How a dating app saved me from grief

There’s a gap on my Instagram, a space of time between the middle of March and early June, when I hadn’t shared a single picture. No updates on what I had recently cooked, no selfies, no #OOTDs. Nothing. March was previously a month that I had always associated with crème eggs and the birth of Justin Bieber. But it will now, forever, only be associated with my mother.

My mother died.

She has been dead for nine months and X days now. And because my mother is dead, I’m a little bit dead, too.

After she died, I spent two months, two weeks, and three days doing very little. My life became soundless, drained of shape and color. My earlier ebullience gone, my interests evaporated. It was hardly a life at all. I spent whole days in bed — sad and not eating. This was my first real experience of loss – I couldn’t even put up a fight against everything breaking me down. I lived in the dark.

Those months blurred into one dark period, never inching forward, pinned forever in that same spot.

My life had been condensed down to fit inside four walls, and I had no intention of opening the door.

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The outside world continued as normal: the hum of passing cars, the chatter of small children on the street. But I had no desire to rejoin it.

The monotony of my grief was interrupted by a thought that slipped into my mind one afternoon. I had fooled myself into thinking that, some day, this cold place where I had taken up temporary residence would magically dissolve. This grief would lose interest in me and move on elsewhere, leaving me free to go back to being my old self again.

To go back to my simple, nice life of photographing my food and taking selfies.

I learned soon enough that grief doesn’t give you a break. Overcoming grief is the result of personal effort. You have to fight and persist persist persist with teeny tiny baby steps. Acknowledging this thought, saluting it sincerely, and realizing the tiresome old cliché of “only you can help you” allowed me to start moving away from my sadness. My future — which I was convinced would forever be cloaked in darkness — was now beginning to open up and let in the dawn, which was still a little cold but looked pretty.

Of all the roads I could have taken that afternoon, I took the one that led me to install a dating app.

I can’t tell you why I decided to install Tinder onto my phone that day — only that I did, and I was glad that I did. It felt refreshing to do something, anything — and even more refreshing to do something new. It gave me a little ammunition for my week ahead. Even if that something was as seemingly insignificant and unimportant as browsing through a stack of pictures of men that I may potentially want to date.

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Two right-swipes later, and I was talking to a guy named Jack. Astonishingly handsome, superbly dressed, funny and smart, he had an energy that was infectious. His confidence was tangible even through the medium of texting. I couldn’t quite decide whether he was sincere, and I’ve always had a hatred for false flattery — but I didn’t care very much. There was now someone else in my dark place with me, so I slightly drew back the curtains and let in some light. I told a story and talked about film and discussed Kanye and asked him what his favorite Kanye album was (I lied and said mine was Yeezus when it’s actually College Dropout because I wanted to seem cool).

Because, grief or no grief, I still wanted this guy to think I was cool.

Because mother or no mother, I was learning that parts of me were still present and alive. Just like before, I still wanted to impress a cute boy.

I was swimming through the layers of emptiness that had stifled any potential emotion, and I began to feel something akin to happiness: I forgot about my mother and the vast, insufferable sadness that I had been carrying around with me. I fell asleep easier that night because I had forgotten everything about grief — or at least remembered very little of it, which is kind of the same thing.

We spent a couple days of chatting about inconsequential things, veering quickly from one subject to the next. As I was still very much in the grip of this new found distraction, I was surprised and a little thrown when I was asked to send a naked picture.

Sending somebody a naked picture was not something I had done before. Never done it. Never wanted to do it. Then again, I had never had a dead mother before either.

I sent one.

Because sending it felt irresponsible and exhilarating and frivolous and ridiculous and illogical — and in all those things, it was the opposite of the person I was before my mother had died.

There is an odd sense of unreality to it, almost as if it wasn’t me at all. Part of the pleasure also comes in being able to do something that you’ve never done before, an activity that results in you feeling brave and bold and brazen. And you realize that perhaps you can be brave and bold and brazen in every other aspect of your life, too.

I had been speaking to this guy for two days, yet I had shared more secret desires with him than with anyone else I had previously known. I unveiled parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. He was a stranger, and everything about him was illogical. Nothing about him made sense, but nothing about him was dark or sad, either. It made me feel brave, and the lushness of his language made me smile. I could feel the extreme excitement of possibility, and it helped me realize that life can twist in different directions. The universe is full of possibilities.

That’s why something as completely insignificant as two right-swipes on a dating app can stamp out the deepest sadness I’ve ever known.

woman cell phone in bed
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Things became wonderful and difficult all at once — and I’d lay awake feeling guilty that I wasn’t 100% sad.

He was an anomaly in my grieving timeline, a newness to my since-shattered world. When you’re grieving, it feels like you can’t be rejoicing in frivolous activities like sending naked pictures of yourself. You have to be sad and sombre and serious. Those are the only three emotions you are allowed to express.

And, of course, you still are sad — but sometimes you can revel in these rare, random, unplanned, silly moments which make no real sense, but they do make you feel a little bit glorious and a little bit like yourself again, even if it isn’t like you at all.

And then that was that. It all faded out of my life beautifully and suitably, and left me to understand that these random, fleeting exchanges cannot be held down for long. They’re meant to just be enjoyed in the moment, without caring about what will happen after.

It seemed a fitting metaphor to the way I try and live now, in the moment. Learning to let go and just be.

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