As a woman rapidly approaching 30, one of my largest personal failings is the fact that I’ve yet to go on a first date that involves eating food on purpose. Sure I’ve knocked back enough whiskey, PBR, red wine spritzers, and tequila shots on dates both good and bad to all but ensure my liver will fail before I end up walking down the aisle. But when it comes to being asked to sit down with a man for a meal that didn’t come in a paper bag from a place we happened to wander by, things haven’t quite metastasized. Which is why the ever-increasing popularity of “Netflix and chill” — the teen vernacular that even your parents have undoubtedly started bandying about now — has not surprised me one bit.
Romance may not be dead, but it sure is swiping itself quickly into the grave, if the nine-app deep folder on my phone optimistically titled “Love [kissy face emoji]” is any indicator. In the two-ish years that I’ve been on and off Tinder, the app tells me I’m currently matched with a staggering 900 men. But the one thing those 900+ matches haven’t yielded? A relationship of any real significance. And while it’s easy to point to Tinder and its intimacy-eschewing compatriots as the root cause, maybe the root cause was something else: me.
In 900 matches — a number so staggering it would have been inconceivable to consider even ten years ago — I’d expected to date the way people used to ten years ago. But if an entire society of happy young daters was willing to modernize the ways in which they found love, who was I to stay bullish on dating like we were still in the past? What if all the cool teens with their commitment to casual dating were right? There was only one way to find out. Find someone to Netflix and chill with, and report back.
If you search Urban Dictionary, the Oxford English for teen slang, a delightful little description pops up for the phrase “Netflix and chill”:
Definition: Code for two people going to each other’s houses and fucking or doing other sexual related acts.
Brad: "Hey Julia wanna come over and watch Netflix and chill"
Julia: "Sure I'll pick up the condoms"
Brad: "Wait I thought we were just gonna watch Netflix and chill?"
Julia: "Netflix and Chill means we fuck, dumbass"
Yes, I assumed having a date on someone’s couch probably helped lubricate nerves, among other things, more than an awkward date at a crowded restaurant, but as I said, I’ve never been asked to dinner before, being of the generation that would much rather “grab drinks” and “hang,” than place a napkin in their laps. I truly believed “Netflix and chill” was an even cheaper way to de-pressurize dating in a still sluggish post-recession economy; a romantic first act for the incredibly lazy and chronically underemployed. This naivety (which elicited an “Oh my god, that’s so adorable” from one friend, and a “Have you ever met people before??” from another) is precisely why I had no qualms about firing off a three word missive — “Netflix and chill?” — to oh, say, I don’t know, 75 men in the last week.
It did not go well.
My approach was straightforward: “Netflix and chill? I hear it’s all the cool teen rage these days,” which I hoped would offer me an out if I was immediately rejected. But judging by the reactions I received, no one else labored under the false delusions that I did. Men, for all their bravado of how easy it is to hookup these days, are overwhelmingly terrified by the idea of being propositioned simply for sex.
Brian, an MBA student who I propositioned on Bumble, the female friendly version of Tinder, coldly replied with a stop sign emoji, followed by “My priorities are family, friends, and faith. Hookups can swipe left.” Despite my lack of reply, he blocked me shortly after.
Assuming I needed to cater to a clientele with far less discerning standards, I turned to Tinder. I didn’t fare much better. Multiple men — including seven who made it abundantly clear on their profiles that they were only interested in hookups — all originally flirted back. But before my panic that I might actually have to go have sex with a stranger set in, every single one of them demurred to a variant of “Let’s get drinks and get to know each other first.” I was up 13 dates with nary a couch or a carefully curated queue in site.
Men were overwhelmingly terrified by the idea of being propositioned simply for sex.
“People want to Netflix and chill with people they like, not with strangers,” explained my friend Dan, when I aggressively questioned him about why no one would let me sexually objectify them in the name of streaming services. “It doesn’t need to be romantic, but you still need to know someone to hook up with them. Plus, inviting people over to ‘watch a movie’ has been a ‘thing’ for decades.”
I continued to try valiantly to find someone willing to Netflix and chill with me, yet man after man kept offering up dates in its stead. In an unexpected twist of events, the more frank I got — dropping the cutesy caveat, adding to my profile that I was looking for someone “adventurous enough to Netflix and chill on the first date” — the more men wanted to really date me. Drink offers were upped to dinners, weeknights swapped out for weekends. If sex was power, my faux bravado had made me the Rihanna of Tinder.
“I mean, sure, I’d be up for that,” offered my friend David, who recently turned 30, when I asked him if he’d shoot a woman down who offered to euphemistically Netflix and chill with him. “But, okay, do people honestly say ‘Let’s Netflix?’ I don’t like the phrasing of it. I really may be on the wrong end of this generational gap.”
The rest of the week didn’t go any differently; out of roughly 100 men propositioned over a seven-day period on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel, I ended up going on exactly zero Netflix and chill dates (though I have set up six dinners over the course of three days next week). Ready to throw in the towel after seven straight days of Tinder failure and a family dinner that had done little to abate my ever-increasing stress, I was ready to Netflix and chill with the one date that wouldn’t let me down: myself.
If sex was power, my faux bravado had made me the Rihanna of Tinder.
I was staying with my best friend at the time, who — as I learned when I barged into his house like a tear-soaked bat out of hell — was not only out of town, but apparently had a new roommate move into the house. A shirtless, attractive new roommate who happened to be watching (you guessed it!) Netflix on his laptop when my runny mascara face popped into his room to see who was about to bear witness to me inhaling my body weight in ice cream while binge watching crime procedurals.
Initial niceties were dispensed, snot-covered handshakes were made, and despite my apparently interminable tears, a now-unfortunately shirted, mildly uncomfortable Kevin was insistent on playing good host. “Do you want to have a drink upstairs? I was just watching TV,” he offered.
“Not reall-ll-ll-y,” I bawled. “I just wanted to cry, and eat, and watch The Good Wife on Hulu instead of Netflix out of solidarity, and now you’re here and it’s so much worse.” No one said I was great at first impressions.
Kevin was unperturbed. Half a black cherry rum and diet Coke later, I had stopped crying by accident. One glass in and we were engaged in a spirited debate about our jobs, the tech industry, and why no one feels comfortable talking about their accomplishments anymore. Two drinks deep and I’d all but forgotten about CBS dramas.
‘Netflix and chill’ may not be a great first date. Ultimately the pressure of such upfront expectations manages to add an extra layer of stress, rather than sex appeal. But as it turns out Netflix and chill — no quotations — is a pretty great one. What started as a joke about my terrible taste in television quickly led to an hour and a half of banter better than I’d had on most dates. (Even though Kevin and I never got past the most benign of flirting, much less rounded a single base. )
It was neither a hook up nor a dinner date, there were no condoms or cloth napkins, and the drinks were procured from a very dusty corner of someone else’s freezer. But there was a comfort level that came only from the very first thing someone knowing about me was that my TV show of comfort was a Julianna Margulies drama targeted to women above 45.
While I may briefly miss the unexpected power of being able to convert aggressive “Netflix and chill?” flirtation into three-course meals, I think I’ll find a way to manage. After all, Netflix is for fucking. Hulu is for lovers.
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