I am sitting on the bottom stair in February of 2016, glancing at the nearby door to my house, waiting to hear the knock. This is not only my first Tinder date, but my first date in my life.

I hear a faint stirring, then steps, and I know she is here. It’s midnight, because that’s the only time we could meet up. We have messaged back and forth for a couple days, first on Tinder, then on Facebook Messenger. Our conversations flow naturally, at least online. We have a lot in common — she’s into the same indie shit that I am. She has the aggressive sarcasm that I am attracted to, and the aggressive forwardness that I feel I need, especially for a potential first girlfriend.

I take a deep breath, heart hammering, and open the door. We go up to my room, sit on the bed, and talk.

At first she is surprisingly shy compared to the bluntness of her messages, but we quickly become more comfortable together and she begins to resemble the girl that I already feel like I know. Somehow, her rambling, punctuation-less text speak is reflected in her quirky way of speaking, with her loose form of sentence structure. Her sarcasm and irony are immediately present, though in pleasantly lower doses than online — you can easily obscure your feelings with text, hiding your smiles and your laughs and your shock, but now I see her laugh freely and I feel relieved that the irony only goes so far.

She tells me random anecdotes from her past, most very funny but with weird, dark undercurrents that somehow make them funnier. I tell her boring things about myself, such as how I won the spelling bee in eighth grade or what classes I’m taking. At one point, she says that I’m sharing a lot, but not sharing my “soul” like she is. I know what she means, but I’m not sure what to do differently. No deeply revealing stories have immediately leaped to mind.

She is very forward, just like online, saying something lame and then asking, “Did you like that pick-up line?,” even making startlingly early jokes about what our children will be like. She scoots closer to me and touches my knee and rubs my arm and nestles her head in the crook of my neck and gives me a back massage and then stares down at me from above, unable to stop laughing, as she sits on my stomach and my legs prop up her back. We sit together in silence or lie together whispering or laugh uncontrollably for reasons we can’t remember, and I think about how unusually intimate this is and how this is something I’ve never experienced before, at least in this context. This came from Tinder?

In addition to this dreamlike intimacy, I have two dominant emotions: 1. Incredulity that someone actually dressed up and put on makeup and tried to look good for me, and 2. thankfulness that this girl is forward enough to freely admit her intentions and her feelings, because I am absolutely terrible at discerning someone’s feelings for me. This is what I’ve always perceived as the main reason I’ve never had a girlfriend.

And then she asks, “Are you maybe ever going to kiss me?” And it’s not in the blunt, funny, here-goes-nothing “kiss me you dummy!” way; it’s in the nervous, unsure, confused way. She is confused because in all the moments where we stared each other in the eyes or laughed inches away from each other, I did not kiss her. And I do not know why.

Minutes pass, and I am trying to think of some way to kiss her, but I feel paralyzed. I have kissed two girls before in my life. The first kissed me in high school because I had made my feelings clear and the ball was in her court. The second kissed me outside a frat house bathroom because I hadn’t been actively pursuing her but I guess she wanted to. And now there is this girl and I have never considered myself a shitty kisser and this girl is throwing herself at me and making it clear what she wants and I fucking can’t.

I am frozen for minutes and she probably feels my heartbeat, hard and fast. Then I blurt out, “Can I ask you to do something weird?”

“Um,” she says, and I quickly say, “I mean, not really weird. Not super weird or anything. Just kind of weird.”

“OK, try me,” she says.

“Can you … kiss me?” I ask.

Well, there’s my soul.

She takes a deep breath and I tell her I know it’s stupid or weird and I’m sorry and I don’t know why, and she scowls and says “no,” like I’m wrong to feel weird about it. I hope I am, but I’m not sure.

She kisses me. We kiss. I think it’s fine but I really don’t know because a few minutes after it’s over, she leaves. OK, it’s 5:00 in the morning, so that’s fine, but it still feels a little abrupt. And when she gets home she messages me “sweet dreams,” so it wasn’t weird enough for her to ice me out completely. But a few days pass and we don’t talk much and I ask if she wants to hang out again and she agrees but it just doesn’t happen. And every time I think about any embarrassing aspect of that night — the question I asked her, the kiss itself, the moments afterward with her staring at the ceiling, the way she stepped out the door without really smiling as she said goodbye — I feel fucking humiliated and I shut my eyes and press my palms into my eyelids so hard I see color.

I am not sure what happened. Maybe I am a truly awful kisser or I did something weird while it was happening. Maybe my self-consciousness was a massive turn-off. I’m not sure what in particular screwed things up, because everything was going so well before, and even if things did get a little weird, was that really enough to undo the emotional intimacy we achieved before? Or maybe that wasn’t real emotional intimacy; maybe it was just one touchy girl and a lot more physical attention than I was ever used to.

But what I do know is that my persona as a writer is inextricably linked to every other aspect of my personality and life, including dating. Every person I meet, I wonder what exactly they think about me, not just general feelings of like/dislike but extremely specific details. I strive to remember and write down everything that happens to me. I wonder about old friends, I speculate about future friends, sometimes I think about every single person I know and wonder what everyone is individually doing at this very moment and what they did yesterday and years ago and what they’ll do years from now and I become overwhelmed and want to pass out so my head isn’t filled with so many unanswerable questions.

In sitcoms, the characters go on dates with new people every episode, and every new guest star is a caricature — “the one who’s obsessed with model trains” or “the one who’s attractive but dumb.” At the end of each episode, the guest star leaves and Monica Geller or Jessica Day or Ted Mosby moves on. But I can’t move on like that.

This is part of why I don’t date regularly. As much as I might yearn to flirt at parties and sleep around, I am not someone who can, because I am seriously self-conscious, and I don’t have the ability to forget anyone or flatten them into a two-dimensional guest star in my life. As a writer who strives to be a good person, my stubborn penchant for imagining the vast complexity of everyone’s lives is helpful. But as a 20-year-old who sometimes wants almost desperately to be in a loving long-term relationship, it’s shitty. It’s very frequently my absolute favorite quality about myself, but in times like these, it’s my least favorite.

So there I was sitting with a girl who really liked me and I couldn’t make a move because I was obsessively worrying about what would happen and what she would think and what could go wrong and what she could tell her friends about me. I was paralyzed everywhere, wanting and feeling but physically unable to do what I needed to do.

What I try to remind myself now is that this is still a transitional period. As I meet new people and date more, I’ll learn to get out of my own head. I will learn to care more about what I want than what other people want, to be selfish but in a healthy way. I’ll learn to forget the people who deserve to be forgotten for their ultimate insignificance to my life. And one day, I will be in a relationship that doesn’t require so much constant scrutiny and self-consciousness.

But on the worst days, I am worried that it will never happen, and that it will be because of me. It will be because of my insistence on thinking of people as individuals with a dizzying, incomprehensible array of hopes, dreams, fears and particular reasons they feel the way they do about me. 

Maybe it’s a cliché to be afraid of being alone. But it hurts the most when you believe it’s your fault.

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