Since the fall, I knew I was moving away from Richmond. I made a conscious decision not to pause my life just because I would be relocating to a new city. That also included continuing to date. I was never convinced I would truly meet someone I wanted to stay in touch with, but I enjoyed meeting new people and making out.
About six weeks before my scheduled departure, I matched with “Hailey.” Hailey was a thoughtless swipe. She appeared cute and well-traveled, but that’s all I processed in the two seconds I spent on her profile. She messaged me first, and we engaged in the expected back and forth about hobbies, likes, and whether we had pets. As I often do, I disengaged after a day or two, but then I became bored and sent my typical apology alongside my number because “I’m much better at texting, believe me, I never check this app.” Hailey texted almost immediately and we recommenced our banter. At some point, I disclosed I was graduating soon, was very busy, and then dropped off the face of the earth again.
At some point in this timeline, I deleted dating apps because I really did wonder what I was doing on them if I was moving and also not interested in serious dating (seeking affirmation perhaps?). Two days later, drunk on a Friday night, I re-downloaded the apps like any millennial trope and somehow swiped right to Hailey again. Of course, I did not know this until I received a “Hello again” message from Hailey.
Hello... again? Oh, it’s you. Hailey.
I admired her brazenness, though also questioned it. Maybe she thought my sudden vanishing had been an accident? But she had my number? Had my silence not read volumes?
Instead of replying to her on the app, I texted her: “Hey, haha so funny matching again. I deleted the app. Sorry for ghosting! I’m actually moving in a month so things are really chaotic, but let’s get a drink this week!”
Why did I reply to Hailey? Why did I offer to get drinks? There is no sound reason other than a mixture of guilt, confusion, and ennui. I volunteered for the problem I was about to have.
Not so conveniently, I matched with another girl around this time and was more interested in meeting up with her. When Hailey asked when I was free, I offered Monday or Tuesday, but said I was waiting to confirm some plans with a friend so may need to postpone. I successfully made drink plans with the other girl, but did not follow up with Hailey.
Back from the Dead
Cut to Sunday night. Hailey texted. I almost wrote “out of the blue,” but that would be overstating the spontaneity. She asked how my weekend had been. She also asked if I had finalized plans with my friends yet.
“Hey! My weekend was great! How was yours? I meant to text you, but I had a bottomless brunch earlier so the day got away from me. My friends and I are hanging out Monday, but I’m free Tuesday.”
As I wrote it, I immediately regretted solidifying plans with Hailey. But I also felt bad if I didn’t. I am a reluctant ghoster if I even ghost at all. I felt bad for engaging so long in conversation, especially if we had matched, especially if she did want to meet. I felt like I owed meeting to Hello Again Hailey. I also felt I owed her more conversation (eye roll emoji) so I pursued the topic of her weekend. She asked more about mine. She asked about my postgrad plans. She even asked where I lived. We decided to meet at a rooftop bar because we enjoyed the outdoors and alcohol. We had so much in common.
“You might be my favorite person,” Hailey managed to slip into our texts.
I full stopped. I did not know how to respond to this pressure.
I waited ten minutes and flipped an omelet before I replied: “Haha I like to manage expectations.”
This did not remove the wind from her sails.
First (and Only) Meeting
The day of our “date,” my friends reached out about what I was doing that night. I had told them all I was swearing off dating until I moved, so I cringed as I admitted I had date plans. “It’s not like it sounds,” I almost qualified. “I don’t actually want to go.”
My friends were meeting up with another friend of ours who I had a crush on. They wanted me to come. I had also promised my friends I would prioritize friends before dating. But I felt like I couldn’t just cancel on Hailey.
I messaged Hailey, “Hey, I feel so bad about this, but my friend is randomly coming into town and I just found out. I normally wouldn’t bail, but I am moving and might not see them again for a while so could we rain check for later this week? Or we could even do later tonight,” I added as I realized I wasn’t actually free later that week and just needed to tear the bandage from the gaping lesion, gauze and all.
I had reviewed Hailey’s profile several times. She seemed like a plausible best friend and travel partner, but I didn’t feel a romantic connection via our screen. And because I was moving, making a new best friend seemed like a waste of time.
“I can do later tonight! When will you be done?” Hailey replied, not a dent in her hood.
Internally, I sighed.
“I think I should be free by 7:30. We’re just grabbing a drink.”
“A drink” turned out to be an underestimate, though I had believed it would be two when I messaged Hailey. It turned out to be four.
My friends and I convened on a rooftop ourselves. I knew I should I knew leave by 7:10 in order to make 7:30, which meant asking for my tab by 7. At 6:50, two wineglasses deep, my friend reasoned that he would drive me if I stayed for one more. At 7:15, very buzzed, I figured what was 10 minutes late? It would set the tone.
“Sorry, just grabbing checks! Be there soon,” I texted Hailey.
“Another?” my friend asked.
“I really shouldn’t.”
“He’ll take another.”
“I can’t show up sloshed to a date,” I protested.
“Should I put it in?” the waiter asked.
“Sure, why not?” I retreated. I’d never showed up to a date buzzed, let alone drunk. Why not for Hailey? (Was I a terrible person?)
“Where is this date?” my friend asked.
“A rooftop. Five minute drive.”
“What if,” my friend proposed as the fourth drink arrived, “we all came and watched your date? That way, if it goes awry, we can jump in.”
“No,” I said. “That would be—“
“She’d never know,” my friend said.
“We need somewhere to get dinner no matter what,” my other friend interjected.
“So it’s decided,” my friend said. “We’re coming.”
“In the car,” I texted Hailey as we left the roof. “Looking for parking,” I added as we sat at a red light.
“Okay, so here’s the deal,” my friend said as we pulled up. “Get a seat at the bar and we’ll follow you up in a few minutes. Pretend you don’t see us.”
I don’t think I even responded before I staggered out of the car up to the roof. Surprisingly, Hailey wasn’t sitting at the bar. I asked the bartender for water. Hailey soon appeared. She looked very much like her profile, but also reminded me that I didn’t feel that into this. Despite my reservations, conversation didn’t lack. She asked how my drinks had been. I lied and said I had had two. “I’m a tad buzzed,” I lied with downward bias.
I asked about where she was from, forgotten in my drunken stupor, and where she wanted to travel next, how long had she been in Richmond, did she have a signature cocktail, and every other topic I could swipe from the passing air while I ordered my regular vodka and Diet Coke. She asked about my research and where I lived, where exactly I lived, which Hogwarts house I identified with, and what was I doing that weekend. She laughed at my every joke, and her body curved toward me, our knees faintly touching. I decided food would be a good idea so we both ordered burgers.
Around the hour point, I looked to my friends to intervene, but they avoided eye contact and asked for their checks. Abruptly the bartender appeared with shots.
“Who are these from?” I deadpanned.
“They’re on the house,” he replied with a smirk.
“Ohmigawd, that’s amazing!” Hailey exclaimed.
“Isn’t it?” I said. “It is.”
While I had already felt guilty about talking to Hailey on a dating app and then not meeting up and then guilty about meeting up and not being interested, I now felt the guiltiest that I involved my friends as spies. I paid for our entire tab. When I put my credit card down, Hailey reflexively picked it up.
“Williams! That’s such a common last name,” she reflected.
I stopped myself from asking whether she would consider it for her married because I think the sarcasm would have escaped her. I also stopped myself from asking why she was holding my credit card, period.
When we got up to leave, my friends were gone. I walked her to her car. I debated if I should kiss her, but thankfully better sense prevailed because I really wasn’t interested.
She offered to give me a ride home, but I remembered how she had tried to pinpoint my exact cross streets and I lied that I lived two blocks farther from the Fan Starbucks than I really did.
“I can walk, but thank you,” I declined. “I’ll text you when I’m home.”
“Let me know if you’re free Friday!” she said.
(Lack of) Pursuit
I awoke to a good morning text message from Hailey. She asked how I felt. I asked the same. She told me she had spontaneously called out of work and was free all day. What was I up to?
“I have to work on my dissertation,” I replied.
In a separate text message, I demanded from my friends, “Why didn’t you come over last night?”
“It seemed to be going so well,” my friend said. “She was really into you.”
“She was,” I affirmed. “She’s trying to have a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off right now.”
“What are you up to this weekend?” Hailey asked when I didn’t further engage the conversation.
A notification flashed up on my Facebook. A new friend request. From Hailey. Oh. My. Gabriel.
I will add strangers on Facebook if we have enough mutual friends, but I felt somehow cornered that my one-time date would request me. At least wait until the third date? I let the request linger.
“I added you on Facebook,” Hailey messaged an hour later. “I hope that’s okay. I remembered your whole name!”
“Haha probably from my credit card,” I replied.
Around lunchtime I decided to accept the friend request. My Facebook is not particularly top clearance. The worst Hailey would discover was that I write for this blog and that I would probably blog about her (here we are). Then she wouldn’t want to see me again either.
The next day she pointblank asked me on a date for Friday. I apologized and said I had dinner plans with a friend. In reality I had a date with the friend I had a crush on. I suggested Sunday as an alternative, but would let her know. However, on the date I actually wanted to go on, we made plans for Sunday and I failed to mention I had tentative plans with Hello Again Hailey.
I considered sending Hailey a message to confirm my absence and lack of interest, but that felt heavy handed for one date. Did my flakiness and lack of engagement not say enough? What would I want in this situation? Every message I drafted felt like a bag of bricks and she needed just a feather if not a cotton ball.
For once, Hailey did not follow up about Sunday. I felt off the cuff. My signals had been read accurately. Maybe I was ghosting, but I was nicely ghosting.
I continued going out with the friend I had a crush on. I told another friend the story about Hello Again Hailey. They wanted to see what she looked like.
“Funny enough, we’re Facebook friends,” I said. I pulled up her profile – only to discover Hailey had de-friended me.
Wow, I wonder what I did.
I felt comfortable with the blip in our orbits where we crossed lanes—and continued in our own directions. I felt bad about a multitude of things – had I led Hailey on?, was I the worst for allowing my friends to intrude on our date? did she know? should I have broached my disinterest in her? Alas, she had aken the hint (which maybe I should have spoken up), but at least neither she nor I would be some lingering specter in each other’s social media lives.
For the ultimate closure, I received an unexpected text from her days later: “Hey, just wanted to wish you luck with everything with your move!”
I didn’t name her Hello Again Hailey for any reason. The message balanced between finality and a bid to reinitiate contact.
“Hey, thanks so much!” I sent back, choosing the former. “I’m sorry we never met up again. It was great meeting, but with the move and graduating, things are a lot more chaotic than I expected.”
For once in my life, I had securely shut a door. Right?
Of course, this story can’t end so neatly or I wouldn’t be so moved to write about it. A few weeks after Hailey had defriended me and we exchanged our dutiful well wishes, I received a notification that the one and only Hello Again Hailey had followed me on Instagram. I have a public account, so this required no approval. I wondered how long she had known of my Instagram and possibly stalked it before she decided to alert me to her (lingering) presence.
I did not immediately follow back, as to not appear too eager and possibly because I default to millennial mind games too easily. But I did eventually, hours later, only to discover she had unfollowed me.
Which, there is nothing wrong with that. I had essentially unfollowed Hailey IRL, so why should I expect her continued devotion to me? However, this seemed to underline that her follow was not so innocent as it was a ploy to re-engage (or am I overthinking this? Probably? Maybe? But we wouldn’t have a blogpost if I wasn’t).
Here’s the thing: I should have always been more upfront with Hailey. I should have never followed up with Hailey the first time, and I should have never gone on the date nor permitted my friends to watch, but also, Hailey shouldn’t have added me on Facebook, and she should have read between some of my double-spaced messages and echoing detachment. I both was not interested in her and was alarmed by certain red flags whipping in the wind. This last incident seemed the confirming nail in the coffin.
My lesson learned was, I should not go on dates out of guilt. Nothing good comes from guilt.