Mobile Matchmaking Hell

My cell phone, it turned out, was not compatible with The Future of Dating.

I can’t blame it for its betrayal. My Nexus 5 had served me well and faithfully for three years now, bouncing from school to school and country to country. The poor thing was tired. But it was also the only weapon I had brought to the Sexy Hunger Games, and Google Mapping my route over to the arena had exhausted it.

I was supposed to be previewing the dating profiles of the ten men I would meet at this konkatsu (marriage-seeking) party. What I was actually doing was rebooting the IBJ PARTY«PARTY app over and over with increasing alarm. The man on the other side of the table kept glancing at me: had he noticed my distress, or was he comparing me to my profile? Maybe it’d been a mistake to disclose my real occupation; what if he looked me up later?

Perfectly-groomed girls and less-groomed men filed into the room as I continued to fight with my smartphone. The hostess walked into the party space and clapped her hands for attention. This wasn’t strictly necessary, as every person in the room was absolutely silent, staring at their phones. “I regret to inform you that Bachelor #5 will not be attending today, and we’ll be one man short. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

The tense silence in the room turned sharp. The girls had seemed nervous before, but now they were glancing at each other with suspicion. No matter what, at least one person here was going home alone now.

But I had known that before I even sat down—because I’d come to the speed-dating event intending to fail. I wasn’t here to catch a man. I was here to phone it in and then report back to my academic department that sure, I didn’t have a husband, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, so maybe they could lay off and let me do my work, please?

(“But Iori,” you might say, “why didn’t you just come out to them?” The answer is that I tried. I tried six times to express to them that heterosexuality, as far as I’m concerned, is something like jogging: a fine hobby for other people, but just not my thing. No one listened.)

“At 11:10, we’ll begin the Talk Time. You will have six minutes to chat with each partner. After six minutes have passed, I’ll call for the men to change tables, moving clockwise. You should all be reviewing profiles now. Please do not screenshot other attendees’ profiles,” the hostess announced.

My shoulders seized up. Was that an actual thing that people did? Was I going to find my music preferences and self-reported cooking skills mocked on Twitter and ameblo later? Come to think of it, why hadn’t the company just coded the app to block screenshots? The future of dating wasn’t a bright one if my personal information was still this vulnerable. At least they didn’t make you upload a photo; since the dating app was meant to facilitate in-person meetings, it functioned as a cheat sheet rather than indulging in swipes and compatibility algorithms.

The most pressing question of all, though, was whether I was ever, ever going to be able to get this awful app to load. Finally, I admitted defeat and raised my hand to summon the hostess.

“I’m sorry, I can’t seem to load the profiles,” I said, showing her the error message on my phone. This was the moment at which my loyal Nexus 5, my constant companion, betrayed me. With 87% battery still remaining, it shut down.

“A… h,” she said, and handed it back to me.

“Sorry for the trouble—”

“Please wait just a moment. I’ll bring you an iPad.” In a moment she handed it over, having courteously preloaded the profiles for me. The app was a minimalist setup in cream and tan, with black text: a menu on the left let me access each profile by number, and below the list were locked options for “Likes” and “Coupling Hopes” that would come into play later. I tried to speed-read the profile of the man already at my table as the hostess clapped her hands again.

“Talk Time will begin now. You have six minutes.”

I had only gotten as far as his name and age. I looked up from the iPad with a panicked-rabbit smile. “Hello, I’m Bachelorette #1, Kusano. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Bachelor #1. Nice to meet you.” He inclined his head, glasses sliding down his nose. I darted another glance at his profile. He was fifty-three years old. Briefly I considered that if there was an age limit for female attendees (“29 or younger”), there ought to be one for men as well.

“So it says here you’re in IT,” I said. “That sounds interesting!”

“It’s really not,” he replied politely. But this, at least, was a detail I could work with; since Mr. #1 had not bothered to fill out the “interests” section of his profile, I took this to mean that he didn’t have any. I thought longingly of the flask in my purse. We spent the rest of our six minutes talking about two-factor authentication before the hostess scooted him onward to the next table and served me the next contestant.

I loaded Bachelor #9’s profile and realized that I’d ignored an entire section of the page in my rush to check the information. I could assign each man between one and five stars in categories such as Smile, Ease of Conversation, Fashion, Good Listener, Handsome, and Kind. I could also opt to preemptively send them my contact information without waiting to hear if they were interested in me. The app’s instructions did not tell me whether these ratings would be shown to the guy in question—or whether I’d get to see how I ranked. I felt compelled to hand out pity stars just in case; none of the signup materials had mentioned that we’d have to rate and review each other like restaurants. What if the Sexy Hunger Games published the leaderboard? Come to think of it, the hostess hadn’t discussed their data retention policy.

I was beginning to have some very serious regrets about opening myself up to this exciting new experience.

Bachelor #9, sporting bright white Air Jordans and a black leather bomber jacket, was a venture capitalist. In an effort to be friendly and welcoming to me, he insisted on speaking English despite my protestations that I could understand Japanese just fine. He’d recently returned from San Francisco, and our six minutes were mainly focused on his opinions about California traffic. I gave him four stars in Fashion; the jacket deserved it.

The hostess initiated another round of musical chairs and I was presented with Bachelor #8, the first of several realtors. I rated him as “Easy to Talk to” because he did all of the talking—which was great, as it gave me a chance to prep for the next guy in line: #7, the restaurant supply entrepreneur with whom my only common interest, according to our profiles, was food.

I had expected to be annoyed by our reliance on the PARTY«PARTY app. Instead, it was a lifesaver. Bachelor #6, a doctor, made eye contact so aggressively that I kept checking his profile details just as an excuse to look away from him. (He invited me to go for a drive sometime, which I interpreted as “murder you and dump your body where they won’t find it for years.” Pro tip, gentlemen: don’t invite a woman to a secluded location three minutes after you introduce yourself.) If I’d met him in a less regulated social setting, I’d have had to manufacture an excuse to escape. Instead, I had a whole list of his hobbies that I could interrogate him about, keeping one eye on the tablet’s clock. Two more minutes. I can stand this for two more minutes.

The missing Bachelor #5 was a welcome respite. Six minutes in which I didn’t have to repeat the same bullshit about where I’d been born and what race my parents were! Somehow, when I’d had this brilliant idea, I’d managed to overlook the fact that I’m far, far too introverted to speed-date. I took this opportunity to hand out stars to the last few contestants, and pre-read the remaining profiles. Now that I’d studied up, I thought my last few interviews might go more smoothly.

I was wrong. We had written our profiles according to a template, and without pictures attached, I began mixing them up. Here, then, was the most glaring flaw of technology-assisted speed dating: everyone looks the same in plain text.

Ordinarily I would think that I owe Bachelor #4 (a realtor who played golf) an apology for mixing him up with the next bachelor in line (a realtor who played tennis). However, he speculated about what my children might look like, so I decided we could call it even. By this point I was deeply grateful for the iPad, because I was brandishing it shield-like in front of my body.

Ah, Bachelor #3, Realtor #3. Thank you for confining your comments on my racial background to only the first minute of the conversation, and discussing manga for the rest of it. I only regret that I didn’t know enough about Full Metal Alchemist to respond to your undoubtedly insightful analysis.

Bachelor #2, the final contestant of the day and the fourth realtor, was in his late fifties and turned up in what I hope wasn’t his Sunday best: acid-washed jeans and a red plaid shirt under a pin-striped blazer. We introduced ourselves and after his initial questions about my parents he stared at me, silent.

“So it says here you like going to movies,” I said.

“I don’t.”

I shot a panicked look at my iPad. Damn it, I’d mixed him up with #3.

One of my friends says, during particularly uncomfortable lulls in conversation, un ange passe. The angel did not merely pass. The angel took one look at what was going on here and they noped away from it as quickly as they could.

After Talk Time, we were given about ten minutes to review profiles for a second time, update scores in case subsequent meetings had caused us to reevaluate earlier ratings, and express interest in potential partners. Given that I had no real horse in this race, I felt that I could be generous with my stars. I was not actually going to press the “Like” button on any of these men, but I wanted them to know it wasn’t personal.

Once the reviews were filed, I discovered to my vast relief that individual score breakdowns were not visible. We would neither see nor reply to comments. I would go the rest of my life never knowing who might have found my smile charming. This was the best news I’d heard all day; I could easily picture myself starting a flame war with whatever man might have the gall to criticize my sartorial choices.

The hostess then stood up to explain the rules for “Coupling Hopes Time.” Here we were allowed to file up to three requests to hook up with the men we’d met. (Thankfully, “none of the above” was also an option.) After several minutes had passed, the results were pushed to our devices, and the hostess explained the exit rules.

“Men will leave first. If you’ve succeeded at coupling up, please wait on the first floor for your partner to join you; otherwise, please leave the building. We’ll give you some time to clear out before we send the ladies down.”

Whenever attendees expressed mutual interest in each other via the PARTY«PARTY app, their contact info was automatically exchanged via email. In other words, there was no reason to meet up directly outside the door except to make sure that other people saw it. Any girl who had not been selected would have to stroll past those who had successfully paired off, while the unchosen men had been allowed to escape quietly. Anger flared in my gut. We clearly had the technology to handle this subtly and gracefully—why wasn’t it being used?

There’s a lot of social anxiety in Japan about declining marriage and birth rates, and women suffer a disproportionate amount of scolding about it. My frustration with that scolding was what had driven me to make this bad-faith show of trying and failing to land a husband. And while I didn’t mind being conspicuously alone, it didn’t seem fair that the girls who hadn’t clicked with any of the options on offer had to make the walk of shame.

As the hostess herded us into the lobby to wait for the elevator, I pulled out my purse flask, my restraint exhausted. I unscrewed the cap and noticed the girl from table 2 staring at me.

“Whiskey, miss?” I asked, and tilted the flask her way. She shook her head, eyes wide. I shrugged and knocked back two shots’ worth. We crowded into the elevator and exited into three waiting men. Their chosen partners fell back to speak to them.

I swung open the building’s main entrance and nearly knocked over the venture capitalist, who had clearly made some bad choices about where it was safe to stand. I winked, threw back the rest of my whiskey, and strolled away.

On my way home I stopped at the Bic Camera in Shinjuku and bought a new cell phone. I did not bother to install the PARTY«PARTY app on it.

Iori Kusano

Iori Kusano is an Asian American writer and grad student living in Tokyo. She is a graduate of Clarion West 2017, and her fiction has previously appeared in Apex Magazine. Find her on Twitter @IoriKusano and Instagram as @iori_stagram, or at kusanoiori.com.

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