He knew enough not to blame the article—article’d be a cinch in the right moonlight, his synapses firing in just the right wild spontaneous rhythm to the right sort of sound. And sound he could help. Always did. Always sat by the window next to where the kids played basketball—not anything so strategized as shirts-and-skins; September through first week of March, they were shirts and the rest of the year—skins. He Pavloved his creativity into revving up at the scattery, pumping sound of the game.

He needed to write on this: the dating dichotomy: meeting somebody out on the town, sparking a mutual attraction at least as big as a five-story building, and seeing from there what you have in common or starting it off online—thumbnail flattering pics, yeah, but also all the words two people want to say about themselves spread flat for profile-browsers to see. Weighing favorites of everything and political opinions and ideas of the ideal date upfront, before ever sending that first message. Then messages messages more messages and then the agreement to meet f2f somewhere daylit and public, in case either of you’s brought a weapon or hidden a deep-steeped psychosis. Then answering the question: am I as attracted to the full-scale, 4D, live-voiced version as the static one silently smiling on the computer screen in wait of my next email?

Who knew? He thought of writing that, only that: Who knows? Maybe his readers would take it as a philosophical catalyst. They’d drink coffee while looking at his rhetorical question, wondering whether it truly was rhetorical until at least a few of them thought up a solid answer and realized I know.

Humans have engineered both processes of dating in accordance to convenience, what we could easily manage within the overlaid social system, and have done so by fits and starts, by mimicking observed behavior, and, largely, with eyes blind to the future. There.

Of course, it wasn’t spelling out in resonant undertones the real meat and depth of the question he had a problem with. It was answering. Answering a question he didn’t have an opinion on one way or another even as he stood a free throw’s length away from it and admitted it was vaguely interesting, would ignite a good essay if he got his fumbly self out of its way somehow.

His problem was incurable optimism, he decided. He could see either route coming off without a hitch, leading to a pastel-decorated chapel or at least bed, lots of bed; but then he could also see each way careening its passengers straight into disaster. He needed—he decided—to get back farther than the free-throw line.

He’d done this before. In college. Playing. Amped for a spotless free throw by taking himself back and back to nearly half court.

In college he’d dated a full fan club of girls and a few girls—cute girls—who turned up their noses at him, ball, sports in total. He’d met girls after games and in class, or when he walked that diagonal line across campus from College Algebra to Philosophy 203. Met some through chat rooms and online set-ups like chat rooms.

One girl’d stuck by him for a whole year, beautiful girl. Vanessa. Who wore turquoise and gum-pink, colors like that that looked like candy-coated fire against her dark skin. He could still think of that girl and think: clarity. This is this and that, that, no fog, no overlap. She liked watching him practice when Coach allowed it because, she said, he looked so damn calculating squaring up for the 2 and then would walk back and try from no man’s land and then re-approach the line and—BOOM—nail it like he’d been doin’ it since the womb.

He knew what he needed tonight, since his usual thud-pause-thud soundtrack wasn’t cutting it. And short of calling her, asking her to drop by, nothing sexual, just dressed in a polo the hue of a Skittle. She had to be married now—kid, career, who knew.

He needed to back up. Keep backing up until he stood at that distance where an undeniable divide appeared before him. Not some false split: what is right: technology or old-school human-a-human contact? Clearly the endpoint answer wasn’t going to be exactly the same for everybody shifting sand for a date, and he wasn’t foolish enough to chase an answer to the question “Which method is right?” What then was the answerable question tucked deep in his apparent thesis?

Would you rather first fall for somebody’s wordless face or inanimate, written words? No.

Back up.

Like Vanessa had backed from the suite of a dorm he shared with one other guy from the team the day he’d declared his major: journalism. Been raining that day and she had on a dripping navy raincoat that hit her calves.

“You still all-in for ball, though?”

What’d he said to her? “Know I gotta give a hundred to something.”

Can you clearer judge a person’s thoughts with that person there in the flesh, lacing the basic words in flirtation and some cute, curly southern accent or with her clear across town—her words pinned down, carefully meted out, bound in made-for-paper wit?

No. Back up.

He wondered if pretty Vanessa still wore brights or if she’d traded for the earth tones and creams safer for black girls. He’d shut up Mike when Mike called Vanessa a basketball whore when Vanessa broke up with him after he burrowed down in journalism. What had Mike said trying to cheer him up? “She gone marry some street juggler, bro, you watch.” And maybe she had. Married some guy nervy enough to make his scratch by making a juggling sideshow of himself. Coulda been worse.

Which way’s less safe? Not dangerous in the sense of risking dating Lizzie Borden in disguise. Dangerous the other way. The good way.

Maybe that was his question. Maybe he’d finally backed up far enough he could take a running charge back to the free-throw line and sink it pure and clear. He’d try rushing at it when he got back. He was going, now, to watch the game.

Lowan Lykaios (@loleeko) is a fiction writer who lives in North Carolina. Lowan enjoys ACC basketball, folk music, and Iris Murdoch novels.