Illustrations by Spencer Olson

The Life Cycle of a Twitter Romance

From flirtation to unfollow in eight easy steps—it’s internet dating’s equivalent of the Circle of Life

Who among us hasn’t flirted to pass the time on Twitter? There’s only so much to say about SCOTUS appointments, cats and boring family gatherings. Sooner or later you’ll be trading compliments on profile selfies. The eggplant emoji will attain a permanent spot in your “recently used” tab. Still awake for late-night Twitter? You’ll dance boldly into each other’s mentions, discussing the ideal date, what you want in a partner and even more.

The lifespan of Twitter relationship barely rivals that of a butterfly. Ephemeral, fleetingly beautiful, the romance dies even as you try to grasp it. In less time than it took James Franco to free himself from that boulder, you’re left gasping in therapy, more alone than ever.

Step One: The @ Mention. Run into a smart, witty stranger in the mentions of someone you admire. Scroll through their feed to find your best hopes confirmed: Hearty debates over grammar, vigorous literary critique, bilingual exchanges. Click “follow.” You don’t know it, but it’s already begun.

Step Two: Some Light Banter. For the first few hours, simply trade witticisms, barbs and jokes about what passes through their feed. You might even advance to teasing! The thirst is becoming real. Start putting out coy feelers for possible relationship status, because you’re moving on to…

Step Three: The DM Slide. Albeit more personal, DMs follow no uniform template: they can traffic in continued discussions about grammar and politics or include more date-like exchanges about exes and common interests, etc. Non-R-rated photos are exchanged; appreciation is expressed. You talk about unworthy ex-crushes. You moan about how hard it is to find a great conversational partner on Twitter. You exchange Gchat information. Onward!

Step Four: Ah, Gchat. It’s operated through your inbox, so the conversation becomes more personal. You express mutual fondness; perhaps you write each other a sexy limerick. You blush when you see their responses, and they tell you they do for yours. You share stories about strict parents; they tell you about an ex who left them for grad school in Paris — not before gleefully steamrolling their heart — and you sympathize. You talk about visiting each other, shaking your fists at geography. Suddenly the Midwest doesn’t seem that far away. Phone numbers are exchanged.

Step Five: Texting. In the morning, a check-in: a sweetheart-style expression of weekday concern. During the work day, an eye-rolling text about a boring meeting. (You’re still using Gchat, by the way; that doesn’t stop.) The discussion of sex is ongoing now, more explicit, but so is the expressed level of care. The first time you hear their voice you get goosebumps. They call as you drive home; you talk the whole way there, and then for another 20 minutes after you’ve turned off the engine. Congrats, you’ve fallen for this person.

Step Six: Consummate the Relationship (Remotely). The daily chatting starts to feel like the beginnings of a relationship. They mention relatives near you; if they were to visit they’d like to stay with you. You rejoice at the fantasy and take the bold next step: phone sex. It feels awkward, funny, and good, in the way that you rationalize sex with a new partner is meant to feel. Your smiles the next day, shared via FaceTime, are sleepy, content, happy. I’m seeing someone, you want to shout — only you can’t, because you’ve never actually met this person.

Step Seven: The Catch. After all this, you’re still only a week or two in. They bring up that ex, the one who torpedoed them emotionally and left for the city most commonly associated with romantic love. You say, of course I remember, she sounds awful. Yeah, well, I’m still in love with her. Every pop-culture representation of screeching halts rushes into your mind’s eye. Slammed brakes; Wile E. Coyote squashed under an Acme anvil; a whistle at the NBA playoffs, with 30 seconds left in the game. And lest we forget: You’re at work.

Step Eight: Delete, Delete, Delete. You express disbelief and disappointment. They want to be friends. You lie, saying you have enough friends, when your overdependence on the very medium that brought you together is proof that you do not. This is not a bond that can survive DMs, Gchats, phone calls, FaceTime, phone sex and promises. It ends exactly where it began: You hit “unfollow.”

Pour a drink. Go to therapy. Then maybe sign up for online dating.

Nandini Balial is a staff writer at Lit Hub and the media editor at Queen Mob’s Tea House. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, MidnightBreakfast, Men’s Journal, Slate and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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