There’s a certain freedom that comes from building a relationship through a screen. There’s a certain lack of accountability that comes from building a relationship through a screen.
I met Frank Churchill on a holiday trip to New York City. He grabbed me as I walked past him with my friend towards the back of a club in Chelsea.
“I just have to say,” he said, eyes serious and piercing, “‘you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’”
I smiled and allowed him to pull me closer. His hand moved seamlessly from my elbow to the small of my back.
“Is that so?” I asked, our faces dangerously close to each other. Strangers shouting out orders to apathetic bartenders bumped into and nudged themselves around us.
“Yes,” he responded. “Let’s go.”
I didn’t have much time to spend with Frank before I left for California. But I felt like I knew the basics of who he was through our conversation held the evening of our meet-cute: pizza, rescue cats, Catholicism, the law. He had piqued my interest during a drought of dating-related interest. Although I am not one to delve into long-distance relations, I had enough to build a base until I could return.
Over the next few months Frank would text me asking me to come to New York to visit him. “I can pay for your flight with miles. You can stay here. We can see Hamilton.” Each conversation followed a similar format and occurred at a twice-monthly frequency. I had to begrudgingly decline each invitation since my private practice was taking off, but I promised that I would visit as soon as possible.
When the PhD program I applied to in NYC-adjacent Boston rejected me mid-February, I delivered him the bad news.
“Are you serious?? I’m sorry.”
“Eh, I guess it wasn’t in the cards for me,” I responded, trying to downplay my disappointment.
“Not going to lie, I was holding out hope that you would move to Boston and we could start dating.”
“Me too,” I ended. Sad-face emoji.
I thought about Frank three days later while pretending to get ready for church, aka taking 20 minutes to apply eyeliner and half-heartedly watching reruns of The Good Wife on my laptop. I had finished feeding my Neko Atsume cats and pulled up Facebook, in a natural progression of procrastination, to reminisce about the missed opportunity of a boy in New York. There, on my newsfeed, were two enlarged images, a picture of Frank and a picture of a dowdy redheaded stranger, connected by the word…
My heart momentarily stopped beating. I muted The Good Wife to restore focus. I scrolled back through my feed to make sure I wasn’t misreading the message.
It had to be some sort of hoax. I had spoken to Frank Thursday night about flying out to see him. Surely someone must have logged on to his page and posted a joke relationship change.
“288 likes. 56 comments.”
I scrolled through the comments section, searching for any suggestion that this wasn’t real.
“Congrats!” “We love you two together!” “It’s about time, man!” followed by reposts of Snapchat pictures of them kissing. A feeling of disgust fell over me. I was going to throw up. I was actually going to throw up. And yet the lump of emotion stuck to the inside of my throat, just making it more difficult to breathe.
I threw my phone across the kitchen table and pressed my palms against my sternum, willing my chest to rise and fall. My breathing resumed, along with my pulse. Now it was racing, agitated, my blood becoming claustrophobic in my veins. I stood up and began pacing.
Who was this guy? What sort of double life did he lead? I heard my father’s voice in my head, “Never trust lawyers.” He had seen too many episodes of The Good Wife to think otherwise. “But he seemed so normal!” I said aloud to my father’s voice in my head. Thick shame covered my body. I was the other woman. I was an idiot for believing this guy that I hardly knew. Was I so desperate for attention that I would allow myself to be used by someone so cliché, someone so stereotypically slimy? Was I so desperate for connection that I allowed myself to be blinded by the promise of a guy with religion, a love for neglected cats, and (supposedly) Hamilton tickets? “He probably didn’t even HAVE Hamilton tickets!” I found myself yelling to my empty house. My cat Sophie looked up from her cat tower, annoyed at my sleep-disturbing volume.
Determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t just another fool, I raced to the table and grabbed my phone. I investigated all of his social media: Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Nothing. There was no sign of a girlfriend let alone a fiancée on any of these sites.
I pulled up our texts from Thursday night. There it was, “Not going to lie, I was holding out hope that you would move to Boston and we could start dating.” Was I missing something? Did that not mean what I thought it meant?
I penned a new text, careful to not sound like the level of crazy that I felt emoting from my pores. Even in my reactive state my subconscious cared about how I looked like to this liar. I would later discuss this with my therapist.
“So you’re engaged?” I typed.
After a minute of no response, I grew more courageous.
“Well, you probably shouldn’t have been texting me telling me that you wanted to date me on Thursday if you were planning on getting engaged this weekend.”
I sat back, pleased with my texts, daring him to respond.
Within minutes of my texts Frank had blocked me from his Facebook page, a fact I found out while trying to screenshot his relationship status for my sister. Upon realizing this, part of me was offended. He was taking measures to ensure that I didn’t post anything incriminating on Facebook. “Didn’t he know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t do anything like that?” I asked myself, automatically incredulous. “Well, I guess he didn’t know me at all.”