"You’re my first Web crush since 1997.”
The window of the Gchat box flashed green, telling me David had typed a new message.When I read his confession, I felt a girlish pride for winning his attention, but also a sense of hesitation, guessing that Web crushes could only be reserved for pervs, nerds or socially awkward types. A lustful admission was a bit of a creepy thing for David to say considering we hadn’t even met. He was on the other side of the Atlantic chatting to me from Amsterdam while I sat in my Williamsburg loft, hugging my glowing white MacBook to my chest.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard, torn between a simple gee, thanks, and an admission that the idea of being someone’s Internet obsession was exciting. I erred on the side of total abandon, typing in rapidfire sentences. “I have this fantasy that I come to Amsterdam. ENTER.We fall in love. ENTER. But it doesn’t last. ENTER. It’s all very tragic—ENTER—but beautiful at the same time.” I “met” David, virtually speaking, through Tumblr, a website of blogs that encourages social networking. I joined in the spring of 2008, creating “Tales of a Twentysomething,” a record of what it was like for a 22-year-old assistant at a women’s magazine living a broke-but-fabulous life in New York City. Before a month’s time, I had a moderate list of 100 subscribers.Things really picked up last June when I became one of the Tumblettes, a group of women chosen by Tumblr editors for having interesting blogs. Doors opened and page views exploded. I felt loved: Fans weighed in on pictures of new outfits or left encouraging comments on my posts. I knew the person in Tales of a Twentysomething wasn’t me but a branded character—a member of a culture of girl bloggers who were fabulous because they blogged, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the attention.
While I played hard to my female audience with posts about relationships, I found that men were just as into my Tumblr persona. Most guys who contacted me weren’t my type or came off as desperate. But when David came along, I wrote back, intrigued by his intellect and apparent good looks. His Facebook page showed photos of a tall, 28-year-old Dutch man with a rosy complexion, thick-rimmed glasses, and sandy hair that was beginning to recede.To make sure I wasn’t wearing any bloggles, I asked a friend to look at his profile.
“Is he balding?” Chrysanthe asked as she squinted at the computer screen.
“Um.Yeah. I guess,” I admitted, feeling like an Internet loser.
“It looks good on him,” she said while browsing more pictures. “Yup. He is totally hot.”
We began corresponding every few days. I was less intrigued by him than I was by his interest in me—or the “me” I’d constructed through the blog. Conversely, I could tell that David was drawn to the fantasy of my American life, so describing it felt rewarding to both of us. His curiosity made me feel like a celebrity.
As David and I were people who lived our lives online while at work, we progressed to chatting whenever the green buttons next to our Gchat names showed up. I loved watching the gray automatic notice appear in the chat box window, “David is typing…” that told me, an ocean away, he was hacking out a sentence.
We moved past superficial topics of what we did during our weekends to our fears of being completely ordinary—or never finding love. As things progressed and seemed more real, we found that we shared similar upbringings and psychology. He grew up in a cosmopolitan family of academics—the Amsterdam-equivalent of a Woody Allen clan—that naturally bore unhappiness and countless neuroses. I was raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with liberal, Jewish, musician parents, which was a genetic and cultural recipe for depression as well.Thanks to dating emotionally unavailable men over the course of that year, I was left a bit puzzled by David’s ability to discuss “deep” things like I would with a girlfriend.To an extent, this worried me that something was a bit off about him. I chalked this up to David’s being European, and therefore slightly “gay” and, therefore, more open with his emotions.
For a time, we conducted our non-relationship entirely within the pale blue corners of my Gmail inbox or in posts on my blog where I occasionally (yet innocently) dropped references to a “Mr. Amsterdam.” One day, we decided to video chat using Skype (“Taking our relationship to the next level,” we joked). I was nervous as I waited to connect for the first time. Maybe his Facebook photos looked nothing like him. What if his voice didn’t match up with the one I heard in my head? Or worse, what if we could write to each other like old friends but not hold a conversation in person?
Fortunately, despite some pixilated pauses due to connection failure, the conversation flowed. Before signing off from our first call, I asked, coyly, “So, did I disappoint? Was I everything you hoped I would be?” He smiled. “You were, you are…lovely.”
I was smitten.
By month four, Gchat flirtation gave way to a full-blown Skype addiction. Our video interactions felt so natural that I often thought we could be in the same room.
I’d Skype him from my bed, resting my laptop on my pillow, thinking how weird it was that I thought I knew what it was like to cuddle with him, but I didn’t even know what he smelled like.
With the time difference, David and I found ourselves abandoning real-world activities to see each other (or at least digital renderings) as often as possible. Sundays turned into all-day Skype sessions that were half conversation, half simply living in the same cybernated space as I worked on my laptop and David passed in and out of the frame as he went about ironing his shirts or eating dinner. Days like that left me happy, as if I had really spent them with someone who cared, but also left me thinking, Is this not the most insane way to pass your time? My friends, when told of these sessions, incorrectly inferred that David and I were spending hours having “Skype Sex.” “God, no!” I protested in horror.
In November, when David was between jobs, we were fantasizing for the hundredth time about meeting, when he blurted, “You know what? Enough. I’m buying a ticket.”Twenty minutes later, he’d booked a flight to New York. But my rush of excitement was punctuated with concern.Wasn’t this complete madness? Some guy from the Internet crossing an ocean to see me? And if we did get along, then what? How was this supposed to work out?
In the weeks leading up to David’s visit, we discussed how real things suddenly were. Being together became a potential fact, and we started having “it could happen for us” talks.Yet each time I contemplated our future, I concentrated only on the romantic reverie. I pushed away and denied thoughts about logistics and potential complications.The dream in which I was living at the moment was better than reality.
On the night Mr. Amsterdam arrived I asked him to meet me in a restaurant. I wanted a neutral space to dispel awkwardness. David was late, so I waited at the bar
drinking rounds of champagne to quell the Jenga tower of emotions in my stomach.
he arrived, he was taller than I’d imagined: I hadn’t expected him at
6-foot- 4 to have to bend over so deeply to kiss my 5-foot-1 frame (on
the cheek). Eating dinner together, my heart beat nervously as I
struggled to realize that this wasn’t really a first date; we were
already past the foodstuck-in-teeth embarrassment phase. An hour into
things, we found a natural flow.
was eager to show David the world he had seen on Tumblr.The first part
of the week, I wore my best outfits with high heels every day, and (at
his request) took him to a media party so he could meet the other
characters he’d followed in the Tumblrverse. Once, when I introduced
him to a friend, he shook hands saying, “Hi, I’m David…otherwise known
as Mr. Amsterdam.”
cringed, and tugged his sleeve to hiss in his ear, “I might write about
Mr. Amsterdam on my blog…but not that many people read it. No one knows
what you’re talking about.” I felt like he had caught me in a lie and
was afraid the spell was broken. But his visit continued without
incident. I cried when he left but I felt better once I booked my
ticket to visit Holland two months later.
50-odd days between visits were agonizing, and the real world I
inhabited in New York became less and less interesting to me. Staying
in constant contact with David became a necessity.When I was away from
my computer, I’d log on to chat through my BlackBerry—just to say “hi”
on my walk to work or “goodnight” from a bar.
As the trip approached, I felt hopeful.
had been hinting at asking me to move there, and I’d decided I’d be
willing when the topic came up. I wanted to run away from New York. My
job made me feel lifeless, but I denied my desire to go to Amsterdam
had anything to do with that. I was about to turn the page in my life,
and I was excited it wasn’t one from the Web.
after I arrived in the land of tulips and windmills, I struggled to
push the knot in my stomach away, recalling my original dark vision of
a failed relationship. Wandering the canals while David was at work,
I’d count down the hours until I
see him again. I tried to imagine living in the city, riding a bike
around, writing alone during the day, being together at night. I felt a
foreboding feeling, though: David hadn’t brought up the idea of my
moving to Amsterdam since I’d landed. He seemed as smitten as ever, but
each minute it didn’t come up seemed to suggest some elemental shift in
lay side by side in bed staring up at the ceiling one night after we
made love. He wasn’t touching me. Something was off. Or was I just
being paranoid? After a minute of silence, I broke it.
“Is something wrong?” I asked. “Yeah…fine…” he said, not shifting his gaze.
cuddled up closer, nuzzling my head into the nook in his shoulders,
realizing as I did it how much I was acting a part.We’d expressed
honesty more often through written words, and I was always afraid that
without them, my personality and emotions would fall short. Another
you sure?” I asked again. He sighed heavily. “Well…” He hesitated. I
interpreted it as if from a chat: David is typing. “I just have this
huge feeling of dread.That when you leave, it will feel so horrible.We
can’t do this to ourselves anymore.”
Do what to ourselves? I wanted to ask, but stayed mute.
can’t long for each other across an ocean, not knowing when we’ll be
together next,” he continued. “We can’t live in our heads and on Gchat
I struggled to find a response. Only a stifled cry exited my throat. Possible phrases ran through my head, but deleted them all.
“We’ll slowly kill ourselves if we live like this,” he said.
my desperate moment I would have done anything to save us, but I knew
he was right.The fantasy of a doomed romance had been more than a
random premonition. It was an acknowledgment that people drawn into
love with so much absence at its core are fated for disaster.
Tears rolled noiselessly off my cheeks.
David softly swallowed a lump in his throat.
We were both typing in our heads, but there was nothing left to say.