The now-defunct Teenopendiary was my first ever foray into internet blogging. When I was fourteen, I’d spend hours on there moaning about my parent’s divorce and writing dubious poetry about boys from school, all in tiny six point Arial on large expanses of emo white. The Teenopendiary community was one built around attention-seeking and co-dependency, and the more ‘emotional’ you appeared to be the more comments you got. In a way I suppose it predated the ‘u ok hun?’s of Facebook. It certainly offered more sympathy than Msn Messenger, which was crawling with people more popular than me at school who weren’t as into Taking Back Sunday.
The first guy I fell in love with on Teenopendiary was a nineteen year old emo kid with one of those fringes I was really into at the time, the sort that you could just about see through as you were glancing up at a camera lens held somewhere above your head. I really dug that camera angle. He was a student at Oxford University which, in retrospect, made the fact that he was spending an inordinate of time hanging on a blogging platform for teenagers just a tad strange. But I was thinking about applying to Oxford and thought that maybe he could get me in. I was so into him that I scrolled all the way back to when he had started his diary and read from the very beginning. I just fell like I had to know all of him. I barely remember anything of the content now, apart from an anecdote in which he talked about his girlfriend locking herself in the bathroom, something which just seemed so coolly dramatic and which I couldn’t wait, myself, to do. I don’t think that Teenopendiary guy and I ever exchanged more than a few words (he used to comment on my photos and tell me I was pretty) but he had the clearest, most beautiful green eyes I’d ever seen, and I’ve never forgotten them.
After school, I’d usually spend about five or six hours on Msn Messenger talking to people with whom I’d just spent the entire day in a classroom not talking to. The Instant Messaging Service was sort of a leveller in that the hierarchical structure of school popularity went completely out of the window. No one really knew how to cope. It was as though there were two parallel worlds going on at once, and never the twain shall meet. It was an unspoken rule that what happened on Msn Messenger stayed on Msn Messenger. As such, I spent most evenings talking to a guy in my class who wouldn’t have dreamt of exchanging a single word with me in school. Indeed, the only reason he was talking to me at all was because he’d broken his leg after falling off a skateboard and had to stay home. He later became one of my best friends, but only after he had torn my teenage heart out and resolutely stamped on it. As soon as we became friends in real life we stopped talking on the internet at all, and now we joke about how I was the only one who fancied him when he was fat.
It was around this same time that I started to go to gigs in a nearby seaside town, and immediately fell in love with the lead singer of a band specialising in Sum 41 covers. He had purple spiky hair and I was convinced that he was the man for me, so I looked up the band’s website and sent him an email. He replied immediately and we became Msn buddies. It wasn’t until about three or four weeks later, when I met up with him in the town centre, that I realised that I had been flirting not to the lead singer with the purple spiky hair, but the ginger guitarist whose name happened to rhyme with the other guy’s. A classic case of mistaken internet identity. It had been hard to tell who was who from the moody black and white shots on their website. Still, we snogged in the doorway of the university building and he became my first boyfriend. We went out for three years, although this was interrupted by a haitus after he dumped me, again over Msn. It was at this point that the fifteen year old me realised that I was fed up with all the endless talking and decided to lose my virginity to someone whose only words to me had ever been, somewhat sweetly, ‘can I kiss you?’
I suppose you could say that my generation, meaning the people who are 25 now, were the first ever to use the internet as a way of mediating their love lives. But even when it’s what you’re used to, deciphering the internet ramblings of a teenage msn contact can start to feel counter-productive as soon as you realise that there’s a whole world of actual people out there. This realisation struck me properly at around the age of eighteen, and continued right through college. I actually started to become attracted to people on the basis of how small their internet footprint was. If I tried stalking them and there was barely any google trace of them at all, then come to mama. There was something genuinely exciting about having to work someone out in the real world without having to sift through pages and pages of statusy bullshit in which they tried to make witty remarks about current events which everyone knew they’d just taken from Have I Got News For You. Offline guys, meanwhile, were exciting and mysterious. I don’t think my French ex even really knew how to use a computer, to be honest.
The summer I was 22, I’d been seeing this Jewish guy who was over a decade older than me. He’d moved into my flat to replace my friend who, having given me Swine Flu and eaten all my food, had had to return to Mexico at short notice. He was a bit of a hippy so it never really occurred to me to look him up on the internet. I doubt there was even a paper trail, considering he once told me that every time the electricity got switched off for non-payment he’d simply up sticks and move house. I discovered the downside of all that supposed ‘mystery’ when I found out he had a secret baby and possible wife in the homeland. I was just about to move to Italy so had a convenient way out of the relationship, but sadly extricating myself wasn’t all that simple. This friend of his who worked for the Jewish Chronicle had been sleeping on his floor and had added me on Facebook. He seemed to be going through some kind of nervous breakdown at the time and kept sending me messages telling me that I was ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’. When these were not favourably received, he told me my ex not only had a wife but also had once tried Heroin and had shot a Palestinian child while on National Service in Israel. To this day I don’t know if this is true- it certainly didn’t match up with my picture of this guy, but I’m still haunted by it, for obvious reasons. I cut off all contact with the pair of them and the last I heard from my ex was when he sent me an angry hotmail about council tax in which he repeatedly referred to me as ‘baby.’ I vowed never again to add boyfriends’ friends on Facebook.
I met Michelangelo (not his real name) through a couch surfing website when I thought that I’d have nowhere to live in Italy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no female hosts for that part of Italy on this website, so I had to wade through the profiles of slimy looking dudes for hours until I found one who didn’t look as though he’d jump on me while asleep. Michelangelo went to the same university I was due to attend and had a digital footprint to rival a thirteen year old girl’s. By the time I met this guy for a drink I had seen his Facebook, his Twitter, his personal website, and his Flckr and I had his msn, his whatsapp, his bbm and his phone number. Because of this he was unable to keep the fact that he was in an on-off relationship with someone a secret, although that didn’t stop us sleeping together, just the once, before I left for London for the Christmas holidays.
Michelangelo was a prime example of the obsession that you can cultivate for someone through instant messaging. He was manipulative enough to know that he could draw you in through regular communication before cutting you off completely for weeks at a time. Our non-relationship quasi friendship was one of the most tempestuous I’ve ever experienced, especially considering the fact that it was based around only two hours of sexual contact. I wrote a piece of short fiction about what a shit he’d been when I’d gone to visit him in hospital after his knee popped out of its socket, and deleted and re-added him from Facebook a grand total of five times over the course of a year before deciding to ‘X him’ on the basis of his being a misogynist at a party I was holding. Having ejected him from the house, I unfollowed him on Twitter, deleted him from facebook, skype, msn, bbm and whatsapp, removed his number from my phone, and never saw him again. Because his personality had been so carefully constructed around status updates and Instagram photos, it was as though by removing him he had never existed.
My current boyfriend likes to joke that we met on the internet, and I suppose if you did say that, then you wouldn’t exactly be lying. I answered a Gumtree ad for a room in his flat, and the rest, they say, is history. We courted one another over the kitchen table, mainlining bottle after bottle of cheap wine and slurrily delving into one another’s childhoods and romantic pasts. There was no internet detective work, not on my part anyway, as his Facebook profile revealed nothing except that he had been on a succession of trips around the world and seemed to have a nice line going in straw hats, but I was 100% sure that he’d never shot anyone or have a secret baby because I made a point of asking. When I had first moved into the flat, I was going on quite a lot of dates. My friend Willow (not her real name) and I had been internet dating, or at least, I had. Willow had stopped after an unfortunate incident in which she’d made her excuses and left a date early, picked up an Italian hairdresser off the street after he and his friends catcalled her, and was busy sitting on his lap and snogging him in a nearby pub when she looked up and locked eyes with the guy she’d met up with earlier. I, however, was still optimistic, and so had arranged to meet a local guy in a nearby pub. He seemed cool and I was into his internet hipster vibe. Unfortunately, two hours beforehand, my friend Kat turned up on the doorstep with a fag in her mouth and clutching two bottles of cheap Soave. By 7pm I was rapping along to Jay-Z while Kat pogoed next to me on the carpet. In other words, I was in no position to be going on a date.
And yet still I went, drunk and disorderly, off to meet this guy. I remember little of the date, except that I’m pretty sure we kissed. I also remember spending a lot of time on the phone while he just sat there. It was during a particularly long phone call that he got up and walked off. Convinced that he had left (because, let’s face it, who could blame him?) I staggered out of the pub and ran home (I had got into the habit of sprinting home whenever I’d had a few drinks). Just as I reached the door, the guy rang me:
‘Hey, where are you?’ he said, confused-sounding
‘You left!’ I yelled, outraged, ‘so I went home!’
‘I didn’t leave. I went for a slash. I was gone less than five minutes.’
Convinced that, as someone barely capable of leaving the house, let alone of behaving with anything approaching decorum, I was doomed to die alone, I immediately repaired to my bedroom where I proceeded to adopt the face-down starfish position on the carpet and sob wildly. That was, until I got the spins and had to run to the lav be sick.
My flatmate and future lover heard the cry-vomming from his room. It was pretty much his first ever encounter with his new flatmate. But it turns out Teenopendiary guy was right, after all: guys do love it when you lock yourself in the bathroom.