I idolized Justin for years. He was a writer and comedian with a rabid fan following online, and I was a wannabe with similar aspirations who couldn't quite break into his circle. But he was funny, and there's nothing sexier than that. My friends and I talked about him reverently, as if he were a god.
On dates with guys who more "right" for me on paper, I fantasized about them cracking Justin's jokes, talking the way Justin wrote. I knew he wasn't that good-looking, and people had told me he was notoriously kind of a dick, but it didn't matter. There was a part of me that convinced myself that he was my soul mate. Our tastes were just so similar. His brain worked like mine did, only better.
"If Justin ever wanted anything to do with me," I told my friends, "I'd ditch anyone I was with for him. Anyone."
It wasn't just that I admired him, though. It was also about how much he inspired me. His voice found its way into my own work in big and small ways. Before Justin, I'd been convinced of the limitations of what I wanted to do. I dreamed of being a writer too, and his style, the way he tackled his subjects in a way that was so effortlessly funny, it was just so cool. I knew which articles were his in different publications without checking for his byline.
I wanted to be a part of his posse, too, but I wasn't. Slowly, though, after I moved to LA and began to develop a little bit of an identity as a writer in my own right, I made friends with a few of his friends. One day, I tweeted at him (as I often did) and magically, he followed me back. I couldn't believe it. I took a screenshot and sent it to all my friends.
"I'm getting the time and date that Justin followed me tattooed on my body," I said. I was mostly joking, but it did feel crazy that I finally had his attention, after four long years of dreaming that he would notice me. I felt victorious. I wondered if it would stop there.
It didn't. Late one night, after exchanging a few jokes on Twitter, he direct-messaged me.
"We should meet," he said. We set a date.
That week, we flirted via text for hours. "I knew who you were before I followed you," he told me, "but I was intimidated by how pretty you were." I tried to play it cool, although that's not my strong suit, but he was already starting to push the right buttons. Flattering me and making me feel important. He didn't realize that he didn't have to work that hard at it. I was already his.
I met him at a bar in Hollywood the following week. He wasn't bad looking, not that it would have mattered. I had my game face on. I flirted, laughed at the right places, made sure my body language made me seem open and approachable. I was smart and on his level, but not so smart that he'd be intimidated. At the end of the night, he kissed me. I knew I had him, too.
And just like that, I was dating Justin. I told my friends, quietly. Everybody freaked out. They knew how much I'd loved him from a distance for years, and they all knew who he was, of course. I started seeing him a few times a week, and soon I realized I was starting to fall for him. He was so sharp, so charismatic; I liked his company. I could imagine a future with him.
At the same time, though, he had more baggage than I had realized. Intimacy issues, you could say. He was a hard person to get close to, and even as we got to know each other better, I could feel that he was always trying to pull away, simultaneously motioning me closer and pushing me back.
He told me that he'd imagined what it would be like to marry me, that he couldn't believe someone like me wanted to be with him, but then he'd go dark. He told me that that was his pattern, that it was tough to let people in. Sometimes he just wouldn't respond to texts, and I could sense the pattern, so I wrote long, emotional emails, begging him not to close himself off. I sent them to friends so I wouldn't have to send them to him.
He was the same person that I'd idolized, but also, he wasn't. He was smaller and sadder. He had his jokes and his writing, but not much else. For some reason that just made me care about him more, to see that he was vulnerable in that way. But he wouldn't let me in, and I could feel him drifting further away.
He got flakier and flakier, canceling plans, making himself unavailable in a way that felt manipulative. He wouldn't text me back, but I'd see him tweeting. I stalked his geotags. What the fuck was he doing in Ventura? Would I have a better chance of reaching him if he tweeted from web so I knew he was home, or was it better to text him when he was on his phone? I was starting to go crazy.
I was torn. I'd always thought that I'd do anything to be with Justin, since he was my hero, after all. But I knew that I was being treated badly, and I was completely obsessed with trying to make it work with him despite all indications that it wouldn't. I wanted him to be my boyfriend, and he just wanted to impose more distance. After he'd blown me off several times in a row, I knew that I had to pull the plug.
I sent him a nasty email eviscerating him for his bad behavior and chastising him for stringing me along. Privately, I knew that I was also to blame, for putting him up on a pedestal and then not being able to deal with the fact that he, as a person, wasn't the same as his work.
I was too angry to spell that out, though, and I wanted to keep what little dignity I had left. So I told him that the way he'd treated me was shitty, and took a couple of cheap shots, too, and told him I didn't want to hear from him ever again. I turned off my computer and went to bed, irate.
In the morning, a girlfriend had texted me.
"Did you and Justin have a fight?" she asked. I checked his Twitter feed. Throughout the night, he'd posted several updates about his poor emotional condition. He had live-tweeted his meltdown. I felt a flash of victory. I'd won! I'd really gotten under his skin.
But then that faded to a sadness, the sadness of having to deal with the disillusionment that my idol was human, too, and worse still, kind of an emotionally defective person. (Then again, I was obsessive and probably too available, so what do I know?)
Now that a year has passed, our relationship is friendly. We see each other from time to time, since we have friends in common, and it's cordial. Occasionally we even tweet back and forth. But every time he writes an essay about his life or the perils of dating in Los Angeles, I wonder whether I'll be in it, mentioned in an offhand way as one of his former flames, under a fake name but in a way that I'll be able to identify myself, since I'm sure he knows I still read him compulsively.
I made peace with the fact that Justin turned out to be kind of a tool. But I sort of still hope he thinks of me as the one that got away.