“I mean, maybe that means it’s good?” Reid tries to be optimistic. “At one point you and Dustin—oh. God. This next guy has his penis as his profile picture. His actual penis. I mean, I hope it’s his.”
“Reid, you are too pure for this world.” I take back my phone and go through the rest. One message simply says Hey. One assures me his dick is huge; one wants a full-body photo before he’ll request access to my profile; and two want to know how much I weigh.
“This is it?” I wave my phone. “You got a French-speaking scuba diver and I got this? These are the kind of guys I matched with?”
There’s a quick knock at the door before Ed is pushing it open.
“Here’s the most recent FACS data,” he says, and drops a few pages with scatterplots on Reid’s desk. There are three strips of duct tape holding Ed’s lab coat together, but I don’t even bother to ask.
He considers the way I’m slumped in the chair, arms folded across my chest, and takes a bite of an apple he’s pulled out of his lab coat pocket. I’m not even a scientist and I know that’s disgusting.
“Hey there, sunshine.”
I let out a growl.
He nods in Reid’s direction. “Loverboy showing you his matches?”
I swing my eyes over to Reid. “He did.”
Another noisy bite of apple, and Ed pulls out the chair next to me. “What about you?” He points to my phone.
“She has twelve,” Reid answers for me.
Ed’s eyes brighten. “Oh yeah? Any good?”
I open my mouth and then close it again. There’s no great way to answer that.
“She got a bunch of weirdos,” Reid explains for me.
Ed takes my phone and begins to scroll. “Maybe if you didn’t mention you were into serial killers.”
I should probably be concerned that he enters my passcode without prompting, but defending myself takes priority here. “First of all, I didn’t mention anything about my job. Second of all, I’m not into serial killers.”
“Yeah, but you said you’re drawn to the eccentric, the eerie, and mayhem. Mayhem? Really? You used an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, Mills. Of course you got weirdos.”
“What, I’m so boring that I need to lie?”
“You wrote a three-hundred page dissertation on the ‘Jolly Jane’ Toppan murders and can’t write a single interesting paragraph about yourself. Be more creative. You’re not boring, your profile is. A friend should have told you,” he says, pointedly in Reid’s direction.
I glance between them before deciding I really don’t care. “Thanks for the clarification.”
Reid stands and walks around the desk, leaning back against the edge of it. He’s wearing the pants I like, flat front and tapered. I’ve actually seen students check out his ass in these pants as he walks down the hall. Going on record that the front isn’t too bad, either . . .
I probably shouldn’t be thinking about this right now.
“You know I love you,” he starts gently. I lift a single brow. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but Ed has a point. Your profile said nothing about you.”
“It said I like the beach.”
Ed helps himself to my coffee. “Who doesn’t like the beach?”
With a gentle finger under my chin, Reid turns my attention toward him. “Be honest, Mills. Do you think your profile was interesting? You wrote us these great, unique bios that said a lot with just a handful of words. I mean, you made Ed seem charming and interesting. You did that!”
Ed nods vigorously, if mockingly.
“But yours was just, I don’t know . . . meh.”
Back in my own office, I stare at the new profile on the screen.
Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead. ~ Charles Bukowski.
You know that friend who’s always planning something, and gets a little too enthusiastic? That would probably be me. I love birthday parties because there’s cake, any excuse to wear a costume, and movies that I can’t guess the end to. I’m looking for someone who lives to laugh, who wants the wild, chaotic mess that comes with falling in love, and someone who could sit on the cliffs at Hendry’s Beach and listen to the crashing surf until the sun has slipped into the ocean.
Call me a quitter, but rather than wade through the penis-dense marsh that is my old profile, I decide to start a new one.
I even give myself a new name: Catherine M. I would worry that I’m engaging in some sort of catfishing, but one, aside from the name—which is actually my middle name, and last initial—there are no lies in my bio; two, my photo is from the side and a little artsier than your typical profile pic, but it’s definitely me; and three, I don’t have any nefarious intentions. To double down on this, I make a solemn promise to the universe that if any rich, elderly gentlemen should happen to fall in love with me, I just won’t respond. Easy.
It’s a study of human behavior, I think, scrolling through the rest of my information. Market research, but for dating—and no different than restaurants using red or yellow color schemes to create the perfect setting that would entice a person to stop and eat. In this case I’ve put out a few stimuli meant to elicit a response. I’m still me—just secret me. I give my state rather than my city. I say late twenties rather than twenty-nine. I say academics rather than criminology. I may not be precise in this new profile, but I’m authentic.
This is good. This feels safe.
Without overthinking, I click SUBMIT and head for class.
My Research Methods in Criminology course meets at the end of the day, and by four o’clock the students are a squirrely bunch. It can be a fascinating course, focusing on crime mapping and analysis, but it can also be tedious. Aside from a looming research project, never-ending lectures, and countless stats and procedures to memorize, the students themselves can be their own worst enemy.
Like most faculty members these days, I’m in constant competition with cell phones and laptops and all forms of social media for the attention of my class. Reid has explained that the ability to stay focused depends entirely on two neural processes: directing our attention to goal-related activities, and blocking out irrelevant distractions. Which I think in the simplest of terms means The goal is to graduate, so turn off your damn Instagram. It should be easy enough—but apparently there are days where even I am not immune.
With just five minutes left of my last class of the day, I hear a buzzing from inside the lectern. Everyone is mostly working, quietly cleaning up lecture notes and jotting down project timelines from the PowerPoint still on the screen behind me. When the buzzing comes a second time, I pause.
I’ve been mildly on edge since loading my new profile a few hours ago, ignoring most of the group chat messages and avoiding the coffee kiosk and the guys altogether. I realize they were right and my Millie profile really did suck. But what if it isn’t just the profile—it’s actually me—and even with a more genuine version of myself out there, I still don’t get any good matches? Am I even going to tell them about Catherine—whom I’ve nicknamed Cat, and whom I absolutely plan to make much more emotionally healthy than Millie, and who easily discusses things like feelings and fears and long-term goals?
Surely I can do that much, even if it’s anonymous.
Thankfully no one lingers after class and I’m able to jog-walk back to my office and solitude. It takes a moment for the app to load, but when it does, a red bubble with a number six appears on the screen. Six matches, and a couple of the guys have already requested access to see my profile. Just like that, a mixture of adrenaline and dread trickles into my bloodstream. I check the first one: an aspiring writer from San Francisco.
Pass. Writers are crazy.
The next is a pediatrician who recently moved to Santa Barbara. His bio is funny, his photo is great, and there’s no wedding ring or wife accidentally snapped in the background. I press yes and share my profile with him.
But I never make it to the rest.
I’m not prepared for the next photo that fills the screen.
You have a new match. Would you like to show Reid C. your profile?