The feminine urge to be desired

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When I was 16 years old, I downloaded Tinder for the first time. 

“Kazoo player, bisexual icon, postmodern idiot,” my bio read. 

It was horribly embarrassing. Despite eating a lunch packed by my mom every day and having no idea what “postmodern” even meant, I was sure that I was mature enough for a relationship. Soon enough, I fell into the never ending cycle of swiping, chatting and unmatching because I was addicted to words of affection from 24-year-old men that knew absolutely nothing about me. 

I crafted elaborate stories about my personal life. To Jacob, I was an art student from New York, but to Dylan, I was a waitress at a cocktail bar. I reveled in the lies; I could be anything and anyone. 

I wanted so desperately to be someone’s manic pixie dream girl, but only through the safety of my phone screen. I wanted to be worshiped and adored, but never really loved. 

My best friend was in a relationship at the time, and I was lonely. I didn’t get attention from the boys in my grade, and I felt behind in terms of sexual experience. But with men on Tinder, it was ridiculously easy. 

Inevitably, they would ask to meet up, and inevitably, I would ghost them — partially because the idea of “stranger danger” had been firmly ingrained in my head since childhood, but mostly because I knew I wouldn’t get that same rush of serotonin after actually getting to know these men. 

I knew it was probably bad, leading people on, but I justified it by telling myself that it’s all a game — like filling up your cart on Amazon without actually buying anything. Who knows, maybe modern dating apps are all part of Jeff Bezos’ master plan to commodify everything, including the individual. 

I still don’t know how my parents never found out. When my mom saw texts from “Matthew from Tinder” pop up on my phone, I managed to convince her that it was just an inside joke with one of my friends. Eventually, however, the vulgar and hostile messages started to outweigh the flattering ones. I started feeling increasingly ashamed and insecure, so I deleted the app. 

It wasn’t until much later that I realized I never actually wanted any of these people in the first place. I just craved the feeling of being desired.

When I was 19 years old, I finally hooked up with a Tinder match. The pressure of a “first time” weighed on me as I started my freshman year at UC Berkeley, and I figured the easiest way to get it over with was to download the app once again. 

He was a nice enough guy, and he paid for my pizza at Cheeseboard. But when things started getting hot and heavy back at his apartment, I felt a sudden wave of repulsion — it was like taking a whiff of the scrambled eggs you’ve just made and immediately wanting to throw up. But it was too late to go back now. 

In my perverse, narcissistic fantasy, the fact that he wanted me was enough to keep me going. I delivered an Oscar-winning performance. And I never saw him again. 

After losing my virginity, I expected to feel confident and secure in my sexuality. More than anything, though, I was confused. I couldn’t decide what I wanted. He didn’t do anything wrong, but I still felt disappointed. As it turned out, I loved the idea of sex so much more than the real thing. I was still addicted to the same kind of validation from strangers, and I never stopped to figure out my own desires. 

For a time I thought I might be a lesbian — maybe asexual — but that wasn’t the case either. When I finally found a partner who asked what I liked in the bedroom before they ever touched me, I didn’t know what to say. 

From “Sex and the City” to “Call Her Daddy,” a lot of contemporary media has taught women that a one-night stand with some guy from Bumble is the ultimate feminist act. 

But in reality, hookup culture often centers the desires of men and leaves women more damaged than empowered. Even worse, it’s impossible to escape the consumerist spectacle of social media and online dating. 

It took me a long time to figure out an honest answer to the question of what I like. But now, I can articulate my own desires — no more echoing “choke me, daddy” like a meek little muppet of the male gaze. 

Contact Asha Pruitt at [email protected]