“Someone put your UNI down in Scramble! Log in or create an account at www.scramble.fun and put down UNIs of people you’re interested in too!”
This message is every self-conscious person’s best fantasy and worst nightmare: positive attention that is both unprovable and untraceable. After mentally sifting through every remotely flirtatious interaction that I’d had in the past year and a half at Columbia, I have now realized that I could be the victim of automated, impersonal clickbait.
I decided to text all of my close friends to confirm that they hadn’t put my name down as a prank. Once I realized that 20 minutes of my life were now gone forever, I became irritated. I thought about how I hadn’t consented to be a part of whatever service Scramble.fun was, how my data could possibly (but improbably) be mined and sold on the dark web, and, worst of all, how it was a cop-out to express real feelings.
Those who know me well are probably rolling their eyes at that last idea. Until about five months ago, I was too anxious to even go on a first date. Interestingly enough, at that time, I also had not been single for over two years. A serial monogamist who capitalized on friends’ brave confessions of love both in high school and college, I purposefully avoided the uncomfortable position of possibly being rejected. When my last relationship finally ended, I complained to my friends about never doing anything spontaneous. I was tired of living through their Tinder dates and class crushes—I wanted my own risk-induced adrenaline rush.
On a stupidly late October night (at 1 a.m., to be exact), my friends helped me create accounts on several dating apps. Fearing male chauvinism and lecherous opening lines, I initially couldn’t bring myself to swipe on anyone, so I allowed one of my friends to take over and get matches for me. With the matches came messages, and with the messages came cheap instant gratification. But then a week passed, and it became clear to me that I didn’t intend to meet anyone from the apps.
I began to feel guilty—I had feared that they would objectify me for my body, but I was objectifying them by stringing them along for their compliments. I apologized and explained my situation to all of those who had been kind to me on the apps, and then deleted them from my phone.
Over the next few months, I went on real first dates with several men whom I met in real life. Though I approached some of them during fleeting moments of confidence, they were always the ones to formulate a specific plan to go out. All were respectful, engaging, and entertaining; they helped me conquer my fear of simultaneously getting to know a complete stranger and gauging my attraction to them without hiding my interest behind the guise of friendship.
One evening, I thought of a particularly adorable insomniac whom I had chatted with about being an Econ major—but NOT a sellout—on one of my apps. It was just after 6 p.m., and I wanted to go to a video game arcade downtown to play Dance Dance Revolution. I redownloaded the app, swallowed my pride, and messaged him to ask if he wanted to come with me … in 15 minutes. I figured that he would never message me back in time, so I would leave campus, giving myself an excuse to take back my invitation and curb my anxiety. But, two minutes later, I saw a notification pop up on my screen: “Meet at the compass at 6:15?”
It was my favorite first date by far, even though he did beat me on every level of DDR. Two days later, he asked me out to a movie. We’ve gone out together every weekend since. So, when I got that fateful Scramble email, I did wonder whether he was the cause. He assured me that he wasn’t, but only because he didn’t think he needed to tell me how he felt about me anonymously. He said that we should put each other’s UNIs down just to see whether we would actually match as the email had promised.
I realized then how silly it was of me to care who, if anyone, put my name down on the site: I liked someone, he liked me back, and we were happy. And, better yet, I had found the courage to make the whole thing happen. That alone means more to me than any stranger’s opinion. As for the dark web fears, I’m probably not any more likely to be the victim of a data breach than I already was as a user of Facebook and other social media sites.
So, dear reader, if you happen to be the creator of Scramble, thank you for showing me that I can receive random, anonymous attention without the need to overanalyze and base my self-worth on it. And, if you happened to have put my name down in Scramble, please don’t satisfy my curiosity by revealing yourself. Just promise me that you’ll take my advice and do something that makes you exceedingly uncomfortable for 15 seconds. If I have learned anything during these past five months, it’s that discomfort is not deadly. Go ahead and approach that cute person in lecture, message the person you bumped into in the JJ’s quesadilla line on Instagram, or ask to exchange numbers with the interesting stranger in your dorm. Even if nothing comes of it, you will grow from it, and you won’t regret that.
Laura is a sophomore in Columbia College studying economics and political science. She loves large dogs, Klimt paintings, taro boba, musical theater, and spirited political debates. In her free time, you can find her touring the Met, eating a New York slice at Sal & Carmine’s, or strolling down Central Park West on one of her marathon walks.