The author chose to remain anonymous
11pm, somewhere deep in July
Head perched on the car window, I steal a side-mirrored glance of my face. Loose, dehydrated, and perfectly unkempt curls delicately hang over moist, half-lit cheeks. A faint, fleeting smile. He calls me ‘Mophead,’ my recent Tinder fling. A near-kindred spirit I found here, a ‘fellow mophead’ himself. There is room for comfort but it’s begun to feel oppressive, dubious, precarious, and uncertain. Is it really possible to find respect from kindred spirits on Tinder? Can he even qualify after sexualising our exchange? Ought I dig deeper into the murky lexicon of doubt?
Bhai, seated on the driver’s seat beside mine, sighs. White smoke puffs off chapped lips and dissipates into dank, half-lit skies.
My right hand moves over to his, index and middle fingers parted, gesturing for the cigarette. Hesitation betrays inaudible concern – I smoke, you don’t. You can’t make it a habit. Gosh! You seem tense but I shouldn’t let you. Oh forgot, you wouldn’t let me decide for you little sister. Shucks! I can’t even call you ‘little’ sister. K, here you go! – before he yields, slipping a half-smoked cig between my fingers.
A few deep breaths and precisely five drags later, all disquieting thoughts return with their restlessness.
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Should I mention it to Bhai? He’s a guy in his twenties. I know he’s been on Tinder so he could sure understand. He’s got to have valuable insight on MENtality, intent, and authenticity in the Tinder universe. Nah I shouldn’t. He was disapproving when I last mentioned the app. “Tinder is so uncomfortable! It really isn’t real or normal. You ought to be careful.” I can’t give him the satisfaction of presuming he can counsel me again. Besides, I doubt he’s changed his mind. I doubt he’s built the grit to face a sister, sexually liberated of her own volition, much like him.
I half-told Ma about this Tinder dude the other day, all details linked to the app and the now overwhelmingly sexual nature of our once purely dialectical banter carefully obscured. Maybe I needed to take ownership of my decisions and desires in the moment but I couldn’t be sure it was worth sacrificing the freedom that obscurity affords me, only for the momentary satisfaction of outspokenness. After all, I wasn’t lying, I do primarily use Tinder to scout a few thoughtful conversationalists. I do it to feel a man’s presence without the stifling conceits of organic social interactions with the heteronormative Karachi men I know. And, I daren’t forget, ‘conversation’ is indeed one of the many honest answers to that predictable but dreaded question I’m consistently asked on Tinder, “What are you looking for here?”
Beside cheap validation from a bursting inventory of matches, flattery, and pick-up lines, a full gamut from the ingeniously witty to the painfully gross, however, banter is what breeds comfort in my frustrated, hopelessly analytical soul. So, I naturally drifted toward the most patently intelligent, albeit formal, Tinderaction, one initially bereft of sexual adrenaline but leisurely paced and comforting for a cerebrally starved me. But, has the spectre of sex, looming longer than I allowed myself to acknowledge, ultimately diluted the spirit of this once respectfully intellectual Tinderaction? Has sexual banter quashed all thoughtful conversations that preceded it? Must prospects of a hookup necessarily feel self-compromising and lacking in respect? Am I not as liberated as I fancy? Why else do I always stiffen with caution when Tinder flirtation takes a predictable turn toward the sexual? Are Ma, Bhai, and judgment to blame for this confusion?
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Well, there’s another question Tinder folk have commonly dared to ask me: “What is a girl like you doing on Tinder?” Oh, the delicious irony! A Tinder dude suggesting that I, a woman, couldn’t elect to be on Tinder unless I suffer a defect. While the distastefulness always leads to a prompt unmatching, the question wreaks its psychological damage, regardless. With every subsequent interaction of this nature, I only feel forced to become more circumspect about my choices. The discomfort festers doubt and suspicion about all possible assumptions that all men I’ve chosen to engage with might have made just because I’m on Tinder and open to a prospective sexual relationship. There are costs women pay for making autonomous decisions with their emotions and their body; the liberties men presume they can take with such women is one of them. Can I resist this peculiarly male sense of entitlement by self-censoring? I worry I cannot. I have always cherished the conversationalist in myself – unrelenting even in the purportedly obscure channels of the “interwebs.” I can choose to question, challenge, and engage with all close male associates, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, Tinder conversationalists, or someone I might begin a closer relationship with.
Another side-mirrored glance, this time at Bhai’s half-lit face. The best person to start with, perhaps, is he who sits beside me. He might have, advertently or inadvertently, been complicit in engendering the same dilemma I confront for someone else, who shares in my experience of being a sexually hopefully, bashfully apologetic, and surreptitiously romantic twenty-something Pakistani feminist/woman on Tinder.