We met at Nightjar, a speakeasy on Old Street. It was late August. The bar was dimly lit and Randall Monroe, an acoustic jazz duo, was playing. All I knew about him besides his first name was that he was 5 foot 9; a professor of economics at one of London’s top universities; educated at an Ivy League school; 34; and Turkish. I’d ambitiously assumed, based on these facts, that this would be one of my more promising Tinder Tuesdays.
As we waited for the cocktails to arrive, we studied each other’s faces. How different was his to those carefully-curated profile pictures? (No topless selfies; no pics with tigers; no pics with refugees). How different was mine? (Pic at my brother’s graduation; vacation pic at the Sagrada Familia; awesome-aunt pic in front of the Natural History Museum.)
I instinctively unlocked my iPhone to pretend I’d received a message or notification of some sort, inadvertently illuminating myself with the glaring light of the Tinder app. In that moment, I caught him staring at my face, fixating on a single part of it. I wondered if my kohl was smudged or if he’d spotted an imperfection. He leaned in as the light dimmed again and pointed squarely at my face.
“Your eye,” he said. “It looks a little red. Is it okay? Do you have an infection?” I was so taken aback by this suggestion at first that I responded by giggling — somewhat hysterically.
“Oh,” I blurted out. “A couple of years ago, I had corneal abrasion in that eye. I was walking down Portobello Road and a tiny shard of glass flew into it. Random, huh? I think it might just be irritated. It happens sometimes.”
He looked at me, quizzically.
“It’s definitely not conjunctivitis,” I added, defensively (It actually was —allergic conjunctivitis to be specific — and I called in sick to work on Wednesday and Thursday because of it).
He smirked and sunk back into his chair, casually asking what “interests me” as his Old Fashioned arrived. I said that I’m big on politics. Middle Eastern politics, specifically.
“Ugh,” he said, thoroughly unimpressed, borderline disgusted. “I don’t care about politics. In fact, I absolutely detest it.”
It irked me that he used the word detest, and not hate. Like he was actively trying to be both nonchalant and irritating. By now, I had already decided this man was probably not going to be my next boyfriend.
“How can you not care about politics,” I muttered, judgmentally. “You’re Turkish.”
‘And you’re definitely Lebanese,’ he responded, indignantly.
Not too soon afterwards, I jarringly dropped the word ISIS, in a cheeky attempt to elicit a response from him. (It felt like the right thing to do at the time.)
A couple of days earlier, more than 50 people in the south-eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep were killed in a suicide bombing that struck a wedding, I recounted, before taking the first sip of my Amaretto Sour.
Erdogan had just blamed ISIS for the attack.
“Oh, and on the topic of Erdogan, seriously, though, how ridiculous is he? Comparing Erdogan to Qaddafi, who’s worse?”
“I really don’t care,” he said, stroking his right hand through his hair, looking at the couple sitting at the table to our left.
Perhaps it was time for me to take the conversation-intensity levels down a notch. Give this guy a real chance.
“Okay, well, what about the Armenian genocide? I can’t imagine a Turk not having an opinion on the Armenian genocide.”
“What Armenian genocide?” he said.
I rolled my eyes to infinity. The date lasted an hour and 15 minutes, a record low for me.
When we ordered the cheque, he asked if I’d like to go somewhere else for a nightcap.
“Not really,” I said. “Got an early start tomorrow.”
We split the bill, although somehow, I managed to pay eight pounds more than I owed.
When I told Izzy, a British journalist in Istanbul, the story, she said: “Maybe he didn’t think it was a bill? Maybe he just thought it was a paper with lots of numbers on it?”
Thirteen years prior, when I was still living in Lebanon and had just started college, my father invited my first (and final) ‘Suitor’ to our home in Sidon.
It was a Saturday evening. He was a 27-year-old doctor of a well-to-do family, and freakishly tall. I was barely 19, rebellious, a junior at college in Beirut, and five-foot-one. His parents were looking for a ‘decent’ girl from a ‘decent’ home for him.
I was ‘indecent.’ Or at least I fully intended to become ‘indecent.’
My parents’ marriage was arranged. My mother met my father — also a doctor – four times in person before marrying him and moving to the United Kingdom shortly after the humble ceremony. When my mother was my age, she’d already had six children.
Put a boy and a girl of marriageable age in the same room and there’s a pretty decent chance they’ll get along, was my father’s reasoning. My mother, on the other hand, was sure I wouldn’t be interested, but figured it couldn’t hurt to entertain the Suitor and his parents for an evening.
I wore my most casual clothes (jeans/a grey hoodie/flats) for the occasion. If it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t have changed into a more ‘feminine’ outfit (floral top/ballet shoes).
I distinctly remember leaving my hair large and unruly rather than having it straightened the way a young Lebanese woman would in the noughties, and intentionally responding to questions from the Suitor’s parents with one-sentence answers.
It wasn’t Tinder, but I knew as much about this man as I did the genocide-denying Turk (no Facebook back then, alas). The Suitor, who looked as reluctant as I felt, asked me what I was studying. It was the first question he directed toward me all evening. I said politics, and he raised an eyebrow — perhaps he thought it cliché, or bold. Or boring?
I remember little else from that bizarre encounter, except that I served the guests Turkish coffee in floral Royal Albert China cups, on our finest serving tray.
I’d never done this in my life, and it quickly became obvious. As I offered the Suitor his cup, I fumbled, and some of the grainy, black coffee spilled onto the floor. My mother apologized profusely to the guests but couldn’t help giggling along with me.
Epic Left Swipe. (My parents’ official line was that “I’d chosen the path of education” and would no longer be receiving suitors.)
I started devoting Tuesday evenings to Tinder dates when I turned 30.
Mondays felt a little too keen, Wednesdays too close to Thursdays, and Thursdays kind of like Fridays. (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were obviously out of question). Tuesdays, I felt, were noncommittal. Plus, I liked the alliteration of it — Tinder. Tuesdays.
I was strategic about the text under my profile pictures — ‘Tindercurious,’ so as not to evoke even the slightest whiff of desperation, and ‘I don’t do one-night stands,’ so as to weed out the time-wasters. I threw in ‘Lebanese blogger; Falafel & Fairouz; Journalism and Middle Eastern Politics,’ thinking, though accurate, that the description sounded a little like I was exoticising myself.
I’ve been on precisely 27 Tinder dates, with 25 men, over the past two years. I’ve deleted and re-downloaded the app as many times.
With each swipe to the left, I lost a little of my enthusiasm. And with each swipe to the right, and subsequent “match,” I regained some.
All of the dates — except those with W, an intense and fascinating Arab-Jewish artist – were pretty much failures.
Whenever I needed Tinder-motivation, I turned to Aziz Ansari (pre-scandal Aziz Ansari). In his book, “Modern Romance,” he argues that Tinder is kind of like the new and improved version of the Contemporary Arranged Marriage. You meet a stranger, scope them out, and decide if you want to proceed. Fair enough.
And, well, there were benefits to all of these failed dates. For one, they provided excellent blogging material. Some dates were perfectly cordial and somewhat educational, like the one I had with a French consultant who spoke about podcasts all evening. We shared an excellent Pad Thai and exchanged thoughts on Serial – Part 2 and This American Life, before going our separate ways.
Mostly, though, the dates enriched my house-party conversation skills. My friends, particularly those in long-term relationships who’d never experienced dating apps, loved my post-Tinder Tuesday stories. Laura and Natasha concocted a hashtag – #ZExcuses – to form a list of reasons I’d write my Tinder dates off.
- Shaved off his beard that has gray in it
- Not enough gray in his beard
- Smiles too much
- Drinks too much water
- Has been bald since 2007
- Unable to reciprocate witty banter
- Goes to bed too early
- Chooses working out over a date
- Lives with his mother and has no immediate plans to change this
- Sarcastically calls me a feminist
- Obviously can’t spell
- Won’t stop asking me about my Muslim upbringing
- Has a man bag gifted to him by his mother.
I frequently tell my 56-year-old mother parts of some of these Tinder stories. She does, of course, find them amusing and horrifying at once (Is this safe? Are you telling your brothers where you are when you meet these strangers? Do these men expect you to behave in a certain way? Whatever happened to that guy you went to college with – Omar? I bumped into his aunt at the supermarket the other day).
She’s also endearingly encouraging. When I told her I was deleting the Tinder app once and for all after an excruciating dinner with a misogynistic surgeon, she said that if I’m giving up on apps in this ‘day and age,’ I may as well give up on dating altogether.
“You’re not going to meet someone while you’re sitting on your couch, ya binti.
Just swipe left if it isn’t… well, right. Just like we did with that doctor-Suitor (who’s now making a lot of money, by the way). Just keep on swiping, ya mama!”
“…And, umm, if that doesn’t work…Maybe stop bringing up ISIS and genocides on your first dates?”