Oakland Outlook: Finding love on TinderU

Oakland Outlook is a bi-weekly blog written by TPN staffers chronicling their experiences as college students living in Oakland.

More stories from Megan Williams

Poetry | I mother
April 18, 2021

This installment of Oakland Outlook pays homage to The New York Times’ column Modern Love and its recent Amazon Prime television adaptation. For privacy reasons, a name has been changed in this blog. 

It’s strange to me that so many of us Pitt students look for love while in college. The very natures of each contradict, love and college, as the former portends permanence and the latter is itself a liminal space, something from which we (are intended to) move on.

I’ve not had any luck finding a forever partner here at Pitt. Perhaps that can be attributed to my main entryway into the dating pool — TinderU. A subset of the popular dating app available to people with verified university email addresses only, TinderU prioritizes those who attend the same college as you. It’s a verified dream for someone like me, who commutes from outside of Oakland and suffers from several mental health problems that make me shy and scared of approaching people IRL.

I’ve spent as much time crafting my Tinder bio as I have my essays. I wanted it to be cool enough to make up for my below average looks, smart enough to prove I have something going for me (if not looks) and clear enough about inalienable aspects of my identity that a**holes stay away. After a lot of balancing, I settled on this:

poet, lyric essayist, and then the other types of writing that actually make a person money

let’s respect women

biflexual (i flex on both genders)

u got a tinder match, i bet she doesn’t kiss ya! (mwah)

AT LEAST one hour of small talk before you can comment on my boobs

I’ve gotten your standard creeps — elegy for my last line that frequently goes ignored — along with couples wanting a threesome with a “hot bisexual no strings attached!” and some nice people, too. I’ve only had one serious connection from Tinder, though, which blossomed online and then spread through Oakland for a few whirlwind weeks.

“Leah” messaged me on Tinder this past August. She was funny and beautiful, with a big, goofy smile in her profile picture. She was kind and held a conversation well — you’d have to, in early August, with no promise of meeting IRL for several weeks. We talked through her vacation at the beach, through my babysitting job, through nights where we stayed up late to share giddy affections.

I was here in Pittsburgh, waiting for her to come home — her real home, she said, where the Cathedral was the heart of Oakland, a place she could curl into like she couldn’t at her childhood home. Her parents, casually homophobic, dismissed her sexuality and subscribed to the branch of Christianity that condemns it.

We met at The Porch during the first week of classes. She said “I will be the one looking awkwardly out of place,” and she did look nervous, standing there with parents and Pitt Pathfinders, glancing down at her phone. I snuck up on her, screamed “HI!” and became intimately equated with her forehead knocking into mine. Smooth as hell. 

We had lunch, and conversation flowed as seamlessly as it did on Tinder. We sat for two hours, talking, and only left because my parking meter was up. She disappeared back into the crowds of Oakland and I drove away, again, heart in the rearview mirror.

This is where most of my Tinder dates end — we meet once, go back to an apartment, then forget each other’s numbers.

She texted me 10 minutes later to make plans again. From there, she came home with me to meet my dogs, we went to Phipps together, we studied in Hillman, we brought each other Starbucks, we referred to each other almost exclusively as “baby.”

For the date I didn’t know would be our last, I picked her up and drove her to Mellon Park, with Oakland quiet and dark outside of my car. We laid out on a blanket, listened to music, and talked for nearly four hours. And we kissed, of course, in that giggling and terrible way you always kiss someone new.

Leah told me that night, as we stared up at the constellations, that when she visited her parents during the upcoming weekend, she would be telling them about me. I brushed my thumb against her bottom lip while she talked, a casual intimacy, a way of saying “I’d be there if I could, baby.”

That weekend, we texted less than usual. I got worried. She got distant. I thought of her in Phipps, framed by flowers, in Hillman bent over a textbook and wished that she would come home to Oakland where I could keep her safe and happy.

Something went wrong in those few days, hours away from me. She came back and the voice that came out of her was not her own, but an imitation of someone else’s, an odd deviation from everything I knew about her.

We ‘broke up,’ if you could call us girlfriends, two days after she came back. I was unwilling to bend to her new desires, and she was unwilling — or perhaps unable — to return to herself. We parted casually.

Leah, 6:03: “seems like we want different things”

Megan, 6:04: “guess so”

In my logical mind, I know that any love forged in college, at Pitt, is unlikely to last. It’s why TinderU is something of a conundrum — you jump through hoops, you make profiles, you spend time picking out pictures only to meet people who, like you, will leave in X number of years.

Leah left for one weekend, away from Oakland (and her heart and my heart and our few precious memories) and came back like a woman from another world. But I think of her, underneath that star-filled sky, the way her lip felt beneath my thumb, and I get back on TinderU to search for another modern love — in spite of its impermanence, in spite of the way Oakland is a liminal space for love.