1. One day you encounter a guy who’s tweeted to ask people if anyone knows good movies besides All the President’s Men that are set in D.C. — the city he lives in and you live in, too. You reply to suggest The More the Merrier, a 1943 romantic comedy with Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea that uses, why not, the WWII housing shortage in D.C. as an inciting incident.
2. He thanks you for your help, follows you back, and you start becoming Twitter friends.
3. You begin to notice, over time, that he is perfect.
4. There is no other way of putting it. He is funny in sly, unexpected ways; he cares about real things; he observes little things about the world that make you want to hug him through the internet. One day on the subway you catch yourself looking at the young men in the train car and wondering if you’d recognize him if, somehow, one of them was him. You wonder what you would say; what he would say; if you’ve encountered each other dozens of times before without knowing it. You don’t know what he looks like or how tall he is. You don’t know if he’s got a girlfriend or a wife. You don’t even know how old he is. Still, you wonder about him.
5. You admit to yourself that, on any objective measure, you’ve got it bad.
6. It begins to become terribly obvious to all of your Twittering friends that you have a huge crush on him. And he is maybe flirting back, a little.
7. This goes on for months, this maybe-flirting in the semi-public of your respective Twitter replies.
8. One day, a mutual acquaintance — it increasingly seems like many of your in-real-life friends know each other — breaks the unwritten rule of not saying anything about it. He makes a joke about the two of you having a thing for each other. You respond the only way that feels appropriate: You panic. The worst thing in the world, after all, would be for him to know that you like him. Your history has taught you that only bad things can happen from there.
9. A few minutes later his name appears in your email inbox.
10. Just there, his real name. Not his Twitter handle.
11. In your inbox.
12. He has sent you an email: oh my god.
13. The email is an apology for the thing the acquaintance said, even though he didn’t do anything to prompt or encourage it. He is so chivalrous, so sweet and funny in these unprecedented longer-than-140-character sentences of interaction, that it makes your heart hurt.
14. At the end of the email, he mentions that it might be cool to maybe get together sometime.
15. You panic and write back quickly that he has nothing to be sorry for, and — he cannot know that you like him — you’re sure you’ll come across each other one of these days, given the number of friends you have in common and what a small town D.C. is.
16. You count yourself out.
17. He doesn’t write back.
18. You fall back into your old pattern of Twitter friendship and maybe-flirting. One October, you decide to move away from D.C. As you wait at the gate of your evening flight, checking Twitter, you realize that this means you’re giving up on the idea of him altogether. You haven’t met him, you remind yourself. It isn’t anything real. It just feels like it could be.
19. Several months later, you’re back in D.C. for a few weeks. A friend invites you to visit her office — it’s the one where he works, too. It’s been two full years since you first started talking on Twitter, and this would be the first time you meet in person. Your internal monologue goes something like: “You know what? Fuck it.”
20. He’s the one who comes to collect you from their building’s lobby, and you don’t like to think of yourself as a superficial person, but Jesus. Handsome. He hugs you hello; you flail internally.
21. You surprise yourself through the couple hours you’re hanging out by being able to act relatively normal. You don’t descend into shy-person babbling or awkward silence even once.
22. He has an aura of kindness and decency at the same time as he calls bullshit on stuff his co-workers say. He has a nice voice. He laughs at your jokes. You notice, sitting next to him, that he is wearing beautiful argyle socks. You like a man who pays attention to his socks. You just really hugely like him, this in-real-life him. He seems to maybe like you back.
23. This is the moment you decide to maybe grow a pair.
24. Your friend invites you to a party at her house. Your shyness usually stops you from going to parties, but you force yourself because he’ll be there. When he arrives, he walks past you and doesn’t come by to talk the entire night. You’re not sure why and you’re too nervous to take the initiative and approach him.
25. You learn a little while later that he has started dating a friend of yours. She’s a good person; a smart person; incidentally much prettier than you are. You are sure they’ll be very happy together and you’re sincerely glad for them both. You kind of want to die.
26. You’re embarrassed by how sad you feel, like you’ve lost someone you never had in the first place. Someone you’ve really, when it comes down to it, only met once.
27. Luckily, a new job means you don’t have much time for sadness. But you decide to unfollow him on Twitter for a while. It gives you a little bit of pain each time you’re reminded that he’s out there, being perfect, without you.
28. More time passes. You drown in work. After a couple of months, you’ve gotten far enough past it that you start following him again, and you’re friends again. It’s different from before — and you never talk about your lapse in contact — but you’re glad to be talking again. You missed him.
29. You learn through the D.C. grapevine that he and his girlfriend broke up. You’re genuinely sorry to hear it, and that’s all.
30. Your job ends, and everyone you know is going to descend on D.C. for a few weeks. Friends set up a drinks thing at a bar a few days before New Year’s. You try not to care that he’ll be there. It’s been a year and a half since you met in person.
31. When he shows up at the bar you say hello but otherwise you are so shy you find it hard to talk to him or look at him, even when he’s standing right next to you. But somehow near the end of the night the two of you end up talking in a corner about life and Twitter and nothing important at all.
32. Your friends begin to drop hints, heavy as anvils, that he might like you. “We were talking about you the other day and he put both his hands on his heart and pumped them up and down on his chest, like Bugs Bunny in love,” one friend says.
33. A few weeks later, you force yourself to go to another party. He’ll be at this one too.
34. You decide to try to show him that — if he does like you — you like him back. But after you cross a room to talk to him he leaves soon after; later, he asks if you want to join a group that’s going out to find food, but then ends up leaving without you.
35. You tell your friends, “I think he’s just not that into me.” Your most realistic friend agrees. Your most optimistic one says: “He is. I just know it.”
36. You’ve got enough other stuff going on in your life, so you decide to move on. You work on finding an apartment, finding a new job. You plan a trip to Japan.
37. A few days before you leave, his name, his real name, appears in your email inbox again.
38. It is an email that represents one of those very rare moments in life when someone tells you exactly what you’ve wanted to hear for years. It’s as if Molly Ringwald is picturing it as an internal fantasy sequence. It is an email you will treasure until you die.
39. He says simple things in it: That he just wants you to know, for whatever it’s worth, that he likes you a lot; he’s sorry if he ever made you think otherwise; he’d love it if you could spend some time together, just the two of you.
40. You write back to say that whatever it’s worth is a lot; you like him back; and you’d love that too.
41. Meet a guy on social media who seems cute; flirt for two years; decide to meet in person. Wait another year and a half before going on your first date. Fall in love and, a year on, try to explain how any of it happened. End of steps.
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