Nina made me go to the camp. I only brought it up to make fun of it, but then Nina was like, “No, you have to go.” Nina thinks I’m too hung up on Declan, that I should “get back out there.” Nina has been dating the same guy, Jens, for seven years. When I ask her what she did over the weekend, sometimes she says they just stayed in bed together and ate. This is supposed to make me feel sorry for her.
The camp lasts for three full days—Thursday through Sun- day—and it’s run by a dating app. The camp is for people who use the app. On this app, the only information you’re allowed to list is five of your “favorites,” and then you’re only allowed to talk to five “favorite” people at a time. This is what makes the app different from other apps, but it’s still pretty much the same. The idea of the camp is that all these single people will come together and canoe and get drunk and fall in love, I guess.
I have to take a day off work to go. I tell them that my grand- ma died. It feels okay, because she died five years ago.
All the campers are shuttled upstate together in three school buses. My bus smells like old vinyl. Someone has scratched a pentagram into the seat in front of me.
Guys keep filing onto the bus and glancing around in a sweaty way. I’m afraid one of them will try to sit with me, so I get out my phone. I have a text from Nina and a text from my boss. Jens and I want pictures! says the one from Nina. Hang in there, you’ll get through this, says my boss. He’s talking about my grandma.
“Oof. Hi.” A girl plops down next to me. Everything about her looks smooth, like she’s one of those people who makes money doing YouTube makeup tutorials. “Is it okay if I sit here?” she asks. “I know the whole point is to be meeting dudes, but I just am not there yet.”
“No problem,” I say. “I get it.” I lean my head against the bus window, but that makes my forehead vibrate uncomfortably, so I sit up again.
“Besides, isn’t this like a three-hour bus ride?” she asks. “I don’t want to be stuck with someone that long.”
“Well, that’s like first-date length,” I point out.
“Girl,” she snorts. “Are you going on three-hour first dates? That’s way too long.”
“Well,” I say again, and make a sound that could be a laugh. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to leave, you know?”
“It’s not hard. Hey, this has been great, but I’ve got an early morning tomorrow so I’m gonna head home.” She arches her eyebrows at me and starts digging around in her bag. “What on earth do you find to talk about for three hours?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Nothing.” Behind us, someone starts playing Nelly from a bag that is also a speaker. “Actually,” I say, “I was at a bar with a friend recently, and there was a couple behind us on a first date. They were asking all the regular first-date questions, and using that fakey first-date voice? And it actually made me feel physically ill. Just like, intense dread. I was like, I don’t want to be near this anymore, and I don’t want to do it anymore.”
“So you came here,” she says.
“Yeah. I know.”
“Sh,” she says with a smirk, “listen,” and gestures around us. The guy across from us is going, “Outside Boston originally, where are you from?” and two rows up a girl is saying, “A brother and a sister, yeah, I’m the oldest,” and three different people are laughing aggressively.
“Oh,” I say. The girl next to me locates a pair of earbuds in her bag.
“You into podcasts?” she asks me, shaking out the knots in her headphones. “I’ve turned into a podcast fanatic.”
“Not really,” I say.
“You’re missing out,” she says. “What’s your name? I’m Sarah.”
“Well, Lee,” she says, putting in her earbuds, “see you in a few hours.”