According to Instagram, Laurent and I were destined to be an amazing couple.
We first collided at work in the Google hallway. I was walking to the kitchen for my upteenth ice tea, he was going to take a call with his team in Brazil.
“Those stairs are really hard to get up, right?” Laurent sputtered. “I’m always out of breath and I’m in decent shape!” He pushed his black Ray Bans further up on his face. I was wearing the same glasses in brown and under his focused stare, reverted to my nervous habit of twisting my long brunette hair up into a quick ballet bun. He was attractive with short brown hair, a slim soccer build, and a smile he gave away as if it cost him nothing. In total, he left me calculating the last time I’d played tonsil hockey with a boy (the answer was not recently). I wondered if this brown-eyed, Mexican boy would find my twin bed charmingly New York or weird.
In a week, my Laurent interactions produced comments on my hydration patterns. The YouTube videos playing in the Google lobby. A hasty name swap in which I tried to ignore the fact that he’d caught me and my 32A sports bra on the way to yoga. “We should grab a beer after your trip to South America,” I emailed him, a two week trip that left me with only one choice: Instagram investigations. The millennial's best friend.
Cyber-stalking wasn’t always my thing, but in a moment of weakness -- fueled by a few Brooklyn lagers and my failed dating life -- I needed to know what I was dealing with. I had assumed his social media footprint would be private, but just like my How to Get Away With Murder predictions, I was wrong. He was one of the few trusting people who still allowed complete strangers to fall down the rabbit hole of the online record to his life.
We were both from California. I loved the color red; he wore a red shirt in one of his pictures. He frequently photographed pictures of books he was reading; I feared the floors of my apartment would one day collapse under the weight of my over-stuffed bookshelves. He knew how to rock a bow tie, traveled the world, and like me, had a blog. Rows of Instagram pictures deep and finished investigations into the identities of the females in his photos, my desire to “Castor Mena” this boy was leading me into dangerous territory.
A 25-year-old hopeless romantic, I had always been the person to yell random comments at potential paramours, a trait lovingly titled by family and friends as the “Castor Mena” syndrome. At 19, I’d spent the summer admiring a boy named Castor Mena in my College of the Canyon EMT class. Too afraid to talk to him, I’d left notes on his car, oblivious to the fact that if I left my phone number and didn’t hear from him, I’d still have to awkwardly see him the next day as he held my head in supine. But I pursued him anyway—and many boys after him—with the same “you don’t know till you try” attitude that frequently left me waiting for texts that never came and making imaginary life plans for me and my subway crushes.
I started to imagine Laurent would be spontaneous and loving in public, wrapping his arms around me in photos and stealing kisses at our friends’ Crown Heights dinner parties. He’d go out of his way to read my writing, we’d cook together on the weekends, my family would love him, and someday we’d move back to Los Angeles where we’d spend evenings on our porch debating if we were too old for more tattoos. Ultimately, our Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy love story would allow me admission into NYC’s coveted couples club, an elite group that lived in a different world than the rest of us. With unlimited reign to fill in the gaps of his social media presence, my imagination ran wild.
In reality, I didn’t know his laugh or morning routine, which side of the bed he preferred to sleep on, or if he could recite Mel Brooks movie by heart like me. I’d projected my idea of the perfect boyfriend onto a boy I barely knew because having a one-way ticket to Creepsville was easier than admitting my fear that I would never find love.
Last week, Laurent and I grabbed lunch. I couldn’t stop sweating. Was this the story I’d tell my grandkids or had I made this entire thing up in my head? He was charming, fun, talkative. “I have a date I’m planning for Friday so I can’t grab tea this week,” he not-so-casually slid into our conversation. Mid-pasta bite I realized, I’d confused enthusiastic niceness for romantic interest. Ironically, while enabling me to build my own love story, Instagram had doomed me from the start.
On social media, people present their best, most enviable selves. The engaged couple. The starter of a nonprofit. A recent PhD graduate. These filtered mirages become everything we want them to be without the potential of heartbreak and disappointment. We’re connected without ever having to really connect.
I’ve avoided Laurent since our lunch, worried my Instagram-fueled love story can be read like a scarlet A on my sweater. But in my ongoing NYC dating story, Laurent stands as a reminder to unplug. To take relationships outside the 140 characters of Twitter and invest in awkward, imperfect conversations shared between two people with smudged glasses.
That is until I met Evan.
Image via Instagram
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When not photographing her cats for Instagram or subjecting her family to yet another James Bondmarathon, Carly Lanning can be found searching NYC for pie or contemplating life with Alfred, her red yoga mat. She is a Curation Coordinator at YouTube, an advocate for sexual assault and dating violence prevention, and freelance writer living in Brooklyn. You can follow her at her blog thecuriouscaseofcarly.