Will Varner / BuzzFeed
It was Blink-182 who once wisely sang about how being 23 fucking blows. They were definitely onto something there.
That’s what I thought to myself on a night in December, a little over a year ago, as I kicked off my slush-covered boots, tossed my coat in the corner, and defeatedly threw myself across my bed. It had been that kind of day. No. Actually, it had been that kind of five months.
I had moved to New York City the second I finished grad school, with one suitcase and my life entirely figured out. I had an amazing (paid) internship, an affordable living situation, a bunch of friends who were making the move with me, and a long-distance boyfriend I had been with since my freshman year of college. At first, life was ridiculously good — too good.
Let’s fast-forward a couple of months, because that’s basically how long it took for everything to unravel. My lease had fallen through, and after two weeks of couch surfing, I had to part ways with my roommate and move into a studio apartment — my extroverted nightmare. I was still reeling from a painful breakup with the college boyfriend, had just started my first real entry-level job at a women’s lifestyle magazine, and realized soon after that I had pretty much nothing in common with most of my co-workers.
Things had gone from perfect to struggling to get out of bed in the morning. My entire life, I had dreamed of being here in New York. I had banked my happiness on achieving those dreams. But now that I was here, I was anxious. I was lonely. And I had fallen into a depression I couldn’t manage to climb my way out of. Every night I lay in bed, terrified that this was it.
That night in December, sticking with routine, I pulled out my phone and called my best friend Jess, who was living much too far away in Columbus, Ohio. Jess and I met the first day of soccer preseason before my freshman year of college, and we had survived countless drunken, degenerate nights together. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.
Jess came out to me the summer after we graduated from college and was still learning how to navigate the whole “gay scene.” That particular night, she told me about a hot girl she had recently met on Tinder — according to her, lesbians’ primary mode of “networking” — and their first date. She said that it had gone really well, but she didn’t feel that ~spark~ and was just planning to be friends with her.
“What do you mean, you’ll just be friends?” I asked. “Like, you both find each other attractive. That’s what swiping right means…isn’t it?”
I just didn’t think things worked that way, but Jess assured me it wouldn’t be weird. She said it was hard to make friends in the real world, and especially in the gay community, “so sometimes you have to take what you can get.”
Making friends in the “real world” — friends that weren’t from school, or work, or people you previously knew elsewhere? That was an anomaly to me. Seriously, how the fuck did that even happen? And then it clicked: If Jess could find friends on Tinder, surely I could find a soccer team.
All my life, most of my closest friends have come from playing soccer. The field is where I’ve always found the people I mesh with: tough, competitive, sarcastic, goofy, honest, and always down for a beer and a good time. Soccer was the safety net I always went back to, anytime things went wrong. So I started to think that if I found a team, I’d be OK.
But none of the people I knew in the city wanted to get a beer and watch football with me, let alone actually play a sport. Although I felt lucky to have a handful of friends from school and work, a lot of the time I felt like I was just going through the motions with them. It’s insane to think that it’d be hard to find “your people” in a city filled with over 8 million of them. But you’d be surprised.
I had a lot of female friends, my industry being 99.9% women, but I really missed hanging out with guys, in what most people would think of as a more masculine way. I missed shooting the shit. I missed constantly joking around, people picking on me and me picking on them. That’s how my parents raised me and my three siblings, and things didn’t feel right without it. I also knew that if I wanted to form a successful co-ed soccer team, I was going to need to find some men who wanted to play.
That night, I downloaded Tinder. I hadn’t seen a reason to sign up for it until then, or any other dating apps; after four years in a relationship, I needed the chance to figure out who the hell I was, independent of anyone else. In no way was I ready to date. But I was more than ready to find someone who might be a potential teammate. I uploaded a few photos of myself, and intentionally left the bio blank. (What guy was going to swipe right if he knew I only wanted him for his athletic ability?)
I spent two months sifting through countless guys, searching for anyone whose photos or profile suggested that they might play soccer.
Left….wait, right! His third photo is in a soccer uniform!
There were a surprising number of men who played soccer in the city, and an unsurprising number of them who thought that I didn’t actually want to “play soccer” with them. I messaged with over 20 guys who said they were interested in playing, and actually met up with seven.
Zero of them actually followed through, once they realized I was serious. I mean, I get it. This was not what the app was created for. But I was determined to make it work.
Never having been on anything like Tinder before, it took a little while to get used to the sweet and thoughtful messages guys would send me, such as “Hey cutie, I’d like to fuck the innocent right off your face,” “I have a 9 inch penis and I know how to use it,” and my all-time favorite: “Hi Shannon I was wondering if I could munch on your box.” That last one was sent at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday. At least he was polite?
Then, in late January, I matched with a guy named J.J. After messaging for a few weeks, we decided to meet up for a drink…on Valentine’s Day. (It wasn’t on purpose, OK?) Apparently we had gone to the same college, and apparently he was “really good at soccer.” He seemed like he was actually interested in playing in the city, and I thought, What the hell, why not.
We met at one of my favorite bars on the Upper East Side, and the night was filled with a lot of shots and post-college talk about whose intramural team probably beat whose, possible mutual friends, and how much we missed campus. He was also newer to the city, also had a living situation he wasn’t fond of, and loved being on a soccer field just as much as I did.
The difference between J.J. and all the other guys I had met was that he talked to me like an actual human being. He didn’t sloppily try to flirt with me, or make sexual innuendos. Spending time with him was comfortable. It was fun. And I thought, Holy shit, this guy actually wants to play soccer with me.
Then, as we were leaving the bar at the end of the night, he asked me if I wanted to go home with him. My heart dropped. There it was: the line that without fail ended every. single. meetup. I politely declined and left. I was so disappointed.
The next day he messaged me, saying he’d had a great time and would like to hang out again. I was skeptical, but I had sincerely enjoyed his company, and he seemed to miss playing soccer just as much as I did. I thought that as long as I could make it clear I wasn’t looking for anything more than friendship, there was still hope.
The second night we hung out, I met J.J. at his friends’ tiny Chinatown apartment. Their kitchen was decorated with beer coasters, there was hockey on the TV, and they had soccer scarves hanging from their walls — it hadn’t even been five minutes, and I already liked these people (though I’d never admit that to them now). I remember sitting on a massive brown corduroy couch that took up the entire living space as he introduced me to Matt and Kevin. Both said that, although they hadn’t really played before, they would be up for starting a soccer team, and that they had co-workers or friends who would also love to play. They said even their third roommate, Reed, had played in high school and might be in as well.
Although I didn’t stay long, that night I went home the happiest I had been in months (which had felt like years). A smile crept across my face, and it felt good there. It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t fake. I prayed it was there to stay.
Over the next few months, J.J. and I became close friends (definitely nothing more, for those who are still wondering), and those guys and I spent a lot of time together: playing pickup soccer, watching NYCFC games at Yankee Stadium, going on hikes upstate, and having a few too many whiskey nights — basically just infinite variations on drinking and sports. As time went on, we each naturally added people to the group — friends from work, college, home, etcetera. It got to the point where we could field a pickup soccer game in Central Park on our own. Spending time with them, I started to feel like myself again, for the first time in a year — and there is no feeling more incredible, let me tell you.
Every day got a little bit brighter. I got a new job at an amazing place where the people are weird and great and I get to do what I love. I moved out of my studio apartment, and eventually — yup — started a soccer team. I’m reminded all the time that the way things played out for me is exceptionally unlikely, and how crazy it is to have found a second family here through Tinder, of all places.
I know that this wouldn’t have been possible without someone like J.J. Unlike all the other guys I had met up with, he put aside his ego, accepted our relationship for what it was, and decided that being friends worked. He’s loyal and honest and actually turned out to be a decent soccer player — OK, he scores most of our goals. At first, I don’t think he was completely convinced I had truly gone on Tinder just for soccer, but I’m pretty sure he’s come around since. Now we swap relationship advice, and I even wrote his current Tinder bio for him (it’s 10 times better than the one he had before). But as amazing as it was to find J.J. as a best friend, the best part of all is the incredible group we’ve built together, which has made NYC feel like home to me.
It’s hard making friends after college, just like it’s hard to move away from your home and your family, hard to get through a messy breakup, hard to start your first job, and hard to push yourself out of your comfort zone and go after the things you’ve always wanted. Transitioning into being an adult is rough, and it’s almost impossible to know if you’re doing it right.
But you never know how things are going to turn out. Maybe tomorrow you’ll meet your best friend. And maybe over time the two of you will bring together a group of people who mean the world to you. Maybe you’ll get that dream job you’ve worked so hard for, fall in love again, form a fucking undefeated soccer team, and possibly even find yourself along the way.
It’s a Monday night, and 10 of us are over watching football at “Chateau Lemon,” the guys’ new, ridiculously huge and beautiful apartment (named after their “budding” lemon tree, which I’m still skeptical is an actual lemon tree, to be honest).
I’m sitting on a massive brown corduroy couch in front of the TV; the same couch I was sitting on when we first talked about putting together a soccer team last winter — we’ve won two league championships since, NBD — and the same couch I drunkenly crashed on many nights afterward. I take a sip of my beer, look around, and smile.
I still can’t quite believe how much has changed in just a year. This Valentine’s Day, J.J. and I celebrated our one-year Tinderversary. My friends and I always laugh when people ask us how the hell we all know each other, because where do you even start with explaining this? Who’s going to believe it was one right-swipe that brought our random, obnoxious, awesome family together?
I look over at J.J. and high-five him.
“We did good,” I say.
If Jess could find friends on Tinder, surely I could find a soccer team.