The algorithm took into consideration the common interests, venning friendships, and left-to-right swipe-ratio-categorised attractiveness brackets of the two users before providing each with the other’s profile card for approval.

At 19:15 BST, which by now the algorithm had determined as her peak time of app usage, the female user sat in one of the give-up seats at the front of a single-deck city bus where, via the interface of her smartphone’s algorithm-based dating app, she encountered the male user’s profile card for the first time.

Upon seeing his profile card (which, like the rigidly customisable profile cards of the algorithm-based dating app’s other non-premium users, consisted starkly of a forename- and age-bearing header, a scrollable gallery of six 500-x-500px square images and, below that, a geographical location marker and maximum five lines of introductory sans-serif text), the female user close-to-instantly registered that the male user was the exact type of guy that she (and the algorithm both) would classify as ‘her type’.

The algorithm took note of the haste with which the female user scrolled through, and then back a second time through, the pictures of the male user, the celerity with which she accordingly swiped right on his profile card constituting, by a comfortable margin, a record decision-making time for a user otherwise grouped into the algorithm’s upper-eightieth percentile for choosiness.

After presenting to the female user a rendering of the word ‘LIKE’ stamped diagonally across the male user’s forehead, the algorithm dissolved the male user’s profile card from the dating app’s main display and generated a fullscreen dynamic ad intended to appeal directly to the female user by implementing the use of her habitual search interest record so as to promote to her a product relevant to her known wants and spending behaviours. In the case of the female user specifically, said product was a cosmetic cream manufactured to tighten loose or flabby skin below the mandible.

Midway through the ad’s eighteen-second playtime, the female user clicked her smartphone locked and stared out of the nearest bus window. Whether or not she absently ran the backs of her fingers over the soft underside of her chin as she watched the passing world and considered her place in it, the algorithm could not say.

The male user, supine, abed, and whose average peak time of app usage occurred some six hours later than that of the female user, came across her profile card mid-deck, roughly thirty profile cards deep into his late-night swiping binge. The algorithm arranged these encounters strategically, needling a user’s most statistically likely matches into the dense haystacks of their least statistically likely matches in order to prolong the stretches of unbroken, habit-forming in-app time spent by its users.

As the male user observed the female user’s profile, so too did the algorithm observe him; surveilled the way he, predictably, paused longest on her profile’s lone bikini pic while cycling through the cloud-stored images retrieved from the dating app’s central image database whose actual physical servers were located 4,000+ transatlantic miles from the male and female users’ city of mutual residence. The male user concentrated long enough on the image of the female user to begin feeling confined by it.

In full knowledge of the enterprise’s probable futility but without anything else to do before he slept, the male user conducted a few cursory social media and professional networking site searches of the female user’s first name followed by select speechmarked keywords relating to her profession and alma mater extracted from her bio, the only available clues as to her identity, none of which yielded any relevant results.

More as a rendition of a sequence of ingrained, repetitive gestures than the fruition of any conscious decision-making process, the male user thumbed back to the algorithm-based dating app’s main interface and swiped right on the female user’s profile.

The swipe prompted the cursive-style words ‘It’s A Match!’ to descend to the centre of the display of the male user’s smartphone while, simultaneously, two circles, each containing one of the two users’ main profile images, rolled to a halt midscreen beneath the bannered text—which combination of words and images always, without fail, prompted the male user to involuntarily hear the Looney Tunes ‘That’s All Folks!’ closing theme reverberating from some backroom inside his own head.

Upon receipt of the gut-situated upsurge of jackpot-style gratification that attaining a new match still provided him, the male user rearranged himself on his single-extra sized mattress. Hoping to use the satiated feeling of having reached a desired outcome with little-to-no real effort as a kind of emotional forcefield through which to brave territories ordinarily too painful for him to venture, the male user circled back through his most recently used apps to his smartphone’s web browser and revisited one of the social media sites on which he’d attempted to identify the female user moments earlier.

The male user proceeded to type the full name of his most recent long-term sexual partner into the social media site’s top-level search bar and, finding her there, monitored the activity displayed on her personal feed. He scanned through a few new photos in which she looked like she’d noticeably put on weight, combed through the names of profiles she’d recently interacted with, read a fundraising page for a child’s specialist medical treatment bills she’d shared.

Still revolving the idea of his most recent long-term sexual partner in his head, the male user navigated to his go-to pornography site and masturbated for four minutes while watching a pornographic video on mute. He masturbated neither to the pornography itself nor to the thoughts of his most recent long-term sexual partner, but instead to an imagined, holographic-seeming emulsion of the two separate stimuli: his most recent long-term sexual partner’s face overlaying the porn actress’ body, then the porn actress’ face overlaying his most recent long-term sexual partner’s body. It felt relaxing and automatic to do this.

Afterward, he speculated about how depressing he must look to the walls, to God, to the algorithm, to any of his deceased family members if they were watching him the way he imagined them, crystal-ball-style from the bright white halls of the afterlife.

Although the algorithm knew how the male user frittered his time, it was incapable of passing judgment on him. It reassured the male user to remind himself that none of this software had any vested interest in him personally, and basically only existed to furnish him with ads.

Next morning, within a minute of her smartphone’s birdlike alarm sounding from beneath her pillow, the female user opened the algorithm-based dating app to be greeted with the same congratulatory match notification that the male user had received seven hours earlier.

After viewing the ‘It’s A Match!’ animation, the female user (again at a pace at substantial variance from her usual browsing speed) returned to the male user’s profile card now situated in her new matches chatlist and carouselled once more through the six images he’d uploaded to the app. She had a good feeling, felt the arc of her life bending, however forcedly, into alignment with the life of a perfect stranger.

Later that day, on his lunch hour which was really only ever a half-hour because he wanted to be taken more seriously around the office, the male user thumbprinted his smartphone unlocked and opened the algorithm-based dating app with the barely-registered intention of beginning an interaction with the female user.

With the bulk reserves of his attention allocated toward other things, the male user absently copy-and-pasted, from a previous conversation with a different female user in his new matches chatlist, the same opening line he’d used on almost every other one of his algorithm-based dating app matches so far into the vacant textbox that appeared directly below the latest female user’s forename and main profile image.

Having waited a requisite number of hours after receiving the male user’s message so as to appear sufficiently busy and not desperately alone, the female user pieced together a response to the male user that sounded both playful and hedging.

In the break-out area of her co-working space, she mouthed the message aloud to herself as she ticked it out on her smartphone’s touchscreen keyboard, her face sunbatherly in the absence of conveyed emotion.

The female user enjoyed the clean, asensual experience of using the algorithm-based dating app, the position of freedom and control, of distance, afforded to her by its streamlined simulation of encounter and romance. She liked that it was low-risk, easy to weed out the creeps and easy to unmatch from those who later revealed themselves to be creeps; liked that its shielding, one-way-mirror mechanism meant she never had to commit the harm of rejecting anyone to their face, nor suffer the indignity of ever being rejected directly to hers.

Naturally, when it came to venturing beyond the protections of the virtual world, it was easy for the female user to foresee her own violent death at the hands of one of her matches. Even with the safeguards of being able to snoop on and correspond indefinitely with a male user before consenting to meet him, every one of the female user’s eight app-arranged dates so far had prompted her to ideate, for days in advance, over being brutally beaten, raped, or (as per her foremost current concern) acid-attacked by a potential suitor.

The female user had a colleague who, before meeting any male user from the algorithm-based dating app IRL, would demand that they disclose their surname so that she could subject them to a more rigorous screening process—which precaution the female user felt her colleague, who looked at her worst about equally as attractive as the female user ever did at her best, was somehow more entitled to take.

In the week that followed, the two users exchanged thirty-five total messages spanning the standard big three Wikipedia entry subhead topics of early life, career, and personal life. Finding their outward-facing personalities to be suitably compatible, the users traded numbers and arranged to meet at a bar in an only recently gentrified area of the city within a quarter-mile of equidistance to their two places of work.

Both users had patronised the venue in the past, but for reasons not entirely clear to her, the female user pretended to the male user, both in their messages arranging the in-person encounter and for the full duration of the in-person encounter itself, that she had never previously attended the bar.

The female user disappointed herself when she did things like this, which was often. Lying ran directly counter to her moral ideal of how a person should act in the world. In fact, when judging others, the female user counted honesty as her most high-priority virtue.

She couldn’t say with any accuracy when she’d become such a fluent liar. Her lies were never thought out, the same way that nothing she said ever really was, which was probably the reason why she generally preferred to communicate via text than speech, a calculative solution to the comparatively freehand and chaotic risks of person-to-person interaction. A means of revising the kind of person she was.

The anticipation of enjoyment is a feeling texturally similar to dread. Their date loomed over the female user’s week like a deadline.

Walking to the agreed venue, the female user worried that she might struggle to generate conversation in the evening ahead. She reiterated several times to herself her overall strategy for the date, which was to present to the male user an exaggeratedly carefree, pretty, lite-version of her real self; a person-shaped suite of attractive gestures and responses whose outline she could gradually, somewhere down the line, restock with elements of the personality she actually had.

She discovered the male user seated on the lid of a yellow container of grit salt outside the bar. He was clad in generic menswear and engrossed by something on his smartphone’s screen.

‘Hi,’ the female user said, earphones popping from her ears as she wound their connecting Y-cord around her smartphone.

The male user looked up from the device in his palm and, recalibrating after the transition from virtual to physical space, parsed the specifics of the female user’s face; the way her bobbed hair, lighter and shorter than in any of her pictures, fell in two khaki-coloured wings on either side of her chin. She bore a resemblance to someone the male user had seen before but couldn’t place, perhaps from real life or a film or pornography, perhaps just from the pictures on her profile.

‘How’s it going,’ the male user said, standing. At full height he was, pleasingly, three-ish inches taller than the female user had anticipated.

‘Good, I’m sorry I’m late,’ the female user said, her voice lower than the male user had imagined it, as if concealing a yawn. ‘I got the bus but there was a thing with this guy on it and we got held up. Should we—,’ the female user gestured ‘go inside’ in a way that made her hands feel lonesome.

The two users entered the bar, the female user conscious not to over- or under-act the vacant-but-interested facial cast of a person taking in an interior entirely new to them. A popular song that featured prominently in the advertising campaign for a model of car aimed toward the millennial market was streaming over the bar’s soundsystem. The male user’s embarrassment at this was noticeable and off-putting to the female user.

‘It’s pretty busy in here,’ the female user said, raising her voice clear of the music. ‘Is it always this busy?’

‘It’s definitely gotten more popular,’ the male user said, grimacing. ‘But we can go outside. There’s this kinda beer garden thing.’

‘OK. Yeah, OK. You can see if there’s space and I’ll wait at the, uh—’

‘Yeah,’ the male user said. ‘Or actually, how about you go get a space and I’ll get us both drinks. It’s just through there, there’s these double doors. What do you normally have?’

‘Sure?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Well, for now I’ll just have what you’re having.’

‘OK,’ the male user said. ‘A Guinness with a raw egg in it.’

‘My usual.’ The female user heel-pivoted in a way she’d rehearsed and headed through to the outside area.

It was warm out; the summer, only recently concluded, had left in its wake a two-week coda of placid heat like a parting gift. The female user sat at the empty side of a long, half-busy table, the populated end of which accommodated a group of anthropometrically near-perfect, glossy-looking girls whose presence made the female user feel medium-sized and matte-finished by comparison.

A memory bobbed to the surface of the female user’s thoughts: a former algorithm-based dating app match telling her that she was ‘homely’, which he had intended, he later tried to explain, as a compliment.

After the female user had taken the opportunity to feel bad about her weight and arrange her body in a way that she hoped would appear both attractive and relaxed, the male user came out of the bar with a glass of beer in each hand. He looked limited and pathetic carrying the two drinks and shimmying his way toward her, so much so that she pretended not to have seen him until he set their glasses on the table.

‘This does not look like my usual.’

‘I asked. They were all out of eggs.’

‘I’m never coming here again. Thank you.’

There was a comfortable, anticipatory silence as the two users took sips of their beer which was warm and sepia-coloured and had an aftertaste of medicine. Then the silence lasted too long and became uncomfortable.

‘So, how was your day?’

‘It was good,’ the female user said. ‘Fun,’ she added, the word italicised by her tone.

‘That’s good,’ the male user said. ‘Most people I know hate their jobs.’

‘Do you hate your job?’

‘I try not to hate stuff if I can avoid it.’

‘That’s brave,’ the female user said, doing the thing with her voice again.

‘I don’t consider it all that brave,’ the male user said.

A gale of laughter sounded from the far end of the table. The attractive girls were huddled together, looking at something on one of their smartphones. The female user considered that she could be laughing more to put the male user at ease. The two users sipped their drinks.

‘Do you smoke?’ the female user said.

‘Uh, I mean, not in any sustained way.’

Not in any sustained way,’ she repeated.

The male user courtesy-laughed at this but felt wounded by the female user’s impression of him. He was finding it difficult to gauge her feelings toward him generally, or to know if she even experienced having feelings the same way he did. ‘What I mean is, I smoked like all the way through school and then for a couple of years after that, but then it started making me anxious. When I’d go to sleep I’d start thinking about all the slush in my lungs, all the sludge and the tar, and then I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about all those pictures of cadavers and babies with hare-lips on the fronts and backs of the packets. So I just had to stop. Smoking. But I mean, I’ll still smoke sometimes. If I’m with people and they’re smoking, I’ll probably have one.’

As he spoke, the female user traced the reassuring, talismanic contours of her smartphone through her trouser pocket. ‘What you mean is, you’re just waiting for someone to enable you and you haven’t really quit at all.’

‘Exactly.’

The female user produced a pouch of tobacco and said, ‘Well it sounds like you’ve made a very healthy choice,’ and the male user laughed and said, ‘Yeah, I make a lot of those.’

In a second bar which appeared not to be part of a chain but in fact was, the two users continued to drink and perform to one another the versions of themselves they hoped someday to be. The female user laughed at the male user’s theory about how he could prevent getting a hangover by sticking to one brand of beer the whole night and the male user laughed at the anecdotes the female user had plagiarised from friends.

The female user spilled nervous talk over any threat of silence and several times had the feeling of having overshared. At one point she quoted out-loud a motivational post about happiness and its relation to distraction that she had read on an image-sharing social media site earlier that day. The way the male user raised his eyebrows and nodded after she’d said it made the female user feel unembarrassed and understood.

By the time they reached a third bar, the male user had become drunk enough to have, several times, completely lost the thread of their conversation; the female user had to close one eye to keep from seeing double.

The female user liked the male user, she had decided, and waited for him to put the moves on her. At several points his hand or leg brushed hers. As they walked close together in the dense night heat the outsides of their arms touched.

Just when the female user had become fully certain that the male user wasn’t going to make any kind of a physical advance toward her, he did. His lips tasted of leading-brand lip balm. After the female user boarded her bus home, the male user summoned a taxi from his smartphone. In bed, he considered texting the female user something like, ‘Did you get home safely?’ He decided against this.

*

On their second date, the two users spent six minutes engaged in eye contact; consumed five rounds of drinks; encountered more than three-hundred ambient, native, and overt advertisements combined; were proximal to fourteen persons suffering chronic pain, eleven Christs in statuary.

At some point the male user asked the female user if she thought there was a life after death. He looked scared talking about it, and the female user wondered momentarily if he was terminally ill. She imagined sitting at the male user’s beside as he underwent chemotherapy, then imagined speaking at his funeral, his head lunar bald, visible from an open casket.

It was hard for her to say exactly why she liked the male user so much. He was goodlooking, but there was something else, a single-facetedness and fixed sense of himself that the female user found magnetic. As if everything he did was joined-up. His gait, his way of talking, his mannerisms. All connected.

‘I don’t think I believe in a life after death,’ the female user said. Some people just smell like home.

‘I’m changing my answer. I think maybe I do believe in life after death.’

‘really? this is huge. what prompted this?’

‘We’ll thinking about dying mainly.’ Moments later, she added: ‘*well.’

‘haha. I hope there is an afterlife. I think about dying almost all the time.’

‘Sounds deep.’

‘I am deep.’ Later, when she was watching her shows, he followed up with: ‘do you have weekend plans?’

‘How old are you again?’ she said after.

‘I think you’ll find it says on my profile.’

‘Twenty-six?’

‘Twenty-seven.’

‘An old man practically.’

‘I know. I feel like an old man. I feel like I’m at the age where my life should start, like, solidifying into its permanent shape.’

‘I think you’ll feel like that at every age. But I’m twenty-five for a whole nother two months so what do I know.’

‘That’s a big one.’

‘What?’

‘What.’

‘What’s a big one?’

‘Turning twenty-six. It was a big deal for me. I think I really freaked out when I turned twenty-six. A gateway year. Things start to get serious from there.’

‘I think I’ll save my worrying for when I turn twenty-seven.’

‘Why? Because it’s the age where your life should start solidifying into its permanent shape? Or because of the thing? The club.’

‘The club. I don’t think life has a shape.’

‘Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix.’

‘Amy Winehouse.’

‘New Star Trek guy.’

‘Janis Joplin,’ the female user shifted her legs slightly under the covers. ‘All yours are men, by the way.’

‘Brian Wilson.’

‘Brian Wilson is alive, I’ve seen him play The Beach Boys. And also he’s another man.’

‘I know, I meant the other Brian. Brian someone else. It’s the last age where you can still die young. And I think all my examples are men mainly because the culture has, like, an innate bias that way. Not because I’m, me specifically, being sexist about it.’

The female user nodded, which, realising the male user couldn’t see this, she verbalised as: ‘Sure.’ In the swimming dark of the room, she couldn’t remember what the male user actually looked like, only the images from his profile. ‘You’re wrong, but sure.’

‘How am I wrong?’ The male user rolled onto his side so their voices faced.

‘Because that’s not how that kind of a thing works.’

‘Well OK then. I’m sure I can name another woman who died when she was twenty-seven if you really want me to.’

‘No, that isn’t the point,’ the female user said, resting an arm heavily over the male user’s shoulder. He was sure he could hear the smile in her voice.

Nights, the female user filmed herself. Her routine was to set her laptop on a stack of pillows on the bed and tilt its screen to the point at which she was most visible to its camera. She would then launch the laptop’s photo-capturing software, begin recording a video, and step several paces away from the device to mime having a conversation, or listening, or laughing— any naturalistic activity she felt she might soon perform in front of someone. She rehearsed small, choreographed movements before the laptop’s lens. Knowing she was being watched, she behaved more carefully.

The female user would then lay in bed and spend tens of minutes, whole halves of hours, watching replays of the recorded footage. She would watch until she felt disembodied from the body onscreen, until that body felt thinglike and virtual, seeing herself from the same angles an outside person soon might.

Watching the videos over, the female user paid close attention to each of her embarrassing human surfaces, the resting bloat of her stomach or slight listing of her posture. She made note of the things she needed to correct. She was working on herself, upgrading by increments. Basically only trying to be special.

‘https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/27_Club.’

The male user’s reply rolled in an hour later. ‘disproved by research! the three sweetest words in the english language.’

The female user replied twenty minutes after that. ‘Hahahahaha. But how did we forget Jim Morrison?’

*

Sometimes they met outside his office and got drinks close by, other times they went to a film or a concert or an exhibition. Most times they watched shows on the female user’s laptop.

The male user enjoyed their time together best when it was mediated by an object of mutual focus, when they shared in the suspension of their patterns of day-to-day thinking. It made being around one another easier to regulate, kept boredom out of the room. No pressure to act or feel a certain way.

When they spent time in each other’s company raw, the male user felt ill at ease. Mornings, he felt trapped in the minutes it took the female user to leave his apartment.

The male user lay watching the ceiling with the female user three-quarters prone, head resting in the plane of his chest.

The male user cleared his throat and said, in a thin voice, ‘When I was fifteen—’

The female user opened her eyes and waited for him to continue. She hadn’t noticed herself falling asleep before. A minute passed in silence until she closed her eyes again. When she opened them once more, in what felt like the minute following that, soft dawn light backlit the bedroom curtains.

‘Hey! How’s it going? Do you maybe want to get dinner this week? We’re going to try and set a record for latest barbeque of the year if the weather holds.’

The female user reread the message and deleted: ‘We’re going to try and set a record for latest barbeque of the year if the weather holds.’ Then she deleted: ‘How’s it going?’ Then she also deleted: ‘Do you maybe want to get dinner this week?’

After substituting ‘!’ with ‘?’, the female user sent the message to the male user. She had never previously had to contact him in a way that felt so one-sided and inorganic. Since meeting in person, interactions between the two users had only ever taken place in the context of an ongoing exchange of moment-to-moment observations.

So as not to spend the rest of the evening actively anticipating the male user’s response, the female user went to see a film alone. The film’s central conceit was: what if an averagely attractive woman hit her head and gained the erroneous belief that she was above-averagely attractive. In the film’s romantic subplot, the averagely attractive woman won over a man of equally average attractiveness with her newfound confidence.

Waiting for the film to be over, the female user thought in pulses about the male user, whom she worried had lately been distant, different-acting. Whereas before he had always replied to the female user’s texts within thirty-to-forty minutes, he now took two-to-three hours to produce responses that were less thoughtful and less interesting than the ones he had previously taken a quarter of the time to write. Either the male user’s interest in responding to her had decreased, or he was taking increasing amounts of pleasure in making her wait for his responses.

The two users hadn’t made any plans for the coming Friday or subsequent weekend, the leisure times they most frequently spent together. The female user fretted that, without the steady, episodic structure of their routines holding them in place, they might decelerate out of the rhythms of each other’s lives completely.

Although the female user had been careful not to allow the male user to become her sole source of life’s pleasure, meeting him had undeniably renewed her own interest in herself. Her positive moods and feelings of self-worth were, she realised now, contingent upon the quality of the attentions he gave her. He was her looping thought.

The female user left the cinema feeling worse than she had entering it. When she checked her smartphone, the male user had not yet responded to her message. On the bus ride home, she wondered if he still used the algorithm-based dating app.

*

The male user began to wonder if the algorithm-based dating app had eroded his empathy. On some level, he felt sure that classifying women into bipartite categories of dateable or not based solely on their physical qualities was retrograde non-feminist activity, and that using the algorithm-based dating app encouraged (if not outright rewarded) many of the worst aspects of the male gaze as he was able to comprehend it. That some inversion of the gaze was reflected back at him, that he too was a vulnerable entrant into the same pageant of which he was also a judge, felt like it at least diminished the problem of the gaze—but diminished it by how much, exactly?

The male user had started to see women as oddly clonelike since getting heavily into the app, as if each woman with whom he matched was a continuation of the one preceding her. (The fact that, for reasons of personal taste, most of the women he matched with were broadly similar only intensified this distortion in his perspective. As if to gauge the extent of their sameness, the male user had, the previous week, taken two female users to the same bar within two days of one another, and had had there almost exactly identical interactions with them both.)

The male user considered the further flaws of the algorithm-based dating app. To experience early-stage romance easily and frequently discounts its value. By joining the algorithm-based dating app in the first place, users are, from the get-go, demonstrating the perforce failure of their romantic lives, their defectiveness, unlovability. Owing to the replicable means of their production, app-contrived relationships take on a modular structure, a design that fosters interchangeability. Relationships initiated by the algorithm-based dating app have no solid grounding in reality, no surrounding context, and as such unfold with the drifting narrative coherence of dreams.

Plus the male user worried increasingly about getting the female user pregnant, which until recently had also been his main sexual fantasy. He decided that, given the risks involved, he would probably never sleep with the female user again and then never really directly think about her at all after that. He felt like he had completed a phase. Maybe soon he would find another long-term sexual partner, maybe one with tattoos.

Increasingly, the male user had become host to the thought of a boring, monastic life he knew he would probably hate. He envisioned a long abstinence from sensorial immersion. He could read more, be the guy who reads. He like the way that sounded.

Sometimes the male user wanted to blunt every pleasure receiving nerve he had. He thought in the obvious metaphors, and pictured a cutting of strings.

In her cubicle, the female user laid her smartphone face up on the desk next to her keyboard and clicked it locked. She watched its vivid, liquid crystal display dim to a panel of solid black.

It had been a day, a night, and a morning since the female user had last messaged the male user, a message to which she had still not received any reply. In fact, outside of a text from a franchise pizza chain about an online exclusive deal on garlic-and-mozzarella bread and a text requesting birthday present ideas from her mother, the female user hadn’t received any messages from anyone via any platform in three days.

Am I a loser? Have I made the right choices? Sometimes the female user felt like everything that happened inside a device, in screentime, occurred in something like the present, while everything that happened outside of one, in real time, occurred in something like the past.

The female user sent some productive work emails and scraped back her cuticles with her fingernails for the duration of time it took her thoughts to reset back around to the male user.

They had slept under the same sheet the last four consecutive weekends. If you counted her mouth, he had come inside her upwards of fifteen times. They had in-jokes and special places they liked. He had seen her in all her best clothes. They were dear to each other.

She knew, of course, if she were the male user, she would treat herself exactly the same way he treated her, with the same sense of touristic irresponsibility toward a life that seemed to end at the limits of his field of vision. In the saturated marketplace of limitless consumer romance, permanent positions were scarce and short-term contracts in abundance. The algorithm would dispense the male user a thousand other matches, each one fresh as an individually packaged spearmint. The algorithm’s preferences for more and for new would shape his own.

If the male user sent her a long message tenderly explaining the reasons he didn’t want to see her again the female user wouldn’t read it, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t like him to send one. Was he planning on just avoiding her? For the rest of his life? The more she thought about it, the angrier she got.

On her smartphone, the female user navigated back to the conversation with the male user in her messaging app where her ‘Hey?’ still hovered pathetically between them, sealed in the azure blue of its speech bubble vector.

‘So,’ she typed in the textbox beneath it and deleted. ‘Why,’ she typed and deleted. She glanced at the messaging app’s predictive text function which she mostly only ever ignored. She moved her thumb toward one of the three words it had preselected for her based on her historical word choices.

‘Yeah,’ she selected. A new assortment of predictive follow-up words appeared onscreen. She hesitated, then chose: ‘I’m sure it’s going on a couple of days more but I’m very sure it is just what you could do I gotta get you some stuff out there I know I like you and sorry you know how much you’re having fun I didn’t want to have to do anything sorry actually,’ return, return, return, send.