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Op Eds

I Only Have Eyes For You, Right Now

By Coby N. Weiss, Contributing Opinion Writer
Coby N. Weiss ’22 is a Linguistics concentrator in Eliot House.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe — hold on, she’s kinda cute. “I’m looking for the Jim to my -” Swipe left. Huh. Ok, she’s pretty cute. Sporty. Funny bio. MIT. Swipe right. Why not?

Bingo.

I don’t send a message right away; I can’t seem too eager. After an appropriate amount of time — as if that was determined by some Great Decider, handing down directives from Mount Sinai — I say something. After somewhere between how long you wait to respond to a text and how long before you send a follow-up email to your parent’s friend who’s helping you get that banking interview, I test the waters with an opening bit: a quick way to see if I’m wasting my time.

If I’m going to balance a full course load, extracurriculars, and logging time on the melange of dating apps available at my fingertips, I’m going to keep it interesting and, like any well-trained Harvard student, pursue efficiency at all costs.

To my delight, she clears the hurdle. She can hang. Let the banter ensue. Once there’s enough textual chemistry — as determined by the Great Decider’s cousin, the Sacred Chooser, we set a date, and the butterflies emerge from their slumber. After a sunny afternoon gallivanting from a vintage record shop — yes, liking classic rock is just a more efficient way of saying I have a good relationship with my father — to a hipster book nook, an afternoon ripped straight out of a romcom, I drive her home. We’re parked outside her dorm talking, and though I consider myself a perceptive, self-aware, and generally humble person, I have absolutely no idea if she wants me to kiss her.

I’ve seen enough movies and Electric Love TikToks to know what you might be thinking: just kiss her. As a man, I grew up being deeply ingrained with this notion of shooting your shot; of YOLO; of fortune favors the bold. Sure, if she doesn’t want me to kiss her, she’ll say something. And asking is exceedingly unsexy, right? Men don’t ask. They take what they want. “Don’t be a pussy.”

But that’s exceedingly shitty, right? The last thing I want to do is impose on another person; to make it so they’re kissed by someone they don’t want to be kissed by and have to uncomfortably communicate that, especially with the gender dynamics at play. Plus, I have to be careful given how I look. Think: a Jewish Winklevoss — Winkelstein, maybe. I've been warned too many times about inadvertently making myself the next straight, white man on the cultural chopping block. I’m not even on Twitter.

As I’m running through all of this, I realize I haven’t spoken in a while. I hear the Great Decider’s booming voice. It’s been too long. “Sometimes it's not that deep,” I think to myself and just ask her. She says yes — how couldn’t she (see above humility claim) — and I unbuckle my seatbelt as I attempt to move closer to her, dodging a large stick shift in the way that I don’t want to sit on. After a passionate but tasteful mini makeout session, she exits, and I drive back, an uncancelled king.

Cut to: a metaphorically appropriate spring. Flowers bloom in equal measure with our relationship. I weave her into the fabric of my life, at first carefully introducing her to starter friends before hemming her as one of the gang, an indelible thread throughout the semester’s memories.

Occasionally, I receive a drunk text from a dating app. “Come back to us,” they croon, craving my eyeballs, but hikes with her soon turn to hammocking in the Yard. She becomes part of my friend family and even meets my real one. Starting a college relationship in the spring is always tough because, to rip off Game of Thrones, Summer is Coming. To try the distance or to not try the distance? That is the question (I came up with that one on my own). Are three solid months enough credit in the bank to justify the opportunity cost? After all, what about hot boy summer?

Cautiously optimistic, we tried it. Neither one of us wanted to take a break. We were full steam ahead. Her week-long visit to Los Angeles left me sad and empty and found me at dinners I did not enjoy, wanting to recede into myself yet forced to play the host — always with a plan and a smile. It was an exercise in performance art Pagliacci would have tipped his curly wig to. By the end of that week, a once intoxicatingly beautiful lilac had withered, its petals now shriveling and falling to the ground beneath the unforgiving sun of a beckoning hot boy summer.

“Come back,” the chorus of dating apps sing in the small hours of the night.

While the Great Decider teaches us that those who initiate the breakup have to wait longer to get our fingers busy once again (not like that), hot boy summer was soon in full swing. With the apps still on my phone throughout the spring — collecting dust but whirring at a low, industrial pitch so I knew they were there — how could I let potential matches in the Greater L.A. area swipe on an outdated profile? Surely for their sake, I had to add a topical reference or maybe a recent picture. It would be dishonest to expose them to such inaccurate and erroneous information.

Not a week after the breakup, I open the app I had met my now ex on — feel free to assume it is the one you think is least gross — and see her still in my inventory of matches; one among dozens (86 to be exact), but who’s counting? Maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of guilt, maybe out of some kind of seller’s remorse, I tap her profile, and what’s this? A couple of new pictures? Already? My heart sinks in my chest.

“Must’ve meant a lot to her,” I think to myself, holding her to a different standard than that to which I intended to hold myself when I opened the app. And so, what am I to do? It hurts me to see, but if I unmatch, she would see that I unmatched, and I could come off as rude, or worse, hurt. We ended on good terms; I had no intention of hurting her more than I already had. Unmatching her would be rubbing salt into the wound.

How am I supposed to weigh the pain of seeing her change her profile while the corpse of our relationship was still warm against the hurt I might inflict by signaling that the relationship didn’t matter to me or the embarrassment I might feel if she thinks I am so upset that I couldn’t stand the pain of seeing her in my matches? Try explaining this distinctly modern problem to a Founding Father. They may not have had electricity or antibiotics, but they never had to deal with this.

Then there’s the whole other question: When can I update my profile? Right after she does? Three showers after she does? The Great Decider has yet to issue a decree on this subject, but with each day that passes, the sun inches closer to setting on hot boy summer.

Dating apps present us with hyper-optionality, which tantalize us with the thought of what could be out there, one or two or 15 swipes away. How I Met Your Mother explores this concept in the episode “Rabbit or Duck,” in which Neil Patrick Harris’s philandering Barney gets his number and an open invite for women to call him broadcast on TV during the Super Bowl. He becomes insatiable, driven insane by the thought of who could be out there calling him, of what might be better.

Mihir Desai, a professor of finance at Harvard Business School and professor of law at Harvard Law School, penned a provocative piece on the hazards of Harvard students’ obsession with professional optionality for The Crimson’s Commencement Issue in 2017. According to Desai, rather than options, we should focus on alpha, which he describes as “macho finance shorthand for an exemplary life. It is the excess return earned beyond the return required given risks assumed. It is finance nirvana.” In a similar vein, the cadre of apps available to us grows by the quarter. How do we find happiness when corporations are trying to hijack our brains, rewarding us with surges of dopamine in just the right way at the thought of who could be on their sleek apps’ stacks of possible matches?

These apps are not made by people who love us, and we will never be happy if all we do is chase green grass.

The inter-connective capacity of modern technology presents us with an infinitely sprawling lawn. But how do you know? How do you know that the person you’re with is the right one? If your blissful three months of spring infatuation is worth sitting on the bench all summer? That the spot you’re in is sunny enough with just the right breeze? I don’t have an answer to that; only each one of us could possibly define what that means, but we should not kid ourselves by thinking that shareholder-driven and profit-conscious corporations don’t have a vested interest in keeping us searching.

They have perfectly engineered a system of ambiguous reward, creating a space into which we can project our own insecurities, follow our curiosity, and do so with incredibly low cost barriers. It’s intoxicating, the prospect of what could be right over the hill, a single tap away. And march along the grassy plains we shall.

Left foot. Right foot. Left swipe. Right swipe. That is, unless you stop.

Coby N. Weiss ’22 is a Linguistics concentrator in Eliot House.

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