“I have a theory. Well, I have many theories, but chief among them is the belief that people come into our lives when we need them most. The important ones tend to, at least. And Rory* is the perfect example, I can already tell.” These are the words I jotted into my journal after my first date with my most recent ex — scribbled in messy blue ink and injected with hope — about 17 months before my coworker found my boyfriend on Hinge.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s rewind to the chilly April evening of that first date. Fairy lights and expectations hung above us at a cozy, Italian wine bar. I can still picture him sitting in his red knit sweater, the perfectly squiggled shape of his chin, the curl above his forehead. I remember the butterfly-inducing flash in his eyes when I mentioned Basquiat and ‘90s sitcoms and Atticus Finch; then there was that deliciously crisp English accent. Oof. I fell in love with Rory instantly, which makes the bit that follows so much more crushing.
On paper and on our first date, he was the dream. But Rory was also, unfortunately, a not-so-great boyfriend. He blew off my grad school graduation dinner for improv club (?!). He’d ignore my texts for days at a time and nudge me out of his apartment in the middle of the night because he “just slept better” when I wasn’t there. And while I was immediately smitten, he was visibly hesitant — no matter how many lemon drizzle cakes I baked, pizzas I sent, or weekends we spent watching Fleabag in his bed, he refused to put a label on our relationship. One day, about a year after our first date, he unceremoniously said, “I’ve been calling you my girlfriend for months now… It’s just easier to say than 'that person I’m seeing.’” That’s how I learned that he was, indeed, my boyfriend. What charm!
It was thoughtless and frustrating, but Rory had a number of personal tragedies strike over the course of our relationship, and — ever confident that I was an important person in his life — I believed I owed him grace and support. So I bit my tongue and turned the other cheek, over and over and over again. No matter how frustrated or hurt I felt, I’d swallow my pain, trace the squiggly shape of his chin, and slip back into a mushy little puddle — unable to imagine ever tracing the chin of another guy.
Rory, as it turns out, had a much more powerful imagination. Which brings us to last September.
Cut to the most hectic week and a Wednesday afternoon spent drowning in calls and emails. I work in communications at a tech company, and we had two massive events taking place, so I was up to my eyeballs in work. I was checking the last few boxes on my to-do list when I heard my coworker Allison gasp like a juror in a courtroom drama. She asked, “G, can we chat for a sec?”
I was sure I’d either messed up a project or one of the Kardashians was pregnant, so I ushered her over to my desk to discuss. Then she showed me her phone. She didn’t say anything, just flashed Rory’s smiling face on her screen — the same smile I’d taken a screenshot of and shared with a few dozen friends after our first date (“Doesn’t he look like Steve Harrington?! Do you think we’re married now?!”). It was his Hinge profile.
I didn’t know what to say — I just ran to our office bathroom, threw up, and started sobbing. I hunched over the sink and tried calling Rory, but he promptly declined. (“Can’t talk at work, what’s up?” he texted.) My colleagues knocked on the door and squeezed into the bathroom with me — petting my hair, wiping my tears, speaking kind words I could barely compute. I'm pretty sure I could physically feel my heart crumbling in that moment, could feel the dusty remains settling in my chest.
I’d responded to Rory’s text with a swift, “Why did my coworker just find you on Hinge?” and he jumped into denial mode. “What?” “It’s not me.” “I’m not active.” “I don’t know how she’s seeing that.” Had I never been a dating writer, these excuses might have flown, but I know how these apps work. I understand that inactive profiles don’t show up a year and a half later.
Once I’d shut down that argument, he pivoted and claimed he'd re-downloaded Hinge when "we were on a break" over the summer — which, in the words of Rachel Green, was Not! A! Break! (It was a three-day stretch during which I said I needed some space, but that is neither here nor there.)
I'd later do the math and learn that the timeline didn't match up: Once a person deletes their Hinge profile, they’ll no longer show up as a potential match. (I confirmed this with a rep for the dating app.) Our fight/break/whatever it was had taken place six weeks prior — even if Rory had just downloaded the app for a few days in July, there was no way his profile would still be making the rounds in mid-September. He’d been metaphorically window shopping for months: accepting the pizzas I sent, ignoring my texts, and shamelessly chatting with strangers online.
But I didn't know this yet, slumped on the floor of my office bathroom. All I knew was that I was incapable of having this argument over text and I needed to cry and clear my head, which is essentially what I told Rory before I stopped responding. He sent message after message — "F*ck, I feel sick," "I hate to have made you feel this," "I messed up and I'm sorry," "I didn't do anything, I just had it those three days" — until I called him around 10 p.m. that night, calmly explained that this breach of trust crossed a line I didn’t know how to come back from, and said I was done. I wished him nothing but good, happy things, but this was over. We were over.
About a week later, once I'd sorted out the timeline, I sent one more message and called out the lie that he'd just been on the app "those three days." He came clean, said, “I hate that you’re dwelling on this,” and left it at that.
While writing this essay, I reached out to Hinge to inquire about their policies for removing users who might be cheating. "We remove anyone reported to be using the app for other reasons than to delete it or find a relationship," a rep told me. "That includes users already in monogamous relationships." But neither I nor my coworker had reported Rory. I didn’t even know how to process this, let alone report it.
His actions didn’t make any sense; none of this made sense. I’d been kind, I’d been caring, I’d been patient and compassionate. How was that not enough? I’d given this boy my heart on a platter, and he was still browsing the menu for a better dish. I was devastated.
The reality, I’ve learned (shout-out to my therapist!), is that I was never the one who wasn’t enough. I was booking massages, baking cakes, and buying theater tickets for a boy who couldn’t take the time to respond to my text messages — stretching myself gossamer thin to patch up voids only he could fill. It was a losing game, and in playing it, I lost a lot of myself.
Maybe the dating app overlords knew this? Maybe they lit a match and tossed it into my gasoline-filled relationship to set me free. And though the weeks and months that followed were far from easy, I am very grateful for this explosion, in the grand scheme. This experience taught me to value myself and pour energy into the people and things that feed my soul, not those who suck my time and energy like a leech (albeit a handsome one).
Admittedly, I’ve not had an easy go of this breakup. Four months later, I’m still healing, still piecing the broken parts of myself back together, still struggling to remember that I am, indeed, deserving of love and care. But from here on out, I’m done giving so much of myself to toxic relationships and text-ignoring, fight-picking individuals. They’re the ones who aren’t enough — in compassion, in kindness, and in thought — not me.
*Name has been changed.