I went on some forty more first dates, some of which led on to second, third and fourth outings. If campus visits eluded me on the job market, in the dating world they—or their equivalent—came with some frequency. There was the 25-year-old who dressed like a vaudeville character and pursued me so ardently I was almost alarmed; after we had dinner one night she led me to her bed, mounted me and cried, “I did it! I’ve been trying for so long!” The next day she texted, “I can’t see you again, Andrew. I just moved here and I’ve realized I need at least another year to get my bearings before I’ll be ready for anything.” There was the science teacher who looked me in the eye over our first date and said, with terrifying earnestness, “I am Walter White.” That night, in bed, she confided that her brother was dying, and we lay awake until 4 a.m. talking, I comforting her as best I could. Two days later she texted me, “I’m searching pretty furiously for a husband, and don’t sense we have the crackle of chemistry to justify going out again.” Then there was the young academic writing a dissertation on pain—the yin to my yang—but this connection proved just as short-lived.
I kept hoping for some measure of the commitment that seemed, whether in love or work, like the precondition for a pleasure that could be redemptive. I didn’t want to accept a view of life as an archipelago of isolated encounters, or accede to the logic—reinforced by the utility-driven instruments colonizing our lives—that people mattered for their short-term use value. Still, I saw that as Tinder and other apps became an integral component in the new sharing economy with Uber and Airbnb, so bodies were taking their place alongside cars, apartments and offices—briefly dwelled in, tried out, passed along.