The year was 2020, and we were all inside much more than usual. I—destined to weather the COVID-19 pandemic alone in a studio apartment—did what many other bored singles did: I started swiping on dating apps. In truth, I didn’t begin swiping during the pandemic. I started swiping more. The extra alone-time increased my dating app devotion.
It’s well-documented that I’m a bit of a dating app agnostic. Even though dating has always been tough for me, the beginning of the pandemic brought unique challenges: I refused to meet anyone in person. I looked like an ungroomed monster, and I didn’t have anything exciting to share with matches. It was hard to answer simple questions like, “What’d you do today” with more than just one or two words. (“I cried.”)
As weeks turned into months, I had an epiphany: If I can get my matches to read with me, they’ll stop asking me how I’m spending my days. So, I asked a match to book club, and, much to my surprise, he obliged. We settled on Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House without establishing a clear end date. But after hearing Machado discuss her “choose your own adventure” chapter on a podcast, we agreed to read that section together. If one of us got there first, we’d wait for the other. Now, over a year into the pandemic (with two successful Bumble Book Club experiences under my belt), I’m here to share what I’ve learned.
Before we go further, I should state the obvious: The weather is changing, and vaccine distribution is encouraging. So you might think non-traditional dating ideas are irrelevant. They’re not. Until vaccines are widespread, it’s wise to adhere to social distancing protocols. This means you might want to take things more slowly than you would’ve before the pandemic. And, even if you’re open to meeting up IRL, reading together can help establish common ground.
Below, you’ll find a few things I learned in the very haphazard process of getting cute people to read with me. I hope the information serves you well.
1. You should like your match (at least a little) before you read with them.
Reading a book together (or binge-watching an entire television series) is a time commitment. The upside is that it gives you something to talk about when conversations get stale. But that’s also the downside: If you really commit to this idea, you theoretically have to speak to this person while reading an entire book together. That’s why I’d suggest you only read with a match when you’re sure you’ll like this person for at least a month (it’s probably not the time to read Moby Dick or Infinite Jest).
Even when you adore someone, reading a book isn’t a guarantee that you’ll keep interacting. Sometimes situationships end before the book does. One of my favorite matches ended things in the middle of the book we were reading, and it was tough to continue alone. This brings me to my next point…
2. Pick a book you’re comfortable talking about with a stranger.
Let’s say—hypothetically—that you’re reading a stunning experimental memoir that chronicles the demise of an abusive relationship. In many ways, this is a great book club pick: the chapters a short, and the levels of examination are perfect for vibrant discussion (there’s queer theory, pop culture references, and a meditation on memoir construction). But, if abuse, trauma, and dysfunctional relationships are triggering for you or your match, reading a book with those themes can be intense. Try to keep that in mind when you’re deciding.
3. Don’t lie about your tastes.
I know that when you’re deciding to book club with a hot fellow reader, you might want to show off your literary prowess. But if historical fiction isn’t your thing, don’t spend weeks of your life suffering through a book you hate. There’s a strong chance that, even if you love romance novels and your match is into cybersecurity, there’s a genre-bending book that you’d both enjoy. If not, you can have fun making and refusing suggestions.
4. Reading reviews together can be cute.
Once you figure out genres and writers you’re both into, you can surf bestseller lists and check out reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. If you’re feeling particularly courageous, you can mask up and head to a bookstore to get recommendations from booksellers or flip through pages on your own. You can also swap funny reviews and banter about the book or (playfully) try to convince your match that you should, in fact, read the Bridgerton Series together based on the positive reviews. Consider choosing the book part of your courtship.
5. Get creative about how you structure your book clubs.
In most book clubs, you decide on a book and set a date to discuss it, but when you’re reading a book with someone you speak to regularly, it’s hard not to let the book seep into your normal discussion. While you’re free to run your Bumble book club however you see fit, I think checking in about the book and saying things like “omg, let me know when you get to chapter 6” are entertaining ways to read together. It’s also not unusual for me to text about the book, then talk about it, then pull it out of my bag and wave it around on a socially distanced outdoor date. You might even schedule hangs to read the same book together via video chat.
6. Book clubbing with someone you’re into can be surprisingly emotional.
The first time I book clubbed with a match, I cried (in therapy, thankfully). Is that dramatic? Yes, I’m very dramatic. But when I was a kid, I spent a lot of my time alone reading in a tree (like a weirdo). Reading a book with someone cute was surprisingly intimate. I’ve done it a few times now—and while I don’t cry anymore—it does feel like I’m sharing a part of myself that I don’t often reveal. If you’re a book lover, then a Bumble book club might be more heart-stirring than you’d suspect.
7. And impromptu book club discussions can reveal a lot.
In my Bumble book clubs, we discussed the works throughout our reading journey and then discussed the end (at the end). This meant that a lot of our discussions took on the same vibe as chatting about good TV. But you can discover a lot about someone based on the characters they hate (and the ones they identify with most). Sometimes, the conversations start with plot, move into symbolism, and end up with something like, “Well, in my situation…” These winding conversations that help us unearth our hidden feelings are why I’m a big proponent of book clubbing—you can learn a lot about each other (and yourself).
8. Don’t try to sound like anyone other than yourself.
Much like there’s pressure to fib about your book tastes to impress your match, the best book club conversations are the ones where you’re authentic. If spotting motifs and musing about word choice is part of your regular reading routine, then, by all means, talk about that, but if you’re a plot and character person, focus on those things. When you’re trying too hard to impress the other person, you’re missing an opportunity to figure out how you feel about this book (and your newfound reading partner).
9. A perfect book club partner isn’t necessarily a perfect life partner.
This last lesson isn’t easy. After a few great conversations with someone, it’s easy to imagine a future where two copies of the same books live together in harmony on a shared bookshelf. But the sad reality of life is that a careful and thoughtful reader isn’t automatically your IRL match. Sometimes a book club is the beginning of a long romance, and sometimes, well, it’s just a book club. I hope you enjoy the arc either way.