AOL Boyfriend

Photos by Bianca Cruz @binxsicle

I grew up with the internet. AOL chatrooms, AIM messenger, ICQ, friends from faraway places that would have normally been penpals but were now reachable in seconds over the world wide web. It was wild and fun and made me feel cool in a way that I probably wasn’t in real life. I’m talking about the world where LOL and BRB started. Which has now morphed into so much more and incidentally changed the way we communicate entirely. This is a time before online dating and before dating apps. This was just me – a 14-year-old girl in love with a boy 2,000 miles away who I didn’t know at all that I met through my favorite internet friend BunkyGurl (real name Jessica).

His name was Ryan. And he was cute. Like so cute. Cuter than all the boys that I went to school with every day, and also he was funny, and he liked the same things I did. We would talk and flirt online forever. All of our friends knew we were “in love”, and I was smitten. I felt like I had a person who I could truly be myself with even though I couldn’t actually be WITH him. I don’t really remember how it transpired over time. But in retrospect, it feels like we did this online boyfriend/girlfriend thing for millennia. It was probably really only a few months. But I loved him. And this was going to be forever.

two girls holding Nintendo DS

I don’t think I realized how long forever was at 14. For me, forever was 30 years old because it seemed like such a faraway time. Now I’m 35 and forever feels finite. Intangible. But I was a romantic, and I held onto forever with Ryan for dear life.

And as things go for teenagers (and life in general), we outgrew each other and this thing we thought was love. He broke up with me in an email one night, seemingly out of nowhere. He told me it couldn’t be real when we had never met, and that we needed to be with people in person. Excuse me, sir? Where is your whimsy and adventure? (He’s a Capricorn.) I tried to fight for him with my words. I wrote him love letter emails and begged him to change his mind. It was futile. He told me he liked a girl in real life. And I was shattered into a million pieces.

We kept in touch sporadically through the phenomenon of the Internet. Many times, Ryan and I were in the same state or mere miles from each other but our paths just never crossed. Life never brought us closer than those few months at 14, holding onto each other for dear life in a world that felt completely against us.

We both had other relationships as we trudged through high school. We both moved on with life because obviously, that’s how things like this go. What else could you do? He became more of a figment of my youthful imagination. But I always thought of him.

girls posing with Nintendo DS

And we never went a year without wishing each other happy birthday through email or eventually text. But in 2006, everything changed because of a website called MySpace.

The internet threw Ryan and me together again, and as full grown adults, we finally met. I wish I could tell you some fairy tale of how we lived happily ever after. Alas, we did not. We have done this dance in and out of each other’s lives multiple times. Even up until a few years ago. Now we quietly keep our distance. I check on him through Instagram and suppress that inner 14-year old that still feels tingly about him. And I remember that this wasn’t our story. It was just one of the stories for both of us.

Time is a weird and crazy thing, and as much as science would like to argue that it’s linear, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Looking back on Ryan, and this time in my life sometimes feels like I could reach out and touch it. Other times, it feels like someone else lived it for me. But I cherish all the time I had with him at 14, at 25, at 30. Not everything is forever, but they can still be good anyway.