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#onlinedating | Pandemic passion fades when online lovers meet ‘IRL’: Short fiction by Hannah Michell | #bumble | #tinder | #pof | romancescams | #scams

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They had agreed to meet as soon as the quarantine was over, so on the morning the all clear is announced, Jay slides into his corolla and heads north. At the military checkpoint at the Los Angeles county line, he texts his friend Andy, who moved to Seoul when the second lockdown was announced.

“I’m driving up to meet Chloe.”

It’s almost midnight in Seoul, but Andy responds right away.

“That’s huge man, I heard they lifted the travel restrictions. You’ve been waiting a while. It’s going to be hot.”

“I’m going to marry her,” Jay texts back.

“Is that a joke? You’ve never even met her in person.”

“When you know, you know,” he texts back, before throwing his phone onto the passenger seat.

The drive from L.A. takes him less than five hours and he’s earlier than planned, passing stately looking homes with large For Rent signs hanging outside. It is almost noon, but it is overcast, the fog like a pest with dull teeth, gnawing on his bones.

For two years, a state of quarantine has been like a flickering light. It’s made a mark on the Berkeley campus. Windows are shuttered and classrooms have collected a thin layer of dust. As he walks towards the archaeology building, a herd of deer look up, offended by the intrusion.

While he waits outside the unassuming brick building, he looks at her photo on his phone, the one he had seen first on the dating app. She is wearing a sweater which hangs suggestively off her shoulder. Unlike the other women on the app, she’s not wearing any makeup. A natural beauty, she has thick, heavy-looking hair and warm, friendly eyes. Under the prompt, “A special talent of mine,” she is holding a birthday cake with an ironic smile. When Jay had showed it to Andy over Zoom, he had shrugged it off and made a swiping motion. Andy figured he had it down to a formula: women with exotic travelscapes wanted adventure and no strings fun. Those holding pets or their friends’ children wanted commitment.

Before Andy left for Seoul his philosophy was to Zoom often and with many, meeting a long succession of women between quarantines to eliminate the ones with whom he had no chemistry. Jay finds the whole calculus exhausting and cynical. For him it has only ever been Chloe. It wasn’t only her photograph, anyway, which piqued his interest. It was what she had written in her profile. Currently living in Berkeley, California, I’m a nomad looking for my way home. He messaged her right away. Over the next few days, he learned that she was a doctoral student in the archaeology department writing a thesis on migration practices and residential mobility of ancient civilizations.

“What exactly is it that you do?” He had asked, only mildly intimidated by her intelligence.

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