Jan had been on dating sites for a LONG time. Way too long. She was one of those people who could relate immediately when she saw a profile earnestly seeking that LAST FIRST DATE. The first date was the worst: the nerves, the primping, the managing of expectations soon to be dashed — since for about 95 percent of the time, her worst expectations panned out.
These first dates were at least 2-3 inches shorter than they professed to be. Which was a real problem when they said they were 5’7” (which she was without heels) and ended up being a midget. She wouldn’t mind dwarves at this point — perhaps a studly one, like the randy prince on “Game of Thrones.”
Her latest, and she hoped last, site, was Bumble, which claimed to be the first feminist dating platform. Women were the only ones who could make the first move, which would be optimal if there was anyone decent with whom to make the first move. Jan had developed a giant bunion-like callous on the side of her thumb from so many swipes to the left. Left, left, left, right, left. When she finally saw a profile she liked she had built up so much leftward momentum that she forgot and her potential mate was swept away. Oops!
But one day in May it all changed, with the Alchemist and the Barrister. AKA the A&B, Princeton’s famous old haunt was the perfect place to meet online dates. There were sufficient escape routes to make a hasty exit if needed, plus casual pub fare, sports TV if one was terribly bored after five minutes of “how long have you been divorced how do you like online dating so far blah blah blah,” and some nicer dining spots down Witherspoon Street if by some miracle there was interest on both parts in dinner after an IPA.
When Jan saw the profile of a Bumble dude who frequented the A&B, and he boasted a graduate degree from Princeton, she felt the tiniest bit of hope. Swipe right.
Suddenly there was a POW screen — WHAM BAM THANK YOU M’AAM! He had swiped right on her too! A fellow connection was such a rare occasion that she felt a jolt when it happened.
Jan immediately had second thoughts, skeptically scrolling through his photos: adult children wearing sufficient clothing, pictures of travel in exotic locations with friends; solo shots in a businesslike office (employed!) and no iPhone selfies in the bathroom or nudies on the beach.
She scrolled back up to read his profile — a rarity since as photos typically told her all she needed to know. Swipe left for: tats, Harleys, beer bottles, pit bulls, guitars at the Stone Pony, Texas Hold Em at Parx, and the worst — catching the big bottom feeder. Non merci.
But this guy purported to read the New Yorker and listened to XPN! A liberal! Did not hate dogs or love cats, did not smoke but also no “I hate 420” — which she had to Google to figure out.
Jan decided to message him.
“U sound great. Small World 8:30am? Or A&B 5:30?”
Mr. Perfect bumbled back. “A&B 5:30 great. C u then.”
Jan scrolled back up to refresh her memory for his name, rank, serial number.
Brad, 57, 5’10”, graduate degree, exercises, Princeton MBA, Grover’s Mill, NJ.
She Googled Grover’s Mill. It was between Princeton Junction and Plainsboro? So close! She imagined a bucolic cottage with an English garden, where they would have wine and cheese on the patio. But she didn’t recall any other address that specified a neighborhood with a Bumble GPS, except when on a university campus or in an airport. Lots of pilots getting laid on layovers at Newark from what she saw online.
Princeton MBA. Hmmm. Everyone knew that Princeton didn’t have a) an MBA school b) a law school c) and/or a medical school. So was Mr. Perfect a big fat liar?
She decided to text him a breezy follow-up.
“Hey Brad, look forward to meeting u. Where r u coming from in case of traffic?”
She then felt like sheepish Nosy Jan, trying to figure out if he was a pharma geek, like her Plenty of Fish date who wore protective glasses in his photo (which she thought was taken in his lab) but it turned out he also wore them on dates.
What did it matter? If Brad was good in the sack and paid his bills and hadn’t served time, he was a catch in her book.
Brad soon replied: “Teaching PU MBA/Law til 5, then head into town. C U!
MBA Law? At Princeton? She gulped. Maybe he was referring to the Law and Public Affairs fellows and ex MBAs who had opted for a quant finance degree.
Brad was full of shit. At least she hadn’t rushed to get a last minute wax.
Jan called her friend Karen to kvetch and figure out next steps. Plan A — Should she catch him in his lie? Plan B — leave him high and dry at the A&B? And was there a Plan C?
“Maybe he really does have law and MBA students? Maybe it’s an exchange or executive education experience? I think you’re being paranoid,” Karen weighed in.
Jan considered this criticism. She had plenty of reasons to be paranoid. Her online dating radar had been right in the past, but she’d ignored the signs. Mr. Narcissist. Dr. Narcissist. Narcissist Esquire. She seemed to attract the same type of guy. Perhaps New Yorker readers shared a common personality disorder.
So she left it alone, but had this nagging feeling all day before her date. Then right after lunch she got an eerie text from her friend Marina, a fellow single woman in Princeton.
“OMG just had weird interaction w the cute Bumble guy I told you about. U free to talk?”
To talk? No one ever spoke on the phone unless they had carpal tunnel syndrome or were over 70.
Marina called immediately.
“Can you meet? I’m afraid to use my phone. Little Small World on Nassau in 20?”
“OK see you there!” Jan shouted and hung up quickly, now also afraid to use her phone.
She left her building and scurried down Nassau Street, crossed at the crosswalk (Princeton Police loved to ticket pedestrians), and perched on one of the benches in front of the storefront row, catching her breath. Marina rounded the corner off Pine and sprinted her way.
“Jan, I’m freaking out. I think I’ve been hacked by the Bumble guy.”
“He was the cutest guy, from Plainsboro of all places. All the cute guys are in NY or Philly or Colorado. He had a great pedigree and cute kids and photos and apparently a good job and an amiable divorce. We were supposed to meet yesterday, and when I showed up he was nowhere to be found, but my phone is now dead. So is Bumble, Facebook, LinkedIn, even my soccer mom food signup.”
“How do you know you were hacked?” Jan asked.
“No access to any site. My passwords have been compromised. I got a call from Visa asking about a charge for $8,000 for a retreat in New Mexico. I’d never go there for a retreat. I feel like I lived there three years after my ‘Breaking Bad’ bingewatch.”
“I have a date with a guy today who sounds eerily similar. What should I do?”
“If I were you I wouldn’t go on your date, but if you do, bring along some artillery.”
So they got two friends to meet them on Witherspoon at 5.
“You two stay in front, we’ll be at the bar, and you stay near the back entrance near the psychic,” Marina ordered. Jan felt like she was in good hands, but as soon as she opened the door of the A&B she felt sick.
“Is there a doctor in the house?” a woman yelled from the back of the room, and a scrum of blondish tall guys near the front raised their hands. Jan picked up her phone and took a few photos, her hands shaking. There was a huge rush towards the front door and phones starting beeping with texts.
Jan shot a glance at Marina, who was at the front door, watching the guys pour out of the bar, her face blanched in shock.
“That was John I swear!” she yelled.
“I bet Brad was there too!” Jan yelled, then grabbed a bar stool and sat to catch her breath.
Jan clicked on her photo album. There were hazy gray shadows but no real images. She clicked on one and enlarged it. It looked like the old Munch Scream emoji from her ancient flip phone.
“Aliens,” Jan said to no one in particular.
“Brothers from Another Planet,” observed an edgy looking older woman sitting at the bar.
Grover’s Mill. She just remembered — it was the site of the War of the Worlds. So this was the way the world would end. Not with a bang but with a Bumble.
Wendell Wood Collins has published short fiction, essays, and poetry in U.S. 1 as well as regionally and participated in writers’ workshops at Chautauqua Institution, Princeton, and in New York City. A journalism school graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, she has worked at Princeton University for the past 12 years. She and her daughters live in Pennington.