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Love in the Age of Instagram

November 28, 2016
Just trying to connect with someone. One DM at a time.

Illustrations by Sarah Brown

We had met on August 11th, the “hottest day ever” according to Jill Taylor, 680’s breaking news meteorologist. I vaguely remember meeting you with my friend Jess. The sky was gray like your t-shirt, and I was warmly intoxicated after one glass of red wine. You showed up around midnight with a quizzical type who interned with Jess last spring at a studio I’ve never heard of.
You looked at me with a funny expression on your face and asked, “So, what do you do?” Confidently buzzed, I told you I sell tropical plants on Queen West. Or maybe I introduced myself as a writer, because your hair was disheveled and your cologne smelt like tobacco that night, which persuaded me to think you’re the kind of guy who buys overpriced hand balm and you might be impressed to hear that. You laughed at a dumb joke, I turned red. Then one month later, you followed me on Instagram.
You followed me in Shopper’s Drug Mart. Waiting in line behind a middle-aged man wearing baby blue flip flops, my screen lit up when the Instagram notification arrived. I hadn’t expected this to happen so arbitrarily inside Drake’s beloved drugstore, so I took a moment to fully grasp what this meant to me on a vanity level: the social connection, the extra follower, the stand-alone interest in a messy news feed of self-portraits and flashy consumerism. I imagined you sitting on the toilet gazing at me, the moment before flushing, when you decided I was the kind of lady worth following on Instagram. But wait a minute, more importantly, you followed me first. Do you want to fuck me or something?

I was holding up the line; distracted by the blinking notifications on my phone and a text message from my mom inquiring if I was still alive. Waiting for Instagram to load, an email from Porter caught my attention with a two-day sale to Boston, an exclusive offer that would disappear at midnight tomorrow. Pretending to browse flights to America, I returned to Instagram to re-assess the follow situation. Suddenly, there you were. Your dumb username. Following me. In plain daylight. Oh my god. It’s official. You want to fuck me. You’re following me, and that’s when I decided that I should probably follow you back because I suddenly felt that I probably, most likely, wanted to fuck you too.
Now the sky is bright orange and I’m looking at your Instagram page for clues; it’s like I’m shopping for a thing I didn’t know I was looking for. Waiting to pay for the magazine I forgot was in my hand and browsing your profile page like an IKEA catalog; my eyes are struck by numbers like they’re prices denoting value of some exotic quality. 717 Followers. 82 Likes on your last photo. The Creative Director on Vacation aesthetic. You post frequently. At parties, mostly. A palm tree here. The rooftop swimming pool. A beach that doesn’t need a filter. Friends who look like twin brothers.
I feel impressed by your ordinary glamour. Deep diving, I see a woman who I’ve met before. I feel jealous. Then fine. Then okay, but alarmingly disturbed. I wonder if you’ve fucked one of our seven mutual acquaintances, like Anne or Brooke. Probably. Your Instagram tells me that you spend 89% of your life in a swimming pool and the rest of the time in a very dark bar with very rich people and fancy cocktails that aren’t on special. I’m jealous and prying, but mostly fascinated by you.

It was only a matter of time really, when the gravitas of our new friendship on Instagram escalated. You liked my pictures and I liked yours. In a lazy effort to pursue you, I tagged you in the comments of ironic memes and videos. Like dolphins secretly communicating by echolocation, we developed an obscure method of flirtation: using images to express ourselves without words or physical gestures. You liked a zillion of my photos in under one minute, it was cute.
On September 7th, you sent me a DM and I knew you wanted to fuck me. I don’t remember off the top of my head what you said, but it was along the lines of a casual “hey” or “hiii” or the chivalrous “sup”. I paused for a moment, wondering if you could see that I had seen your message, feeling embarrassed that I needed so much time to reply. Six minutes later, I messaged back with a cocksure, “hey you”. And it was on.

Instagram was the wrapping paper around our new thing together. We gave each other backstage IRL passes to the profile pages that coated our lives with a sparkly finish.

I forgot about Instagram when we drank and made-out in the afternoons, talking about such-and-such and so-and-so. Meanwhile, in our flaw-testing first weeks together, we both found new and exciting people to flirt with while we assessed intentions and rationalized roles. Flirting with other people on Instagram wasn’t cheating, it was like recreating our early thing together with other people. Any hesitation or insecurity I felt in our real relationship was mirrored in my need for instant gratification on Instagram. It just happened, like the involuntary impulse that made me double tap all your photos in the first place. After all, it’s Instagram: everybody cares, only because everybody else is watching.

In retrospect, our relationship was pretty common: the butterflies of the first follow, the plot twist of mixed feelings leading up to the catastrophic unfollowing. The shallow incentive of your affection: likes, comments, and notifications led me to believe that all of it would amount to something spectacular that words could never justify. It was only a matter of time before I stopped liking your photos and I started to wonder if you still wanted me the way you did when you first followed me in Shopper’s Drug Mart.

The building tension of our new relationship strung out on sex and cocktails, the feelings were visually embellished on Instagram. Overthinking, I decoded your every move like we were playing chess together, ready to call checkmate and end it once and for all. Our relationship had climaxed, lost in a never-ending history of expired notifications.
Emptiness connected us on the most significant level; surrounding ourselves with brands, sexy peers, and power, I must have disappointed with my mediocre human-ness. Likewise, your saving grace wasn’t the first impression on the hottest day of summer, it was your profile page that caught my eye in a drugstore. I was a brand assessing another brand for a lucrative partnership: we measured our romantic compatibility based on pictures with mood lighting, swimming pools, and palm trees. Aesthetically, we matched. But our colliding worlds of art, beaches and sunsets didn’t translate to the reality of a relationship with words, accountability, and trust.
Truth is, I liked how easy you were on Instagram. It was simple. I liked your pictures and you liked mine, and that was all we needed at first. No words or expectations to make sense of our actions in person. We peaked so early. We liked the same photos of magazines, people, and art. We shared the same taste for sameness, consumerism, and friends with clever taste in memes. I thought we made sense together on Instagram. But we didn’t, none of it meant anything.

Sarah Brown is a 12-year-old boy trapped in a woman’s body in Parkdale. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ You can visit her website to see more of her work or follow her on Instagram!