About seven months ago, I dated a guy I called Fantasy Football. We met online, dated about three weeks, went through some drama, and eventually parted on amicable terms. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to him as ‘Nick’ for the rest of this post.
Nick was the first person I’d dated in over two years and letting him in was a big deal for me. I learned a lot from that experience; most of it unpleasant, some of it worse than that. The worst of it I didn’t even document here, but let’s just say that story is not exactly going in a brochure for the Joys of Online Dating.
But even after all of that, I didn’t hate Nick. I didn’t even really blame him. Instead, I walked away with as much grace and compassion as I could muster, finding it to be more than I ever thought possible.
The other thing I did was write about it. A lot. Writing about that experience was therapeutic for me, entertaining for many of you, and it helped me find my voice as a writer. Nick never knew about the blog, though I wrote knowing he could someday find it.
Four months later, in the wee hours of a winter morning, I received this email (a few lines have been removed for the sender’s privacy)—
So two things…
I just spent two hours reading your blog. You write better than most people I know, myself especially included. You’re in the wrong racket… fuck the blog… write a novel… and make a living. Be successful at writing and then you can make all the pumpkin spice whatnots to your heart’s content.
And I don’t especially care for red meat.
I was astounded. I could see on my StatCounter that he’d literally read every post I’d written about him. While writing, I’d taken care to paint him in a mostly positive light, leaving out anything I felt could identify him or reveal something too personal. Even still, I imagined those posts weren’t all easy to read, and I was impressed with the maturity of his response.
I wrote back to thank him and he responded via gchat. We talked and joked for a few minutes and I felt an amazing sense of closure, not to mention relief. I was relieved to know that, after everything, Nick really was one of the good ones.
Over the next few months, our communication was light-hearted and infrequent. Once in awhile one of us would leave a joking comment on the other’s Facebook status or on Twitter, but that was the extent of our communication. We weren’t really friends, but we were friendly.
One day, Nick tweeted a recommendation for Tweetdeck, a program I’d posted about earlier the same day. I replied to him, enthusiastically seconding his recommendation. It was a benign interaction, like ones we’d had many times before. But a few moments later, I scrolled down and saw he’d written this–
“I’ve decided to stop following you. Because your ego is creepy, and deserves admonishment.”
It was a general message and, at first, it didn’t even cross my mind that the message was directed at me. I have approximately seven trillion personality flaws, but a ‘creepy ego’ is actually not one of them. Even still, Nick only follows a handful of people, so I glanced at his sidebar. I saw that my name was still there.
An hour or so later, I read a recommendation on someone’s blog for Friend or Follow, a service that let’s you know which of your relationships on Twitter are not reciprocal. I’d been hesitant to follow too many people for fear of being overwhelmed, but now that Tweetdeck allowed me to sort my followees into groups, I wanted to go through en masse and follow everyone back.
Oh… and Nick.
I blinked. I refreshed the page. What?
I was somewhat hurt and incredibly confused. I couldn’t imagine what I’d done to offend him; we’d barely even spoken recently and I was under the impression we were on friendly terms. Only a week or so before, he’d sent me a silly tweet calling me “pretty lady” (interestingly, when I tried to look up the date, I saw he’d deleted it).
I wasn’t hurt that he’d unfollowed me; I used Twitter primarily as a tool for communicating with readers and I didn’t expect real-life friends to be interested. Instead, I was confused by the cruel, passive-aggressive, and out-of-nowhere nature of his comment. It wasn’t enough to erase me from his life, he wanted to make sure he hurt me as he did it.
What memo did I miss?
I wish I could say that within moments of learning this news, I was gaily picking tulips and singing to bluebirds and I never gave his comment a second thought. But that isn’t quite how it went.
I’m embarrassed to admit how much his comment affected me, particularly since the effect was intentional. Shame, paranoia, embarrassment– he hit every button he’d meant to push. Nick’s comment was the last straw that pushed me to delete my Twitter and Facebook accounts; I couldn’t imagine what I’d done to offend him so deeply, but whatever it was, I wanted to stop doing it as soon as possible.
With Alex, I’ve been up front about this blog from the beginning. It’s a significant part of my life and I didn’t want to keep it from her, particularly after what happened with Nick. We talk about it occasionally, but I still haven’t given her the address. I’m sure she’s resourceful enough to find it on her own, but I’ve asked her not to read it and I’ve explained why.
When people I know in real life read my blog, it can sometimes create an awkward imbalance. Especially for acquaintances, people I’ve just met, and friends with whom I’ve fallen out of touch, my blog can create a one-sided feeling of connectedness. There are times when people I barely know hold me to the standards you’d hold a close friend, forgetting that I know almost nothing about them or their lives, and that most of what they know about me is a public presentation.
These people aren’t delusional; I’ve been guilty of this in the reverse. I know as well as anyone that when reading a person’s blog, especially one that’s fairly personal, it’s hard to not feel like that person is my friend. But, for me, it’s important to draw a distinction between the presence and energy I offer my close friends and what I offer to those with whom I haven’t built that kind of relationship. This is one of my biggest personal struggles.
In dating relationships, this one-sidedness is of particular concern. Can you imagine if someone you’d been seeing for a week could click on your blog and, in a few short hours, learn the gory details of your last three relationships, leaving you to learn about hers the old-fashioned way? What if she suddenly knew– or thought she knew– all your weakest moments and your finest hours, your insecurities and your quirks and your inside jokes, while you were still wondering what she studied in college?
Doesn’t sound like fun.
Telling Alex about my blog was a solid step in the right direction, but it hasn’t solved the issue. I haven’t told her that I write about our whatever-it-is, though I think that might be implied. I’ve thought about bringing it up, but I’m afraid she’d insist on reading, not knowing me well enough to trust me to write about her with care.
The whole point of me writing about this experience is to offer hope and insight to others on a similar journey, and I don’t think I could write about that journey authentically if I knew Alex was reading over my shoulder.
Still, part of me wonders if defending authenticity in my writing is draining authenticity from our relationship. We’ve been out together six times over the past month or so, and I’ve never even told her my last name. She doesn’t have my email address, I’ve never been to her house, we rarely talk between dates, and she’s only met one of my friends.
My reasons for holding her at arm’s length run a lot deeper than this blog, of course. To begin with, a recent scary experience taught me to not hand over the keys to my life until I know someone very well. Second, a recent discovery from my past taught me that giving myself over to love can lead me to trust more than I should.
And last, I realized this weekend that there’s a real fear in me of making this thing a Thing. I find myself trying to compartmentalize Alex, trying to limit her realness in my life. As though the less space she takes up, the easier it will be to erase her later.
It’s important to me to write honestly, adding a brave voice to this dialogue, while giving others the courage to add their own. But it’s also important to me to be open and present with Alex and to give whatever this is a chance to grow. It’s a delicate balance to strike and I have no role model that I know of. It’s not like I can ask my mom, “So what did you do when you were blogging about your first relationship with a woman while simultaneously trying to navigate that relationship?” Her response would be something between hysterical laughter and a blank stare.
Anyway, I don’t have the answers. But I’m beginning to think half the battle is just asking the right questions.
“Maybe you shouldn’t put the e-mails up on your blog. Understandably, it makes for good reading to those who are in on your secret… but she may become irked when she finds out your relationship has been well documented. Just a thought.”
As snarky comments go, this one barely registered on the Richter scale. What bothered me was the implication that I’d never given thought to this issue. I carefully pruned Alex’s message, editing out identifying details, as well as anything she might be embarrassed for me to include. I felt that what I included was endearing, relatable, and relevant to the story, and I didn’t think she’d mind me sharing it.
I rarely write about other people; I generally write about myself in relation to other people. Other people’s stories aren’t mine to tell, but when I must write about another person in order to tell my own, that person’s dignity and privacy is at the forefront of my mind. I leave out anything I think could compromise that person’s personal boundaries or reputation, even when including it would make a better story.
That said, I’m a one-person Standards & Practices team and I have to admit that my judgment is not omniscient. Maybe there’s a better approach– but what is it? I’m unwilling to accept as an answer that humans should not tell stories. How would we ever learn anything? How would we process our experiences? How would we feel not-alone?
Anyway, it bothered me that this anonymous commenter– a stranger who’d stumbled across my blog and probably only read one post– got the impression I was cavalier with such things.
After a few moments of stewing and fretting, it crossed my mind to check my StatCounter. By looking at the IP address, I could see if this person had just stumbled across my blog or if she’d been reading for awhile. A random drive-by would bother me less than a regular reader. So I clicked over to StatCounter and wouldn’t you know—
The anonymous commenter was Nick.
You may have seen that coming. I did not.
Mostly, I was relieved. The comment wasn’t from a stranger; it was from someone who had a bone to pick with me. I just couldn’t figure out what on earth that bone could be. I hadn’t said a word to Nick since this whole thing began, but this was getting a little ridiculous– I decided to sign into gchat and settle it.
ME. Let’s chill on the passive-aggression.
ME. The comment you just left on my blog.
ME. And the Twitter thing.
ME. It’s bizarre-o.
ME. Where is this coming from?
NICK. It’s not.
NICK. It’s coming from my experience.
NICK. She may not want to read about her relationship with you a few months after it has happened.
ME. Ok, that’s fair for you to say.
ME. She actually knows about my blog.
ME. I learned from my experience with you to be up front from the beginning.
NICK. Well that is good then.
NICK. So you can disregard the comment, you were going to anyways.
NICK. I hope it’s going well.
I’m not even going to get into analyzing Nick’s behavior here, because the truth is that it’s beside the point.
The point is that I have some thinking to do about Alex.
I just finished Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life*. It’s funny, inspiring, and moving and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s either a writer or a human being, though you needn’t be both.
There were so many passages I wanted to highlight and circle and draw arrows around, but it’s a library book, so they were forgotten as I turned each page. There was one, however, at the very end of the book, that really startled me. It’s a funny, awkward metaphor she uses, but somehow it feels just right.
“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words. […] Part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away.“ — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Through all my anxiety and all of my fears and all my self-doubt, this is how I feel when I write. When I write, it is in hot pursuit of some elusive, intangible truth, and even when I stumble, there’s this childlike belief within me that if I’m simply honest enough, and sincere enough, and good-intentioned enough, that somehow that truth will still shine through. And even the cruelest tides won’t wash my castle away.
* thanks to Lindsay’s recommendation