The story of a tortured relationship — with a happy ending.
Jan. 20, 2020
You’re 24 when you get seriously dumped for the first time. It’s the kind of dumped that leaves you couch surfing with friends watching old episodes of “Top Chef” on repeat and inhaling bags of mini stroopwafels from Trader Joe’s. It’s also the kind of dumped that propels you to scramble back to your hometown with a month’s notice after spending six and a half years building a meaningful life in another city.
You cry a lot, forgo makeup for a few weeks, and then, because of the arrogance of youth, you decide that you’ll meet someone better in mere months (before your ex because, yes, this is definitely a race). You’ll try a dating app! People use them now; it’s normal! You move to the Lower East Side and download OkCupid and set off a near-decade-long journey — of seeking ultimately fruitless partnerships.
Still 24: You go on a few dates with an exceedingly nice man who went to college with Lena Dunham, a fact in which you feign interest, and with whom you see “Force Majeure” at the Angelika (it’s fine).
You invite him to the Christmas party you’re hosting with your roommate because as you are making a crème Anglaise for the cinnamon ice cream that will accompany a pumpkin pie (which you also baked) you suddenly intuit that your ex has already moved on and is celebrating Christmas with his new partner. (Future you: You were right, he did move on first). You decide this nice man should meet your oldest friends because you two are ready for that.
You’re at work the next morning and all that bravado has morphed into panic. You have just made a grave mistake and need to rescind the invitation immediately.
You rescind the invitation via a long and garbled but earnest text saying you’re just not ready for him to meet your friends because, for you, that would be akin to meeting family. He says he’s bummed, but because he’s exceedingly nice, he understands and asks to make plans later that week.
You quit dating apps for the first time because you feel like a monster and are probably not ready to date.
At 25: You’ve just been laid off and you spend your mornings applying to the same dozen newsroom jobs as hundreds of other people while rewatching “The Simpsons,” Seasons 1 through 4, because you own them on DVD and you can’t afford cable. You’re making vegetable potpie because you can use what’s already in the freezer and pantry.
You spend your evenings swiping right on what seems like every bearded 20-something man within a two-mile radius. You meet one of these bearded men, whose name you now can’t remember, and you end up at a restaurant called Maharlika.
You ask him why he is single because, “You’re far too good looking to be single” and spoiler: He does not like that question or qualifier. You also take home a doggy bag because why would you not want to eat that kare-kare later? He does not take home a doggy bag.
You quit dating apps, for the second time, because your friends rightfully clown you for becoming that insufferable man interrogating a woman as to why she’s single. You are ashamed, but at least you have leftovers. You also still don’t have a job.
At 26: You try Tinder since this is a numbers game and Tinder has the most people on it and no one does OkCupid anymore — OkCupid is trashy now! You’re not trashy! You go on a date with a fellow native New Yorker who also went to a specialized high school and who also has immigrant parents, and you think, this is it: I’ve found my person. Your therapist says, “You do well with Eastern Europeans — I have a good feeling about this.” He’s Russian. He also ghosts you after one date.
You quit dating apps, for the third time, because this one makes you feel much lonelier than it probably should and you promise yourself that you will investigate why, but don’t.
At 27: You join Hinge because everyone is telling you it’s the dating app for earnest people wanting to be in a proper relationship. Before you go on your first date, your editor calls you to gently suggest taking the voluntary buyouts being offered because “last one in, first one out.” (To be clear, this is in a different newsroom than your previous layoff. Your parents were right: You should have been a doctor.)
You meet your date, who is on crutches still recovering from a broken leg or foot or something you can’t remember now, and eat happy-hour oysters. He is well read and went to school “in Connecticut.” You confide that you’re about to lose your job because he’s a reporter and gets it.
The next few dates are sporadic because of an already planned vacation that dulls whatever momentum you could have had and then he loses his job. You are disappointed, but you have to be gracious about it or else you will seem callous. You tell yourself this one wasn’t because of lack of interest: It was just bad timing! You keep your apps, but shelve them for a bit.
Still 27: You get a job at The New York Times after said buyout and you are so thankful to be working that you will now regard men as superfluous. You are ascetic. You will derive your happiness from your career. You don’t need a man!
You delete all of the stray apps from your phone with conviction: OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, Hinge. Bumble too, because you forgot you used Bumble for literally one night after realizing it’s all just white financiers who take pictures shirtless on boats and they wouldn’t like you anyway. This is the fourth time you’ve quit.
Between the ages of 27 and 30: You spend a fair amount of time performatively complaining about dating apps because you have a strong feeling you will not be meeting your person online, but during your weak moments you download them again and still go on dates and call them target practice. There are memorable losers (looking at you, vegan lawyer).
At 30: You badger a close friend over dinner into setting you up after your ego is seriously bruised by a 36-year-old baby (from Hinge) who rejected you.
You quit dating apps, for the fifth time, but for the first time it’s not out of failure. It’s because you are in a healthy relationship with a person you met through said friend, as if you’re the charmed, clumsy protagonist in a romantic comedy.
At 31: You’re hoping neither of you quits each other — but because you have weathered enough to assume the worst, you tell yourself that if it came down to it, what’s a sixth time, anyway?
Fahima Haque is a digital storytelling editor at The New York Times.