Tinder Casualty: A Short Story

Originally written on 9/27/16

Note: This is a true story. Names have been changed.

So, I met Ana online; we swiped right for each other on a dating app. I didn't think much of it, a few months passed, and while we stayed matched the whole time, I didn't do anything. Then, I saw that her location had changed to nine thousand miles away. So, I wrote to her: "Nine thousand miles away . . . coffee?" Clever, right?

Then, she wrote back: "Yes please. With a grindhouse horror movie."

I was actually pretty floored with her response, and we kept in touch, casually, on and off for five or six months, mostly talking about our favorite horror films. She was living in Thailand at the time. She actually influenced me to watch a few horror films that I had never seen; they were pretty good. Or bad. You know what I mean. Then, one day, she asked if I wanted to talk on the phone. I said sure, and we talked for a half hour. I liked the way her voice sounded: deep, relaxed, intelligent, sophisticated, a little sarcastic, a little sensual. I felt good about the phone call, and I slept well that night, too.

She came back to the states, to Portland, and we skyped. She was part asian, very beautiful; the room in her house looked nice as we spoke to each other in real time, visually connecting at last. She invited me to come and see her in Portland -- just like that, she said I could come to Portland, and stay with her for a few nights. I thought it over. Normally, I wouldn't be interested in traveling across states to meet someone off of an internet dating app. But Ana seemed really cool.

My best friend Doc lives in Washington, about an hour outside of Portland, so I figured I could see him too, and if it didn't work out with Ana, I could always crash at his place. Besides, I hadn't seen Doc in close to five years, so we were due for a get together. I figured, what did I have to lose? I could see my best friend, get laid, and get out of California for a few days, up in the northwest. So, I called Ana, confirmed that she wanted to do it, and I bought the plane tickets and arranged a rental car at the airport. The whole trip was around $300 total, which was perfect. 

I left the next month and met Ana at the Portland airport. She was stunning, her skin was dark brown, she had just gotten into town the night before after spending a week in Mexico. She traveled a lot, impulsively, constantly, all around the world. We were both a little tired, her more than me, but I amped up on some coffee, we got the rental, a Nissan, I plugged my ipod into the stereo, turned up the music, and we were off. 

We went to her place first. It was an earthy, natural and older house in a cool part of town. Books were all over the place, the smell was nice and warm and comforting. I liked the vibe. Ana hadn't even unpacked from her Mexico trip yet, so we hung out for a bit and then I drove us to see Doc in Washington. The driving was amazing. With my ipod, I could drive forever. The car was a really smooth ride, and I drove us along the backdrop of lush greenery and foliage, rivers and mountains.

Ana was on her cell phone, like a lot. It didn't really matter to me, but I did notice it. She spent a lot of time on her phone. Also, she didn't seem to like being touched; she seemed to show an aversion to holding hands, which we didn't do in the car, and she didn't respond when I touched her thigh, which was warm in the sun and dark tan and beautiful as I drove us towards Washington state. It seemed a little strange, but I tried not to think too much of it. Maybe she was nervous. I wasn't, but maybe she was. Maybe she didn't want to rush into anything. 

Background info: prior to my trip, I had asked Ana if she was planning on us sleeping together. I asked if she was open to having sex. It sounds a little forward, perhaps, but that's my specialty. Transparency, I told her, was always a big thing of mine. I told her that of course, in the event that we didn't get along, I certainly wouldn't hold any grudges -- no pressure, regardless of outcome -- I just wanted us to be on the same page. She had said that she was expecting to have sex with me, that she thought it was implied. So, when I met her at the airport for the first time, I gave her a hug, and I didn't feel a response. Odd, I thought, though I didn't press it. But now we were driving, and she still wasn't responding to any of my attempts at some kind of physical connection. I wasn't trying anything even remotely sexual -- I wasn't trying to finger her as I drove us down the freeway into the picturesque landscape; I didn't try to probe her ear with my tongue. I had my hand on her warm thigh (she was wearing short jean shorts), to no response whatsoever. Holding hands hadn't worked either. Strange, but I forced myself not to read too deeply into it. 

I saw Doc, brought my guitar in and played some new songs with him. Ana met him, but then had to make a phone call outside which lasted over forty minutes. It was alright, because I could catch up with Doc and his sister, one on one for a while. It would have been nice to have played some songs for Ana, but I dismissed her phone etiquette (or lack thereof, perhaps) as well.

She came back inside, apologized, and I took us all out to lunch. It was enjoyable. Doc was funny, I was funny, Ana was pretty, and the food was alright. I drove us back to Doc's, where we hung out for a little longer, and then Ana and I set out again on our own adventure. She had some ideas on what we could do. 

I drove us out to an island, a stunning reserve of farms and fields that went on for miles and miles, ending with an array of boathouses and dirt roads, very bucolic, very peaceful. Ana got out to take some pictures (photography was a hobby of hers), and I watched her lithesome figure run down the dirt road, thinking how attractive she was. She came back, while I stayed in the car, my arms placed outside the rolled down window, just taking it all in. Ana gave me a closed kiss on the mouth when she came back, a soft dry peck. Still, it was nice. We drove on.

Ana shared with me a pretty intense and lengthy anecdotal monologue, about how she had gotten an abortion in Cambodia just a few months prior to her return to the states. She said that an old boyfriend in Thailand had tricked her into getting pregnant. I didn't really understand that -- normally, it happens the other way around: the girl gets pregnant and traps the guy. But I didn't pry. The story was very detailed, and though it didn't really weird me out too much, the mental imagery was pretty vivid -- I could've done without it. 

We went to downtown Portland; driving down and over the mazes of bridges, looking down onto the boats and the rivers and the water and the city. It was a cool feeling. There was a carnival downtown, so we went there and walked around. It seemed like the perfect time to hold hands, or for me to put my arm around her shoulder, but Ana still wasn't really responsive to any of that. I started to wonder to myself, jokingly, if this was the same girl I had spoken with online -- perhaps I had met someone else on accident at the airport, someone who only looked like Ana. Maybe the real Ana was still waiting for me at the airport baggage claim, wondering where I was, and hoping that I'd hold her hand and touch her thigh when I finally arrived. The carnival was festive and condensed with a huge amount of people, so we walked around, not really connecting, and then we walked a mile or two to Powell's Bookstore, where I got an Ed Abbey book for Doc, and a Bukowski collection of poetry for Ana, to give to her as a surprise gift when I left. I like doing that, buying books for girls. 

That night, I meditated, and lay in her bed, utterly exhausted, while Ana sat on the wooden floor in her room on her phone for over an hour. I fell in and out of consciousness, in between frantic travel-induced dreams and semi awake spasms of mild confusion. I woke up and it was very dark, and I was alone in the bed. I didn't know what time it was, or where Ana was. In my semiconscious stupor, I was briefly infuriated that this girl had invited me to visit her, only to completely abandon me upon my arrival. I tried to calm myself and pass out again, but I was very confused. Had Ana left? Was she sleeping in another room while I slept in her own bed? What the fuck was happening? Then she came into the room, draped in a towel, after taking a shower. I was relieved; we were going to at least be sleeping in the same bed. But once more, she sat on the floor and became utterly immersed in her phone again, her small phone screen the only source of light in the room, as the cool Portland summer wind blew in through her open balcony door. "Whatever," I thought, and I went back to sleep.

I had a dream that I was a cafeteria cook at an elementary school, and I poisoned the food as a long line of children came up and took their trays. I had crunched up a mountain of pills and mixed them into the school lunches. The kids all sat down and starting eating. Then, the children began screaming and melting, like slices of american cheese in the microwave; their bodies all liquified in a horrifying melee of chaos and science fiction-like horror. In the dream, I became terrified myself, suddenly realizing that I would be charged with the murder of all these poor schoolchildren. Why had I done that, killed them all? I would have to go to prison. I was a serial killer, I had massacred all these little kids . . .

I woke up in a cold sweat, with Ana on the very edge of the bed. I cuddled up next to her with my arm draped over her waist and pulled her close to me. Nothing. You know how when you cuddle with a girl, spooning, she'll kind of nudge herself back in towards you? Didn't happen. I let go of her.

"I had the most horrible dream," I told her. "I gave all these little kids some kind of drug in their school lunches and they all started melting."

"That doesn't sound too scary." Ana said.

"Well, you didn't see how they melted," I told her.

That morning, I woke up slow, Ana made us some coffee, and I drove us to the farmer's market in downtown Portland. By now, I was confused, and slightly irritated even, at how this was going. It wasn't that I felt angry at how Ana was acting, it was just confusing, because she had given me an entirely different idea of who she was. We held hands for a very brief moment at the farmer's market, before she ran away towards some food stand. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was hot, but not overwhelming, and the farmer's market was a cool scene. Earthy, health conscious, clean, organic. I had an awkward exchange with a friend of Ana's, who was running one of the stands: Ana tried to introduce me to him, but I was standing too far away, and I just shot him a smile and waited for them to finish their conversation, before moving on. I felt awkward -- really, really awkward at this point.

I drove us back to her place, both of us not really saying much. Bringing my ipod with me was the best thing I could've done. The constant soundtrack that played while I drove us all over the place was a very grounding, comforting thing. It felt soothing to have my entire music library on hand, listening as I drove us onward into this entirely awkward and confusing experience.

I parked a few blocks down from Ana's house, so we could get some food for dinner. Ana asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner, and I told her that it really didn't matter to me. I stopped the car outside of the organic grocery store and paused. I turned to face Ana in the passenger seat.

"I can't tell if you're attracted to me or not." I told her bluntly. Straightforward, with no hint of anger, just strong unabashed honesty. She was quiet.

I went on. "It seems like if I touch your leg, or try to hold your hand, or if I were to stick a finger in your ear, you don't react at all. I've been having a great time; the island was great, I love driving around and listening to music, everything's so pretty; the farmer's market and the bookstore were wonderful -- but I could really be doing all this with anybody. I could be doing this alone, really. Is there something that's wrong? Because I can leave, no hard feelings. That's why I rented the car, that's why I made sure that Doc was going to be around. I just don't know if there's something that I missed. It seems like you're not into this at all." My blood pressure was remarkably low; I just wanted to get to the point. No use self-questioning anymore. "I mean you're on your phone constantly --"

"I know," Ana said. "I'm sorry about that. It's something I do all the time, it's nothing against you. It's a habit that I'm trying to break." 

I shrugged. "You can break it around someone else," I said. "It's just another thing that shows you're not really into what's happening here."

"I just don't like being touched." Ana told me suddenly. "I don't like public displays of affection. I haven't been in a relationship in really a long time --"

"Whoa," I said. "This is not a relationship."

"I know," Ana said quickly. "But holding hands and kissing and all that are things that happen in a relationship, and I've never liked doing those things. It's nothing personal -- you're very handsome, and funny, and smart." 

("Yeah, I know all that," I thought.)

She went on: "It's just that, when I tried to introduce you to my friend at the farmer's market, you acted like you didn't care, and I really wanted you to meet him. That hurt my feelings. And when I asked you what you wanted to eat for dinner, you said that it didn't matter to you. And I meant that, I mean, I really MEANT it when I asked you that. And you said that it didn't matter to you."

The level of disconnect between us was palpable at this point, both of us still seated in the car. Still, I kept my composure and tried to sift through the insanity. 

"Um . . ." I said, putting my thoughts in order, points lining up in my head. "Were you ever going to relay any of this information to me?" I asked her.

"I'm sorry," she said to me. "I just haven't been in a relationship in a long time --"

"This is not a relationship," I repeated.

"I know that," she said again; we were beginning to go in circles as she told me once more how me saying that dinner didn't matter really hurt her feelings.

"Well," I said, carefully. "I've always gone off of actions, more than words. So you asking me about dinner, when I think that you want nothing to do with me, made me divert my answer towards whatever you wanted to do. Clearly, there's some disconnect between us. I'm glad I said something, because this was starting to get a little weird."

"I'm glad you said something too," Ana agreed. "Let's get out of the car and walk around for a little while." We got out, I locked the car, and we strolled around the green neighborhood with its small old houses and nice fenced in yards. The air was clean and fresh, the wind felt good.

I spoke again: "So, I'm not sure where to go from here. This has been a little strange for me."

"I'm sorry," Ana told me as we strolled along. "I should've told you. I've never liked public displays of affection. I've never been comfortable holding hands and kissing. And I haven't been in a relationship in --"

I stopped walking, and waited for her to stop a little bit ahead of me. She turned around. I closed my eyes and whispered for affect.

"This . . ." I said quietly, "is not . . . a relationship." She wasn't getting that.

We got back to the car. 

"Well, look," Ana told me. "We got everything out in the open now, so let's go and buy dinner, we can watch a movie tonight and have sex." 

"I DON'T EVEN WANT TO FUCK YOU NOW!!!" I screamed inside my skull. 

"I think I'm okay, actually." I said to her in real life.

"What do you want to do?" She asked me.

"Well," I told her, and my pulse quickened just slightly as I laid out my plan to her. "I'll drive you home, and I'll pack up my shit, and then I'll drive to Doc's house to spend the rest of the weekend."

"Really?" Ana asked me, incredulously.

"Yeah, totally," I told her.

"Are you sure that's what you want?" She asked me.

"Yeah," I said. "Nothing personal, Ana. This just didn't work out, and that's fine. That's why I rented this car, that's why I made sure that Doc was in town. I'll just go to his place for the rest of the weekend."

Ana looked away and shook her head. "Wow," she finally said, bewildered. "Okay . . . if that's what you really want."

"Nothing personal." I said again. ("I would just rather watch movies with my friend than have sex with you," I thought. Nothing personal, though.)

Ana clearly had not been accustomed to being turned down. Here she had actually offered me sex, and I told her no thanks. Honestly, I figured what was the point? It's not like I've never had meaningless sex -- on the contrary, I've had far too much of it, and I'm not bragging -- but I could've stayed home for that shit. 

I packed up my things in her room. I took out the Bukowski book from my bag. 

"I got this for you at the bookstore last night," I said, handing it to her. "I was going to write something in it, like, 'I had fun,' or something. But there's nothing written in there, and the receipt's still in there, so you can return it if you want."

"I won't return it," Ana said. "Thanks."

"Sure," I told her. "Well, thanks for letting me stay here. I'll, um . . . " What, see you later? See you around? "Later," I told her, and turned to leave.

"Bye," Ana said softly. "Wait," she said, and came up to me, turned me around, and kissed me in a tight, dry closed mouth peck, similar to the single peck she given me the evening before on that island. It was without passion, without meaning, without anything. "Bye," she said again.

I wondered, as I turned around and I left down the stairs, if that had been some attempt at making me stay; like I would drop everything at that kiss and completely change my mind. But I didn't think about it any further as I got into the car, called Doc, turned up some Misfits, and hightailed it to Washington to rock out with my friend. The drive was great: steady, eighty miles per hour, blasting music along the breathtaking Oregon and Washington landscape.

Doc enjoyed my story, and we spent the rest of the weekend watching Grindhouse films from the seventies and sixties, laughing our asses off and playing music, catching up. It all worked out, really.

Ana and I never spoke again. I deleted all my online dating accounts. 

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