When my mother dropped me off for my freshman year of college, I was in a very serious relationship, hungry to experience the world with one person forever. However, almost two years later at age 19, I arrived back home in Los Angeles with my first-ever hickey, attempting to navigate singledom for the first time in years. I not only felt like I had to relearn what dating felt like, but also how to be just simply alone. That's how I wound up trading Tinder accounts with my mom.
Of all people, I knew my mother would understand how I felt. She had changed tremendously after her divorce, but my mother had never seemed to struggle. She moved in and out of relationships with ease. She had been in a few different flings since my father, and although they never seemed to stick, she never struggled with finding people to connect with. Even when relationships went wrong, she was able to deal with the remnants of past partners with confidence and ease.
For me on the other hand, relationships had always felt messier. I had intensely fallen for my high school sweetheart. I had convinced myself that I would never love someone in the same way ever again. (Spoiler alert: Four years later, I'm currently in a more loving and intense relationship, and it's not with anyone I met in high school.)
Now, fast forward to my first dinner at home with my mother when I was 19. Within minutes she began talking about her love life effortlessly. She had most recently gone on a few disastrous dates, and it struck me how she could almost brag about the stories. She didn't even take the more painful moments — like when a man told her to wear more makeup and to quit her job because "romance is all women are worth" — personally. Instead, she laughed about those anecdotes.
“It was JUST a bad date,” she told me over red wine. “It’s not a reflection of my worth!” she finished. Romance seemed to test me, while my mother seemed to have mastered the art of it all. Whether she was navigating an awkward first date or figuring out what to text back the day after a first kiss, it all appeared to come naturally to her.
“You should be on Tinder, Mom.” I joked, then strategically tried to change the topic to my grades. She had dated more people since my father than I had had in my entire life, and her ability to articulate her dynamic with each of these men always impressed me.
“Tinder is only for people in college, right?” she earnestly asked.
“No, but I use it all the time!” I lied. Well, I had recently downloaded the app, but I hadn’t had the time to use it yet.
I then proceeded to grab my phone and act as if I knew what I was doing. I wanted to appear confident, like her. After all, I was supposed to be the young one in college, having the time of my life.
“Yeah, definitely. You just download it and swipe away!” I could tell she hadn’t noticed my hickey yet. I had tried to cover it up with my hair to avoid any conversations about my own love life. If she saw it, she'd drag me all weekend.
I grabbed her phone and crafted her a perfect bio. I first picked a picture of her on the beach, highlighted her love for yoga and reading in her bio, and added a trendy filter to her profile picture.
“I can swipe for you too!” she assured me, grabbing my rose gold iPhone from across the room. What sort of person did my mother imagine me with? I realized I had no idea.
I looked down at her phone screen and started browsing my mother’s options. I knew she had previously used dating sites to meet men, but never apps. I remembered watching her click through men on the internet when I was younger, and always admired how quickly she could sort through what she called “potential fishes in [her] sea.” Within seconds of seeing a profile on her computer screen she was able to decide if they would be a good fit or not. As a young child, I marveled at how instantaneous she was with these types of decisions. It appeared intuitive to her. Now as a young adult, I tried to emulate this seemingly sure understanding of romance with her Tinder.
First, I swiped right on a doctor. Then, on an self-proclaimed "chill" author from the hip neighborhood of Silver Lake. I laughed, but he did seem calm from the look of his pictures all taken exclusively at the beach. I then stumbled upon Albert, a retired history teacher who “loved reading, traveling, and adventures.” My mother hadn’t been on a vacation in a while, Albert might actually be good match for her. I felt confident about my decisions as I swiped right for her.
“So, what sort of romance do you see for me?” she asked me earnestly. I had no immediate answer to this question, but it seemed like something I should know as I clicked, zoomed, and contemplated different matches for her.
I looked for words, “Well, I guess I just want someone who respects you, while making you feel seen and heard. Of course, no one likes bad dates… But maybe going on some of these dates will be helpful in helping you figure out what type of person makes you feel the most seen.” I paused, I had never thought about it so simply for myself.
Personally, I had spent so much time and energy in college trying to search and meet and mingle with varying types of people. But why had I never put words to what I was looking for in a partner myself? In that moment, I realized she wasn’t really any different from me. We were both looking for similar connections amongst the sea of apps, parties, dates, and texts.
“This is so much fun, Willa. Any matches for me?” Her voice interrupted my train of thoughts. I checked to see who had responded, then handed her back her phone. She seemed to be satisfied enough with that answer, looking optimistically at her three new Tinder matches. Apparently, she had gotten a few matches on my phone, too. I was excited to see who they were.
“So, Mom, what is your schedule like while I’m home? Besides going out with these three men that I just matched you with on Tinder!” I stated.
She giggled, “Wow, that was fast. Is that how dating works these days?”
I laughed. “Yes! Seems simple, right?” I sounded like some ad, but suddenly, I was beginning to believe in the ease of finding love on an app, too.
A week later, I arrived back in my dorm room and my mother texted me to let me know she had finally gone on her first Tinder date.
“How was it?” I immediately texted back.
When she responded with, “Great,” I wasn’t surprised at all.
My mother texted again, “You’re a genius, Willa. Thank you SO much.”
I definitely wasn’t a genius by any means, but I knew now my mother wasn’t necessarily any better or worse at dating than I was. Perhaps the small talk came easier, and her texts were a bit funnier, but at the end of the day we were both just trying to find someone who made us feel seen and heard.
So I texted back, “I’m so glad! You deserve nothing less.”
I opened up Tinder for myself and started swiping. Suddenly, I felt more optimistic about being single myself.