Birdboy: A Tinder Love Story for the Teenage Millennial
It started with a sent message. Two words, onomatopoetic outbursts followed by a sarcastic remark. “Caw caw. I too am a bird.” Not my brightest moment, but it was pretty damn funny.
No, that’s not it; it started with a swipe right. Teen relationships are so complex now—especially when you have to explain to your friends that you met on Tinder, of all places. Maybe it started with a stifled giggle in a hospital room, because when you realize you may be falling in love, well, that’s another story.
It’s late at night, and I am very bored. I mean really, really late. We’re talking pre-dawn, California cul-de-sac silence, about-to-have-another-existential crisis time of night. Thinking I could have a laugh, I download Tinder.
Is it a crime to get Tinder for the sole purpose of making fun of others? Putting fuckbois in their place, that would be sinning against sinners—could you call that an act of justice? That I’ll leave up to you.
The conversations were comedy gold. My vigilantism paid off—my sarcasm was drier than the Sahara desert (yet another facet to the “hottie” title many-a-matches had gifted me,) my wit, switchblade sharp, and my puns? They were lit. Pun intended.
“Hey gorgeous, what are you doing?” a Tinder user asked me.
“Oh nothing much, just got back from my fight club,” I responded. “OH SHIT. Did I say fight club? Would you believe me if I said flight club? It’s like fight club except nothing like it. We roll around in Elmer’s and feathers then proceed to frolic like the true bird spirits we are.”
Thoroughly disappointed with the lack of witty response, I moved on. Swiping right, swiping left, here we go—that’s when I met him.
“I am a heron. I have a long neck and I pick fish out of the water with my beak. If you don’t swipe right and message me, I will fly into your kitchen tonight and make a mess of your pots and pans,” I read in his bio. This was it. This would be the ultimate Tinder banter.
I kicked the conversation off strong, pulling the same joke again, among others. But this time, I wasn’t the only one laughing. I had met my match, my bird of a feather.
Here’s the part where one detail changes everything: I am seventeen. I am petite and can barely lift my backpack stuffed with Simone de Beauvoir and poetry anthologies let alone hold her own in a fight. I’m the type of girl who attracts older men on the street. I’m the type of girl you give “stranger danger” talks to. I’m the type of girl who ignores warnings.
Ignoring warnings, I decided to meet him in person. And the funny thing is—funnier than my bird puns, which were more than emu-sing—we had a good time. He’s not a sketchy person who lingers in the shadows; he likes the sun. He likes my quirky sense of humor, especially how I told everyone on Tinder I’m from the ninth circle of hell.
I’m not from the ninth circle of hell, in case you were wondering. I’m from Los Altos, California, and he, from Boise, Idaho, which I didn’t even know was in Idaho. What can I say? I’m a Bay Area girl who never had to learn the 50 states song. I like my air crisp, don’t mind capricious weather and am helpless without Wi-Fi. He’s a Midwestern boy with a Midwestern work ethic, strong hands and dislikes plans. I didn’t expect it to go this way.
We hit it off. We talked life (present, past and future,) love, reality, Breaking Bad, etc. etc. And on the drive home from our first date, the negative space in front of my lips longed deeply for his to fill the emptiness again.
Another one detail that will change everything: I have struggled with mental illness for too many of my seventeen years. In the past four years I have garnered the diagnosis of four mental disorders– Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Type-II, ADHD and Bulimia.
After our date, I was giddy. It was my first kiss, first really good date and I was happy. I was feeling remarkably better, but not just because of him — I was a week clean of purging, months without suicidal ideations, years without an attempt. I was happy. But I still wasn’t fully healthy.
Less than a month after our date, I was put under mandatory hospitalization at a local clinic for youth with eating disorders. I couldn’t stand the place. For somewhere built with the intention of healing you, a place has never made me feel so hopeless.
The first night, I called him, definitively feeling needy for having done so, but he made it okay. He made me laugh.
“Can you just be here and hold me? I hate this hospital bed,” I said.
“I wish, babe,” he sighed.
Courageously kind and fearlessly forgiving, he listened to it all. That’s all I can ask for, having struggled with this. Yes, I have tried to have others fix me and I have tried to fix myself by fixing others. It just doesn’t work. You don’t just “fix” someone else, anyways.
Everyday, I would tell him silly stories: like how I got kicked out of Pictionary for getting too competitive, how I replaced a snack for chocolate Ensure because I missed the taste of chocolate, just stupid things. Stupid, sad things.
And never once did he think I was stupid or sad, for feeling like this or being sick. It was beautiful. One of my favorite memories I have today is of him holding me, gripping me tighter as he says, “It’s not that I wish you didn’t have your struggles—they’re a part of who you are—I just wish you didn’t have to go through all of this.” Obviously, I swooned.
I can feel the collective groan of some readers. They roll their eyes and say, “Oh god. Not another teenage sick love story. They’re too young to know any of this; she’s too naïve to be writing this.” And you’re right. We’re not in love. And we shouldn’t be.
Another fact: we are high school seniors. This relationship has an expiration date of August, the month before we both leave for college. That’s the thing about teenage relationships—they’re so prescient. These connections feel like the beginning of a forever, but they rarely are.
The New York Times “Modern Love” published a column in the fall of August 2015, “A Millennial’s Guide to Kissing.” Court comments on the separation of the physical and emotional in millennial relationships. “My generation treats every liaison as if it is happening on an airplane, as if we have only that one night and there is no tomorrow,” Court writes.
Being born in 1998, I exist on the cusp of the millennial generation and whatever-we’re-naming-the-next. Also, having the firmly rooted belief that everything exists on a spectrum and disapproving of the many negative stereotypes that come with the word “millennial,” I’m not a huge fan of identifying with either generation.
The phenomenon Court describes isn’t untrue for me, though. I do treat most things, especially relationships, with a temporality. For me, it’s not a matter of want—it’s a matter of need. I am constantly rushing from one step of my life to the next. As much as I have loved falling, I’m terrified of this gravity. I am scared of the ending hurt that will come if I grow too close. It’s not just a matter of fear of intimacy, though—rapidity is a necessity in the fast-paced life those my age are required to live.
But here we are, at the beginning of an end. He and I eagerly await the next kiss and we stand, hand in hand, bracing for the whirlwind of life. And when we part ways, swept up in the excitement and chaos of our futures, it will all start again.