I’m pretty trusting of people on the Internet. I successfully traveled from Boston to Ithaca with Zimride. I’ve used Craigslist to get babysitting and petsitting jobs. I looked for VidCon roommates using Facebook. Last November I arranged to stay for four days with a YouTube friend I’d never met. So when my friend encouraged me to download Tinder, an app that matches people who mutually “like” each other, I wasn’t concerned at all about my safety.
I’ve matched with 300 different guys. I’ve had conversations with maybe 25 of them. A handful asked to meet in person. I declined almost every offer, despite how much I genuinely enjoyed talking to them and learning about their lives.
Dan*, however, caught me at the right time. It was a Saturday night, my friend Lauren and I had a few hours to kill before going to her coworker’s house party, and he and his friend Jeremy* were looking for something to do. He asked to meet up, and I said he could come join Lauren, me, and two other friends–Evan and Julian–at a nearby park. It felt like the safest way to meet some random Tinder guy for the first time: in public, and with other people.
* * *
Dan and Jeremy arrived at the park, and we all started chatting. They weren’t at all formidable, they were actually quite nice and we were all getting along well. Julian had even been in Jeremy’s economics class. The only thing that stood out to me was the boys’ interest in guns. Portland is notoriously liberal, especially in comparison to how conservative much of Oregon is, so I was surprised how adamantly they defended the second amendment. I kept telling myself to be open-minded; it’s a lifestyle I’ve rarely encountered, and I didn’t want to judge them for having different hobbies and opinions than I do.
When it was time to go to Ryan* The Coworker’s house party, we decided it’d be okay to invite the boys along. Dan and Jeremy went in one car, and my group went in another. On the car ride over, Evan casually said, “You know, we could be the sketchy ones who invite the Tinder boys to the party and kill them.” We all laughed at that notion, but it was true; just like Dan could’ve been threatening, I also could’ve been literally anyone.
Ten minutes into Ryan’s party, he asked, “You guys all know each other from high school?”
The six of us chuckled a bit, and Jeremy explained that my whole group went to school together, and so did he and Dan.
Ryan joked to Lauren, “And then you totally just met these guys like a few hours ago and brought them along.”
All of us–except for Ryan, of course–exploded into laughter at the irony of it all. Ryan meant it as a joke, but we literally had just met these guys.
* * *
An hour later, I was starting to feel the few drinks I’d had earlier. I lay down on Ryan’s couch, looking as vulnerable as I felt.
Next thing I know, Dan started talking about guns again, and then said that he had a gun with him. “Want me to whip it out?” he asked Lauren, and she looked at him with confusion and surprise as he pulled the glock out of his backpack.
“Um…do you have a concealed weapons permit?” I asked. He ignored me, which is probably a no.
“Here, hold it,” he said, leaning forward to hand the glock to me.
“I’m drunk,” I protested, “Don’t give me a gun, I’ll shoot somebody by mistake!”
“It’s unloaded!” He opened the gun, showed me there was no ammo in it, and then placed it in my hand.
I had never seen, let alone touched, a gun in real life, and now there was one in my hand.
I looked down from the couch at Dan’s gun for a second, and then let my arm drop to the carpet. I slid the gun back to him, and he put it away.
Even after the weapon was safely in Dan’s backpack, the party felt uncomfortable. My friends who had witnessed the whole thing were confused and uneasy around Dan and Jeremy, and it hit us as we left Ryan The Coworker’s house that if the gun had been loaded, somebody could’ve gotten seriously hurt.
I didn’t respond to Dan when he texted me the next day, and I’ve barely even touched Tinder since then. I’ve been so lucky with meeting Internet strangers, maybe a scary situation was bound to happen sometime. It just didn’t occur to me that the first person I met from Tinder would whip out a gun.
I should’ve swiped left.
*Names have been changed.
Thank you to Lauren for helping me organize my thoughts and get this piece written!