We met on Tinder, because of course we did.
I used to think about that a lot, about how something I'd gotten so used to being arbitrary and inconsequential could bring me something so real, so visceral. The cultural implications didn't escape me; was what I had now some allegory for the advent of modern, technology-based romance, or some assertion that love, real-love, could poke its head out from the pile of warm, limp bodies and drink in the fresh air of existence?
I used to think, "well, yes," but now I don't think I care.
We matched in June of such and such year. At least, I think it was June. It was during the summer after my first year at university, and I had just gotten my old job back, jockeying popcorn at the concession stand at the movie theater in my hometown. I was staying with my mother and getting drunk on my days off. Things were sort of okay, or at least about as okay as they were before I left. But I was still lonely. So we got to talking.
The conversations were fairly innocuous at the start, like they usually are when you're dealing with something as delicate as a Tinder match's perception of you; you size each other up, trying to see past the screen on the other end, doing everything you can to make sure the other person is both who they say they are, and who you want them to be.
We made plans and cancelled them over and over again for a few weeks. I wasn't sure if she was just flaking out or if (like me) work and prior engagements really did keep getting in the way. Eventually, I figured that I should see her at least once, if only to satisfy my waning sense of self-worth and curiosity. We agreed to dinner and a movie.
Her house, the movie theater where I worked, and the sushi restaurant were all within a couple of miles of each other, which was great, because I didn't drive.
When she came out of her house, that was the first time I'd met her, person to person, body to body. The kids call it "IRL" on the internet ("in real life"), but I think that's a little diminutive. She was smiling when she saw me, and I was smiling when I saw her.
Dinner was nice. We'd slipped into the "getting to know you" part of the evening with ease and comfort, as both of us on our own started to realize just how much we had in common. (Hey, you like It's Always Sunny and quote it constantly? Me too! You think Up is objectively the best Pixar movie? Me too! You like pineapple on pizza? Well, nobody's perfect.)
The greeter in the lobby of the theater, a friend of mine by the name of Paolo (obviously not his real name, come on) waved us in and we walked next to each other, probably wondering what the other person was thinking, hoping it was good.
We'd been in our seats for a few minutes before the lights came down. I told myself that once the movie actually started, I would put my arm around her; a litmus test for how physically comfortable we were around each other. If she backed away, no harm done, we'd finish out the night politely, and I'd go home, a little sad probably.
The movie started. I put my arm around her. She leaned into me, and we both knew.
A week later, I saw her again; she wanted to see Baby Driver after my praising it with such vigor, so I took her to the theater a 10-minute walk from my house (she wanted to see my house too).
We got drunk in my bedroom off some clear rum my mom stopped bothering to hide and started the walk. We asked each other questions, and like unbelievably lucky prospectors, continued to marvel at what we found, apparently out of nowhere.
This particular movie theater had enormous, lush vinyl seats that you could push all the way back. We cuddled up next to each other, and felt pretty good.
I got up to use the bathroom and was surprised to find I was extemporaneously dizzy. This tended to happen when I had too much clear rum (it didn't help that all I'd had to eat that day was some chips and an apple). I sat in front of the toilet, staring at the water, hoping I would throw up so I could feel better, but I didn't. I figured I could finish out the date and sleep it off at home, then apologize profusely over the phone the next day.
I stumbled back to the theater and apologized for being gone for so long and for being so drunk. She said I was fine and littered my cheek with kisses.
The movie ended. I felt the same as before, if not worse. It was late. We sat together on the curb outside the theater waiting for the Lyft, the night sky pressing down on my exhausted liver. There wasn't anyone else around.
You know that feeling you get in your mouth when you're about to throw up, like all the saliva is starting to well up under your cheeks? I think that's the "check engine" light.
I moved away as best I could and threw up on the sidewalk. My eyes blurred and I felt her hand rub my back in circles.
"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry."
"You're fine, don't worry."
I spit and wiped my mouth and looked at her. She was smiling at me.
"This is pretty embarrassing..."
"I mean, yeah, but you know..."
"Do you wanna be my girlfriend?" She nodded.
"I sure would."
(I still haven't lived that down, but I think I'm getting there.)