It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My boyfriend and I are lovers of analog. We own record players, tool around with radio dials, and idealize a cell phone-free society.
Somewhere within the tangle of our nearly six month-long relationship we have become bound to Twitter.
Over dinner, we discuss strategies of how to gain followers. His microblog is dedicated to a comic book community. My account tracks the chatter of other journalists. As our meals grow cold, we repeat -- and then howl at -- our favorite comedians' live Tweets; it's like having a personal stand-up show in the kitchen.
Our Twitter followers continue to grow and so does our relationship. I joke to my friends, “Owen and I are going steady now.”
Mostly because I still can't drop the word “boyfriend” in a sentence without saying it in a low, teasing voice that belongs in a playground.
“What does that mean?” My roommate asks.
“You know, we're monogamous,” I answer.
I'm more surprised than she is when I say the words aloud. I am not used to being attached. But the best part about my new relationship is how independent we are. We often break off. Separately, we enter private worlds padded with books and the clicking sounds of a keyboard. We sleep terribly side by side and don't take it personally when someone has to slip out of the bed to head home where a night of undisturbed sleep awaits.
One day, before Owen and I meet-up to play tennis, I glance at his Twitter feed. My face grows hot. My boyfriend has posted a public shout-out to a swimsuit model announcing: “Damn baby, I don’t usually send messages like this but your man be a lucky man. I’m jealous. My girlfriend is still hot though.”
The 140 characters crush me.
I can’t decide if it is the calling her “baby,” an affectionate term that I thought was reserved for our pillow talk, or adding me as an afterthought in his message that offends me the most.
Not to mention his passionate cry to the model is sent out for the entire world to see, including my friends and co-workers who are among his followers on Twitter.
I pace back and forth in my kitchen while pasta boils. I re-check my computer screen. I can feel my fury build as big and hot as the steam from the noodles on the stove. I knock on my roommate's bedroom door. I ask her if I'm reacting irrationally.
“Twitter is worse than passing notes in the fourth grade,” she reflects. “Yeah, I would be pissed.”
I read the message over and over searching for irony. Technically he didn’t write, “I’m jealous.” He typed, “I’m jelly.”
“Just make fun of him for it,” my roommate says. “Ask him, what type of jelly are you? Marmalade?”
The Internet brings out strange behavior in individuals. One colleague and I spent lunch laughing at one of the higher-up manager’s Twitter account. His digital shout-outs were directed mainly to porn stars and beautiful young women.
“He spends the whole day hollering at hot bitches on Twitter,” my colleague said. “I can’t believe he’s allowed to do that.”
The same colleague is my friend on Facebook where he has photos of himself featuring his frat glory days. The most memorable is an image of him sitting in a kiddie pool pouring a shower of beer onto his naked chest.
Regardless, these guys' social media behavior didn’t catch me by a huge surprise. The manager works with the web and is one of my favorite people in the building because of his unfiltered -- although often salacious -- sense of humor.
As for the Facebook user colleague, I'm familiar with his fraternity past. Plus, we aren't shy about discussing a mutual appreciation for booze over happy hour. But I expected more of Owen. Who was this person hollering at hot bitches on Twitter?
I consider my boyfriend an intellectual. Most of our discussions are bookish or hobby-oriented.
“We should start playing tennis everyday,” I say to him. “David would approve.”
David is the late writer and tennis enthusiast David Foster Wallace. We refer to authors we admire by their first names like they are friends. Our talks circle others: Joan Didion, Virginia Woolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Junot Diaz.
Along with Owen's library of literature, esoteric poetry, and sci-fi books, photos of his brother and sisters line his one bedroom apartment. Comic art and images of samurais ready for battle hang in his living room.
I decide to follow my roommate’s advice and bring up Owen's offensive Twitter update by teasing him. He's a nerd; this isn't the first time I have had to nudge him about social graces.
Owen, being the most communicative boyfriend I have ever had, will acknowledge it was silly and we will laugh and never mention it again. But when I answer my door I can’t look him in the eye.
“How are you?” he asks.
“Okay,” I say, my voice flat. I motion that it’s time to leave. We begin walking to the nearby tennis courts. My body grows rigid when he tries to touch me.
“OK, what’s up?” he questions.
I confess I saw the Tweet to the super model and I’m not happy about it. He shakes his head. He argues that it's meaningless. He wishes I had more confidence in him.
“It’s not about jealousy. It’s disrespectful to our relationship,” I explain.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have posted anything if I knew you were going to react this way,” he says.
“I just can’t believe you referred to her as baby,” I sniff. “That’s what you call me.”
“Baby? I call lots of people baby. I call guys baby.” Does he really call guys baby? I suppose I can hear the 1950s jargon back and forthing at the comic book/film production company he works at. I wonder if he has a vintage Hollywood personality that has yet to reveal itself in my company.
We walk in silence to the courts.
“I could totally beat up that model,” I say, punctuating my point with a playful hit. Who says I am the bigger person here? My comment was meant to lighten the mood but the pretend punch pisses him off. The foot-long gap between us widens.
Can’t he see the wick of my ego burning out? Doesn’t he understand that it should be him that’s embarrassed at his weird online behavior and not me?
“I don’t talk to other girls. I don’t look at other girls. I like you,” he tells me. “I want to be with you.”
I look into his eyes, which are deep-set like my own. He says he’ll delete the Tweet when he gets home. I consent to playing tennis, I'm still agitated but I'm tired of fighting. It’s dark and the public court we’re on has a bad light. So, I create a game where we hit the more-luminous service line to earn a point.
Owen’s face splits into his warm gap-toothed grin. Both of us love games. I credit them to bringing us closer. When we first started dating, we played the card game Palace late into the night. Stories about our West Coast families were exchanged and tales of ex-loves were avoided. Smacking the table with every win or loss became the sound of easing into a new relationship.
After a short rally, we begin. I swing the racket with a rapid motion of a bird in flight. It's a beautiful forehand, so smooth and fast it bounces out of his reach. As we hit the ball back and forth my vulnerability begins to flake. But I don’t let everything slide; my backhands are rocket-like and efficient. I run Owen from side to side.
“Are you punishing me?” He asks, out of breath. We eye one another closely until I laugh and nod. But my shoulders still hunched with resentment.
A week later, I’m searching for parking near Owen’s apartment when I see a man carrying a pot of yellow flowers. It’s a beautiful and unfamiliar site on the dilapidated tree-less Hollywood Boulevard.
When I turn the door to the apartment I discover the same flowers greeting me. Owen was the man carrying the flowers, how did I not recognize him on the street? Candle lit hors d’oeuvres and red wine are on the table. The romantic spread is in honor of our anniversary, Owen tells me. How did I forget it’s already been six months?
He has a tender face. His doughy cheeks and subtle dimples make him look boyish. I once told him when I woke up next to him, “You sometimes look so much like a boy and in another angle like a man. This is what I like about you.”
I have chosen to be with this comic book loving man-child. As the lingering fog of my resentment from last week’s fight finally clears, I realize that I have been the childish one, the angst-ridden emotions of a 13-year-old blotting out appreciating the man who just made a steak dinner for me.
Owen’s real-life love and affection is more important than silly babble on the Internet, of course it is. We raise our glasses of wine and toast to sticking together; celebratory kisses follow. We both win.