At 38 weeks pregnant — in a committed relationship with Netflix and carbs, splitting most of my free time between the two — I decided to rejoin Tinder. Mostly, I was curious. As someone who’s written about dating and relationships throughout my career, I was used to using myself as a guinea pig, and couldn’t help but be intrigued by how men would react to an obviously pregnant photograph. But what I didn’t admit was that I was also doing it for myself. When you’re single, there’s something surprisingly comforting about sending one-liners off into the ether, knowing that someone 1.8 miles away finds you attractive enough to flirt with on a random weekday afternoon.
I hadn’t had that in ages. While I had been surrounded by supportive friends during my pregnancy, I had the feeling of my world contracting with each passing week. Prior to becoming pregnant, a stranger who might change my world was just a swipe away. Now, as a soon-to-be mom, I knew my entire life was about to get much less spontaneous — and wanted one more reminder of the life I was leaving behind.
I know women date while pregnant. But I also knew I wasn’t going to be one of them.
“What are you going to do with all that free time?” a friend remarked when I told her my dating days were, at least temporarily, over.
I hadn’t thought about it. But she was right: Without looking for a relationship or being in a relationship — my defaults ever since I was a teenager — there was no telling what I could accomplish. I considered the hours I’d spent Tindering, texting, and analyzing boyfriend behavior over wine, not to mention the dates themselves. With so much free time, surely I’d be able to blog regularly, expand my recipe repertoire, finish writing a novel, and maybe even start a business.
But it didn’t work out that way. Morning sickness lasted well into my second trimester, exhaustion rounded out the third. My biggest accomplishment was watching eight seasons of Law & Order: SVU in two months. But despite the lack of productivity, I felt something was happening: It was nice to finally calm down about the state of my romantic life. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on meeting someone when I RSVP’d no to a party. I liked knowing the people texting me were actual friends, not random men I’d met online. And I also loved having an instant line to shut down catcallers on the street: Dude, I’m pregnant.
But then, seven months later and two weeks before my due date, I began feeling antsy and listless; I was panicking about the fact that my life had already irrevocably changed, and I had no idea what my future life as a single mom with a baby would look like. And it was that — not some sociological experiment — that compelled me to post a bump photo to Tinder, reactivating my profile in the process. I updated my profile text to explain the photo: American-ish with a Canadian sounding accent. Love hiking, adventures, and getting distracted. Yes, that is a current baby bump. No, it’s not yours.
Within seconds, I began getting matches — not as many as I used to when my profile was full of pre-pregnant pictures, but enough to give me that social-media self-esteem boost — and the comments were neither pervy nor insulting. Some were curious, asking if I was really looking for dates. Others wanted to know whether it was a boy or a girl. And some just said I was brave for doing what I was doing.
Simultaneously, I posted a bump photo of myself under the “Moments” section of the app, where previous matches are able to view a photo during a 24-hour window. And that was where the Tinder magic happened. Immediately, I was connected to an entire world — literally — of roads not taken, just based on previous matches.
The summer before, I’d used Tinder as a tool to travel around Europe, meeting up with locals for beer and conversation. Occasionally, our flirtation would turn into a tryst, but most of the time, it would be a one-off conversation over coffee or drinks before we both went our separate ways. I loved getting to see cities on the back of motorbikes and order foods I’d never have the courage to try on my own. I loved going to bars I’d never have found without the help of a local, and kissing in the doorways of hostels.
And as excited as I was for motherhood, I also missed that anything-can-happen life. Which was why I loved getting responses from ghosts of Tinder dates past in response to my “Moments” bump photo. Kevin from Galway, whom I’d met for a few rounds of whiskey and red lemonade in a pub last June, offered me name suggestions. Nicolas from Aix-en-Provence told me that he had spent the winter taking tango lessons. Robert from Dubrovnik had finally found a girlfriend who didn’t mind the fact that he still occasionally trolled Tinder looking for tourists to show around town.
These text exchanges were short, and I loved how genuine they were. When you’re in the middle of dating, it’s easy to forget that you’re trying to connect with a real person. Seeing all the people who’d entered my life, however briefly, through Tinder made me feel really connected to the world at large, as well as confident I would be able to rejoin it whenever I was ready.
I deleted the app the night I went into labor. I didn’t need it; the validation was no longer necessary. To tell the truth, I have no idea what my dating life will look like post-baby. Part of me does wonder what my daughter will think in the future if she finds this article and learns that her mother was texting on Tinder while counting her kicks. But what I’d like for her to take away from the Tinder experiment is what I’d like to teach her about life in general: That it’s a big world out there, that fleeting connections don’t have to be meaningless, and that sometimes, it’s nice to have a near-stranger affirm that, yes, the name you’ve chosen for your kid is perfect.