Texting seventeen people on Tinder, and going to strange rooms houses apartments might not be the best move. Last week, I sat on my friend’s carpet, and she asked me to hand her the applesauce sitting on her minifridge. I passed it to her, and she took the spoon out, holding it aloft as she gulped straight from the jar. Still kneeling on the floor, I let my head sink into the dark pile of blankets at the foot of her bed. Her fingers landed in my hair, massaging my scalp. I looked up after a few minutes. Her tight red coils were recently dyed and washed. The post–breakup cartilage piercing she had gotten two days ago glinted gold.

Angie works evening shifts at the gym, while I go in the morning. I went in the evening once and it was awful—every locker already full, too many guys swarming around the benches, flexing, shouting, and dribbling on the basketball court. On my way out, I saw Angie at the front desk with her two red buns and dozens of chains, chatting excitedly with her coworker. I wanted to say hi but didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, so I headed out without looking in her direction.

When I first met her in August, I found her intimidating. She seemed nice, but she was 5–foot–10 and beautiful, glitterfaced, with a tattooed waist, a cropped top that barely covered her chest, heavily lined eyes. In the circle of introductions that plagued those first couple weeks of the semester, I asked for her name and promptly forgot it. I had to meet her two more times for her name to finally sink in.

Last week, when I was sitting on her floor, he messaged me at 8:51 p.m.


“Ru still down to chill?”

I often walked alone at night, but a stranger’s apartment seemed more threatening than a house show off an alley, so I asked Angie if we could share our locations with each other. I sank back down to lie on the carpet, and she called up her girls to ask if they wanted to go out and get drunk later.

I started walking at 9:20 p.m. Stopped in front of the unknown building entrance around 9:28 p.m. Stood in the wind for a few minutes after he said he’d be down in a second. Walked to the end of the block, spun around, and was a few buildings away when he texted that he couldn’t see me.

At what point does a stranger become a non–stranger? Maybe it’s in the elevator, when you lean back against the cold mirror walls and discreetly check his Instagram page for his full name. Maybe it’s when he holds the door open for you, and you find out that he has wood flooring and green mugs, that he has a photo of his parents on the right side of his desk, that he keeps the pizza seasoning next to the ground coriander on his spice rack. His family probably doesn’t know that he stacks his maroon towels on a closet shelf next to a half–empty bag of rice cakes.

The next morning I was wide awake by 8 a.m., but I stayed under the covers for another couple hours because I wasn’t sure if it would be rude to leave. He snored softly beside me, his arm gently wrapped around my waist. The blankets vibrated. Angie was texting from her laptop, asking for her phone’s location. I pulled up the app and sent her a screenshot—it was at the frat house she had gone to last night. I’m still in this guy’s room, but I can grab it for you if you want. She was at work, she responded, but one of her other friends could get it. But thank you so so much bae. Wrapped up in the arms of this non–stranger, I waited in suspense as her updates slid in one by one—she forgot most of last night, blackout drunk, late for work, bad hookup, worst night ever. I tried to mirror her fire, all uppercase letters and exclamation marks, but when the conversation came to an end I stared at her last text for a minute before throwing it back onto the pillow and closing my eyes again.

I went back to that apartment building a couple times. Same omw texts, same wait in the cold, same mirrored elevator walls, carpet hall, wood–paneled bedroom floor, offers of water. Every time he fell asleep, I lay awake, staring motionlessly at the dim red LED strips that outlined his ceiling.

It is a beautiful thing to be called beautiful by a lover.

It is a crippling thing to be called beautiful by a non–stranger.

Tonight I lie alone in my bed, scrolling through my Instagram feed. It’s all hard muscle and protein supplements, lean torsos bulky quads, thin pretty women in expensive skin–tight sports clothes, perfectly made–up faces preaching listen to your body while posting salads, nuts, grilled chicken—branded makeup palettes and essential oils—self care and wellness—pilates instructors with defined obliques in pristine gyms—strong women with rippling back muscles doing pull–ups—lift heavy for abs—curvy not bulky women with tan skin and false eyelashes sipping wine posing with friends.

My scrolling is interrupted by a hey from marcus hinge. Underneath it are the unread messages from garnet tinder, who is 23, presumably, and has a nice face and wants to take me out to dinner. He knows I am 18. I know that marcus hinge just wants to hook up—his previous text was “tryn blow your back out ngl” and I hadn’t responded in two days. I text garnet tinder that I am free Thursday night.

I check Angie’s location to see if she’s home, intending to invite myself over, but she’s at the gym. Probably working a late shift. My eyes start to close, and I fall asleep with my phone under my pillow.