In November 2015, as I toiled in the trenches of the Bumble dating app in an increasingly unsuitable pool of suitors, a familiar face appeared on my screen: my most enduring and painful high-school crush had reentered my orbit. I will call him Mark Matthews to spare his Google results any humiliation. My crush on Mark Matthews had not been an ordinary crush, and not just because all teenagers are susceptible to beliefs that they are somehow extraordinary. This crush came with more than a decade of yearbook-based shame attached to it.
When seniors at our high school were asked to fill out a yearbook questionnaire toward the end of the year, I wrote all joke answers like the rambunctious scamp that I was. The survey had an option to list your secret crush, which I answered, “Mr. Scruggs with Mark Matthews at a distance second,” assuming the overall too-cool-for-school tone about a beloved humanities teacher would make clear I wasn’t taking the exercise seriously. Fast-forward to the last day of school, when I open up my yearbook in a class where I sit next to Mark and find the words “Alana Massey: Mark Matthews” listed under the almost exclusively anonymized list labeled “Secret Crushes.” Never has a teen longed so desperately for immediate vaporization.
So when Mark appeared on the Bumble interface, I took a deep breath and swiped right to indicate interest. I took a screenshot of the match screen in anticipation of putting it in our wedding slideshow and began the conversation with “LOL, we meet again.” The ensuing text exchanges were nostalgic, funny, and promising. I texted half a dozen friends from high school who had witnessed my meltdown over the yearbook humiliation about our impending date. I was charmed senseless over what a great meet-cute story this would make.
Great story to tell at a wedding, right? But Mark Matthews is not my boyfriend. We went out once, made out (at my insistence), and never saw each other again. I met my boyfriend on another Bumble date that didn’t come packed with any history or adolescent wish-fulfillment or anything serendipitous. We were simply mutually attracted strangers who met for drinks after work one night to see what would happen. What happened is that we fell head over heels for each other and I wouldn’t trade it for any meet-cutes in the cosmos.
But although online and app-based dating is no longer stigmatized as the exclusive hobby of internet perverts and desperate cat-hoarders, a shocking number of people remain embarrassed that they didn’t meet sitting next to each other on an airplane that nearly crashed or by getting into a fight over a taxi then sharing it only to realize you’re soul mates or, I don’t know, getting arrested at the same silent warehouse rave. Some even get sheepish when they reveal that they simply met through mutual friends or got drunk and made out at a bar. This overreliance on charming meet-cutes is making a bunch of people into a bunch of goddamn liars, both to other people and to themselves. Somehow, people still do not realize that even the most average date that originates on Tinder or the many dating apps it spawned is a pretty cute story on its own.
Of course, a Cornell study indicated that couples who met online received less support than those who met in more traditional ways, so if you need to tell your parents you met your fiancé at a church, God bless and godspeed. But take heart: Meeting on Tinder is going to be seen as unbearably quaint and adorable by the time your kids and grandkids hear the story. In 50 years, dating apps will be implanted in your temple, not your smartphone, and will come with facial composites of your potential babies and an ongoing scorecard of how well the date is going. When you tell a child in that kind of world about Tinder, they’ll say, “My grandparents only saw five photos of each other on communication devices that they had to carry around with them at all times and they still went for it! Love is wild! Love is true! The past was so fucking cute!”
My friend Lauren met her husband, Phil, on Match.com in 2008, long before dating apps had hit a critical mass. “Hey, at least we didn’t meet on Craigslist!” they joked in their wedding video, making an open joke of how “boring” the meeting story was. “I’ve never encountered anyone that was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s really lame!’” Lauren told me, but she still had moments in the beginning when she felt insecure about their lack of a grand, romantic origin story. Lauren and Phil were at dinner with two friends who revealed that they’d met when the wife was an undergraduate student and the husband was a professor. Lauren told them, “Oh wow, you must think our meeting story is so uninteresting,” to which they replied, “Oh my God, we would do anything to switch places with your story!”
Overinvesting in the how-we-met story is making the “Once upon a time …” more important than the “Happily ever after,” and in some cases, preventing the latter entirely. A contestant named Caila on this season of The Bachelor explained that she met her last boyfriend on a flight, then ran into him a few weeks later in the same city and assumed it was “fate” — so much so that she stayed in the relationship far past its expiration date. In this way, the obsession with having a cute story that is out of the ordinary is not only about the desire for a great story to tell but the desire to surrender personal responsibility. “People want to say, ‘I’m not deciding my romantic future, the cosmos are.’ But that just means you’re not in control of your relationship,” Lauren said.
The reality is that you can make any of your stories your cutest one if your relationship is good, dense with worthwhile memories that you can share without boring people over and over again with a “how-we-met” story. Several weeks after I started dating my boyfriend, an apartment two floors below mine caught fire at 2 a.m., just a few hours after Winter Storm Jonas hit New York. He smelled smoke that I otherwise would have slept through or ignored. He forced me out of bed moments before smoke began to fill my entire apartment and was kind and patient enough to catch my cat even after he scratched the shit out of his hand. He even had the wherewithal to insist I get my phone to call friends and family. We escaped a few minutes before the windows below us blew out several feet of flames onto the fire escape we’d just been on. We spent the next two days snowed in at his house, where he made me egg sandwiches. That my cat and I were saved from a burning building in a blizzard was the first story I told my parents about my new boyfriend. They haven’t asked yet, and I’m fairly certain they don’t give a fuck how we first met.