Last summer I fell in something kind of like love–but not quite–with the idea of a person. My conception of him was wonderful! Furnished in all the “right” ways by my inventive little brain, he became the ideal type (a la Weber) that I had convinced myself over time would be the one for me. He read books (wow, nifty), spoke eloquently, caressed my self-esteem like it was an Olympic sport, listened to great music, had a real job, and didn’t live in the male-ego-coddling hellhole that is New York—which is never not a good sign when it comes to men. Oh, and, he was pretty easy on the eyes—the consummate lovechild of Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.
I grew even weaker in the knees since much of our initial communication took place via Internet and iPhone, allowing us to break down theoretic barriers and create a false sense of intimacy faster than usual. Thus, our liaison intensified quickly, with each exchange appearing to connect us in a way that was convincingly more profound than superficial. In retrospect, it was really just the latter—a back and forth between two people swimming solely in the shallow end, but with too much chlorine in their eyes to tell the difference between depths. The chlorine here was that dangerous combination of loneliness, projection, and hopeless romanticism (a sword I appear to fall on more often than not).
I was itching to care about someone, and at the perfect time, he fell into my lap. Like most new pseudo-loves, he seemed different (how? Well, I couldn’t tell you), introspective, and kind—and buttressing all of this was the cozy fact that he lived far away. We didn’t really have to deal with each other, or see each other under any harsh lights. Our relationship was mitigated by keenly thought-out text messages and filtered selfies that contributed that extra dose of swoon. That isn’t to say that all non face-to-face contact is rich with bullshit, but that it is simply not the whole picture. Instead, it is an idealistic glance at a person, and one whose resulting image is much easier to fall for on shaky grounds.
This guy was rarely in front of me, but he was always in my pocket, and that’s a comfort we collectively appear to adapt to quickly. Too quickly—sometimes—in matters relating to newborn romance. We mistake constant virtual chatter for the forging of a substantial connection, but if we haven’t laid the in-person groundwork first, that contact is more likely to be just a flimsy link—a mutual affinity for, say, psychology books and Wes Anderson, or a shared taste for cronuts and coffee (so, basically, the bloodline of Brooklyn).
If I hadn’t been so caught up in my continuous creating of him, I would have noticed that he was similarly falling for an idealistic version of me. To him, I was like some academic strain of the manic pixie dream girl—the “smartest girl he’d ever met” (which was laughable but undoubtedly flattering). He constantly wondered aloud what I was doing with a guy like him? He didn’t deserve me. It was the stuff of every formulaic romantic movie we can’t help but enjoy, and I dove headfirst into it like the good romance addict that I am.
See, when you’re not around a lover, it’s so much easier to believe in their supposed perfection, and to expect that, and that alone, from them always. Of course, our too-good-to-be-true archetypes would dissipate once we finally spent a week together. Though it had its nice moments (not least because we shared many unforgettable acai bowls), the overwhelming sense was one of a curtain being torn down. I was crushed to realize he wasn’t who I thought he was, and I’m sure in some sense the feeling was mutual. A twisted, almost removed sadness dawned on me when I said goodbye—as if one of my favorite TV characters had just unexpectedly died. I felt silly and naïve. Was all that time spent working towards something (that was actually nothing) worth it? Is realizing you don’t know someone you thought you knew worse than never knowing them—is pseudo-loving and then losing better than never pseudo-loving at all?
I don’t have a definite answer, but after a year of reflecting on the topic, I’m tempted to say that it wasn’t a bad experience to have. Especially in an age when our initial romantic connections are increasingly forged online, it’s nice to have had my warning sign…to realize that what you’re seeing virtually is rarely what you’ll get when reality strikes. Of course, whomever you fall in love with is going to be idealized on some level (whether technology is in bed with you or not). But you’ll also grow familiar with the ways in which these people are flawed, and decide either to accept the less-pretty parts, or move on. It would seem that the digital world just makes those murkier qualities a bit harder to parse.