I wait in one of the old pool rooms in the Oaks at Neutral Bay and consider what his text message means:
“Running late. You still bothered? I’m keen but be another halfa. Still keen?”
When he puts it like that I wonder whether he actually is keen. Or if he is just saying that because he thinks I’m keen and he doesn’t want to let me down too hard. Is he letting me down softly? Is that what’s happening?
Earlier, when I phoned to ask whether he’d be interested in an interview about his experience using Tinder, he seemed delighted at the idea.
“That’s a bloody good idea. You can’t use my name though.”
“Don’t worry, Cam. I’ll use an alias.”
“Use Rocko. They’ll love it.”
A successful corporate lawyer at a leading international law firm in Sydney, Rocko spends his days coming up with the right kind of language. The kind of language that gets his clients where they need to be. (Not where they want to be; the world isn’t like that.) I know these things because I too, recently enough, was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at an equally prestigious law firm.
“You’re out of the profession,” he said, “but Tinder’s a lot like a sale and purchase agreement.”
“I’ll tell you when we talk in person. Trust me.”
There’s no-one in the pool room, just a pool table and a few burgundy leather lounges along the walls. The carpet’s threadbare in places, patterned with something like paisley. Saturday-afternoon light strains through a bank of windows, below which the beer garden hums and people clink glasses; some of them on dates, I have no doubt.
I’ve now finished both of our schooners and am contemplating sending Rocko another text when he swings into the room.
“Sorry I’m so late,” he says, “fucking nightmare.”
He’s at least had the presence of mind to pick up a couple of beers on his way in.
“You made the right call,” he says, dropping his laptop bag onto the seat next to me. “Law’s a mug’s go.”
We talk for a while about the deal he’s working on.
“It’s worth less than fifty mil. But it’s fucked. It’s brutal.”
It takes him three schooners to decompress. I can almost hear the hot air hiss out of him. Rocko’s a good-looking guy. He doesn’t wear work on his face like some. The lines seem more earned than suffered, and his receding hairline and thinning crown foretell a becoming kind of baldness. At thirty-one, he’s not far away from being offered partnership at his firm – a gold-plated future awaits him.
“So,” I say, swaying a touch from booze. “Tell me about your last Tinder date.”
“Rubbish,” he says. “She didn’t rock up.”
“You happy for me to include that in the piece?”
He laughs. “Why not.”
He’s not fazed by his dating failures, or so he’d like me to believe. There was a period, he says, a few months ago, during which he was seeing five different girls at the same time.
“Not one of them liked me. And that was fine. Tinder isn’t about love. That’s the first rule of Tinder. But it’s the first rule of love as well. Look, you go out, looking hard for it, at a bar. No! That doesn’t work. People can smell that kind of thing. It has to be about confidence. A kind of not-caring attitude. That’s what people like.”
I wanted to know if he thought this was perhaps just the way things go in the beginning, in the early stages of courtship, after which there develops something more meaningful, but he veered off.
“There’ve been far too many times when I’ve let the chat go on and on before the first date. You develop a rapport, then boom! She’s not at all like her photos; she’s grossly misrepresented herself.”
“That should be unlawful.”
“It is,” he says. “I’m sure of it.”
He approaches Tinder with the same industrious flair as his work.
“Why reinvent the wheel when you’ve already got great template language from a previous deal?”
He’ll copy-paste the same lines, slightly varied if necessary to suit context, and send them out en masse. When I ask him to share some examples he waves me away.
“Trade secrets,” he says.
A few young women walk past our room without glancing in. Down below, the beer garden picks up pace, leaning towards the night.
Since his last serious relationship ended two years ago, Rocko has dedicated himself to work. Top tier law firms expect eighty hour weeks from would-be partners, so to arrange dates from his office is congenial. While I’m curious to know roughly what number of women Rocko’s slept with from Tinder, I’m not sure how to frame the question. I do ask, however, whether he’d mind if I speak to his ex-girlfriend about him.
“No fucking way. Besides, I deleted her contact details. Facebook, everything.”
“Who ended it?”
He sucks the frothy dregs from his glass and says: “Your round or mine?”
He doesn’t wear work on his face like some. The lines seem more earned than suffered, and his receding hairline and thinning crown foretell a becoming kind of baldness.
Back at the bar I’m aware of the number of people on their phones. Maybe I’m over sensitive on this particular Saturday, but it’s as though there are more people engaged with their phones than with other people.
“You mentioned something about sale and purchase agreements the other day?”
“Did I?” he says. “Shit. Just goes to show where my head’s at.”
“So there isn’t a likeness?”
He rubs his chin.
“Mate, it’s my only few hours off a week. I don’t wanna talk about work.”
I remind him that we’re here to discuss Tinder and he leans back, crosses his legs, peers up at the window.
“Tinder’s work too, mate. Bloody hard work.”
My sense is that Rocko’s a happy enough person, though agitated by the pressures of his job and the goals he’s set. I suppose for now love takes a back seat. And accessible sex reigns hot. I want to know if this is right.
“Not at all. I’m fucking lonely mate.”
I’d believe him, but he says this with an ironic smirk, a vulpine glint. Perhaps he means it, but if he does, how the hell would you know?
Dominic Carew is a lawyer and writer from Sydney.
Painting by Albert Anker, Still Life of Beer and Black Winter Radish (1898)