by Tagan Shepard
Kieran Hall has never been lucky in love. She married her high school sweetheart only to have him leave when she came out as pansexual. Then there was the rebound relationship that turned serious. It wasn’t long before they were out the door, too.
For years Kieran avoided any attempts at finding the next person to break her heart, building a life that was comfortable but lonely. That loneliness finally pushes her to give dating another shot. The only problem is, without freshman homeroom or a chance meeting in a bar, she doesn’t know how to meet someone new.
With the help of her best friend, Penelope, Kieran takes the plunge into the intimidating world of dating apps. It’s just as bad as she knew it would be, but Pen is always there to pick her up and dust her off after another disaster. In fact, hanging out with Pen quickly becomes her main motivation to keep swiping right.
When one of her dates suggests that maybe her dating problems stem from her feelings for her best friend it leads Kieran to wonder, could love have been right there in front of her all along?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Research is always my favorite step of working out a new book idea, so when I came up with the idea of Swipe Right, I was excited to dive into research. A lot of my friends were talking about their woes with online dating apps at the time, so I thought it would be fun to center my story idea around that.
Then I remembered that I haven’t been on a first date since 2001.
Suffice it to say, things are way different in the dating world now.
When I was dating, the apps weren’t a thing. I didn’t have to learn the difference between swiping right and swiping left. I consider myself incredibly lucky for that. My wife and I sat down one night and filled out the questionnaire for a few websites. The questions were wild. The rules, both written and unwritten, were mind-boggling. It was intimidating and I instantly felt empathy for my main character, Kieran.
But learning the websites only got me through chapter one. Then I had to research first date stories. That’s when I discovered the real treat of writing this book. Some of those stories had me howling! A few of them made it into the book, with a little tweaking, of course. Even more give me fun anecdotes for cocktail parties.
In the end, few of those stories ended with happy endings. (How do you spend your life with someone who voice texts a friend to put you down…while you’re still sitting at the table?) But the great news is, for Kieran and her best friend, Penelope, sometimes the best love stories start with swiping right."
Cathie W. - Swipe Right has that uncanny ability to tug at your heartstrings and make you really feel how lonely Kieran has become since her last relationship from 2 years ago. We also witness how crushed she is when her dates leave her feeling demoralized and even more lonely than ever. Kieran’s only refuge is her best friend Pen, and much of the book is a slow build towards something more than they ever expected or could ever want in a partner. What I appreciate most is the level of respect that’s given to build their relationship to the next level. This author has a knack for observing and translating the human heart and the emotions we tie to it while moving the story through a roller coaster of how Kieran reacts to those emotions. So much more than a standard romance, Swipe Right will be one of my favorites of 2021.
Kaye C. - This is a slow burn romance with a friends to more trope. With the help of best friend Penelope (Pen) she is ready to get back into the dating world. Pen helps her with her online dating profile to get the ball rolling. And Pen is there to listen to the dating details. Dating and meeting the right one turns out to be hard.
I like that Kieran is an average, hardworking, normal person. She cleans when anxious and has a good life. She just wants someone to share it with her. Pen is a successful real estate agent and a player with her own set of dating rules. I did like the author highlighting the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Pen suffers from the disease, and I wasn't familiar with it. This book honestly made me pray I never have to enter the dating world again.
Karen C. - Tagan Shepard's writing style is so lyrical and lovely and lush that it just draws me in immediately. I love first person and it really works here as we get to experience all the disappointment Kieran feels every time one of her dates is a disaster. This could have been a listing of faux humorous situations, and I'm so glad it wasn't. Her dialogue is witty without being like a sitcom script. Within the lovely writing, Shepard parcels out Pen's back story in increments that resulted in this being unputdownable for me.
There is a lot going on for both characters in their lives and some unresolved issues for both. Some of them are pretty heavy but Ms. Shepard adds a bit of levity and humor to balance it out, Ms. Shepard writes humor very well, and sometimes it made me laugh out loud. I appreciated that the levity wasn’t so much in the online dating experience but in the relationship between Kieran and Pen. Those two have very good friendship chemistry, so much so that I’m glad that the author took her time to develop a romantic relationship between them. I loved the diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity in different characters and seeing Kieran’s struggle to be accepted as pansexual gave me food for thought.
“I know it’s Tuesday and you don’t leave the house on Tuesday, but I need your help.” Pen had picked up on the second ring and she hadn’t hung up yet. That was a good sign. “Get over here.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
I heard a scuffle on the line like she’d dropped the phone and scrambled to pick it back up. She sounded a little more alert when she answered, “Whoa, we aren’t that sort of friends.”
“I don’t mean it like that,” I said, pacing around my cramped living room. Taking a deep breath, I steeled my nerves and blurted, “I need your help making a dating-app profile.”
There was a split second of silence, followed by a roar of laughter. I’d expected it, but I still didn’t like it. I made two full, fuming circuits around the couch as she laughed. When she finally quieted to a soft chuckle I said with as much dignity as I could muster, “Fuck you. Get over here.”
I could hear the pout in my voice and obviously Pen heard it, too. There was a genuine kindness in her tone which reminded me that, under all the bravado, my best friend was a caring person. “Sweetie, you don’t need that.”
“Yes, I do. I’m desperate.”
“I have two bottles of Rosé in the fridge.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
My last circuit around the room landed me in front of the barnwood-framed mirror beside the couch. I was just filling out a profile tonight, but it kinda felt like I was going on a date. I went through my usual full inspection. Honestly, I was looking pretty cute. I always had an extra few pounds hanging around, but it was currently hanging around in places that filled out my ruffled babydoll top and tightened my artfully torn jeans in all the right places. My hair was growing long and it fell past my shoulders. The dark brown curls played well against the navy-blue top. The happy cataloguing stopped when I got to my face. Not my best feature. The nerves returned, so I bolted away from the mirror.
While I waited for Pen, I cleaned. That’s how I always dealt with stress. And anger. And particularly loneliness. There was nothing like scrubbing a toilet to make the rest of life seem manageable. The problem was I’d been dealing with loneliness for so long that my house was already spotless. Not even a dirty dish in the sink. Time for drastic measures. I pulled out my cotton swabs and canned air to clean the keyboard of my laptop.
I was so engrossed I didn’t hear Pen let herself in.
“I take it back,” she said from right behind me, making me jump and squawk like a frightened bird. “If you’ve resorted to buffing your keyboard, you definitely need to get laid.”
“Funny, smartass,” I replied.
While I cracked open the wine, Pen leaned against the back of the couch. She was perfectly put together like it was another workday. Better than that. She looked like she was trying to make someone jealous. When I took a day off, I usually didn’t shower and I definitely didn’t get out of my pajamas.
She wore her brown hair short and choppy in one of those styles that looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. It suited her round face and big green eyes. She had a baby face, looking a decade younger than her thirty-five, and her skin was soft as a toddler’s. Not for the first time I bemoaned my crow’s feet, a fate she’d never share. I was only two years older, but it looked like ten which was distinctly unfair. I couldn’t fault her for her lean form, however. Her gym had an indoor pool and she swam an hour a day, five days a week, year-round.
It seemed like one of those nights, so I brought the bottle with me to the living room. No sense in running back and forth when we were sure to empty it soon. We dropped into our normal spots on the couch and I wiggled back into my biggest throw pillow.
With a skeptical eye, Pen inspected her glass. She swirled the wine and gave it a sniff. “Is this the good stuff?”
I turned the bottle to show her the simple white label bearing the name of our favorite local winery. “Early Mountain Vineyards. Only the best for my Pen.”
She took a sip and sighed. “You’re buttering me up and it’s working.”
“You deserve it.”
“More butter,” she laughed her reply.
I shrugged and sipped my wine. If only she knew how long I’d been planning this. Worrying about it. Losing sleep over the whole idea.
“How long’s this dry spell lasted anyway?” Pen asked, pulling her knees up to her chest. She’d already half-emptied her glass and I hurried to catch up.
“Since Alex left,” I said. “Honestly? Since a while before Alex left. Things were bad with them for a long time.”
Talking to Pen about my ex wasn’t easy. She didn’t like them at all, particularly after they lost interest in our relationship and pulled away. Pen blamed Alex for falling out of love first, but that wasn’t their fault. The way they’d picked fights that left me crying on the bathroom floor certainly was, and it was that which Pen would never forgive.
She scowled as usual and avoided even using their name. “They would have me swearing off relationships, too.” She ended with a muttered, “Asshole.”
“Well, I’m ready to put it behind me,” I said, injecting as much positive energy as I could into the words. “Where do I start?”
Pen laughed and leaned over to retrieve the wine bottle. “Bars. Coffee shops. I hear you can meet people in the produce aisle at the grocery store.”
“I’ve tried all that.” I left out the details of squeezing tomatoes for forty-five minutes, waiting for someone to hit on me. No one had, but a bag boy had followed me around the rest of the store, looking suspicious. “I’ve been waiting for something else to come along but nothing has. Please help me with these websites, Pen. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Okay. Okay,” she said, pulling my laptop toward her. “I’ll help.”
Relief flooded me so much I actually giggled and threw my arms around her neck. Her cry of disgust at the girly gesture was the cherry on top.
“Okay. I pulled up all the sites I could think of. Should I join them all? Increase my chances?”
“Definitely not,” she said, tapping my password into the lock screen. She clicked browser windows shut as she spoke. “If you’re on too many sites, you look like a slut. Or desperate. No Tinder. No one ever fell in love by swiping right.”
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll explain the swiping when we download the app.”
“But you said…”
“No OkCupid. That’s for straight people to cheat on their spouses.”
I felt like I should be taking notes.
“You shouldn’t be using any of these.” Her fingers flew across the keyboard and I scooted closer to look over her shoulder. “You need to be on Swingle.”
“Why? Are you on Swingle?”
“Then why should I use it?”
“I don’t use it because it’s where people go to look for a girlfriend, not a hookup.”
The bottle was empty, so I struggled to my feet and grabbed the other. Maybe I should’ve bought three. “And you’re always just looking for a hookup.”
“Hey now,” she said. “There is an art to casual dating. You’re right, though. I don’t want a girlfriend, which is why I stay away from Swingle.”
“What if I’m not necessarily looking for a girlfriend?”
Keys clicked and Pen swung the screen toward me. “No worries. You can choose your sexual orientation here. Hetero, homo, bi, or pansexual.”
“Wow! They actually have an option for pansexual? There’s never an option for me.” But there it was, at the bottom of the list but definitely present. “That’s progressive.”
Pen selected pansexual and clicked next. “I thought you’d like that. Wait ‘til you get to all the options for genders.”
There were more than twenty options, including Kinner and Two Spirit along with all the terms I knew for cis, trans, and nonbinary people and a few I didn’t. I picked cis woman for myself. Pen barely made fun of me for having to select every gender option when we got to the “people I’m interested in” section. My head was buzzing with the choices and the wine wasn’t helping, so I slowed down. The progress bar showed we were only on page four of forty-two. I’d never make it if I kept up this pace.
The problem was, the more pages we went through, the more nerves were getting the better of me. I couldn’t clean, so I reached for the next best thing. Sitting next to my phone on the coffee table was my Goonies floaty pen. I snatched it up, tilting it from side to side so the little fake doubloons tumbled around in their liquid chamber. The longer I watched the pirate ship and treasure moving around inside, the less I worried that this whole thing was a huge mistake. After a minute, I caught Pen’s side eye and half-smile.
“What?” I asked.
She stopped typing and shook her head at me. “I can’t believe you still have that thing.”
“This is my favorite pen.”
“I got it for you as a joke.”
“Well, joke’s on you. I love it.”
“The Goonies isn’t even that great a movie.”
Now she’d gone too far. I pointed the pen into Pen’s face, the water bubbling up at my aggressive movement. “Don’t make me kick you out of my house, Penelope Chase. The Goonies is a classic and I won’t hear anything against it. Plus, you love action films!”
“The Goonies is not an action film,” she said, turning back to the screen.
“Um, excuse me.” Going over our old argument was almost enough to make me forget about the terrifying new step in my dating life. “Car chases, gunshots, explosions. What more do you need for an action film?”
“In the ‘80s? Tits.”
I rolled my eyes and spun my pen between my fingers. “You’re such a horndog.”
“A horndog who bought you a cool pen.”
“Like five years ago.”
“You’re still playing with it, aren’t you?” She turned her full smile on me and said, “And you aren’t freaking out anymore ‘cause I made you roll your eyes.”
“You make me roll my eyes literally every day,” I replied. She was right, though. My hands weren’t shaking anymore.
We got through all the basics pretty quickly—name, date of birth, pronouns, and location. Penelope did all the typing while I sat back wavering between excited and terrified. Then came the more difficult questions.
Pen read aloud from the screen, “I’m open to non-monogamy. Yes or no?”
“That was quick. Not even willing to entertain the idea?”
“Nope. I know you’re into that and I’m glad it works for you, but it’s not for me.”
“Not judging you, Kieran. Just checking in.”
She didn’t push and I was glad. She knew enough of my history to let it go, even if she didn’t agree with my old-fashioned dating habits.
“Okay, let’s move on to profile pictures!” Pen rubbed her hands together in anticipation, the ring splints she wore for typing clicking against each other. It was a new set, the metal flashing brightly in the warm light. They wrapped around her knuckles so tightly they nearly disappeared into her pale flesh, accentuating the delicacy of her hands. “What’ve you got?”
“Come on, you’ve got pictures of yourself.” She blinked at my silence. “Don’t you?”
I shrugged, trying to be cavalier about it. I didn’t like my face. It was too long and too severe. My shockingly straight nose had a weird bulb on the end and it dominated every photograph. My smile was even worse—so wide it squeezed my eyes shut. My skin color was somewhere between too bronze for most foundations and too pale for darker shades. Penelope made fun of my resting bitch face, but neutral was the only look that worked for me. At least I had plump lips, but my mouth was too big for my jaw.
“I have my headshot from work,” I said, snatching up my phone and scrolling through the albums. It was mostly random screenshots from on-line searches I’d forgotten about and pics of my favorite art from museum trips, but I’d grabbed the decent headshot off the company website. “I look pretty good in this one.”
Pen took the phone and squinted at the screen. “Not bad. You’re a little serious, but we can work with it.”
HomeScape Settlement Services, the real estate title company where I worked, had hired a professional photographer two years ago. I’d worn my favorite suit that day, the one that fit just right everywhere, and I’d taken a lot of care with my makeup. Alex and I had broken up a few weeks earlier and I’d cut my hair for a fresh look. I’d grown it out since—the short curls thing never looked as good on me as I thought it would, but it wasn’t too far off how I looked now.
Pen uploaded the headshot then examined it closely, deciding the best way to crop it for the website’s limited dimensions. “Good call on this one. You look great in that suit and super professional. It’ll keep the losers away.”
I was giddy until she asked for more photos. I offered the other shots from the same day, even one where I was smiling more, but Pen said no.
“Not more headshots. Something different. Don’t you have any selfies?”
She scrolled through my photo file. I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t impressed. “I don’t like selfies. They’re weird. I always look terrible. I don’t know how to do it right.”
Pen tossed aside my phone and fished her own from her pocket. “No problem. We’ll get some thirst traps of you later. In the meantime…Here. We’ll use this one.”
I didn’t have a chance to ask what a “thirst trap” was because she showed me the picture on her phone.
“Pen,” I breathed. “This is…actually good. Where did you take this?”
She grabbed the phone back and started typing into it. A moment later, my laptop dinged with an incoming email. “The Indigo Girls concert last summer at Wolftrap. I showed it to you. You don’t remember?”
I didn’t and I was sure that I would remember seeing a rare good picture of myself. Not good. It might be the best picture of me I’d ever seen. I swung the laptop screen around to look at it on a bigger screen. I was walking away from the camera in the warm light of sunset. I was looking back over my shoulder, my curls, slightly longer than in the headshot, flew out beside me like a cape, the setting sun picking up the copper tones in my normally dull brown hair.
It wasn’t only my hair that looked good. My body was twisted, which hid the few extra pounds I’ve been meaning to take care of for the last fifteen years or so. I almost looked skinny. And my clothes flattered my rounded shoulders and bony hips. The image cut off below my butt, so my short legs and wide feet were out of the frame. Most surprising, however, was my smile. It was big and natural, no doubt laughing at whatever ridiculous thing Pen had said to make me turn around, but my eyes weren’t squinty and my mouth wasn’t crooked. I looked like a model for some miracle drug, cured of depression and out living their best life.
“Now it’s time for the juicy stuff,” Pen said, settling into the couch with my laptop on her knees. “Introduce yourself. How would your best friend describe you? Hmm…how would I describe you?”
She took too long thinking about it, so I blurted out over the rim of my wineglass, “Come on, how would you?”
“Calm down,” she drawled. “I’m trying to come up with a few different ways to say ‘hot.’ How about ‘Sexy single with killer jugs’?”
“Why are we even friends?”
Pen laughed and I couldn’t help but join in. She was ridiculous, but she was always on my side. “Yeah, okay. Maybe something else.”
She typed for a minute and then clicked away without reading what she’d written. “Hey! What’d you say?”
“Don’t worry. I didn’t talk about your boobs.”
“What did you say?”
But she’d already moved on to the next question, “Which describes you better: happy-go-lucky or impassioned?”
“Can I pick neither?”
“Nope. Have to pick one. I’m going with impassioned.”
“Why? I’m not impassioned.”
“Yesterday you lectured me for our entire lunch break about the importance of a comingled materials recycling program for the office because asking people who brush off recycling to separate their paper, plastic, and aluminum is a losing battle.”
I had done that. I even used most of those words. Maybe I was impassioned.
“See? I know you better than you know yourself. That’s why I’m writing your profile for you. Refill my glass so I can get to work.”