The Thumb’s Tale: When You Give Too Much Pressure on Your Thumb(s) to Fall in Love (or Fail in Love?)

Illustrated by RiriRoyanto/@rroyanto

(Disclaimer: All this happened before the quarantine, so it took months for me to actually write it)

Who would have thought our thumbs can take such a pivotal role in our social life, just like finding a partner? Putting yourself into the online realm for relationships is actually a new mainstream in nowadays society. It is as simple as one swipe away, one scroll away, one click away, like we rely so much on our thumb(s) to lead our dating adventure that might end well or disastrously. Boomer generation might think “how can life be that simple” as they did not have the privilege to actually “test out the water” the way we do now. But come to think of it, is it that simple, really?

Everybody who knows me might feel a bit flustered when knowing I am up to dating apps, let alone going out with some strangers. They either worry that I feel tired of being alone or I simply have nothing else to do with my life at this point. But why? It actually began with an article in USA Today titled Are you a Tinder or a Bumble type of person? The clichés of ‘big dating’. It does say a lot about how technology nowadays is more accommodating for some users to find their significant other(s), either for a short/casual or long term, the perks and disadvantage on doing so, and some experiences of the users (this part was super fun to read and actually a projection of what I might experience). The article describes some differences between Tinder and Bumble such as how Bumble (with more than 75 millions users) seems more empowering for women and better curated, how usually profile in Tinder is less-profound than what you will find in Bumble (tho more pretentious sometimes haha), and so on. And one part of the article also highlights how some people who actually tested out the apps finding this trend has distorted human interaction, including intimacy. I also can see some of my friends trying out and having quite intriguing experiences, both reflecting what the article says or actually projecting the opposite sides . My curious mind got triggered eventually, like I have not seen anyone for a while and I have never tried these alternative ways on finding a date, should I try?

It was not the fact that I probably gonna meet some people I know in real life or people will judge me that holding me back from trying it sooner. I am a true believer of human to human real-interaction (I still think so). I believe we spark energy and attract the same energy when we connect with other people. So frankly speaking, I felt pretty mixed up and skeptical about this idea. I’d totally prefer jumping into a speed dating, talking to a total stranger face to face than chatting with someone I barely know through a 6x5’ screen without even hearing the words he would say, looking at the facial expression he would make and noticing the simple and subtle gestures he would do. As a self-claimed neurosis, not knowing and not in control of even a tiny part of my life would result in a total mess at a later time. But the oblivious part of me thought that these apps probably just like social media. I mean, I share my personal life in my social media and I am fine (a slippery slope? I know). So, why not?

In this short note, I am not going to blabber too much about the apps, I write this to share my own experiences as one from millions of users and a noob on online dating apps. Going to elaborate more memorable stories from some of my matched guys, the anxiety, and the riddles.

“What should I put on my bio?”, “Is this photo right?”, “Is he a real person??” Here was the part where the first light anxiety attack hit. I would say it was a lot going on in my head when I first decided to finally sign up. I downloaded Tinder and Bumble, but for some reason (including more inactive users and some “weirdos”), I use Bumble more and deleted my Tinder. Anyway, the profile making took me an hour because I enjoy Bumble profile features. It somehow reminds me of Buzzfeed quiz! The content, including the wording and icon, for me, is a plus of this app (kudos to the ux writers and designers! Claps). You can present yourselves in creative ways like based on things you would do after office hours, causes you are passionate about, favorite quality in a person, etc. The app also spares you some space to explain yourself like what are you looking for from this app (the foremost lesson I have learned during this journey because I don’t know what I want).

I began the online dating days with a reminder to myself, “I am not looking for anything. So maybe it is also a good way to exercise my own expectations and feelings”. It is like consigning my faith to the cloud. Here goes nothing…

The thumbs are working so hard on this process. Swiping and typing all the messages. Never crossed my mind that the swiping process is an actual challenge for me. I feel soooo judging as I always read their profiles, carefully. Like sometimes it strikes me, how can this person be real, how can I be sure that what he says is true. But then I become less tense about it, I mean, it works the other way around, right? They might think the same things when they look at my profile. I only put 2 or 3 pictures, the recent ones, so they can see how I have gained some weight (unimportant detail but its for their best to know my updated look, don’t you guys agree?), I put “don’t know yet” on the “what are you looking for” column because I really am not sure. I hope those details can do them justice and represent myself well so no one gets fooled. Ok, swiping is fun, narrowing down the perimeter and indicators are also interesting, but then I should start the convo with something, enticing? As I mentioned, I always read the profile and started from some details I saw on the profile and crafted it into an opener. If I didn’t find anything, I usually drop them a message like “Hi, I didn’t find anything to start this convo :( (yes, I used a lot of emoticons)”. If they are generous enough and appreciate my honesty (and they are aware of their lack of efforts on creating a profile), we can still manage the conversation flows just fine.

The first few weeks were frankly bizarre. Like I of course found some weirdos (this sound so judging but well hmm you know what I mean?) or some people just, not there, I don’t understand why they swipe but didn’t talk but didn’t unmatch me either like “Dude, you there?”. But no hard feeling, we have every right to do whatever we want here as long as no violence involved, no tears shed. After sometimes using the online dating apps, I have matched with some guys who actually leave some noteworthy stories along the way. I mean, I have never expected my random decision on using dating apps would connect me with some guys with diverse personalities that helping me get to know myself from a different point of view.

So, meet some of my matches:

The Wise-Jedi

“Start a conversation with belief that the guy is not good and let him prove otherwise”, he said to me when I told him that it was my first week using the app. One of the guys my thumb swiped on the first week of the game (haha what game!). The Wise-Jedi definitely has read and tried many things in his life. He travels a lot, but works even more, making him knowledgeable about things like religion, literature, even random things like how time zones are constructed or meditation songs that would help get a deeper sleep. As an IT guy, his general knowledge about what’s going on in the world is beyond belief, he is like an encyclopedia sometimes. This guy is way older than me and actually was pretty clear from the start on what he is been looking for. Our objectives are not met, and at the beginning, he also said: “we can get along but you are too young” but we manage to sort of befriending without any further expectation towards each other (which is nice, friends can do!). As a newbie on the dating apps, he gives me a walkthrough to keep myself “safe”. I remember one of my friends said “you must be crazy to think that a random guy on Bumble can give you solid advice”, but hey, his advice isn’t that bad. Even sounded logical and handy. Here are a few tips that I put in my back pockets:

-“Talk to them as much as you can. And find their real on intentions”

-“Don’t drink on the first date unless you’re really comfortable talking to the guy. That way you have time to sneak out if whatever hits the fan”

-“Explore and see if things can be taken forward and if you don’t want to take things forward then inform him in advance.”

- “You are still young. Just don’t waste your time on the wrong guys. Focus on yourself.”

- “Make yourself desirable. Don’t chase guys”

Basically, those are general things to say but somehow I consider most of them are useful for me. I don’t usually like to be “lectured” but considering his background, I appreciate any advice and wisdom that he brutally told me. It is easier to talk with a guy who is plain-spoken and logical. The last nice thing he said to me when we had the last glass of beer was “I was in your position. Just focus on yourself now. Focus on your job and work on yourself. You have got a lot to learn in your age”. And that is what I’m trying to do here and now :D

The Backstreet-Boy

Oh well this guy! He always sees things on the bright sides. Pretty optimistic about everything (at least compared to me) and I can sense he is excited to try out new things, including using the app. I think this guy is only a few years older than me. Not much on his bio but he smiled on the photos, not in the creepy way, so I guess this guy is harmless (haha judging). He was somewhat open yet mysterious, I mean he never flirted, never asked me out, he did not really say it clearly on what he wanted but pretty sure he was looking for friends. Mostly talked about our jobs and some movies we recently watched. He usually asked more than answered, like he was not really open up about himself. Until one day, I was pretty sure he was hiding something because he never shared his real full name, he did not want me to google him (yes I did this sometimes, with the courtesy of course afterward), he just sent me another photo to prove that he is a real person in the real world. “Are you married or what?”, I asked out of nowhere. And he was like “Technically, I have a girlfriend now”. Now?!?! I was shocked by how good I am guessing things but on the other hand furious why the hell is he here? He then explained that he was breaking up with his girlfriend on the day he signed up but got back together just after sometimes. I was not attracted to him so it did not bother me if he has a girlfriend but how would his girlfriend feel if she knows her freaking lover is on a dating app?? But he said he has nothing to hide and is going to stop using the app anytime soon.

We actually had nice conversations over Bumble call several times (no we did not exchange numbers or social media accounts), nothing special and too personal, just like talking to your regular friend. But he was a really good listener and good at remembering things. I even shared some stories about some guys I matched on the app and he would always laugh at how weird my selection process was. Until one day, I really thought that he needs to stop using the app and fortunately he also thought the same way. He did not really delete his account, just the app. And when we bid farewell to each other, he basically said “Just drop me some messages if any interesting thing happens to you. Maybe one day I am gonna open this app again and know how is your life going”. Hey, if you read this, I am still fine and alive! Hope things are going well with you 😊

The Sharp-Witted

Have you ever talked to a person, all of sudden, in a very short time, and you feel clicked instantly? That is how it felt when I matched to this guy. Not clicked in a romantic way but more in…intellectuality level, if that makes sense? Super quick on swiped and sent the first opener. This guy is into community development and he is part of a program on teaching and facilitation. He was staying in a quite remote area as part of a program he is joining in and seems to enjoy every bit of his experience. It was a short conversation, he was in the airport waiting for the plane to catch and I was on my way going back home. I can remember vividly how long he was explaining about his dream to be a diplomat and how he hoped his experiences working in various social and development programs can finally bring him there. We randomly talked about social research methods (and he is bad at numbers too yeay!) I mean, a man with passion and ambition vibes differently and it’s super attractive. We also discuss what I do for a living and what I love about it. His responses were always spot on, I mean, he knows the right things to say. But that was it, we talked more about our ambition and dreams and how we long for some things but not even grasp anything personal. Actually, he has my number and I have his. We chatted a few times and he did mention if the time is met we should really talk in person, but timing is a bitch people and I knew it! I honestly do wish we have more time to talk but I notice the chances are slim. Ted Mosby might encourage me by saying “If you’re not scared, then you’re not taking a chance. If you’re not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing anyway?”. Well sorry Ted, I cannot take the long and risky road as you did. Though I usually am a go-getter, for this matter I don’t think there is benefit in defying fate. Maybe this guy is meant to re-ignite my excitement on things I have been doing and set a decent benchmark on “smart guy” that I will look for my future partner.

The Mr-Right-Now

Borrowing some wise words from my cousin when she asks me what I want, “Mr. Right-Now or Mr.Right?”. This guy is living in the present while I’m thinking too far or stuck in the past. I actually did not really know why I swiped him but I remember one of his photos is him holding a kid (soft spot detected!). And he seems adventurous, so I gave it a try. I have never encountered anyone as chilled as he is and that’s the most annoying yet attractive side of him. I don’t think he carries the burden like the overthinkers usually do. That is what I learn from him, at some point in life, I need to slow things down and just jump! He knows what he wants and goes for it. How simple, I sometimes wonder.

Actually Mr-Right-Now was fair and square from the beginning on what he wants while I did not know what I want, but at least we both were not looking for something serious. I enjoyed his company and we had a quite good time! He is into volunteering and pretty sure teaching kids though I haven’t really had the chance to see by myself how good he is but I can tell he enjoys what he does and that’s what matters. Not a quick responder on text but a quite right person to talk random things to in real life or simply shared random comments on series or movies we watched. He can handle 100 why(s) that I would throw when we talk and he never lost his temper on doing so (just yet). He can be super quiet and chatty at other times, but overall a good listener whom I shared some personal things with when sometimes I need a person to just listen without judgment. Because of his laid-back attitudes, he can think of uncomplicated opinions, which I am not able to do. Everything seemed ok-ish but I cannot put aside the fact that we have completely different ways of living and seeing life, like how we see relationships now, how we plan things, or how we actually communicate. This guy was trying to be truthful and the truth is not the easiest thing for me to take :) As I named him, Mr-Right-Now, it felt nice to have him around at the present time, but I think we naturally parted ways because of our differences. In the end, I am glad our paths intersected and I wish him a more adventurous life ahead!

The Lawful-Poet

Our interaction was quite short but insightful. This young lawyer is creative, used the app for marketing his almost-launched book, not really for dating purposes. It was a funny story when we first connected. He asked me what kind of guy I would pick on the app and I was like “as long as he is not a perv (too desperate to get laid) or not look hopeless romantic” and then he was like “But I’m a hopeless romantic….”. Bummer! I didn’t really notice that the book he is trying to publish is…a compilation of poems, love poems! He wants to illustrate and “portray the cycle of feelings: love in particular”. Falling-ending-grieving-until finding and making peace. As a former literature student, I found him interesting and I was sold to his idea. Though he can be poetic when he says “life is too short to be wasted on ordinary love” in one of our conversation, he can be direct too. Previously I already got some solid advice on “basic rules in online dating”, this lawful-poet introduced me to his ideas on finding a partner!

LP : What type of guy do you prefer then?

Me: It’s a hard question!

Me: Haven’t been thinking about it

Me: Mature, smart, and responsible. Knows what he wants would also help

LP: It was too generic!

LP: I have this theory that you won’t get what you want unless you know what you want. Knowing the exact smallest details

I was thinking, he got the point. And he added, “aimless gun kills randomly”, ok another weird idiom but makes sense. He shared that he usually list down in detail things that he wants, including things he looks in a partner.

It was a pleasing interaction and I know he is a guy who knows what he wants. I did not know what made us stop talking but too bad I haven’t really heard about his book. If you read this, please send me the copy of your book, I promised to buy it the last time we talked!

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Well, I ended up with no one if you guys notice. This is not a love story and that’s fine. But what I am going to point out here, there are some takeaways from this journey. Did I feel something for a particular guy? Of course I do, I still do, not gonna blurt out who is the unlucky guy but this whole process turns out to be more complicated than I thought. After being single for some time and happy and content with my life, I thought I would not feel things that easy because trust me, 2019 was like a “comma” for my love life, I wasn’t sure why. My last break up wasn’t the most severe heartache, but somehow it changed me. It changed the way I see relationships and the way I see myself. I thought I would be perfectly fine with the whole ups and downs doing online dating because I wasn’t looking for anything and I cannot really feel anything. But you cannot really predict how much impact some people leave. I mean, I always value people who come and go in my life. Even the smallest thing can be something worth remembering. I’ve never held a grudge but I remember things and that part of me hasn’t shifted anyway.

I came to a realization that during these unpredictable experiences and processes, I broke some of the ground rules that I held firmly. I started “discounting” my feelings. I also notice that there are some uneasy feelings, like worries? afraid of getting rejected or avoided by the guy I am interacting with that usually I don’t really care about it. I don’t know whether the platform or my dating style is the real issue. Suddenly I also noticed that I always matched with guys who were actually not into anything or not available and I could not blame them, I also did not know. Maybe that’s also the reason it did not work well for me. I just don’t feel connecting with people to find some mutual romantic vibe is an organic cycle in dating apps. It feels like forcing yourself to get to know and let strangers in with so much new information to absorb in a short time, if that makes sense? Also talking to many people at the same time can be super exhausting I find it hard to have deep conversations with multiple guys at the same time. I should admit to myself too that I was lonely and trying to fill in some void by doing the date-things.

Turns out I definitely am not gonna master the art of playing in the grey area as well, trust me I tried. It’s always going to be the “either/or” for me. I’m fully aware now that the types of relationships which online dating would offer are certainly not for everyone, at least not for me. Many things are at stake when you are not ready to let people in. For an anxious person like me, interaction through a platform is also not helping. The stress you put on yourself when you think too much and start overanalyze things because you really don’t have that much control, especially when you haven’t met the person you talk to outside of the app.

I’m not really falling or falling here, rather get to know myself better, learn it the hard way. I know now what I do not want and that is the start. I might put too much pressure on my thumbs to lead my love life. Maybe I still need the long and conservative ways of finding someone that I want. I used to envision meeting my future SO on public transport which now is impossible due to the pandemic but well when time is coming, whoever this guy would take me by surprise (ugh cannot believe I say it).

For anyone out there, if you are up for the fun and know what you really want, just try out the apps. Did not work out for me doesn’t mean it will not work out for you. There is no rigid formulation, as many people have said, finding love is not a rocket science. And you will not believe how humans can be so random (and also exciting) in this desperate time!

As for me now, just like one of my friends told me, “life goes on!”.

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Try to elaborate my monkey mind into words