I had recently finished grad school and was ready to dive into the dating scene, so I downloaded Bumble, the dating app where women make the first move. After swiping for a few days, I started chatting with a match. He had green eyes and short, curly hair, a thin frame and a jagged-toothed, megawatt smile. He wasn’t the most handsome guy on the app but he was attractive enough.
Being the anxiously attached type, I quickly found his public social media profiles and began wading through posts. On Instagram, he presented himself to be an outgoing, gregarious dude with lots of friends. All green lights! He seemed to love filming himself talking to strangers, and he’d proudly stand in public places with a big cardboard sign proclaiming “Free Hugs!” In the mix, I noticed that a pretty blond girl had tagged him in a few group photos but I wasn’t concerned.
We made tentative plans to hang out. However, on the day we were supposed to meet, he texted to tell me something had come up and he couldn’t make it. Being the analytical sleuth that I am, I opened Instagram to view his most recent Story and saw that he was having a lazy afternoon with a friend while getting pizza at Mod in Culver City. Yellow light!
I called him out on it. “I’m sorry. I just get so nervous on first dates,” he said. I took him at his word and agreed to meet up with him the following day despite my intuition.
We hung out a few times, and I began opening up to him. I invited him to join me at a friend’s weekend party in the Pacific Palisades. I wanted to gauge how he’d behave in a group setting. At the party, he was loud and obnoxious, trying to be the center of attention and filming himself interviewing the guy working the taco stand at the party. I rolled my eyes, but my friends seemed mildly entertained.
The next day he was over at my place, and we made out on my couch. He stepped away to the bathroom, and I glanced at the iPhone that had fallen out of his pocket. It was blowing up with texts. Kaitlyn was messaging him, sending lots of emojis, expletives and punctuation marks. It was the same girl I had noticed from his tagged photos, and it seemed like she was angry.
“Looks like Kaitlyn is trying to get a hold of you,” I said when he walked out of the bathroom. His face fell. “You need to leave,” I told him.
“You don’t know anything — she could be just a friend!” he said. Nevertheless, he grabbed his phone, wallet and keys, and I closed the door behind him. Red light!
Convinced that I wasn’t the only one he was misleading, I sent Kaitlyn a message. She replied almost instantly, asking to talk over FaceTime. She was an actor from Australia, and I could see why he liked her. She had shiny blond hair, bright blue eyes, razor-sharp cheekbones, and straight white teeth. I glanced at my own curly brown hair and hazel eyes in the camera.
She was warm and affirming. “Who does this guy think he is?” she said with a thick Aussie accent. “I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. He’s boring and bland and thoroughly unoriginal.” I agreed.
“You took him to the Palisades party?!” she asked.
It turns out that he had been texting Kaitlyn the entire evening — and he even sent her the video he recorded at the party.
I blocked his number right away. Over the next week, he continued to text Kaitlyn, and we had a few laughs by stringing him along. She sent me screenshots of their correspondence. He sent a photo of a golden retriever. “Isn’t she cute?”
“Yes, she’s cute. So am I. So is my friend Clare,” Kaitlyn replied. He sent a tearful emoji.
“Gross” was her response.
He seemed to be a masochist, reaching out to be insulted again and again.
Kaitlyn had been planning to take him on a weekend trip to Solvang, the small Danish-style town north of Santa Barbara. Rather than call the trip off, she invited me to take his place, and I accepted. She picked me up in her red Mazda Miata, and we headed up the coast with the top down.
We walked around the quaint town, exploring timber-framed storefronts and windmills with thatched roofs. We joined a group tour of local wineries and shared the story of how we met. Everyone got a kick out of the tale. “To friendship over f—boys,” we toasted.
The sun was shining and our hearts were full as we sipped rosé and petted dogs and horse along the way. We also visited OstrichLand USA, giggling as we took turns holding out pans of food for eager emus and ostriches. We took lots of cute pictures and posted them on Instagram. His account had gone quiet, but we suspected he was out there lurking.
In the years since our weekend getaway, we have each crossed paths with him. We ignore him and act as if we don’t see him because he already squandered enough of our attention. Searching his name today shows that he hasn’t changed much. He’s still out there holding up the cringy “Free Hugs!” sign in public places including the Santa Monica Pier.
Over the years Kaitlyn and I have remained supportive of one another. I didn’t find the relationship I was looking for, but Bumble helped me make a new friend.
The author is a writer, industrial-organizational psychologist, yoga teacher and doting cat mom. She lives in Los Angeles. She’s on Instagram: @claremudra
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