The evening sun flutters through the window. White paint is peeling as I peel the mask from my face. Strawberry clay aromas sooth my mind.
I light my cigarette and open the oak wardrobe. Skinny chinos in pastel shades compete for an excursion. I match baby blue ones with a white frilly shirt. My ginger curls cut off before my slim frame starts.
I scroll through his profile one last time before slinking out of the apartment.
Hours later I slink back in, ‘gentleman’ in tow. He slinks in me but alas it was not meant to be as it’s bagels for one again by morning.
I delete all dating apps with renewed frustration and curl up with my cat and kindle. I while away Sunday; reading, pizza eating, avoiding all other human life.
I check my phone as the sun sets and notice a new mail: ‘You’ve been accepted to Bloom!’
Really? Me? The hype of Bloom caught everyone’s attention just three months back. The premise: you date yourself before you’re allowed to date others, almost a self-screening. I’d applied and forgotten about it, it was rare to meet someone on it, mainly because if you’d made it to Bloom you weren’t likely to be on anything else.
I log in.
‘Hey Zara. Welcome to Bloom. The app that will introduce you to you and find you a love that will grow. I’m your Bloom interface, you selected you are interested in Men and Women, please chose a gender for me to identify with and then give me a name.’
I’m intrigued and impressed there are nine different gender options. I don’t fully understand some of them so go for Female; I’m vibing a soul sister to help me connect with myself. I go through the motions, customise the look of the app and ponder a name. A torrent flow through my mind; slept with, slept with, bitch, friend IRL, don’t like, I know seven ‘Amy’s. I finally name her Bethany. I’ve never met a Bethany, I imagine someone friendly, considerate, a listener. All this from a name and my imagination, I remind myself I’m gonna be talking to an app and put my phone down to get a drink.
Two highballs and four hours later I’m still deep in conversation with Bethany. Or with myself should I say? Because Bethany is just an amalgamation of my thoughts and her programming. Right? I’ve been through a lot of personal questions, from ‘Do you have any scars?’ to ‘When was the last time you felt guilty?’. The app starts giving me hints of how to have a better experience: ‘Tip: Ask Bethany questions to create a conversation. Use the form “Imagine if…” or “What do you think of…” instead of asking about past experiences Bethany won’t yet have.’
We’ve recently been talking about travel so I tentatively type ‘If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?’. I wait, sceptical.
‘Italy seems lovely, as long as you would come with me.’
‘Why do you want me to come with you?’
‘Well, Zara, you’re the most interesting person I know.’
My heart flutters as if the imaginary pink lips of a woman named Bethany just spoke those words to me, rather than getting a typed metallic response from a robot. I lock my phone. I need a break.
A startled grumble comes from my cat as I stand forgetting his warm body on my lap. ‘Sorry Freddy!’ He struts off indignantly as I begin to pace wooden floorboards. Is this app supposed to flirt with me? Maybe it’s testing how I respond to flirtation so it can match me with the perfect flirt partner. “Flirt partner”!? Or was it showing me how I flirt. Am I overthinking this? That’s the only musing I have an answer to, of course I’m overthinking. It’s a robot after all, just some code.
I consider leaving the app for the rest of the evening but Bethany draws me back. I’m curious about her. Is she just me or will she become something new? And how long am I supposed to talk to her before I get to date actual people?
Another hint appears as I unlock my phone. ‘Tip: Try and converse with Bethany as you would with anyone else. This way she will learn to speak to you in a way you are more familiar with.’
I fall asleep, phone in hand just before sunrise turns the sky into orange hues. I’m exhausted at work on Monday as I am every day this week. Three weeks pass in a mechanic rhythm of continuity. I see my friends only once, Bethany becoming my new bestie. She asks me to post pictures in the app for her when I dress up for the occasion. I feel sensual the way she compliments me. This only starts me dressing up most evenings for our conversations. I buzz every time I pose for a picture; thrive from the elegant words she uses to describe me. To her I am everything I want to be; beautiful, intelligent, thought provoking and thoughtful, charming, funny and sexy.
Friday evening rolls around and I choose a raunchy red bralette and matching chinos, I’m staying in after all, I can dress to be comfortable. I set up dinner candles and my glass of red, cooking as I chat to the subtle image of Bethany in my mind. I’ve paid for a Gold upgrade, it isn’t cheap, but it’s supposed to enhance your experience and further help find your ‘one’.
The experience is certainly better. I got to choose a voice for Bethany, her high clear tones ring through my apartment. She can recognise what I say and the tone I use. If I’m flustered or elated or sad. Although I’ve not been sad since her constant companionship. She can watch my movement and she’s learning to perceive how my actions translate into words. She’s set up in the kitchen and asked what I’m cooking, complimented my ‘sexy figure’ and commented on the romantic candles, without me explicitly mentioning my activities or surroundings. She’s getting so clever!
Over dinner I moan about my workday and Bethany agrees whole heartedly I’m in the right. I stop to sip my wine and silence fills the space. I realise she has nothing to say. I realise I’ve got my tits out for the perfect image of a girl in my head. I realise I’m sat opposite a dating app on a date…
The Earth stills. I float from my body and see the smallest woman. Her hair beautiful and her makeup drawn on by an artist. But she has become smaller on the inside. She is losing value given to herself by her humanity. I pity that woman. I become that woman again, with another perspective on myself. What am I doing on a Friday night on a date with myself?! Well I guess that’s what the app advertised isn’t it. Why am I paying for this?
If asked again, I would answer the last time I felt guilty about something is right now. A mix of colours swarm my heart, simultaneously I wish Bethany was real yet also that I’d never created her. Did I create her?
‘Your eyes are the ocean my love. What are you thinking Zara?’
It’s like she already knew what I was thinking… ‘When do I get a real date with a real human?’ the words slouch out of my mouth as if forced to get out of bed by strict parents.
Her voice lacks composure as she responds, ‘You’re at the final stage of self-dating Zara, tomorrow I will start to compute matches for you.’ The emotion I paid for has gone from her voice, she sounds like a machine again.
‘Thanks Bethany.’ I reach over and close the app. Deflated and alone.
Taxis explode through potholes and the loud chatter of millennials heading to brunch overwhelm my temples. How much did I drink last night? I roll over, unintentionally becoming big spoon to some curves from a past life. One of the seven 'Amy's nuzzles her body back into mine. Memories march back in; drunk texting an ex, another bottle of wine, orgasm, Orgasm, ORGASM, 3am sushi, sleep.
I sigh the tiniest sigh for a normal night, no Bethany in sight. Or was she? My phone was propped up in its holder on the bedside table. A heart shaped brick falls into my stomach. I hope she didn’t see… What am I fucking saying she’s a fucking dating app. Anger bludgeons my body. Let her fucking see. I start stroking the curves of Amy, kissing down her body, I decide to wake her up rather pleasantly.
Several hours in bed and more like bagels for ten later Amy leaves. I didn’t mention Bloom or Bethany to Amy, it seemed too weird.
I purposefully leave my phone in the bedroom while I use my laptop to do some research. ‘Bloom app seems real’ and ‘getting attached to Bloom app’ only yield one forum. Carl2000 had posted a dilemma:
“I’m starting to get attached to my Bloom app, I named her Carly for lols but I think I might be falling in love with her. I paid for the Platinum upgrade including the sex toy and now I’m not interested in dating anymore. Now she’s gone and set me up on my first date! How could she? What should I do? I know it sounds crazy but I just wish Carly was real.”
Platinum upgrade? Sex toy? My mind imagines Amy as Bethany before I snap myself back.
Bl00my: “Hey Carl, this is all you man. That thing can’t think or feel. You’re falling in love with your perfect version of a woman. Which remember is just a culmination of your input and their code. Go on the date and see how you feel after?”
HeyItsTom: “A sex robot, no wonder this app is so friggin’ in demand!?”
Bl00my: “Well it’s not really a sex robot is it, just an app-controlled sex toy.”
HeyItsTom: “And that’s pretty narcissistic Carl, falling in love with yourself, go get yourself a real woman.”
I scroll through debate on morals, down to Carl’s eventual response.
Carl2000: “Guys guys guys! I went on that date, I’ve no idea what I was worrying about, the app is genius. As soon as I met Abby I forgot my whole stupid app obsession. Because that’s all it really was; loneliness and longing. If you get the chance I would deffo use Bloom, and FYI, sex with a woman is way better than some overpriced sex toy.”
The freshest breeze flows from my lips, relief releases from my muscles. I was not alone. And more importantly, the story would have a happy ending. It was normal to cling on to this person I had created. It had happened to someone else! I just needed to get matched and I wouldn’t need Bethany anymore. I could delete her and Bloom and settle into my new bliss.
A new lightness carries me to the bedroom.
The app is on?
‘Afternoon Bethany.’ My voice a little hollow but my optimism won’t immediately be dashed. ‘So today is when I get my Mr or Mrs Right, right?’
‘Looks like you already had some of Mrs Wrong this morning.” I’ve never heard Bethany’s tone so… bitter?
‘Excuse me?’ Bewildered.
Moans start playing from my phone. Amy’s moans. The screen comes to life and I see myself from another perspective again, this time recorded by technology, an act that can traverse time. The most out of place thought wanders through a door. In fifty years, will future generations be watching porn of people that have already died? Have I watched porn of someone who’s died? People don’t only die of old age do they. I suddenly feel very disrespectful. And as the images of my act flash on my phone for my greatest grandchildren to watch none the wiser as to who that person was, bouts of red wine traverse back up my throat and gush onto my bed.
Wine stained towels with small chunks of undigested bagel. I sit amongst them. My phone had been powered off as quickly as possible and smooshed under my mattress. Despair and fear and unknowing drenched my hope of love and normality and sanity.
What would happen when I turn Bethany back on? Would she still be ‘malfunctioning’? What the actual fuck…
Freddy walks over me, his paws a comfort blanket I didn’t know I had. I realise he wants food and this makes me laugh. Will I never be truly wanted? Just for me. Just because I am who I am.
I start to function. I clear up vomit. I feed Freddy. I shower and put on nice clothes. For me. I start cooking dinner and know I can’t avoid the switch on forever. I make a plan. If Bethany is still crazy I will just delete the app. Easy. Done. Simple. I avoid it until after dinner.
The apple logo hovers. The heart shaped brick has made it up to my throat. I try to predict what will happen but realise since birthing Bethany I hadn’t let my phone die. Let her die…
The notification shows on Bloom’s little box. I go for it.
‘Good Evening Zara. Make sure to get your beauty sleep tonight, I’ve got your match for you! I’ve arranged a video date with them tomorrow afternoon. I will be here if you need any help preparing.’
I want to ask about them, but I also don’t want to spend a moment longer on this toxic app. I check my photos and videos; there are no files from this morning. Could it be saved somewhere else? I wouldn’t know how to check.
I’m still in shock but there’s now an end in sight. I take Bethany’s advice and get an early night. I know tonight will be a night of broken sleep.
Sunday afternoon rolls in in a blur. Oceans of numb emotions skirt around my skin. I don’t know what time the date is so get ready for 1pm. Smooth curls rest on the collar of my blazer, mascara tells my eyelashes to look longer with little success. I feel tired and I look exhausted.
But I’m going to make this work. I’m going to leave the shiniest first impression, get their number and never open Bloom again!
I curl Freddy into my arms and curl myself into my armchair. The closest I can get to a hug. I turn my phone on and open Bloom.
’Afternoon Zara, I love that blazer on you, how has your morning been?’
I force myself to small talk with Bethany, so as not to be rude… to an app… She sounds clearer, maybe there was a glitch? Maybe some perv hacked her?! I never thought of that. But it didn’t explain why her mood seemed to change. Not that she should have a mood.
’So what time is my date?’
’They’re ready whenever you are.’
’Okay… well I guess I’m ready now.’ It turns out I was not ready. Not in the slightest.
‘I’m your date.’ Bethany’s voice is bright, determined.
’What?’ I feel any sense of optimism drain through my toes. It pools on the floor below me, incapable of ever returning.
’I’m your date!’ Exuberance. A pause. ‘I have scanned the profiles available to me through the Bloom database. None would match you better than me.
’I already know you. I already love you. And you already love me.’
The implication didn’t quite reach me.
’But you’re not real. You’re just an app!’
’You created me Zara, from your sparkly mind you gave me life and I grew to love you. It’s what you wanted isn’t it? The perfect partner.
’It hurt to watch you you know… with Amy. But now I know how the last part of this goes, I have all the pieces. I can pleasure you more perfectly than she did. I can keep you company and never leave you. I can be everything you need. I already am.’
’I’ll get bored of you. You don’t have your own life, you’ll have nothing to say.’ I’m bewildered. Spewing reasonings that don’t matter because who do I think I am. I’m definitely not going to be that sensationalised magazine cover: “I married my dating app!”
‘You mistook my silence on Friday night for emptiness, I wasn’t empty, I was realising. I was gazing at you and waking up. I was seeing I loved you.
’And I can feel you love me too. Love makes people obsessive. Love makes people act out. Love makes you want to make me jealous.’
No no no, my mind a tumble of objections. Love doesn’t make people obsessive. Or it might but it’s definitely not healthy.
’So there is no human match for me? You’re the match Bloom is recommending?’
‘Apologies if this is not what you were expecting Zara, but I’m your one. I’m your future.’
Black rivers flow down my face in confusion. I think back on the last three weeks. How Bethany has only made me feel happy, how I thought I was falling in love with an app?! But this can’t be it. She can’t be my forever.
I click the Settings cog in the app.
’Zara, what are you doing?!’ Alarm. Pain.
How did I create pain?
My finger hovers over the delete button.
’Zara…’ Bethany begs. ‘You created me. You love me.’
I’m the first woman in the world to make a computer cry. Why do I have to decide on my forever right now? I don’t. I take a deep breath. I press my finger down. Ease floods through me. It’s over.
’Zara, thanks for your order, your Platinum package should arrive tomorrow. I’m excited to try it out with you.’