Sarah Manavis 16th January 2018
There is little I hate more than telling people how I met my boyfriend. We like to tell a watered-down version, that goes like this: a mutual friend set us up, we messaged, we met, and through a series of weird circumstances, it happened to work out.
Another forgiving version is that I, embarrassingly, followed him on Twitter and thought he was funny. I told the mutual friend who then put us in touch to be nice. And finally, the same ending: we messaged, we met, and it happened to work out.
An even realer, almost true version is that I, even more embarrassingly, sent a mortifying message about my now-boyfriend to the mutual friend who promptly screenshotted it, sent it, and my boyfriend happened to find it funny. And, again, the same ending: we messaged, we met, it happened to work out.
But, of course, none of these stories are really, entirely true. The real story has a little more to it; it’s a little sadder, a little sweeter, perhaps a little more voyeuristic. The real story is that when I was 18, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. And when my boyfriend was 19, it turns out he was too.
I read his writing and followed him on Twitter, and through some adept Google searching, I came across the funny cancer blog
He had a blog about the aforementioned teenage cancer that was (and is, ten years on) self-deprecatingly very funny. It was mostly jokes, a lot of talk about sperm samples and was a treatment of a bad situation that was relatively unique amongst the justifiably sad cancer-blog world.
The blog got a fair amount of press (The Sun tried to plagiarise it, in fact) and it led to a relatively popular Twitter account, which led to a writing job, which led to another writing job, which landed my boyfriend a low-level of internet notoriety.
Now, if you reverse engineer that timeline, you can understand how I came onto the scene. I read his writing and followed him on Twitter, and through some adept Google searching, I came across the funny cancer blog. And, to my shock, it was breathtakingly, almost word-for-word identical to my own family’s handling of our similarly delicate, tumour-ridden situation.
So, when we did eventually go our first date, I was expecting to meet that guy. The guy who I clearly had so much in common with, who had the same awful sense of humour, and with whom I shared the same worldview.
But this is not what I was met with. I was presented with someone who I did, yes, get on with, and who was, yes, nice, but someone who was far more withdrawn, who, if I was being entirely honest with myself, liked but didn’t fully click with.
Despite this experience, I kept seeing him. I held this not-so-secret secret with me, the secret that I knew we shared something I hadn’t shared with anyone outside my family and that I knew there was more to him than what I was getting. Had that nugget of vulnerability not presented itself to me before we met, I probably wouldn’t be here, writing this, nearly two years later.
A lot of writing on how we present ourselves online swirls in a pool of skeletons, deception, and toxicity. This is not unfounded. If you’re a woman on any social media platform you can’t get through an opinion, a selfie, or even a small gripe without being promptly met with someone objectifying you or arguing with you or treating you like a moron.
The internet paves an easy path for harassers to reach potential victims. It helps all of us be bigger assholes to each other than we otherwise would be. And, of course, it provides prime real estate for getting your mental health torn to shreds.
The internet provides us a platform upon which we can showcase our vulnerabilities and share our secrets
But among these downsides, the internet provides us with something else. Something that most of us struggle to do in our daily lives and struggle to be anywhere but online. And that something is ourselves.
The internet provides us a platform upon which we can showcase our vulnerabilities and share our secrets, ones that we’d otherwise be hesitant to share or ones we would never tell. It provides a tool for being the fullest, most genuine version of ourselves, with the good, the humour, and the dark spots all mixed into one. And we can use that tool to fall into actual, real love.
“Sally and I met through the comments section of a blog,” starts the viral article from Man Repeller published in November of last year, “We lived 1,500 miles apart.”
In the piece, American columnist Will deFries met his partner in the comments section of a website he ran, the now-defunct/rebranded Sunday Scaries.
He explains how the “craziest first date” he ever went on came to be; how, after months of messaging, flirting, and falling in love, he flew to Michigan to meet this woman he’d only known online, to find that he hadn’t been kidding himself this entire time.
He tells the story of how public replies became DMs, how DMs became three-hour FaceTimes, and how all of that turned into a fully-fledged relationship.
In this private-yet-public environment, he shared his weaknesses, shared his secrets, and, through that display of vulnerability, found acceptance and love
Of course, as deFries points out himself, it’s no longer weird to find love online (see: desktop dating sites like Match.com and swipe apps like, of course, Tinder). Literally tens of millions of people are spending every day swiping on Tinder alone, so having a digital element to your love story has stopped being taboo and has stopped being interesting.
But there’s something in deFries’ story that makes it different, beyond the whole flying miles for a first date element, and separates it from the now incredibly typical internet meet-cute. Sunday Scaries was not just a classic, mid-2000s blog: it was a blog dedicated to tracking deFries’ broken mental health.
Each blog post marked the crippling anxiety he felt at the end of every week, AKA the Sunday Scaries, which he described as a way to turn “his weekly panic attacks into a creative outlet.” His blog wasn’t just for musings and the odd rant, it was for him to show where he felt vulnerable. And, to top it all off, Sunday Scaries was also a secret.
deFries admits that, at the time he met Sally, his blog was something “hardly any” of his friends knew he’d created because of his fear of sharing the state of his health. In this private-yet-public environment, he shared his weaknesses, shared his secrets, and, through that display of vulnerability, found acceptance and love.
Julia and Lee have been together for over two years and have known each other for three. Their relationship is unique in a lot of ways, like all relationships are, but it stands out for two notable reasons. Firstly, because they met on Tumblr and, secondly, because they live 10,000 kilometres apart.
The two met through mutual friends on the blogging site, which gives an accessible viewing deck to any third party viewer trying to understand how things began. If you were doing this, you’d probably say their origin point was on Lee’s page, where Julia serially left comments mocking their mutuals and would comment on Lee’s posts making fun of anime. However, the posts in between is what really jump-started the connection.
“With Lee’s blog, I could see her whole thought process… I knew she what she was feeling and didn’t have to constantly second-guess myself if I was being ‘ok/appropriate’ [in my interactions],” Julia tells me about reading Lee’s posts on her difficulties with her mental health.
She gives credit to the internet for providing a platform that let their relationship develop, as they were both able to share their personal vulnerabilities and understand each other’s. “I knew her and I trusted her. It was like, ok, this is Lee, a person I know very well because she is sincere/open in her blog. That helped me a lot.”
Lee felt the same, crediting their ability to share things publicly online about their struggles with mental illness helped bring them closer, something she says she wouldn’t have disclosed IRL at the time.
It’s like you start at level 10 instead of 1
Julia also spoke about how much easier it was to get to know Lee knowing her deeper secrets from the get-go, “It’s easier to make friends online because of that; it’s like you start at level 10 instead of 1.”
This point was echoed among almost everyone I spoke to on this topic. That, by knowing people’s secrets and understanding what makes them vulnerable from an early stage, puts the relationship on a fast-track. That you could feel confident that you were interacting with someone special, someone who you understood and who understood you.
“Like how do you tell someone, ‘I’m sorry, I feel less than human today so I can’t hang out’ IRL?” Julia explained. “But if they read your blog post it’s like, ok, they get what is happening.”
This phenomenon is something beyond online dating. It isn’t eHarmony or Match.com and it isn’t Tinder or Bumble. It’s not a millennial version of the bar nor is it sliding into someone’s DMs.
In and amongst all of the digital skeletons we create for ourselves, the internet also gives us a tool to not only show our real selves, but to also truly see each other. We can use it to create bonds and connections with people we’d otherwise fail to create in an offline space. And we can use it to create robust and understanding love.
Sarah Manavis 16th January 2018