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November 2016 saw the American people decide their 45th President. Across the atlantic, a heartbroken, semi-functional 21-year-old drama student with the emotional intelligence of a swan fighting a bin made an equally profound decision. In the third year of university—when I wasn’t stealing condiments from house parties, drinking £3 bottles of merlot five times a week, or showing my testicular surgical scar to my housemates—I was making healthy and mature decisions about my adult life. One of these healthy and mature decisions involved making a Tinder account for my shoe. It seemed like a funny idea at the time, and it would mask the pain. "Oh, Luke?" I imagined someone saying to someone else. "He's the guy who made a Tinder account for his shoe!" "That guy sounds really fun and cool. I would like to meet him. Maybe he'll have some advice about never being hurt." This was a fool-proof plan towards a healthy and mature lifestyle, and no one could prove otherwise.
"How would I go about making a Tinder account for my shoe?" I said to someone, probably.
Step 1: Facebook
Anyone on Tinder is aware that you need to sign up using Facebook. At the time, my left Doc Martin wasn’t on social media—perhaps for fear of government surveillance, perhaps to escape the liberal elite echo-chamber post-Brexit. Whichever of these were the Shoe’s unknowable moral principals, they had to be compromised.
It turns out nowadays all you need is a mobile number to start a Facebook account. Surprisingly the lads at Facebook.com are fine with you using the same number for more than one account. So the Shoe being a phone-less, technophobic luddite, that's what we needed to do. Typing in codes, making up passwords one digit different to my own: so far, it seemed all too easy to jump through Mr. Zuckerberg's web of evil, corporate hoops.
Then we had some issues. For some reason those bureaucrat pigs at FB are iffy with people who have single names. Sure, they make exceptions for the likes of Beyonce and Madonna, but the Shoe didn't have the same profile apparently. I googled "how to make a single name on Facebook." Google told me to use a basic version of the Facebook website, where everything was in technicolour and when you logged out you had to sing the national anthem. Google then told me to change the language settings to Indonesian. At this point, Google may as well have told me to go fuck myself. I learned the Indonesian for "like," but still couldn't work out how to change the Shoe's name. It was going to have to stay as "Shoe Smith."
Things got more complicated. The similarity between the passwords for my personal Facebook and the one for my Indonesian Shoe was so slim that every time I tried to log back into my own account, I'd forget which password was which. I was the Shoe's only friend, so I ended up trapped with an incomprehensible, Indonesian timeline that contained nothing but my own activity. It was a social-media representation of what a night-terror feels like.
Step 2: Tinder
I decided to put aside the Facebook complications for now, as I had what I needed to carry out the task afoot (pun intention is a myth, pun interpretation is what counts). After finding the Shoe's best side, drawing out its most photogenic qualities, and briefly experimenting with a Snapchat dog effect, I arrived at a stunning pic #nofilter. For some reason the app glitched, though. Tinder set 9 of the Shoe's pictures as the same identical photograph. Scrolling through the profile was like running through an Alice-In-Wonderland style corridor of rooms, where behind every door was the same picture of a shoe. I didn't want the Shoe to look like a weirdo, but I couldn't (be bothered to) work out how to fix it. I had to redeem it in the bio:
"Left Doctor Martin (PhD). Size 9. Looking for love. Sole mates?"
The only thing left to do was adjust settings. At the time, there were countless rumours surrounding the Shoe's sexuality, but he remained very private on the matter: a footwear Whoopi Goldberg. I set the account to interested in men and women to cover all bases.
Step 3: Mirth
The Shoe's swipe policy, to begin with, was just to swipe right on everyone. I was curious to see what the reaction would be. I feared that the Tinder community of the loveless and cynical would reject the Shoe. I'd heard about studies saying that the most popular Tinder profiles followed a specific criteria; smiling and animals. The only thing this profile contained was 9 identical photographs of a shoe.
To my amazement though, almost every single person the Shoe swiped right for was a match. It wasn't long until the messages came flooding through as well, in a tsunami of enthusiastic confusion. I'd opened the floodgates to a sea of bizarre propositions and shoe puns; "I wanna tie the knot with you.", "Can I put myself inside you?", "Hey, left shoe. I'm your Mr. Right", "Can you tie me up?" etc.
It was also becoming apparent that although many women were interested in the Shoe, it had a much higher success rate with men. I had previously hoped that the stereotype that men were hornier than women was a myth perpetuated through an inherent patriarchal structure of culture. What I was finding, however, was that men were interested in fucking an inanimate object 100% more than women. The most disturbing of all the interactions was a 41-year-old man called Paul (not his real name) who seemed to genuinely be trying to seduce the Shoe. According to his info, Paul worked for "UK Parliament." Paul wasn't the only man who seemed to interact with the Shoe at face value either. Amongst the countless jokes and shoe puns, there were plenty of "Hey. How u doin?"s and "Wuu2?"s. Living my online dating life vicariously through my footwear gave me a taste of what it must be like to be an attractive woman #meshoe.
I wasn't purely conducting a social experiment, though. I was fucking with people as well. Using the Shoe's Tinder gave me a liberating mask that allowed me to chit-chat completely care-free. My previous experience on Tinder was limited to the same repetitive conversations. Online courtship had lulled me into a mindless, muscle memory exercise in small talk. Fueling this was my neurosis about what strangers thought about me.
With the Shoe, however, I was free. Like Jim Carey in the Mask. I could say whatever I wanted. I could play with whatever tone, character, status, or identity I felt like. Instead of asking people how their week was or whether they had any brothers or sisters, I'd entered a world of deliberately subversive chat-up lines and non-sequitur opening gambits:
"Did it hurt when you fell over?"
"Which film of the Cars franchise is your favourite?"
"I need a third party witness for a legal debacle I'm currently in the process of. You in?"
"Just letting you know I'm available for menial work. Cleaning and general housework. Reasonable rates. Cash in hand if poss."
Step 4: Reality
...And then the Shoe got reported.
Reality had started to settle in. Overlooking the alarming fact that ticking a box seemed to be the only punishment for misconduct on Tinder, getting reported had taken the fun out of the experiment. The endless matches, the relentless stream of messages—it had become a chore. Managing the Shoe's love-life had become a full-time, unpaid administrative internship. Not to mention the fact that I had to sacrifice my own love-life for the sake of the Shoe's.
There was no end point either. Where was this going? I toyed with the idea of trying to organise a date at a restaurant or cafe. I loved the image of someone turning up to a blind date to find a shoe placed carefully on their table, with a note tied up inside: "You don't look like your picture." But this was a pipe-dream.
I'd read an article about an Austrian model, Jazz Egger, who claimed to have set a world record for matches on Tinder: 5,400. I couldn't help but think "Challenge accepted." This was a 19-year-old with the confidence to declare her own popularity so publicly. I felt a duty to beat her record with a Tinder profile that contained 9 identical pictures of a shoe. Her meaningless and futile achievement would be outed to the world as meaningless and futile by a meaningless and futile exercise in futility and meaninglessness. Or at least that's what I told myself.
Here I was, with an emotional and social cowardice that had led me to bury my own identity underneath the leathery mask of a Doctor Martin boot- and yet there were people in the world so comfortable in their own skin that they'd contacted national news outlets to let them know. I wasn't outraged by Jazz Egger. I was jealous. It was time to let go of shoe-puns, pull my socks up, and step back into reality. More than a year later, I'm still pretty much the same emotional and social coward as I was before, but at least I've stopped pretending to be a shoe.