Yup. You read that right. I know, I know, I can hear it all: But you didn’t even really know him!
Three months?! That’s nothing! How do you catch feelings for someone over an iPhone?! I know what you’re thinking because I thought it, my friends thought it - some even had the guts to say it.
We’ve all heard those stories of people who meet Mr. or Mrs. Right online. Last month, I was in two weddings - one couple met on Twitter and the other on Tinder. In the age of swipe left, swipe right, follow and slide into DMs, it’s not uncommon to find a special someone on your phone. It’s a little less common to foster an entire relationship on it. That’s where my story comes in.
Before that first text, I would have argued you into the ground that there was absolutely no way you could ever really know someone - romantically, professionally, personally - without spending some time with them in person. Admittedly at 21, my idea of romance wasn’t grand but it certainly included face to face time. Didn’t someone need to take you out, sit nervously across from you in a booth, stumble to find common topics, fight those butterflies, and make you smile till your cheeks hurt? Didn’t you need to experience all that, then fill you friends in via group chat the minute you got home - collectively counting down the hours until the next morning to see if he’d send that “Good morning! Last night was really fun…” text? Before that number texted me, I would have said yes. Today, I’d say: not so much.
I got hooked, hung up and ultimately burned by a relationship entirely via little blue and white blurbs on my iPhone.
Let’s go back to my summer break of college before Senior year. I wasn’t new to dating-in fact, I’d had a bunch of semi-serious relationships that were part and parcel of my college experience thus far. They’d all been good guys, great relationships, fun while they lasted, and fairly clean when they ended. I had my summer fully loaded and zero time for anything else, let alone time to get caught up in some summer relationship that surely wouldn’t make it to see fall.
So that’s how I found myself home for the summer, back in sunny Southern California, ready to get way too much sun, slip back into high school habits with old friends, inhale home-cooked meals, catch up on sleep, and read every book I’d sworn I’d devour during the school year but hadn’t. I had an internship, amazing girlfriends, graduation year looming, and New York City beckoning to me the day I had my diploma in hand. I had declared I’d stay single for quite some time. I was done with college boys.
Then, I got a text. It was a Washington area code, a number I didn’t recognize.
Number: Hey! Hope this is cool, I got ur number from Josh, this is Matt. We met at that BBQ right before you went back to Cali. I wanted to grab your number that day and have been kicking myself ever since for missing my shot. You think I can take you for that drink when you’re back?
Now let me be honest. I had a whole damn zoo’s worth of butterflies from text number one.
I know. Very unlike me. I didn’t love the “ur” or the “Cali” abbreviation, but I did love his confidence. I knew who this mystery number belonged to, but I’d never spent much time with the guy. He was a football player at my school, he’d always caught my eye, and once I’d seen him help an elderly woman carry her groceries at our school’s local Albertson’s. That had to be points for something, right? We ran in similar circles, it made sense that he’d reach out if he felt so inclined...and he was gorgeous, had I already mentioned that?
I responded with something that seemed cool to my 21-year-old self (vetted by my group text of best friends whom I immediately clued in): a little aloof, but just warm enough to show him I wasn’t weirded out by his brazen methods of reaching out.
We texted back and forth for an hour, then another, then another. I was surprised that the conversation could flow like this.
Finally, I had to ask. It was June, we wouldn’t be back at school or in the same state for months. I had my internship and summer plans and he had football camp and why the heck was he reaching out before we got back to campus? I texted him just that. His response?
Number: We’ve sort of floated around each other since freshman year and you’ve always had a boyfriend. Now we’re single at the same time and I thought maybe we could talk before school started. Get to know each other a bit more before we head back.
Okay so here’s where I was completely thrown.
I’d never met a guy who liked texting, let alone one who was comfortable enough to say that he wanted a summer of conversation before we get a chance to be in the same room again.
Now don’t think I’m crazy. I was a little skeptical. I’d seen this go bad a few too many times. Was this one of my ex’s reaching out? Was I being Catfished? I told him it all seemed a little too good to be true - this great guy just drops out of the air and into my iPhone?
He sent a series of LOL’s and a picture of him smiling - oh, that smile - and he responded with a clear explanation: he didn’t want to waste my time, but he’d always wondered if we were perfect for each other as our mutual friend had insisted we’d be. He had my attention.
Hook, line, and sinker.
We spent the rest of that day texting. I’m talking hours upon hours, hundreds of messages. We discussed everything silly and simple and surface that first day: his love of fair food and growing up in a farm town of Washington, his passion for football and his pre-law plans. I shared my dream of writing a book and moving to the Big Apple, my love of baking. Favorite authors, favorite movies, favorite songs, favorite spots around our college town turned to worst first date stories, family traditions - our text threads weaved endlessly into the night. By the time we pressed send on “goodnight”, it was 1 am. I was GIDDY.
I couldn’t believe it. Who was I?! This so wasn’t me. But maybe I’d struck gold?
He had a sense of humor that translated over text (a hard find) and he was flirty enough to have me giggling like a child.
By the time I woke up, I had two texts from Matt. No games. No wondering. I’d already saved his number, and seeing his name locked on my screen gave me a sick little belly flip. I muttered to myself to slow the F down as I pushed down my covers, and opened his texts. Somewhere between his cute little smiley emoji and the follow-up picture of his faded copy of our mutual favorite book next to a morning cup of coffee - it dawned on me that it had only taken 24 hours for him to take up a little slice of space in my heart.
Soon, that slice turned to a piece of my heart as we poured our souls out to each other. We told each other things we swore we hadn’t told anyone else. I know, I know. For the next two and a half months, we texted nonstop. We had inside jokes. We made plans. We made promises. We called each other “babe”.
I had stumbled blindly into a whirlwind romance that was made possible only by the digital world in which we live.
Through thousands of texts, hours of pings and dings, Matt and I marveled at what we’d found. How random! How wild! We’d been on the same campus for all this time and all it took was one text. We were so compatible, we laughed - or at least texted LOL constantly. We shared such similar values, viewpoints, we even loathed the same movies and reread the same books every year.
We talked about dreams post-graduation, career paths, parents, heartbreaks - his honesty and open-book mentality was so refreshing, I couldn’t get enough. Being a writer, I have never doubted the power of the written word…
I just had never fallen for someone’s written words.
Before we knew it, it was time for the rest of his teammates to join him back on campus for true football camp. He spent his summer training and we spent our summer making promises to each other we had no business of making. Still, it was decided: we wouldn’t just “grab a drink” when we got back to school, we’d be a couple. We’d fallen hard and fast and we agreed we’d normally tease our friends for this kind of thing but we couldn’t deny what we had and that was that.
We’d managed to skip over those awkwardly shared booths, the stumbling over words with dry mouths, trying to find common ground. We’d beaten the dreaded waiting game. We’d totally gamed the dating system.
My friends at home had to admit - I was glowing. I was glued to my phone. I was gaga, and so totally not me. My friends back at school were ready to see us together. We felt so damn lucky.
We’d escaped the uncomfortable parts of building a relationship because we were flying high on instant gratification: the read message receipts, the notifications, the constant reassurances that we were both out there - offering up our hearts and seeing where it would go.
Every ping and buzz felt like a “See? I’m in this with you.”
Then, I got ghosted.
He called - missed it. He sent a few texts about getting ready for camp and apologizing for the lack of communication we’d have to endure for the next few weeks. He’d be running drills and sweating two-a-days but soon enough, I’d be back on campus, and he’d be making good on that promise of a drink (cue all the winky face emojis you can stomach). He assured me he’d call at nights.
A few weeks without talking much? Sure, no problem. I’d miss him but it would probably give my fingers a break. I wished him luck, sent my own gaggle of emojis, told him I couldn’t wait to see him, and...that was it. Instantly I missed him. Every sound my phone made, I willed it to be him. It wasn’t. Finally, I turned off notifications. I was torturing myself. I was one of those girls. I couldn’t stand it. What had this guy done to me?
That day dragged on. No MATT flashing across the screen. Nothing.
Four days dragged by. I got worried. I sent a message, checking on him. I had expected communication to be cut down, sure, but this seemed dramatic. Did he get hurt? I had all the feelings of a girlfriend but zero connection to anyone who could tell me he was okay, besides our shared friend Josh, and my ego wouldn’t let me go there.
I confided in a girlfriend, feeling that mix of panic and confusion, a twinge of embarrassment. I was probably just being a little silly. She paused on the phone, took a breath, asked me if I followed him on Twitter. WTF?! I told her no, immediately logging into my account and typing in the username she read off. How did I not follow him on Twitter? I knew his sister’s middle name, how he felt about his stepdad, the way he liked to eat before a big game...but I didn’t know his Twitter handle? I had never bothered to check.
I had no idea what I was expecting to see...but while I steeled myself for pictures of him out partying with girls or some secret girlfriend...I watched in horror as his feed was flooded with tweets. He’d been tweeting up a STORM. Multiple times a day. All the days he’d completely ignored me. That wit, that humor, that charm that had filled my screen and summer was filling his stupid Twitter.
I checked the time of my text I’d sent him - realizing now that read message receipts were turned off - and he’d tweeted about a new country song right after! That fuckboy. There he was, even tweeting out pictures of his coffee and new read...He’d even had time to do a little morning but he didn’t have time to text the girl he’d poured his heart out to all summer long?
As wild as it sounds, I felt like this was digital betrayal: he had the time to spend on Twitter, putting his thoughts into words, but he didn’t have time to do the same over text?
I know what you’re thinking. I’m sounding crazy, but you gotta understand: I was young. I had feelings for someone whom I thought I knew inside and out because of our constant conversation and because our entire ‘courtship’ had taken place on our iPhones. And no - I’d never picked up on a single red flag. How could I? We’d never even really met. He never made me wait for a response, he’d never made me second guess my responses, nor had he ever make me sweat over a particularly risky text. He’d been…perfect. Oh my God.
It dawned on me then. He hadn’t been the perfect guy, he’d been the perfect texter.
We didn’t have a relationship, we had thousands and thousands of messages with nothing else. I thought we’d been building something but in reality, we’d been playing digital house.
Sure, those messages were filled with plans and promises, sweet moments and jokes, but we had no history other than our the one our iPhones held. We texted like we had the experience of awkward first dates and third dates and fifteenth dates, first kisses and movie nights, meeting the families, long car rides talking about nothing and everything...but we didn’t. We had no shared history, just shared conversations.
The weeks passed. I heard nothing. We headed back to school. My phone felt like a useless appendage and my friends quickly got to work getting me out of my funk, insisting that it was for the better, everyone has to get ghosted once in a while, he wasn’t really worth it. I stayed busy and pretended that my heart didn’t feel like it had been stomped on. I reminded myself to google whether heartbreak could physically hurt. I mentally made a note to apologize to the guys I’d dumped without much of a second thought because this actually sucked! I nodded along with my girls’ rally cries while keeping one thought to myself: I just wanted to know why. I still hadn’t deleted our threads of conversation and I’ll admit, I read them over and over again wondering if I’d done said something wrong.
We all decided a night out before classes started would do the trick. We were young, we had summer tans, we linked arms everywhere we went and had loud laughs, we were ecstatic to be reunited, and we had that hum of energy that made us hard to miss.
First party, first drink, and there my favorite ghost stood: Matt.
I had started to wonder if I’d made him up in my head but there he was, grabbing a drink, laughing with friends. I can remember thinking my insides were going to actually combust.
My friends noticed, immediately dragging me onto the make-shift dance floor, my natural habitat. We danced and laughed and even though it was just for show, it was hard not to lose ourselves in the music and whatever cheap alcohol we’d downed.
Within minutes, Matt was there. Not just in the corner of my eye where he’d been when I first started dancing, but right in front of me. He was even cuter in person and my stomach flipped then flopped. Fucker.
He asked if he would talk. He tried to take my hand. That wasn’t happening. Before I could even finish “That’s not a good idea”, my girlfriends had me by both hands. We slipped into the crowd, making our way to the door, and even as he called out my name I wouldn’t give in to my urge to look back. One of my roommates got close to my ear and laughed, “Let’s see him forget to text you now.” I had to admit, it felt good, and hey, at least I knew he was still alive.
The next morning, I woke up to a “good morning” text from Matt.
This time, a paragraph. He was so sorry but he’d gotten to camp and freaked out, he realized he wasn’t sure he was ready for a girlfriend this serious, he’d never felt this way before about a girl, this was a big year for his football career, I had to understand, right, right? But then he saw me last night and realized what an idiot he’d been, and could he take me for that drink? My friends told me to ignore him. My gut told me to ignore him. My heart agreed to breakfast, this little spot close to campus. He asked what time, and I made him wait a few hours before I suggested a totally inconvenient ‘11 am’.
So there we were. That awkward first date we thought we’d skirted. He picked me up in his truck, sheepishly fiddling with the volume knob, asking what classes I’m taking this semester, what I’m reading. I remember sitting so stiffly, wondering if I’d been crazy to feel everything I felt - the crush, the feelings, even the anger...and then it dawned on me: the spark that had turned to full-blown wildfire on our screens fell flat face to face.
The conversation that had quite literally flooded out of us all summer had dried up.
The phones that were responsible for this whole thing sat face up on the table as we picked at food and drank weak coffee, dry-mouthed and attempting to find common ground again.
Before the check even came we both knew: we were better as texters.
We awkwardly hugged our goodbye and shook our heads, as if both bewildered by the fact that we’d had this thing, this major-feeling thing, and in person, it wasn’t even so much a flicker.
We could have gone in circles wondering what had changed. He even called out an apology as I made my way to my stairs. I almost turned out to ask: “For ghosting me or for sending that first text?” I didn’t.
We could have tried to make it to the fifteenth date but instead, we left it alone. As I climbed up the stairs to my apartment, I could see my girlfriends waiting in the windows - grinning and eager to hear every detail. I opened up my phone, scrolled to my thread with Matt, and deleted it. Whatever we had - or thought we had - in those messages, it wasn’t real life. It felt real. Maybe it had been real. Maybe we blew it. Maybe we missed out. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Either way, we were better behind screens.
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