It began the usual way, via direct message on Twitter. I’d just tweeted a photo of a book I was reading: some lines of dialogue that referenced John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” This amateur display of my B.A. in English caught the attention of a gorgeous man who then slid into my DMs.
His message read, “Good catch on the Keats.” I’d already known his Twitter handle, so I asked for his name. I’ll call him Nate. He asked me what I was reading. I asked him out on a date. Soon, Nate and I were exchanging phone numbers, thanks to the open book beside me, having read lines of what I thought were truth and beauty.
Nate started following me on Twitter after discovering my writing online. I write about my exes and other things I love, so I used to think publishing my emotional baggage for the world to read meant I’d never go on a date again. On the contrary, men often send me messages on Twitter, all parched variations on the theme “So you’re single, right?” Nate was one of them.
I never told him this, but I’d always known who he was. I had a Twitter crush on him, in the same way you have a crush on someone in school. I saw Nate around when my friends retweeted him, thought he was dateable when he tweeted something cute about his favorite animal.
With every retweet, every fave, every 140 characters imported from his stream of consciousness, I gathered a working knowledge of who I thought Nate was: an intelligent and attractive brunette twentysomething, who worked in media and had his shit together. And by virtue of how he found me, he knew upfront about my romantic failures and the disorganized shit that followed.
Nate had the luxury of reading me as an open book. While I had to thread bits of his online persona to see a constellation of his identity, he had a manual to me: to infidelitous boyfriends, boyfriends who were never there, my dual desire for stability and fear of stagnation. He’d been sufficiently warned. He knew what he’d be getting himself into. My cards weren’t just on the table; my cards were in the cloud.
But Nate called me “beautiful,” not in spite of, but rather because of my messy truths. I knew him and he knew me. And so, our thirst seemed pure.
Nate was tall. In his selfies, his coiffed hair would be just out of the mirror’s frame. When we hugged for the first time at a coffee shop, I rose onto demi-pointe to throw my arms around his neck. We discussed past jobs, current books, future kids, our elbows on the table as our knees grew familiar.
Nate was funny. His tweets made me giggle to myself when I was bored at bars. On a dinner date, our banter had me on my toes and we smiled even as we chewed. I couldn’t help but kiss him in the Thai restaurant, as his hands easily found my back pockets.
Nate was sexy. He’d DM me and I’d have to throw my bedsheets to the floor. To break in my new dining table, we cooked a meal together and had sex thereafter. He tiptoed naked through my kitchen and I learned his silhouette by the light of the refrigerator.
But Nate had a habit of rain-checking on our dates. A promotion at his new job gave him plenty of work, terrifying hours, and a title he wanted to live up to. Still, he thought about me, about what I’d already been through. I didn’t have to wait for him, he said, I’d waited on other men long enough. I can be patient, I told him. The lover is the one who waits.
When I was with Nate, I felt heard. And in this comfort, I came to see Nate exactly like the constellation I drew: that brunette twentysomething, who worked in media and had read me like an open book, who understood me, already knew me before he even met me. It was as though we’d skipped the hard parts, the growing pains, like I’d slid into a relationship.
There was no mad pursuit, no struggle to escape. Nate and I spoke often, to each other, of each other. I’d see texts from him in the morning, @mentions from him in the evening. When I tweeted I’d be getting an Apple Watch, with its haptic perception and constant presence, Nate replied, for everyone to see, “Promise to send me your heartbeat.”
So I patiently waited for him outside the movie theater for our viewing of Into the Woods. I was 10 minutes early. He was 20 minutes late. When Nate arrived, I was thrilled to be wrapped in his arms, to smell his cologne on his neck, to call him my “very nice prince.”
After the movie, we went to a bar with a backyard. We sat on a bench and shared his scarf, my arm looped around his. Talk of the movie led to us ask each other, “What do you wish for?” I wish to publish a book, many books. He said he’d throw me a party when I got my first deal. I was swift to fantasize my toast to him. He believed in my work, in me, and so I believed in us.
On the topic of books, I asked Nate, “What’s your Patronus?”
“I have to think about that.” He sipped his beer. “What’s yours?”
Mine was a peacock. Always had been for as long as I could remember. But after my most recent breakup, I’d been feeling an existential shift toward something else. An owl, I thought, had learned its lessons. But with Nate, I’d become a romantic once again.
“A peacock,” I told him. “Flashy, showy, a master of courtship dances.”
Nate laughed. He stopped to think of his.
I studied him in the faint light of the bar. The dark circles under his eyes were looking permanent. Nate had mentioned to me how stressful his new job had been. But all he tweeted about was how excited he was for big projects and new opportunities. Here, I saw my brunette twentysomething, who worked in media and had his shit together, had his shit together only by a thread.
A sharp gust stung my cheeks. It was winter, a new year, with short days and chilly nights. I pulled Nate’s scarf up to my face and closed the space between us. I linked my fingers with his under the clear velvet sky.
“OK,” Nate said. “I think I know what I am.”
Still confident that I knew him too, I took a shot at naming his Patronus — and, by extension, him — this compassionate, charming, considerate, clever creature whom I had the luck of meeting, of constellating.
I kissed his cheek and said, “A panda.”
But I was wrong. Out of nowhere, it began to rain.
“A hummingbird,” Nate said. He gathered his scarf, tugging it from me, to leave the backyard. “Prone to loving a sweet and shiny thing for a moment, then it moves on to another sweet and shiny thing the next.”
A week later, Nate called me 10 minutes before our dinner reservation. He said he couldn’t see me anymore. He blamed his job, cited anxiety, claimed I deserved better when his work would keep me waiting. I was 15 minutes early to the restaurant, so I gave up our table and hailed a cab to his apartment. He answered the door with heavy shoulders and a sigh I echoed. The circles around his eyes were so dark I had to insist upon panda. He didn’t laugh.
In his bedroom, I alternated between reasoning and crying. I remembered the dedication page of my manuscript and recited lines from love letters I had dared to put to paper. So fervent was my desire to know and be known easily and immediately, to skip the hard parts of starting fresh, that I tried to slide into his life and slide him too into mine. But he’d already made his decision. Nate made his silence his only verse, an unheard melody so bitter.
When I ran out of tears and he out of sorrys, we lay in bed together. He wouldn’t let me hold him or his hand, but he let me gather my breath. Then he pitied me with one more kiss and asked me to leave. I shrugged on my coat and gave his roommate an awkward hello, before Nate gave me a goodbye and the vague promise of being just friends.
I really liked him when he really liked me. And then he didn’t, when I still did. I told myself it was as simple as that. So I stepped out of his building and onto the Manhattan streets. I looked up at the sky, nary a star in sight. The Earth was only turning, disassembling the constellation I saw for a season, a constellation perhaps dissembled from the start.
While an internet-assisted meet-cute is no longer novel in the 21st century, there was an appeal to meeting Nate through Twitter. Between trite dating profiles and stilted Instagram accounts, Twitter felt like the only place to find someone living authentically on the internet, even when they’re not. Since most of Twitter is lived publicly, you’re held accountable for your actions. Your thirst is on the record. So to swipe right on Nate’s personal brand felt like a verified act.
But Nate and I had tweets and DMs and photos that catalyzed only an inflated familiarity. And with all I’ve written on the internet — my public diary, sylvan historian relaying my history, my loves, my weaknesses — I thought Nate knew me from cover to cover. And I thought I knew Nate from reading him in the stars.
We were both still on Twitter, so our breakup was not unlike a breakup you’d have with someone in school. I’d see Nate around when my friends retweeted him, think he was dating someone when he’d @mention another man.
Sometimes Nate still faves tweets of mine here and there. I quietly do the same, out of courtesy. But being the peacock that I was, for Valentine’s Day, I sent him a bouquet of flowers. In my card, I wished him well, hoped his work might be easier. I attached the note with the seal of a golden hummingbird. I wanted to send him something shiny and sweet.