Hi, my name is Rachel, and I have seen the end of Tinder. Gather round, young ones, and I shall tell you my tale of woe.
I’ve often used this blog to detail the strange and sad ins and outs of my attempts at dating in Hong Kong. Since I arrived five years ago, due to the political upheaval and two years of pandemic, what started as an uphill battle to find someone compatible with all this *gestures vaguely at the entertaining but hot mess that is myself* has turned into quite the unicorn hunt.
Even before Covid began its life-altering reign, it was hard to meet someone organically. Being a teacher in Hong Kong means my working hours are 7:30-4pm, when everyone else works from about 9-7pm or later to match up with the business working hours around the world. No “meet cutes” wandering into a Trader Joes or stumbling gracefully through a farmers market or used book store were going to happen here. Rom-com cliches do not compute. Using an app to date was all there was to it, so I signed up and started swiping.
My first Tinder date here was with a French guy who a week later matched with my flatmate under a different name and different age. I also went on a date that was a disaster from start to finish; I blogged about it, he did some internet digging after I had told him “no thank you” and then he proceeded to send me drunk, threatening messages at all hours of the night to the point where I took the blog down and said I would have to go to the police if it continued. There was a nice guy named Mike I saw a few times, and a few weeks ago, his profile came up again on my feed, so I know for certain it wasn’t about him or about me and we’re both still searching. And then some other hits, some misses, once a really hot guy from who knows where – because it turned out he was a catfish using pictures from a New Zealand modelling agency.
I stopped all forms of online dating for a while during the beginning of the pandemic – it seemed like tempting fate or something, since we were pretty much stuck indoors or in bubbles for months on end.
It’s been two years since Covid hit Hong Kong, probably the harshest place in the world for its citizens in terms of general restrictions; a three-week hotel quarantine upon arrival, and reactionary tactics to any threat to the community. For example, an employee at a pet store got Covid from some hamsters imported from the Netherlands so the government decided that some 2,000 pets that had been purchased, many as Christmas gifts for children, should be recalled, tested for Covid, and euthanized (I am not making this up). As an animal lover and a teacher with students who have hamsters named Monkey that are their best friends, this breaks my heart at the same time it fills me with intense rage for the bizarre tactics Hong Kong keeps rolling out. We’re back to online school, all food and bev and restos close at 6pm, mandatory mask wearing in all public spaces (that’s never left, but I love never getting sick), scan a QR code to enter most places for government tracking, and all gyms, beauty parlors, massage, fun in general is shut down for a month and probably longer. It’s awesome.
So I thought I would dip my toe back into the very shallow dating pool here, because what else is there to do if not get a hit of serotonin from a mutual match?!
I updated the profile a little bit, changed a photo or two, and then started swiping. My “ideal” has changed a bit over the years, but not by much. However, my standards for online matches have dropped considerably, just to widen the net. I know it is tougher for guys to figure out what a good profile would look like, and I only know this based on assumption because only about 5% of the ones I see are decent. Like, I would just appreciate a picture of your face. An idea of your occupation and hobbies. The assurance you have a pulse and aren’t fishing for a green card or are a Nigerian prince in need of some bank account numbers.
I opened the app. I browsed. If you’re sitting there smug with your partner, unaware of how Tinder works, because you snagged someone to
put up with your habit of eating shredded cheese from the bag with the fridge door open while looking for other snacks and finding your hair absolutely everywhere love you, I will enlighten – you make a profile, try to say something witty, mention key facts like age and location, and then swipe photos to the right if you’re interested, to the left if you’re not. If both you and the person you’re keen on swipe right on each other, you can then initiate conversation. If the chatting goes REALLY well, one of you might say “shall we take this to Whatsapp?” which means you exchange actual phone numbers.
The whole process is painful and exhilarating and humbling and thrilling all at the same time. Best taken with a glass of wine and a friend next to you on the couch to overanalyze every interaction and either stop you from making big mistakes, or encourage you to take big chances. Or, if you’re like me, you can also screenshot every disaster and post it on instagram, take polls to make your decisions, and crowdsource your major life choices so you have the masses to blame when it goes tits up.
And so I swiped. This way and that way. I wondered why so many guys post pictures of cars or weird memes or anime, why in this day and age they seem unprepared to take a selfie unless they are at the gym or holding a fish they’ve just murdered. So many blurry photos. Group photos where I’m not sure which one is the one I’m meant to be attracted to. Photos with Hooters girls or similar, like this will make me go “ah, yes! I must date him!”
I literally just want to see you smile directly at the camera.
And then I waited. But there was no ‘ping’ to activate my pavlovian response. No matches. Not a one. I took a deep breath, reassessed, cringed and went back in with lowered standards and swiped and swiped and swiped until:
The end. The actual end. The app popped up with a message that let me know there was literally not a single person in this entire city sorta state for me.
That moment was also the end of my low-level commitment to Dry January. I threw it right out the window and opened up the website about fostering cats for the sixtieth time, because we might as well lean into stereotypes in such a time as this, right?
Friends, I will not lie, I went off the deep end for a bit with this. I know it’s just Tinder, and it’s just dating. It might seem trivial, but it threw me back into my chair, I looked up at the ceiling, and just said “really, God? That’s it, then? I’ve reached the actual end of Tinder?!? Cool. Cool cool coolcoolcool.”
I felt like giving up on life for a bit. Hong Kong was threatening there would be no food imports, we went back online teaching, more friends announced they were leaving, bad news just kept rolling in. I didn’t brush my teeth for two days. I didn’t leave my house. I wallowed in the sadness, ordered delivery, stopped most hygiene, the only words I said out loud were when I asked myself “how much can I eat before it makes me really sick” and “how long can I stay awake before things don’t make sense” and then tried to find them both out. It hurt. Everything and all of it all hurt.
I was in that place where you make things hurt on purpose just to feel something because everything feels out of your control and you’re incredibly frustrated at the lack of authority in your own narrative.
And then I was so grateful I had my fish.
You see, a pet gives you a purpose. On the days I wanted to stay in bed, curtains shut, eff the world, I thought about my fish. I thought about how he didn’t know my problems or deserve their fallout. How pretty his tail was, with the red highlights. How cute he looked when he drifted in and out of his little building that says “Fish School,” and like, he doesn’t even KNOW I named him “El Professor,” so it makes it funnier. When I’ve been deep in my feelings, and shrugging off life, the fish pulls me back in. I’m responsible for him, and I would be so sad if he died because I was busy being sad under my duvet.
I make it a job – performing constant wellness checks on the fish who was supposed to lower my anxiety but has only increased it because he has either a. vision problems and can’t see his food accurately to eat it very easily, or b. his mouth is too small to eat gracefully, so it takes a really long time to consume his little tetra flakes and he just stays very still most of the time and I’m always worried he’s on death’s door. I haven’t had a good track record with fish lately (see: time Rachel accidentally murdered her fish while her students were entering the classroom and had to scrape him off the bottom of her shoe while sobbing and lying about why).
But he’s also given my life a purpose – Keep. Fish. Alive.
Sorry. This was a blog about Tinder and online dating.
After the notification about reaching the end of possible matches, I flailed for a few days, indeed. I cried out to all the gods listening, asking for help. I celebrated the end of the pressure to date anyone and thought about how to step fully into spinster-hood. I thought about how to spoil my nephew and butter him up to make sure he’d take care of me when I reach old age and inevitably have to move in with him.
I looked at myself naked in the mirror from all angles and tried to wonder “how bad is it?” I got a haircut for the first time in a year and wept openly in the streets over the length she’d cut, my emotions so close to the surface that seven inches snipped sent me over the edge. I considered lots of workout programs, or learning Mandarin and followed all the Instagram ads that kept popping up and moving to Australia.
I looked for a reason to go on, I think.
But all was not lost. After a few days, there was a notification, and the Tinder algorithm lured me back in. There were more potential matches. !!!!!! More of the game and the pain available to me. More hits and misses. Just gamble away your self-esteem, follow the model.
I hated it, but I was also grateful. Because Tinder was and is always amusing. Eventually, the mutual hits came in. Eventually, there was chat, and an invitation to “take this to Whatsapp?” and I felt less hopeless and undeserving of love and marriage and kids and a Dodge Caravan to drive to the weekend soccer tournament with a tapedeck that only plays “NOW HITS Volume 1” (Which I would LOVE).
Ah, but there I go again – taking one request for a date and projecting it to a ‘normal, expected’ life for my age range but forgive me, please, if I do it all on my own terms, and it’s not better or worse if I do, and I still want your help but. I’m just figuring it out.*
In the mess that it all is, I’ve had to ask myself if I would be okay if I never married, if I never had kids, if I had to make all the big decisions on my own for the rest of my life – what fridge to buy and what ROTH account to open and what Netflix series to start.
I would be okay, as long as I had all you friends. And a place to write all the words. Thank you for reading them. My keyboard is stained with frosting and top ramen juice – I hope there are no spelling errors in this.
*PS got a match. Going on a date on Sunday. *INSERT LOUD EEEEEEEE!!!!*