Love & Sex

True Stories: The Twitter Affair

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Infidelity in only 140 characters.

by Cari Wade Gervin

I met him through my coworkers. He was friends with one in particular, but they all knew him. Though I'd only been in town a few months, I was learning quickly that the city was like that — everyone knew everyone. I'd thought this city would be bigger than that; it felt almost like the small town I had just left, and I was having a hard time staying positive. But he seemed positive. And funny. I wanted to get to know him.

You can go from being complete strangers to close friends with a fellow Twitter user in a matter of weeks.

No long after that first conversation, I noticed that he was following me on Twitter. I followed him back. Soon his wife was also following me. "How cute," I thought to myself. "They're one of those annoying couples who have matching Twitter handles. Why can't I find someone to be that cheesy with?" I had known he was married, of course. His Twitter bio included the phrase, "husband guy." I decided to befriend them both — to become a part of this artsy, clever couple's inner circle. Maybe they'd have an artsy, clever single friend.

Over the next few weeks, I discovered via Twitter that he was that rarest of rare things — a person as much of a smartass as I. My feed quickly became a steady stream of our banter. We hated the same smug bands and the same annoying hippies playing music on the square. We loved coffee and rock and roll and Girl Scout cookies. I made fun of his love for Led Zeppelin. He joked about my love for Steely Dan. That's the thing about Twitter, at least when you're a person who tweets a lot — you can go from being complete strangers to close friends with a fellow user in a matter of weeks. Or at least, you feel that close — even if, in real life, you've hardly met.

It turned out he was in a band with a friend of mine. I went to see them play one night, shortly after tweeting about buying boxes of those same cookies. "I want some," he tweeted.

"What kind?" I replied.

I showed up with a box of Do-si-dos, having given zero thought to the fact that I was taking cookies to someone else's husband. He grinned delightedly as I handed him the sheath of peanut butter and sugar. "Thanks," he said. I smiled back and felt just the beginning of something tingle.

We ended up sitting and talking to each other most of the night, eating cookies and discussing bands. "Is your wife here?" I asked.

"No, she's at home asleep," he said bitterly. "She sleeps most of the weekend." From the look on his face, he seemed unhappy, but I didn't ask more. When I got home later, I found he had sent me a Direct Message on Twitter.

"I really enjoyed talking tonight. Thanks for hanging out," he wrote. I replied that I had fun and was off to get some sleep. He immediately replied, "Good luck with that. I'm still so wired I think I'm levitating." I knew what he meant. I felt it too. I wasn't just high on Girl Scout cookies. It was him.

He e-mailed me some music the next day, power pop from the 1970s. A day later, I sent him some music in return, Brazilian New Wave and country-soul. The day after that, he sent me an instant message. "Okay, I'm impressed," he typed. "There's a ton of stuff here that I don't have in my embarrassingly large iTunes library. You've made yourself cooler, and me far less cool, in one fell swoop."

That was at nine-thirty p.m. At two a.m., we were still talking about bands. "Let's do this again sometime," he typed.

"Maybe?" I wrote back. "You are married. And I can't help but think that you should maybe be spending time with your wife instead of discussing bands with me."

"There is that," he replied.

The next day I e-mailed him. "I don't think I'm being naive in saying there was subtext, last night. And Saturday."

"It's a crush. I'll admit it. It is what it is," he wrote back. 

Thirty-four more e-mails followed — that day. "It would definitely be a bad idea to actually meet and discuss this, right?" I wrote. I had never done this before. I had never felt this before.

"It would be a terrible idea …" he replied, and in that ellipsis was everything he hadn't said. We soon were instant messaging constantly, and when we weren't, we e-mailed back and forth, often fifty times a day. We sought reasons to bump into each other at the same events. We finally met for lunch. A week later, he came over to my house and kissed me. He came over to my house again. And again.

I knew married men never leave their wives.

It was, in short, every single cliché you've ever read. That's how an affair starts — you don't walk away. You do stupid things because you are dizzy, smitten, head over heels. Maybe, I told him, "this is just a brief twitterpated spasm swept in on a spring wind."

"I fear it isn't," he wrote. It wasn't. I knew married men never leave their wives. I also knew I had never been this in love with anyone. How could it be wrong if we loved each other like we did? How could it be wrong if I wanted to marry him, to have the children we both wanted with each other? But I felt guilty. I unfollowed his wife and blocked her from following me. I still hadn't met her, but it seemed wrong to know anything about her life at all.

We tried to stay away from each other. We ended things again and again, only to fall back into each other's arms again and again. We fought. We made up. He said he might leave. He didn't. I unfollowed him. I refollowed him. I tweeted, "I'm done," more than once. I never was.

I tweet about everything — city-council meetings, what I had for dinner, football games. I tweet so much I have two accounts, and I manage a third for work. Yet I couldn't tweet about the one thing most important in my life: my love for him. We started sending each other e-mails with the subject line, "What I'm not posting on Twitter," followed by some gooey declaration of affection. We tried to share our affection on Twitter too — we had code words and phrases; "< >", for example, meant "I love you so much more than there are words for, so I'm not using any." Since we barely saw each other in person, Twitter was our way of knowing where the other might be, or how the other was feeling. It became the subtext of everything that happened.

As the months wore on, I grew increasingly isolated by my secret. It's not sexy being a mistress; it's awfully sad. Twitter and e-mail and instant messages weren't enough; in some ways, they just isolated me more. I started telling a few of my friends about him, one by one, hoping they wouldn't judge me too harshly for sleeping with a married man. When he asked his wife for a divorce, I told my sister, sure and joyous in my future. When he changed his mind about the divorce, I broke down and told my coworker — the same one who had unwittingly introduced us so many months ago.

One night I was drunk and blurted out that I was having an affair to a girl I barely knew, a new friend I was trying to make.

"Is it him?" she asked.

"How did you know?" I said.

"I follow you both on Twitter," she replied. "I could tell something was going on."

This was the beginning of the end. I told him and he flipped out — not just because I had told someone who knew him, but because someone had recognized our interactions online for what they were. Our fights grew more frequent and more intense.

His last @ reply to me on Twitter, jokingly, was #UNFOLLOW, in response to my claim that Taylor Swift was better live than the Pixies. When we ended things for good three days later, after two days of him not e-mailing and not responding to any of my replies on Twitter, after his new therapist told him to cut things off, after nine months of being in love with each other, I knew it was the best thing for both of us. 

I couldn't stop crying, but finally, I knew what I had to do. I unfollowed him. He unfollowed me the next day. It was over. For once, I couldn't think of a damn thing to tweet.

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