Social Media-Era Romance in 5 Vignettes

My unrequited love has changed his Twitter avatar, and just like that, I feel less in love with him. Poof. Pow. Wow.

The old picture was heavy with associations for me, months of misery tempered by sparse endorphin rushes when he would slide into my DMs. It was never the love confession for which I kept hoping and grasping; you’d think I’d learn by now not to expect anything from him but dawdling, awkward friendship. But no; I still want more. More than I’m ever going to get.

The new picture is an instant shake-up in my psyche. It takes a few moments, each time he messages me, for my brain to register that it’s him. Those moments aren’t much but they’re enough to distance me from my knee-jerk love reaction, a pause that is a prism, refracting my crush into questions to be pondered: How much do you actually like him and how much of it is just habit?

Maybe love is always a habit. Always just an addiction you have to kick. Maybe there are tricks that make it easier, like nicotine patches and impotent cloves. Maybe a Twitter avatar is no small thing after all but actually the big thing that kicks off a seismic shift, blessed and unexpected.

The bartender is fumbling with coins, pitchers, and a misfiring computer system. Unhappy customers crowd around the bar, waiting for their drinks, waiting to even be acknowledged. Welcome to Friday night at the Cavern.

“I wonder if we’ll ever get our drinks,” a British accent bemoans beside me. This stranger turns his good-natured smile on me like highbeams, and now I have a face to connect with the warm tweed that’s been rustling against my arm for the past five minutes. He looks like Prince Harry and Fred Weasley’s charming lovechild. Oh, hello.

We strike up an easy, tipsy rapport, and he pulls out his phone to show me a song on Spotify that he can’t get out of his head. My eyes sweep over his playlists, taking in the names. There is something so intimate about peering into someone’s music organization system, digital or physical. You’re seeing the soundtrack of their brain in the way they’ve chosen to arrange it, the way that makes most sense to them. It’s like resting a palm against the slickness of their coiled brain, feeling it pulse with private electricity.

Later, he comes to find me again, weaving through bar crowds to tap me on the shoulder. “I’m getting on a flight back to Britain in the morning and figured I’d seize the day and ask: want to go smoke a joint?” he proposes, and I do. “Great! I’ll be right back. I’m just going to change my outfit.” I nod, and he goes, but he’s gone about an hour before I decide he must’ve fallen asleep in his hostel room, and decide to leave.

I find him the next day by searching some of those Spotify playlist titles. I didn’t even have his name, but I had those. As I scroll through his tightly curated music selections, I feel the echoes of awkward hostel sex that could have been. Swing and a miss. Maybe I’ll meet another Weasley another day.

My habit of fantasizing too far forward about online dating suitors is exacerbated when they’re polyamorous. The way some folks compose their OkCupid profiles, I can creep not only my potential partner, but also my potential metamour.

On late nights with nothing better to do, I comb through these women’s compatibility questions, seeking the places where we touch and the places where we differ. I try to parse what it means that a man is into both me and her, what it says about him, what it says about me. I stack myself up against her obscure favorite bands, the outline of her lipstick, the cool candor with which she speaks of sex and food and Arrested Development.

The sore spots that ruffle my feathers are the spots tainted with internalized misogyny. When I’m burningly jealous she’s prettier than me and think, At least I’m smarter than her; when I hate her pink hair because it renders me a boring brunette; when I snort derisively at the pretentious Wes Anderson movie she’s chosen to quote, I know the patriarchy is whispering bitterly in the back of my brain. I rarely really hate another woman. I just hate the opportunities for which I’ve been told she’s my cruellest competition.

When I’m feeling happier and lighter, sometimes these metamour-creeping sessions turn into fantasies of their own. If I was dating her partner, we could go shopping together, get manicures. We could gossip over burgers and fries about his secret fantasies, his favorite blowjob tricks. We could be best friends who shared everything, and I do mean everything. It would be so cute, so sweet.

But I never quite follow through, both because online dating is exhausting and because I am too awkward and insecure to pursue friendships with metamours without reservations. I hope one day I work through this, because I still dream of that girl beside me at the nail salon, sharing the weight of my heart.

The new boy I’m flirting with asks-without-asking: “I had a crush on you, but I didn’t think I was being that obvious about it. Apparently I was wrong.”

He was wrong. But he probably doesn’t know the exact moment I realized he like-liked me. It was when he left a comment on an Instagram photo of me in lingerie: “I unhearted this, just so I could heart it again.”

He must have written this so that I would know. And I did know. Because people don’t write Instagram comments like that unless they like you. They just don’t.

When my last serious boyfriend first introduced himself to me via Twitter DM, he provided a list of links to his other social media. An Instagram profile, an alternate Twitter handle, a full name so I could Google him. “I don’t use Facebook, though,” he wrote, “because Facebook is the devil.”

He meant this in an anti-capitalist, anti-surveillance-state, anti-terrifying-algorithms sort of way, but Facebook is the devil in a different way, too. Facebook lets people linger in your life who haven’t earned the right, simply because unfriending them feels too aggressive, too unwarranted. What he did was bad, but it wasn’t UNFRIENDING-bad, you know?

What he did actually was unfriending-bad, though, in that he ended our relationship suddenly and unceremoniously, after reassuring me for four months that he had no intention of doing this. But as he didn’t have Facebook, I never had the chance to unfriend him. I had to settle for deleting the messaging app I’d used to communicate with him and unfollowing him on Twitter. (What he did was unfollowing-bad, but it wasn’t blocking-bad, you know?)

What’s nice about his Facebooklessness is that there wasn’t much damage to undo when things went sour. No unfriending to attend to, no photos to untag myself from, no relationship status boxes to uncheck, no mutual friends to bicker over. He never got entrenched in my digital life, so when he left my physical life, he dissolved from the digital, too, like a ghost. Poof. Pow. Wow. And that was all.

Links & Hijinks: Flirting, Crying, and David S. Pumpkins

• Ask Polly has some advice on what to do if you want to date men but also you hate men. “Dating, like all arbitrary, tedious, pointless social exercises, requires a higher level of Zen. Surrender to the excruciating nothingness of the task at hand, and try to enjoy it. Yes, most men are shit. But you are not taking an exhaustive survey of most men. You are looking for one good, kind, exceptional man. They exist.”

• These tools for recovering from sexual trauma are neat as hell!

• Not exactly relevant to my blog, but oh well: I enjoyed reading this oral history of the David S. Pumpkins SNL sketch. It made me think about how we’re drawn to silly, meaningless entertainment in times of sociopolitical turmoil, and also about how fucking great Tom Hanks is.

• You can use the teachings of Aristotle to get someone to go on a date with you. Hmm!

• Luna told the story of moving her massive sex toy collection when she moved houses. “The thought of a box of fantasy toys tipping over and disgorging its colorful contents in the back of my dad’s SUV is the stuff of nightmares.”

• Girl on the Net wrote about crying after sex and it was so beautiful and relatable that I cried, too.

• What does it mean to be a “kink lifestyler” and how do you know if you are one?

• Here are a bunch of stories about dicks getting stuck in things.

• What can you do when your social media addiction is curbing your creativity? This article is chicken soup for the creative soul, truly. “Sometimes the most skilled, unique, emotional writers are the ones who struggle with feelings of inadequacy the most,” Heather writes. “Refuse to imagine what will impress other people. Seduce them into loving exactly what you have to give instead. Savor your craft and enjoy yourself.”

• Here’s how to prepare your bed for sexy guests.

• Sammi’s Satisfyer review includes a cool sex toy hack that will be of particular interest to transmasculine folks. Gotta love the ingenuity of sex nerds!

• I shrieked with laughter watching this video of Jeff Goldblum reacting to tattoos of himself.

• Would hiring a sex worker help predatory men (e.g. Weinstein, Spacey, CK) work through their fantasies? Experts weighed in. And then Alana Massey weighed in. Lots to think about here.

• Miles Klee makes a case for period sex. I think I’ve reached a point where I can no longer date folks who are squeamish about the crimson wave…

• I’ve been fascinated by fear play lately so I loved Taylor’s post about why they love it.

• I loved reading about this vibrator that tracks your orgasm statistics. Sex nerdiness, activate! (Also, why don’t I own this toy?!)

• Where does the slang term “fap” come from?

• If you’re a dude who flirts with women, or would like to flirt with women, read this guide, please. It’s very good.

How to Flirt With Your Conference Crush

I just got back from the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, and… wowza, y’all. There were a lot of cute people at that event.

While some of the cuties were folks I’d never heard of before I arrived, many of them were people I’ve low-key known on social media for a while. It’s maddeningly exhilarating to meet someone IRL and find that they’re even more adorable and charming than they were on the interwebz. That pleasant surprise can throw you off your game and make you nervous – maybe even so nervous that you can barely talk to your crush, let alone flirt with them!

I definitely fell into that trap with a few people this year. So I’ve put together this little guide to flirting with your conference crush. Hopefully it helps you – and maybe it’ll even help me at the next conference that rolls around!

Pre-game. If you start flirting with someone out of nowhere at an event, they might be confused or even put off – so it’s good to get a feel for their interest level and flirting style before the event itself. Build rapport over a period of weeks or months with jokes/jibes/compliments on social media. Find excuses to slide into their DMs, if they seem down to talk to you (our social media flirting episode of The Dildorks has some great tips on this).

Use this time to gauge how receptive they might be to your flirtations. If you’re particularly crafty, you might even be able to establish what types of activities you’d be up for at the con (“I have this new paddle I haven’t gotten a chance to use yet…” “It’s been so long since I’ve been properly fingerbanged!” “I’m looking forward to some possible makeouts at the event…”). Maybe you’ll plant a seed that’ll turn into a fun hookup later on!

Check in. Boundaries and consent are vital! Conferences are professional environments for many people, so your crush might not feel entirely able to say no if they’re not into you. This makes it super-extra important that you establish clear consent for any flirting-and-more that takes place.

Meta-communication is great for this, particularly if the crowd at your con is nerdy about sex and relationships. Flirting expert Reid Mihalko often recommends asking some version of “Is this a good time to flirt with you?” or “Are you open to being flirted with right now?” and I think that’s a good approach, so long as you’re attuned to hesitant yeses that are actually no’s.

If you’re not sure how you’re being received, you can also pay attention to the length and tone of your crush’s responses: are they engaging with your flirtation and coming back with their own, or are they simply acknowledging your comments with short responses every time? When you enter a room they’re in, do they look at you, smile, walk up to you, or do they avoid you? Pay attention to cues and do your best to be respectful. All the other tips in this post will only go well for you if your crush is receptive to being flirted with; if they’re not, doing this stuff will just be creepy or even harassment.

Use social media to your advantage. Many conferences have heavy social media engagement, so it won’t look too out-of-place to throw a few swoony tweets into your con coverage (provided, of course, that you’ve been getting good signals from them, as per my previous point). Some examples of things you could tweet: “OMG, @YourCrush’s outfit today is AMAZING 😍” “I keep hearing @YourCrush’s adorable laugh during panels and it makes me so happy!” “Thrilled I got to meet @YourCrush after loving their blog for months!”

You could also try tweeting general callouts like, “I’m going to the pool/business centre/balcony; y’all are welcome to join!” or “I’ll be at [x panel] next; come sit with me!” If your crush is creepin’ you like you’re creepin’ them, they’ll probably show up to some events you’re attending – at which point you can get yo’ flirt on.

More social media tricks for con flirting: send an “It was nice to finally meet you tonight; hope I get to see more of you!” DM a little while after saying goodnight. Ask them if you can get a selfie with them at some point (provided you’re also getting selfies with other people; don’t be a creep!). If they tweet about being at a panel they’re not enjoying, or not knowing what to do next, send a reply along the lines of “We’re at [x place/event]; you’re welcome to come join!”

Sync your schedules. Don’t follow them everywhere, obviously. That’s gross; don’t do it. But if you’re getting good vibes from them, you could try inviting them to lunch, telling them about a cool panel you’re planning on attending later, or letting them know about an after-hours get-together you’ll be at.

If you’re really getting good vibes, you could try straight-up saying something like, “Hey, I feel like I haven’t gotten enough time with you at this con! Wanna [sit together at this next panel/grab coffee and chat/come look at my dildo collection in my hotel room]?” Cons are busy enough that they’ll have an easy “out” if they want to say no but don’t feel comfortable being upfront (“Ahh, sorry, I can’t, I have to [go to a different panel/go talk to my friend/take a nap]!”).

Say yes to adventure. It’s easy to get tired, overwhelmed, or nervous at cons, which might lead to you declining invitations you otherwise might like to accept. While self-care is hugely important, you should also cultivate the ability to tell when you’re so tired that more socializing would actually burn you out, versus when you’re tired but still capable of going on adventures if you push yourself a little. Ask yourself which choice will make for the better story, or which choice will make you prouder of yourself in the morning. Maybe that’s going to the loud late-night spanking party, or maybe it’s ducking out early to have drinks with just a couple people at the hotel bar.

Cons can feel like a wacky dream, full of implausible situations with implausible people. If you receive an invitation that sounds fun but a little intimidating – like “Hey, come smoke weed with us in the parking lot!” or “We’re gonna play Strip Scrabble in my hotel room; wanna come?” – don’t just write it off immediately. It might lead to flirtation you would’ve regretted passing up.

Shoot your shot. Here’s what it ultimately comes down to: a conference is a time-limited opportunity to have lovely experiences with people you rarely get to see. If you want something to happen and it hasn’t happened, you can either give up, or take some action. If you’re getting flirty vibes from your crush but neither of you has taken much initiative, and the end of the con is coming up fast, it might be time to get real and make your move.

The best approach to this is going to depend on you and your crush and what kind of people you are. However, I asked some fellow introverty blogger friends, and their opinion matched mine: I think the best way to “shoot your shot” at a con would be to send your crush a DM saying something along the lines of, “Hey! You might have noticed by now: I think you’re super cute/charming/fantastic. If you feel similarly, would you like to [make out/play/hook up] sometime before the con ends? I’d regret it if I didn’t ask. If the answer is no, I’ll totally understand and won’t be offended at all, and I’ll still think you’re great!” My blogger friends agreed that a private message is better than a public tweet or an in-person convo for this, because it gives them an opportunity to think things over and phrase their answer carefully if they need to.

Have you ever had a conference crush? Did it ever turn into more than that?

Why You Should Never Follow the Person You’re Dating on Twitter

I signed up for Twitter when I was 15 years old. That means I’ve been on it for more than one-third of my entire life. (Oh god. What a nerd.)

When I first became involved in social media, it wasn’t nearly as widespread as it is now, and I encountered a lot of pushback. Friends and classmates often told me I put “too much” of myself online, and that “some things should be kept private.” I wasn’t using my social media much differently from how most people use it today, but because it was such a new phenomenon, my passionate early adoption of it looked weird to onlookers.

That was a time when so few people had social media that I could freely talk about my crushes and beaux on Twitter, Tumblr, and so on, without worrying that they would see it. The internet was still this weird secondary dimension where I mostly communed with other nerds, not “real people” from my “real life.” So I ranted and raved all over the place about people I was sexually or romantically involved with. It was okay; they’d never read it.

Now, though, pretty much everyone I interact with “IRL” has a strong social media presence; that’s just how our world works these days. So I have to be more careful about what I say online – we all do.

I’ve recently arrived at the belief that you shouldn’t follow people you’re dating on Twitter. The reasons for this are too nuanced to be tweet-sized, so I’m blogging about it. I’d love to know if you agree or not…

 

Reason 1: Anxiety and obsessiveness.

This won’t apply to everyone, obviously, but for those of us with nervous hearts, following your beau on Twitter can render you totally bananas.

You’ll see them tweeting at other folks in a semi-flirty way and you’ll wonder what the hell it means. You’ll grow to hate the smiling faces in the profile pictures of the people your beau interacts with, even if those interactions are far more innocent and chaste than they appear.

If you text them and they take a little while to answer, but they tweet in the meantime, you’ll wonder why they have the time to tweet but not to respond to you. (Hint: someone not responding to your texts immediately doesn’t mean they hate you – although you might forget this in the heat of the moment.) You’ll comb their tweets for evidence that they’ve lied to you or made up a fake excuse as to why they couldn’t hang out.

You’ll obsessively check their tweets multiple times a day to see what they’re up to. Their digital presence will allow them to stay front-and-centre in your mind, so you feel psychologically glued to them all the time instead of getting the mental space you both need.

Some people are mentally healthy and well-adjusted enough that this isn’t a risk for them. But if you, like me, have a tendency toward the obsessive, it might be beneficial for you to keep your romantic prospects out of your digital sphere.

 

Reason 2: Mystery and freshness.

My ex and I were both extremely prolific tweeters, and toward the end of our relationship, it became a problem. Several times in any given conversation, one person would start to tell a story and the other would cut them off: “Yeah, I saw that on your Twitter already.”

Granted, we were at the stage in our relationship where the magic had worn off and we didn’t particularly care about impressing each other – so we weren’t always as polite about this as we could have been. But there is something to be said for the loss of mystery when you follow each other’s daily minutiae on Twitter.

When I spend time with someone I’m seeing, I want us both to be bursting with new information to share with each other. Codependency and boring relationships are bred when you do everything together and never go adventuring on your own, and that effect can be replicated if you’re constantly keeping tabs on each other via Twitter. Your separate existences should be discrete enough that you’re excited to come together and catch up.

Besides which: some people post the most boring, inane shit on Twitter even if they’re dynamic as hell in real life, and you don’t want their dull online persona to kill your attraction. Your love will probably seem foxier if you don’t know what they ate for lunch or how bored they were at work yesterday.

 

Reason 3: Space and privacy.

Some would say you forfeit your right to privacy when you post stuff online. “Don’t put stuff in public that you want to keep private!” they’d argue. And they’re not wrong.

But that’s also a bit like saying that the conversations you have with friends in public – at a coffee shop or restaurant, say – are fair game for public consumption just because they’re happening in a public space. There is such a thing as a private exchange within a public context; you are allowed to expect respect and discretion from the people who might be overhearing your dialogue, whether it happens in real life or on the internet.

Likewise, although your beau might post stuff online where anyone can theoretically read it, they might not want everyone to read it (including you). It doesn’t mean they don’t like you or don’t trust you; they might just need a place to work out their thoughts and feelings without worrying about how that stuff will be perceived.

We all need time and space away from our partners from time to time. When someone tells you they “need space,” probably you imagine they mean physical distance, but nowadays we all need some digital distance too. Our online social lives are largely interwoven with our “IRL” social lives, so our needs and wants in both areas are similar. If your partner is the type who fiercely needs their independence and solo space, you might be able to help give them that by unfollowing their Twitter stream.

 

Do you follow your partner(s)/date(s)/crush(es) on Twitter? How do you feel about it?

Sex Blogging Secrets, Part 3: Building a Readership

The third part in this series is on a pretty important topic: amassing some readers for your blog, now that you’ve got it all set up and you’ve started putting content on it. It would be a shame if no one was around to read your brilliance, so let’s get started on building your merry band of fans!

Content is king

If you’ve ever spent time with people who work in media, blogging, publishing, and so on, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Content is king” – because it’s true. If your writing sucks, is boring, is littered with errors, or just doesn’t contain anything worthwhile or unique, you won’t do nearly as well as you potentially could, even if your blog is hella fancy-looking and your social media game is strong.

The best kind of content for gaining readers is anything shareable. What kinds of blog posts make you want to show them to your friends, link to them on your Facebook or Twitter, and tell people about them in conversation? That’s the kind of blog post you should be writing if you want to build your audience.

I find that how-to posts do very well, because people are apt to share them and a lot of stray Googlers stumble onto them. Product reviews are also good because they get a lot of search engine traffic. Lists (top 10, top 5, ways to do something, new things to try, questions to ask, etc.) also do well because they’re easy and fast reads. (Not everything you write has to be dumbed-down and brief, obviously, but it can be a good initial draw sometimes.)

Giveaways

One of the big ways I built my audience initially was by running giveaways. They attract a lot of attention because a) everyone wants to win free stuff and b) you can use a service like Rafflecopter to make sharing/re-posting mandatory for contest entrants, so that your post (and therefore your blog as a whole) will get shared around a lot.

You can ask a sex toy company or retailer if they’d like to provide you with a product for a giveaway. I’ve often found that companies can be very generous in this way if they think it’s going to boost their web presence (a lube company hooked me up with a big box of products for my first giveaway!). If you can’t find anyone to offer a product, you could always buy/provide one yourself – the publicity may be worth it to you. (If it’s not, no worries; just build up your readership in other ways, and you can revisit giveaways later, when your bigger audience will make companies more likely to offer you products.)

Whatever you offer in a giveaway, make sure it’s a product that’s actually relevant to your blog. A sex blogger could do a giveaway of Modcloth skirts or an iPad mini or whatever, but she’ll tend to gain and retain more followers if she gives away some kind of sex-related product, because the contest will attract people who like the kind of content she’s producing.

Social media

Everyone’s on social media these days, so it should come as no surprise that online networking is a big way for you to build your readership. I know that I am a hell of a lot more likely to check out someone’s blog if they’re regularly sending me thoughtful or funny replies to my tweets, or if they have interesting things to say in my comments section.

When I first got my blog, I followed a ton of other sex bloggers and various other folks in the sex industry, and I spent a lot of time responding to them, joking around with them, asking them questions, and so on. It got me noticed by some of the big players in that space, and some of them started retweeting me and even linking to my posts. This widened my audience considerably.

However, there’s a caveat, which is: don’t be a spammy asshole. If you’re going to interact with people, do it from a place of genuine interest. If your entire intention is to get yourself noticed and advertise your blog, that will come across in the things you write, and trust me, it feels gross to be accosted by someone like that online. (If you don’t find other sex bloggers interesting enough that you can interact with them like a normal, pleasant human, you might not be a good fit for sex blogging.)

Treat your readers well

This is one of my fundamental philosophies in everything I do online, and I think it has served me very well. People will feel better about reading your blog, and having you in their online social spheres, if you treat them well. Simple, but so easily forgotten.

I don’t mean that you have to suck up to everyone in your Twitter mentions, and I don’t mean that you have to be sweet to the assholes who send you abusive or rude messages. Here’s what I do mean: if someone leaves you a thoughtful comment, leave them an equally thoughtful reply. When you get an email from a reader, a sex toy company, a potential advertiser, or anyone else, respond with warm respect and common decency. If readers ever help you come up with ideas (which mine do, often, because I like using Twitter to find sources or resources), thank them – publicly.

Just generally: be a good person, and give credit where credit is due. You owe a lot to your readers; don’t forget that!

Other tips

For the first year or so of my blog’s existence, the majority of my readers (and thus the majority of my income!) came from my interactions on Reddit. While being very careful not to spam or annoy people, I would occasionally leave a link to one of my blog posts in relevant discussion threads. For example, if someone on /r/sex wanted a sex toy recommendation, I might link them to my toybox page, or to a specific toy review. Or if someone on /r/askwomen wanted tips on dealing with a vaginal infection, I might link them to my post on that. You get the picture. (If you do this, please check the rules of the particular subreddit first – some of them have rules against “self-promotion,” affiliate links, etc.)

It’s useful if you can offer something on your blog that no one else is offering, or that no one else is offering in quite the way you do. If you’re thinking of writing a blog post on a particular subject and you know other bloggers have covered it, ask yourself: what will make my post shareable over other people’s take on the same topic? It might be a different perspective, a different method, whatever – just some kind of unique take. Always keep that in mind.

Good post titles are imperative. If you’re bored by the title of a post, you’re unlikely to click through and read the rest. So make your titles damn good.

A fun way to expand your reach is to write about topics that cover your niche area (sex) as well as another niche area. Some of my most popular posts do this: I interested makeup fans with my blowjob-friendly lipsticks post, for example, and I crossed into the self-love/self-help space with my post on receiving desire when you feel undesirable.

Be a good citizen of the internet. That means sharing other people’s stuff, writing about other people, linking to them, supporting them, interacting with them. Blog readership is not a pie whose pieces you have to guard jealously for yourself; supporting your community of bloggers is good internet karma, increases the likelihood that they will help you in return, and just feels good to do.

Bloggers: how did you build your audience?