It takes a second for this to sink in. I matched with Reid? Well, Catherine matched with Reid, but since her profile is more genuinely me than Millie’s was . . .
I debate just ignoring the notification, but come on, this is actually pretty funny. According to the match notification, Reid and I are 98 percent compatible. He will love this.
Decision made, I click ALLOW and type up a short message before I can change my mind. I guess the guys will find out about Catherine after all. Reid gets me like nobody else. A Monopoly joke? I mean, come on. It’s so obvious.
I wake to the standard barrage of late-night texts from Ed and Alex—this time, it’s a debate about best underrated comic run in the past couple decades. Ed is fiercely arguing in favor of Hawkeye, Squirrel Girl, and Fence. Alex is just as vehement that Thompson’s Hawkeye is just as good as the Fraction run, and that Ed is being a sexist pig. Millie tells them both to shut the fuck up around one in the morning, and then the thread devolves into a string of increasingly filthy gifs ending with a video of a man dressed as a horse having sex with a woman. My friends, everyone.
Without studying any of the clips too carefully, I reply, I’m so glad I passed out at eleven last night.
It’s early—my alarm hasn’t even gone off yet—and outside the sky is a hazy purple-blue. I’m on the very edge of falling back to sleep when I remember that I matched with another woman on IRL yesterday, and curiosity over whether I’ve got any new messages is a weird, anticipatory thrill that feels like a streak of caffeine into my bloodstream.
In fact, I have two new contacts. Two women, Catherine M., and Daisy D., have offered me access to their profiles.
There’s a weird, low clench in my stomach at the sight of Daisy’s photo: she’s twenty-three, blond, and absolutely stunning. I can tell her profile photo was taken on the craggy rocks at the edge of Ledbetter Beach. Her extended profile tells me that she’s a graduate student in education, originally from Texas. The algorithm connects us as an 82 percent match, but I’m willing to put the remaining 18 percent of incompatibility aside for the sake of what I’m seeing in her profile photo.
Her message is simple: Hi Reid! Your profile seems really nice. This is my first time doing this, so I’m not sure how it works, but I’d love to talk to you some more.
Catherine is a professor as well—and although she doesn’t specify which school, I don’t know anyone with that name in the UCSB bio departments, so this doesn’t set off any alarm bells.
Hi Reid, her message begins. Apparently, we’re a 98% match (With odds like that we should take our wallets to Vegas or play Monopoly, I’m good with either).
This brief, easy introduction makes me laugh—and there’s something so genuinely easygoing about it that feels immediately appealing. But it’s hard to get an instinctive, physical response to her: her profile picture is only of her shoulder and neck; her head is turned away, allowing just a glimpse of her jaw. Since it’s a black-and-white photo, I can’t even tell what color her hair is.
Alex’s voice rings in response: Only ugly chicks go for the “artful” profile pics.
I swear he’s ruining us all one by one.
I’m in the lab all morning with Ed watching a demo of a new imaging system, but he’s clearly been holding out on me: as soon as we get to lunch, he pulls out his phone and shows Millie the photo of a woman he matched with last night. I watch him for a lingering beat, aware again that he seems genuinely invested in all of this.
Based on Mill’s reaction, the woman is either beautiful or hideous—her surprise really could mean either.
Alex sits down on the other side of Millie and leans over to look. “You matched with her?”
Ed gives a long enough pause that anyone but Alex might rethink his choice of word emphasis. “Yes.”
“And you posted a picture of yourself?” Alex is immediately pelted with Ed’s balled-up napkin.
Millie hands the phone back to Ed. “She looks nice.”
“ ‘Nice’?” Alex unwraps his sandwich. “She looks like she’d go down and eat a motherfucking salad, if you know what I’m saying.”
“What am I even walking up to here?” Chris sits down and carefully slides his Cobb salad onto the table in front of him.
“Alex is being a goblin,” Millie explains. “By the way, you all should know that I received a message last night from a man I thought I’d matched nicely with.” She grins. “He gave me explicit instructions on how to milk his balls.”
“Milk his balls?” I ask for clarification.
Alex opens his mouth to answer, but before he can, Chris gives a quiet “Dude. No.”
Moving on without hesitation, Alex says, “This dating app sucks. No one has given me access to their profiles yet.”
“Because you come across like Animal from The Muppets,” I tell him.
Millie protests, “Hey! I wrote that profile. And it’s all true, to be fair.”
“It is true,” Alex says. “My greatness may not come across on-screen, but is impossible to ignore in person.”
“And that ego,” Chris says.
Alex grins up at him.
I poke at my pasta. “I matched last night.”
“Oh really?” Millie drawls.
I look up at her sly grin. “You don’t believe me.”
At this, she laughs. “Oh, I believe you.”
“There were two,” I say and, oddly, her smarmy smile tilts down at the edges. “A woman named Daisy, and one named Catherine.”
I pull out my phone and open the app, handing it over to Chris when Daisy’s photo appears. He gives a low whistle. “Shit, man.”
Alex takes the phone from him and reacts the same way.
“So Catherine is hot?” Millie asks, reaching for it after Ed takes a glance.
I shake my head. “I can’t tell from her picture. That’s Daisy, and holy shit, she—”
“What do you mean you can’t tell from her picture?”
I take my phone back from Millie and look up at her. Her eyes are doing the weird intense, unblinking thing she does when she’s trying to work out a mystery or eat a hotter pepper than Chris without tearing up.
“Catherine’s picture is, like, of her neck or something,” I say, waving it off. “I can’t see her face.”
Alex performs as predicted: “So, she’s ugly.”
“Alex, come on,” Millie protests.
“Well, who knows,” I say. “But for sure I’ll reply to Daisy and—”
Millie cuts in. “Maybe for Catherine it’s about what’s behind the curtain rather than the curtain, you know?”
“If she was hot,” Alex reasons, “she’d show her curtain.”
Ed balls up his burrito wrapper and tosses it onto his tray. “Maybe she’s pretty but, for her, finding someone compatible isn’t all about looks?”
Millie sits up, pointing at him with a mixture of enthusiasm and aggression. “What Ed said. That. Why is it always about looks?”
“What do you care?” Alex asks. “You’re hot.”
“My point is that Catherine doesn’t care,” she argues. “And thank you, Alex, for being smart.”
Chris speaks around a bite of salad. “I mean, let’s be real. Reid is the Zac Efron boy next door. He isn’t gonna go for someone ugly.”
This makes me laugh. “If any one of us is a boy next door, it’s you, Chris.”
“Man, come on. You think America is talking about a black dude when they say that?” He swallows, and points at Millie with a fork. “To a large degree, looks are gonna matter. If you choose not to show a face, there’s a reason, right?”
Millie scoffs. “Like being private? I have about ten requests for my cup size on here. I can understand why a woman wouldn’t want to share her face right off the bat.”
“I mean, that’s not a bad point . . .” I look to Alex, hoping for once he keeps his mouth shut, and when it seems like he will, I turn back to Millie. “Will you help me reply to her, Mills?”