the truth was all I had to do was look straight ahead. When I did, I began to see things more clearly. I saw love in the people around me. I saw it in my friends when we squeeze ourselves together on adjacent mattresses while we’re in a sleepover. I saw it in my mother when she kissed my sister’s forehead after she gave birth to her first child. I felt it when my mother held me tight and greeted me happy birthday. I feel it now whenever I wake up in the morning.
I once talked to a friend outside our favorite bar, and while we were sitting on those monoblock chairs in the smoking area, I told him that I was no longer in search of love. I discovered that I could exist without being involved with another human being in a romantic way. I am no longer a half in search of a whole. When I look in the mirror, I just see the person I want to be, and she’s headed somewhere. With or without a train ride, with or without a companion, where I’m in now is a more adventurous journey.
Cha Lino is a music enthusiast, gig-goer, tea lover, volleyball player and book hoarder. A creative writing major from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Cha earned her degree with honors and now ventures into journalism as part of the INQUIRER.net team. She believes that people should “go at their own pace.”
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