Reader, I swiped.
Call it scholarship, sacrifice, pure self-indulgence. What matters is this: for nine days and eight nights, I swiped.
Of the Outer Cape’s 12,370 residents, just over a thousand are between 20 and 34 years old (392 in Wellfleet, 326 in Eastham, 253 in Provincetown, 35 in Truro). Nationally, 41 percent of that demographic (tweaked a little, ages 19 to 29) told Pew researchers last August that they were single. Which, according to my calculation, means that something like 412 single young people populate the Outer Cape.
Gone are the days of meeting strangers in bars and on beaches. Gone, really, are the days of meeting strangers. A date loses its thrill when you might be drinking with a biohazard. Walks worked this summer; less so now. Can you really get to know someone swaddled in a hat, a parka, and a mask? Winter here is cold, and dark, and bleak, and everyone — even those of you locked down with your beloveds — is lonely. Which made me wonder, as Valentine’s Day looms: where does an Outer Cape young person turn in search of love?
To find an answer, I swiped.
In 2019, 48 percent of American 18- to 29-year-olds had used a dating app. Tinder (an app where users swipe right [yes] or left [no] on photos of prospective matches) had an audience of 7.86 million Americans. Bumble (the same premise, but women alone can initiate conversation) had 5.03 million users. Grindr (for gay, bi, trans, and queer people) had 1.64 million. In 2020, those numbers skyrocketed.
I registered for every dating platform that was free and seemed unlikely to jeopardize my future as a nanny or dog-walker. Nixed: The League (for Ivy Leaguers, $199!), Bristlr (connecting women exclusively to bearded men), SeekingArrangement (The Official Sugar Daddy Site, TM). I set my radius to 12 miles, my preference to “all genders.” And then for nine days and eight nights — in Zoom meetings and while making dinner — I swiped.
As farmgirl304392597, I did try out FarmersOnly. I swiped on JDate and ChristianMingle and Coffee Meets Bagel. I swiped right on every single online 19- to 29-year-old from Eastham to P’town (with one important caveat: only profiles interested in women were visible to me). I swiped right on socialists, stoners, casual jugglers; on GameStop investors; on three different men who called themselves SpongeBob enthusiasts.
Lest whispers spread: I was looking for answers, not love. (I have a Valentine already, who has not asked one question about me in three weeks — but who’s vaccinated, which is all that matters.) My profiles made clear this was a journalistic endeavor. Some sources took that news more gracefully than others.
Question: “Want to talk about being young and alone in the pandemic?” Answer from Pat, 19, 11 miles away: “I want to show you what it’s like to be young and together in a pandemic.” Answer from Tay, 28, seven miles away: “I’m on Tinder to answer your questions the same way I’m on Pornhub to watch the plumber repair the sink.” Etcetera.
But, for the most part, people wanted to talk. Because — and this is the point — to be young, single, and on the Outer Cape right now is to be truly, crushingly lonely.
Jeff, 29, has used Tinder on and off for five years. He’s managed to go on a handful of dates, but he misses real intimacy. And “getting to that age,” he said, makes him crave a relationship — but if the pandemic stretches on for much longer, how will he meet his person? Rick, 22, thinks dating apps are “embarrassing.” But if meeting anyone age 18 to 25 on Cape Cod was difficult before Covid, now, it’s near impossible. And, he’s lonely.
Chase, 22, just wishes he had someone to talk to. Ella, 24, hasn’t touched anyone except her parents since June. “I’m going crazy,” she said. Travis and Xander and Addie and Kyle and Owen and Jack all agreed: in a way they never did in the Before Times, they want a real, adult, committed relationship.
But they can’t have one. Only six of the more than 50 matches who agreed to be interviewed had actually turned any online matches into in-person dates since March. “It’s risky.” “It’s awkward.” “It’s not worth it.” “My pod won’t let me.”
If scrolling through Zillow is an escape for the housebound, scrolling through faces is an escape for the heartsick. They can’t snuggle. But to feel a little less alone, to contemplate, even for a few minutes, the road not taken, young people swipe.