Relationships

My Disappearing Lovers

It turns out the “adult” hook-up app really works for women like me. Up until a point.

A woman gripping a man's hand, which disappears.
Illustration by Rey Velasquez Sagcal

Feeld Notes is a column about a middle-aged woman who suddenly realizes she wants to have sex again—and the beguiling app she uses to do it.

I don’t like the men on dating apps. As in, I don’t press “like.” I’m engaged in a passive dynamic with all of the platforms wherein I sit back and wait for men to approach me and then accept (or reject) their attempts to match.

My friend Emily thinks this is a big mistake. “You should go after what you want,” she says. “Not let what you want be decided by who goes after you.”

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She has a point. Waiting to be noticed and affirmed by men is just another way of enacting my decadeslong tendency to try to solicit or engineer male approval … and then feel grateful when I get any at all. Knowing that a guy likes me first relieves me of some of the risk of rejection, though it doesn’t make those actual rejections any easier to take.

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There’s also a self-righteousness about the posture I adopt. I like to tell myself that meeting men in this way is a protest of how dating apps strip users of their humanity. I’ve always felt uneasy about the “swipe right, swipe left,” up-or-down interfaces. So I tell myself that by responding to others’ initial efforts but not putting forth any of my own, I’m somehow rising above a dynamic of making split-second decisions about another person’s romantic or sexual potential.

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Put another way: If I don’t “like” or “dislike” them first, I can’t be accused of treating the apps, as one friend put it, as if it they are never-ending carousels of human meat.

Feeld is different. Sort of. One of the app’s more interesting features is that, unlike, say, places like Hinge or Tinder, moving through a collection of profiles doesn’t require disliking one profile to see the next. On Feeld, you can scroll though as many profiles as you want, “like” some, and leave the others alone. They’ll still be there for later.

[Read: My Foray Into the “Adult” Hook-Up App Taught Me a Lesson About Men Now]

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This, plus the fact that Feeld refers to its users as “humans”—“34 humans liked you,” I was informed the other day—feels like a well-meaning attempt to imbue the app’s users with a sense of collective responsibility toward one another. Though bad behavior still abounds, I appreciate the effort.

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And sometimes, the effort pays off. I had a lovely experience with a human—we’ll call him Seth—the other week. It was a Friday afternoon, and I opened the app to find five or six new likes from men, none of whom interested me much. Except Seth. Though I got close to passing on him—his profile didn’t say much, and he wasn’t exactly my physical type—something kept me from clicking away. (Feeld users have an “inbox” of sorts that collects all the likes a user has received—likes that one can either accept, by clicking a heart icon, or dismiss, by clicking on a minus sign.)

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I’m glad I didn’t. Twenty minutes after matching, Seth messaged me a “hello.” I was impressed by his general demeanor: He was curious, and interested, and open about who he was (a thirty-something with an enormous sex drive) and what he was looking for (trust and transparency and real connection). And, on top of that, he didn’t seem to want to fuck around and text for too long: After an hour of back and forth, he asked me out on a date for that very night. We made a plan to meet at a bar near my place.

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A few weeks ago, my therapist, in an effort to help me identify and define my emotional and sexual boundaries, created a taxonomy of sorts for the guys I encounter online: Track 1 and Track 2. Track 1 guys are guys that I actually might date, i.e., get into a romantic relationship with. Track 2 guys are those I might simply sleep with. Making a distinction between these two “types” of men, or how I relate to them, will, she hopes, protect me from getting hurt or disappointed and prevent me from confusing one thing (sex) for another (love). Which I have a tendency to do.

Seth was neither a Track 1 nor a Track 2 guy; he fell somewhere in between. We met early in the evening—6:30 or so—at a French wine bar and talked for hours: About our careers, about our upbringings, our families, our friends, our fears. When he suggested we move the conversation back to my place, I balked. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with him—more that I did. Despite the fact that many of men on Feeld claim a disinterest in one-night stands (or, as the acronym goes, “ONS”), many of the actual interactions I’ve had have been exactly that. Just as they did before the advent of dating apps, some men have a tendency to fade away or disappear altogether.

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Later, at my apartment, we lounged on my couch and talked. Eventually he asked if he could kiss me. I said yes, and we quickly moved my bedroom. We kissed some more. Eventually his shirt came off, then mine. He massaged and sucked my breasts. I asked him to get on his back and undid his jeans and heard the telltale crinkle of a pair of condoms in his pants pocket. Though I appreciated the gesture, I’d already made up my mind: no sex.

Why? Because I don’t want any more one-night stands. And because the foreplay was enough: sensual, intimate, full of laughter and play and a little bit of dirty talk. At one point, Seth, whose profile asserted his love of oral sex, asked if he could taste me. I begged off, explaining that my underwear was going to remain on. “I like that you’re taking it slow,” he purred as he climbed on top of me, moving and pushing his lower torso against mine, up and down, forward and backward.

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I was sad when Seth said goodbye a few hours later. I could have gone on, kissing and moving against him, for hours. Up until that point, my Feeld experiences had been less about making love than fucking. Which has its own appeal! But that night with Seth was a reminder of the real and deep delights of intimacy and sensuality and eroticism. Of human connection.

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Seth wasn’t the first man with whom I’ve had an intense, positive interaction. A few weeks before him, there was Roman, an Eastern European musician and 30-year-old whose profile talked up his talent with his fingers (he played guitar) and who surprised me by putting his hand (though not very roughly) on my neck as he fucked me. (I really liked it.) He spoke dirty to me in his sexy accent, moved me around into different positions, and complimented my skills in bed. He also kissed me and kissed me well. Not enough men do.

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Then there was Noah, the first actual “age-appropriate” man (51) I’ve been with since I got on the app. The divorced dad of a college student, Noah and I texted on and off for a few weeks before making plans to meet outside a bar on a freezing-cold night. We took one look at each other and hightailed it straight to his place. I was aware of the potential danger in meeting a man, previously unknown to me, and then following him into his apartment, but I got a good feeling from Noah the moment we “met” in person and, besides, I’d sent a screengrab of his profile (and a link to his Instagram account) to my friend, just in case.

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Like Roman and Seth, Noah was sexually generous and emotionally present, sensual and skilled and responsive. Throughout the course of our conversation online, he’d explained that he had a couple of kinks and curiosities he wanted to try out and explore, like getting pegged, but he didn’t press me on the issue and I didn’t ask. (I had told him I’d consider it.) Like the others, he messaged me the next day to tell me what a lovely time he’d had. Maybe I have a low bar, but considering some of the experiences I’ve had online, I was pretty impressed.

Alas, Roman has now disappeared. He didn’t respond to my last text message, welcoming him back from a weekslong music tour in and around Europe. Perhaps he’ll come back around, but I’m not holding my breath. I suspect I was a curiosity for him, a woman 19 years his senior with whom he could enact various dominant postures and positions, like the light choking thing that, to my surprise, turned me on so much.

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Noah is around but moving to another city, which is all but a guarantee that, though I will probably see him again in the short term, any sort of long-term friends-with-benefits scenario is impossible.

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As for Seth, well, he’s gone, too, away for a month on a series of jobs (he’s a project manager for live events). I don’t have much hope that, once he gets back, we’ll see each other again. He’s been intermittently responsive to the one or two attempts I’ve made at outreach, and his initial keen interest, both before and after we hooked up, seems to have settled into, well, something different, something more subdued.

In truth, despite these encounters, I’m a little disappointed. I’m looking for a lover. Maybe multiple. And I’d hoped that one of these initial interactions would lead to something more long-lasting, more reliable and consistent. But humans have a way of, well, being human, and having sex with someone is no guarantee of anything, certainly not a repeat performance. It turns out that navigating between (and around) Track 1 and Track 2 is a lot harder than I thought. It’s cold comfort that I didn’t “like” these guys first.

I’ve changed the names in this column. Read all entries.

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