The Love Troll

My name is Chelsey, I’m 21 years old, and I’m a hopeless romantic.

I’m introducing myself like I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous because I’m addicted to romance. It’s been with me since I was seven years old, when I looked across my 2nd grade classroom at some booger-picking boy and thought, I like that.

When I was in 5th grade, I read and saw Twilight for the first time, which awakened a dark part of my psyche. Something about imagining two poorly written, borderline abusive men fight over a woman without a personality just spoke to preteen me. Soon after, I dreamed that I was dating Taylor Lautner. He was, of course, shirtless the entire time.

I began to fall asleep fantasizing about elaborate and extremely unlikely romantic scenarios. One of my favorites was imagining myself walking down a street, tripping, and falling into the embrace of a handsome stranger. The camera would cut to a close-up of our faces inches away; his face was the face of whatever snotty boy was in my heart at the time, illuminated by shafts of sunlight radiating from a cloudless sky. Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” would blare in the background. It was sickeningly cheesy.

My addiction only got stronger in adulthood. My media diet consists exclusively of books, movies, and TV shows with romance—even if the love plot is minimal, I will snap it up. My favorite part of Mad Men wasn’t the searing critique of American capitalism or white male aggression in the workplace—it was watching Peggy smush her face into Stan’s in the final episode and conquer her happily ever after, romcom-style. I cried hysterically.

Sadly, my thirst can’t be quenched through a screen. Have you ever had someone tell you disparagingly, “You’re in love with the idea of love”? That’s me. I live it. I embrace it. I snort it off the kitchen table with a dollar bill.

It came to a head about a year ago. It was the middle of quarantine, and I had gone feral from lack of human interaction. I shuffled out my front door in my pajamas with crusted eyes and a mop of unbrushed hair on my head, clutching my dog’s leash as he tumbled into the street for his morning walk around the block. Just as he lifted his leg to let out a stream of pee onto an innocent weed, I bumped into a man who turned out to be my neighbor, also walking his dog—a sweet-looking mutt with wispy white and brown hair.

We talked for all of five minutes. In that time, I learned that he had just moved to Philly, he lived in the building at the end of my block, and his dog’s name was Nora. What I did not learn: his name, any significant details about his life, or what he actually looked like (he was masked). In my defense, he appeared as though he could have been attractive.

For the next three months, I daydreamed about “dog man.”

“I bet he’s a grad student,” I told my roommate. “He looked older. He seemed studious, like he’s getting a master’s in English or history. I’m not sensing that he’s a science man. What if his dog falls in love with my dog? I should have asked him for his number.”

I had never seen more than 30% of dog man’s face.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Despite my best efforts to walk my dog near his building, I didn’t bump into him again for several months, and the next time I did, I saw him come out of his apartment with Nora and his girlfriend.

My fantasy evaporated immediately. One good thing about being a love addict is that you move on quickly, always searching for your next fix.

“Sometimes I wonder what I could do with all that extra brain space if I just didn’t think about love,” I once said to my roommate. 

“You could cure cancer,” she replied.

~~~~

My latest fix is r/relationship_advice.

For the uninitiated: r/relationship_advice is a forum dedicated to relationship problems of all kinds. Under the About section, it enthusiastically beckons, “Need help with your relationship? Whether it’s romance, friendship, family, co-workers, or basic human interaction: we’re here to help!” People post about their problems (usually using anonymous throwaway accounts), and others respond with their insights.

The subreddit’s description isn’t particularly saucy, but the actual posts are a whole different story. They have everything you could ever want from the greatest love stories, but better. There’s heartbreak, betrayal, love triangles, and star-crossed lovers, with a healthy sprinkling of non-romantic family and workplace drama to spice things up. A man pushes his fiancée to start a family, only to cheat on her halfway through her pregnancy. A workaholic couple breaks up after drifting apart for years, but they fall back in love after COVID-19 lockdown forces them to spend time together. A man learns that his coworker has a crush on him after overhearing the coworker tell his cat, “You’re a handsome boy, just like your daddy!”

The forum has more than five million subscribers.

Like most corners of the internet, there are spelling mistakes and shitty grammar galore, but that only adds to the appeal. The subreddit’s main draw is that there are real people on the other side of the screen who are living through these stories. It’s more immersive than the highest production dramas, more salacious than the sexiest bodice rippers, and more intimate than the most intrusive reality TV dating shows.

At least I thought the stories were authentic. That was, until I started spending time on the subreddit in earnest.

I first stumbled upon r/relationship_advice three years ago while perusing Reddit’s most popular posts, but I didn’t consider myself addicted until last year. Casual browsing quickly gave way to compulsive scrolling as soon as I woke up, in line at my favorite coffee shop, on the walk to and from class, between study sessions, and in bed at night—the haunting reflection of my double chin and dead facial expression just visible as I read story after story on my screen.

One night, I decided to look through the most popular r/relationship_advice posts of all time. I’d developed a tolerance for the more mundane stories: your usual narratives about cheating spouses, embarrassing one-night stands, and the uncontrollable desire to text something highly regrettable to an ex. Now that I was a regular, I needed something more. It was time to browse through the holy grail of stories.

That’s how I found the poop sock story. More specifically: “I (28) think my girlfriend (26) has been using my gym socks to wipe after going to the bathroom.” The aggrieved main character, dubbed Tube Sock Timmy by the subreddit, is puzzled that his girlfriend never lets him do the laundry. One day, he notices that all his gym socks are missing from the drawer. He asks his girlfriend, who inexplicably bursts into tears at the mere mention of socks. He then goes to take out the trash, and lo and behold: his socks are in a plastic bag in the garbage bin. He decides to open the bag, presumably after being possessed by an evil spirit intent on his demise, and finds that all his socks have been defiled.

“As soon as the smell hit me, I knew it WAS POOP,” he writes, aghast.

There’s only one thing for him to do after that: ask his lover, calmly, if she wiped her ass with his socks. She becomes hysterical, flees. She texts him later, explaining that she only uses socks to wipe because of a lifelong irrational fear of getting poop on her hands. “She uses socks because it covers her entire hand,” writes Tube Sock Timmy.

The story is a masterclass in the art of storytelling. There’s an inciting incident, action, comedy, tragedy, a cliffhanger, even a moment of critical discovery. The main character’s whole world is destabilized in a moment that comes to haunt him forever; that effect is mirrored in the reader. I know I have never been the same since the poop sock story.

But the real twist came in the comments.

“I don’t understand—she can’t just buy gloves? She has to use socks?” asked one user. “What does she do if she has to poop and she’s not at the house? Does she just take a sock off and use that?”

And just like that, the brain that I use to pass my classes turned on again. Of course this story wasn’t real. Why would Tube Sock Timmy’s girlfriend use all of his socks in what seems like one sitting? The post clarified that she ran out of her own socks, but if she’s so irrationally afraid of poop, wouldn’t she have a billion pairs? Couldn’t she have run to the store to get socks before pooping, or gotten some replacements after using his? And if she’s throwing away socks every time she wipes with them, how can she afford to keep up the habit? At least one sock a day, every day, years on end; the costs would be astronomical.

The poop sock story changed me in more ways than one. Before, I’d been naïve, trusting; now I was suspicious. Tube Sock Timmy’s tale was so full of plot holes that it was easy to pick apart, but who was to say if any of the subreddit’s stories were actually real?

Generally, it’s almost impossible to sniff out fake posts. Anything can happen to anybody: people lie and cheat all the time, happy endings do exist in real life, and crazy shit (literal and figurative) often originates in the realm of reality. When a social network’s foundation is anonymity, and accounts only require an email to create, it’s common knowledge that no one has to be who they say they are. People on Reddit also go crazy for karma, or upvotes on their posts, so there’s actual incentive to fabricate stories. The more outrageous your post, the more validation and attention you receive.

It’s possible that the most-read fiction isn’t on bookshelves or The New York Times Bestseller List. It might be in a subreddit forum under the guise of genuine, everyday life. 

~~~~

I’m not a data scientist, but I am a person with an overinflated sense of superiority stemming from my highly developed organizational skills (which stem from anxiety and an intense fear of failure). The only way to even guess at how many r/relationship_advice posts are real or fake is to devour the stories at an enormous rate and look for patterns. I go to the subreddit, sort by top posts of all time, open up Excel, and get cracking.

METHODOLOGY

The following analysis consists of the top 50 r/relationship_advice posts of all time. For each post, I recorded the ages and genders of the people involved; categorized by romantic or non-romantic issues; documented the word count; wrote a brief content summary; tracked update posts; and noted general observations about the story, including writing style, similarity with other top posts, storytelling tropes, and particularly outrageous details. I organized all the information in an Excel spreadsheet, then looked for patterns across categories using a complex, two-part mathematical process known as HCCA (Hand Counting and Calculator App) and IDKHUE (I Don’t Know How to Use Excel).

A few clarifications. I labeled a post as “romantic” if the conflict in the post arose primarily from a romantic relationship, the post’s author (the OP) was in the romantic relationship, and the OP was seeking advice about how to improve or change the relationship. For several stories, the original post and its update post were both in the top 50. I counted these as separate for all calculations because people can stumble upon updates without having even seen the original post, and vice versa, so they don’t necessarily have the same audience.

RESULTS

I’ll start with the numbers. Out of 50 posts, 30 have “main characters” who are primarily in their 20s. This isn’t surprising: Reddit’s user base skews young. Seven feature people in their 30s, six have people in their 40s and 50s, three are about people below 20, and the remaining four don’t specify ages in the story.

The average word count for all 50 posts is 590.52 words, but there’s wide variance. A little over half of posts are either unusually long for Reddit or extremely short: 14 are 300 or fewer words, while 13 are 900 or more words.

32 posts are either updates or original posts that contain detailed updates, which indicates a good amount of OP/audience interaction.

Out of 50 posts, 38 are romantic, while 12 are non-romantic. The non-romantic stories often focus on parent and sibling issues. Since the majority of posts are romantic, and this is my analysis and I can do whatever I want, I’ll spend most of this paper talking through the romantic posts.

Of the 38 romantic posts, 24 are written from the POV of a man discussing an issue with a female romantic partner, while 13 feature a woman writing about issues with a male romantic partner. This is in line with Reddit’s overall user base, which also leans male. There are zero posts about LGBT romantic relationships, and only two non-romantic posts that explicitly include an LGBT person (this post and update about a father-son relationship, which are #15 and #5 on the list, respectively).

What I found most interesting in the subcategory of men writing about women were the slew of posts that featured a madwoman in the attic— a.k.a. a woman with symptoms of a serious mental illness terrifying her husband/boyfriend. In post #22, OP’s wife of four years convinces herself that they never got married and demands that he call her his girlfriend. In post #19, OP’s wife deludes herself into thinking she’s pregnant with twins, forcing OP to get her involuntarily committed. And in post #11, OP breaks up with his cheating girlfriend, who then commits suicide and names him as the reason in her last letter. (Also see posts #8, #14, and #24).

In the subcategory of women writing about men, I noticed several serious instances of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. In post #35, OP’s boyfriend secretly slips Benadryl into her drink to shut her up during a long car ride. In post #28, OP’s boyfriend chokes her during sex until she passes out. He claims afterward that he “didn’t notice” she had gone limp until after he orgasmed. In posts #27 and #5 (original and update, respectively), OP’s fiancé requests that his father check her hymen before the wedding to verify her virginity. After taking the advice of Reddit users, she stands her ground and refuses. The fiancé slaps her in retaliation, and she dumps him.

If it’s not obvious, most posts don’t have a happy ending for the relationship. But in the storm of shit, there is a ray of light: not many, but some of the most popular posts of all time have almost fairy-tale-like happy endings.

Posts #26 and #4 (original and update) are a perfect case study. OP is head over heels for his girlfriend and decides to propose. In order to get her a ring she loves and to keep it a surprise, he enlists the help of her best friend Justine. While looking at rings with Justine, he texts his girlfriend to see how much time he has before she gets home. She responds that it’s going to be a while, since she’s going shopping with Justine.

Cue suspicion, worry, panic. Why is she lying? Is she cheating? Should OP confront, and if so, should he keep the proposal a secret?

After taking the advice of Redditors, OP tells her the truth about the engagement ring and says he knows she lied. Then comes the twist. She smiles and pulls out her phone to reveal… a picture of a snake.

Turns out that OP is a snake lover without a snake to his name, and his girlfriend wanted to fulfill his lifelong dream by buying him a Kenyan sand boa. She was out shopping for a snake when OP first texted, so she had to lie. Both surprises are ruined, but the real gift is their love.

The story is poetic, its sweet irony reminiscent of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”a Christmas story about an impoverished husband and wife, both of whom sell a prized possession to afford a gift for the other. The post also has a great moral: communicate with your partner, and the relationship will be stronger than ever. It’s so cute it’s disgusting, and that warms my heart.

DISCUSSION

After analyzing the results of my official unofficial study, I’ve concluded that, although it’s nearly impossible to determine whether an individual story is real or fake except in the most poop-sock-ish of cases, the subreddit does reward the dramatic and outrageous. And most of these outrageous tales tend to portray relationships that are negative, unhealthy, or straight-up abusive. The top 50 stories are more extreme examples, but just a casual look at the subreddit’s newest posts on any given day confirms this: cheating, lying, misogyny, manipulation, and violence dominate.

Reading these posts day in and day out have an effect on you. Altogether, they espouse a very narrow, gendered, cliched, and generally depressing view of relationships: men view women as sex objects, don’t know how to talk about their feelings, and use anger as a weapon. Women are cunning, frigid, and don’t know how to control their emotions. Straight men and women can never be just friends. If your partner’s acting suspicious, they’re probably cheating on you.

But then there are stories like “The Gift of the Magi,” perfect little presents that say, “Psst, there are good people in the world who love each other. That can happen for you, too!”

I propose that the subreddit take things into its own hands to reverse the dominant narrative. Given that many posts might be fabricated in the first place, why not have people write fictional stories that model healthier relationships? 

I know the perfect person for the job.

~~~~

I start brainstorming immediately. First, I need to set a goal. If I’m trying to single-handedly reform an entire subreddit, then it matters that I go viral—as many people as possible need to read my posts about gushy, gooey relationships. Viral to me means at least 1000 upvotes (essentially likes for Reddit’s platform). That might not sound like a huge amount of people, but there’s some evidence to suggest that thousands of upvotes generally translate to hundreds of thousands of actual views.

Based on my research, I should also make my characters young (in their early to mid-twenties), detailed, sympathetic, and capable of growth. That last requirement goes hand-in-hand with another consideration: I should plan for updates, which are my opportunity to craft perfect happy endings. 

If I’m relying on virality to get my message out, then I’ll need to play by the rules of the game. People like drama, so I’ll have to use that to my advantage. Of course, they also value authenticity. It’s important that my grammar isn’t too perfect, my phrasing not too literary, my details not overly specific.

But the biggest roadblock isn’t strategy—it’s morals. I’ve never been a liar. In elementary school, I was the tattletale, and although I (hopefully) outgrew the snobbishness, I’m stuck with an inability to “play it cool.” 

So I decide to start small. My first story will be close to reality. Enter stage left: “Stephanie,” or so I call her, is a 23-year-old woman in a budding relationship and the owner of an adorable eight-year-old shih tzu. (Coincidentally, I am a 21-year-old woman in a budding relationship and the owner of an adorable eight-year-old shih tzu.) But from there, I enter the realm of fiction. Stephanie is bubbly, outgoing, and sweet as candy; her boyfriend Mark is quiet, stoic, and unexpectedly terrified of dogs. Here’s the story, from Stephanie’s point of view:

 

Help!!! I (23F) want to introduce my new bf (22M) to my dog, but he keeps putting it off and I don’t know why

We’ve been dating for four months, and things are starting to get serious. He lives in another city a couple hours away, so we’ve mostly spent time meeting somewhere in the middle for dates. I’ve been over to his place several times, but he’s always made excuses not to come over to mine—even though I’ve been hinting about it for a while! I assumed it was just because he was busy with work and school (he just started grad school), but after I was a little bit pushy about it the last time we met up, he admitted to me that it was because I have a dog.

My dog is literally the sweetest animal on earth (probably everyone says that about their pets, but it’s true). She’s an 8-year-old shih tzu mix who is VERY calm and mostly just likes to sit in my lap. She never growls or jumps on people. At most, she’ll just give them a sniff and a lick. I told all this to my bf, but he just looked very nervous and said he would think about it. I asked him if he had bad experiences with dogs or pets before, and he said he’d just never been around animals a lot growing up and felt hesitant about it.

Something doesn’t really add up for me though?? I feel like most people who haven’t been around dogs would still be open to meeting one, especially a harmless 15 pound one with a tiny snaggletooth. I was teasing him about it and he kind of snapped at me—which he has NEVER done about anything else, so I just dropped it. It’s been a couple weeks since I last brought it up, and we’re still meeting outside or at his place.

I’m just worried because I really like this guy, but I also love my dog! And I want to make sure any guy I see is comfortable with her, especially before things get too serious. Is there a better way to bring it up to him again? I don’t want to push him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but I also feel like this can’t go on forever.

TL;DR: My new boyfriend makes excuses not to come over and meet my dog, I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do about it

 

I’ve never actually posted on r/relationship_advice before. As I’m writing, I realize two things: keeping my facts straight in a story I’m making up on the fly is hard, and it’s also exhilarating. I read my sentences over and over, terrified that I’ll be caught in a lie, publicly ridiculed, tarred, feathered, and banned from Reddit for life. (This is ridiculous because I’m posting from a throwaway account, and no one gets banned for making stuff up.) My pits are sweating. I’m pumped with adrenaline, like I’m on a rollercoaster that’s slowly inching towards the peak of the tracks. No wonder internet trolls get off on this.

Afterwards, I’m guilty and shaking. I text my roommate: “I feel like a dirty, dirty liar.”

“You’re just conducting an experiment,” she replies. “It’s in the name of science.”

But all that anxiety is for nothing. No one doubts my story. Barely anyone even sees it; I don’t come close to going viral. My only saving grace is a couple funny comments.

“The dishonesty and avoidance would be a deal breaker for me,” says one user. It’s funny because I tried to make my story center around the lightest, fluffiest of conflicts so I could maximize wholesomeness. But evidently to some, what I wrote was a serious problem. It’s common knowledge that the subreddit’s overwhelming mantra is “break up,” so I roll my eyes and move on. 

Another user has a theory for why Mark is so avoidant. “Dogs can sense evil,” they write. “He is afraid of being found out.”

My detailed update, which includes a happy ending, falls flat with zero upvotes and zero comments.

My next post tells the sappy tale of a man who met the right person at the wrong time and lost her, only to cross paths with her years later. He’s in love but afraid that she thinks he’s still the same man who broke her heart. I spend more than an hour brainstorming, designing, and fine-tuning this story. I’m convinced that it’s a masterpiece.

 

I’m (M29) in love with my ex-wife (F27), but I don’t know if I should tell her

We got married when we were 20 and 18 after dating for two years, which wasn’t uncommon in the town we grew up in. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to marry her so soon, but both of us come from conservative families, and at the time, it just didn’t seem like we had much of a choice if we wanted to move out of our parents’ homes, stay together, and keep the peace between our families. She was actually really excited about it, and I was afraid of losing her and letting her down, so we got married. I know, big mistake.

The obvious happened and I began feeling stifled. Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending time with her and we ever hardly fought. She was and is an amazing, kind, bubbly, and outgoing person. But I didn’t really know who I was at the time or what I wanted to do with my life, and it was stressful to try and figure that out while being tied down to someone else. I’d spent my whole life in the same town and wanted to leave. She was perfectly happy where we were. I felt all this pressure to figure out my career and be a provider. She never put that expectation on me, but she’s always known exactly what she wanted to do, and it just felt like I was a failure in comparison. I wasn’t putting a lot of effort into the relationship, and I could tell she wasn’t happy either. We divorced amicably after three years with no kids. After a few months, we stopped keeping in touch. I barely have any social media, so I had no idea what she was up to.

I moved a couple times to a few different cities in our state and had some hard years living on my own and going back to school. Now I’ve finally settled into doing something I love. I established some firm boundaries with my parents, and now we have a stable (if a bit distant) relationship. I’ve traveled and made some amazing lifelong friends I would’ve never met if I hadn’t left my hometown.

I’ve had a couple serious relationships, but nothing has stuck. I was complaining about it to my friend when he suggested that I give dating apps a try. I’m old-fashioned, so I wasn’t super into it, but I’d been single for over a year and thought I didn’t have much to lose. I was stunned when I made a Tinder profile and found my ex-wife on there after just a couple days of swiping. I had no idea that she had moved to my city. When I saw her profile, all the feelings I’d had for her came rushing back, which I wasn’t expecting at all. She looked just as beautiful as ever. I swiped right without even thinking about it, and then I got the notification that we matched. She immediately messaged me expressing surprise that we lived in the same city and asked to meet and catch up.

In person, it felt like no time had passed. We sat in a park and talked for three hours about everything that’s happened over the years. I learned that she really wanted a change after the divorce and decided to travel. She actually ended up moving to the other side of the country after realizing how much she liked moving around, and she only came back in the last year to be closer to her parents. She had one serious relationship after me that ended quite badly (she didn’t say much more than that and I didn’t pry), so she’s been single for the last couple years just enjoying herself.

Everything about her just made me smile. Her voice, her laughter. She was so happy to hear that I’d figured myself out and was doing really well, and I could tell she meant it. We exchanged numbers and met up one more time after that to talk, and it was just as amazing. I’m up for hours at night just thinking about how I want to be with her again.

The thing is, we haven’t actually talked about our relationship, and everything that’s happened so far has been strictly platonic. There’s been no flirting or anything physical. She’s always been an incredibly extroverted and caring person, and I think it’s totally possible that she just wanted to see how I’m doing, catch up, and be friends. She actually wanted to stay friends after the divorce, but I didn’t think it was a good idea and tried to distance myself. I know we reconnected on a dating app, but I don’t use social media, so it’s not like she would’ve had other ways of contacting me.

It might sound stupid, but I’m half convinced that I might be reading things completely wrong if I confess my feelings. I also know that she was heartbroken in the months after the divorce, and I don’t want to do anything to hurt her again. I’m worried that she might not trust me after the first time, that she thinks I’m still the kind of person who would break her heart.

I’d appreciate any advice on if I should say anything and if so, how I would go about it. I feel like I’m going crazy.

TLDR: We divorced years ago but reconnected recently. I feel like we’re both different, better people, and I want to try again, but I don’t want to hurt her or lose her.

 

It gets four comments.

At this point, I’m frustrated. I thought my years on the subreddit and my meticulous research would amount to something, but apparently my stories aren’t hitting the mark. I need to crank it up.

~~~~

One late night, after consuming a large amount of greasy, fried food (so I can more accurately inhabit my internet troll/neckbeard identity), I sit down, crack my knuckles, and get to work. I fire off story after story from one throwaway account to the next. Gone is my artistic impulse to craft beautiful, in-depth characters and plan elaborate story arcs. Now, I’m just writing whatever comes to mind. There’s no subtlety. Or guilt. I lean into the exaggerated and the sensational.

Still, all good lies have a crumb of truth. That’s certainly the case for one post I write, which, half an hour after going live, is garnering upvotes and comments at a surprisingly promising rate. The most embarrassing thing that’s happened to me in recent memory is a date I had with my boyfriend when we’d known each other for less than two months. We’d finished watching a movie in my apartment and were talking on the couch when my body decided to betray me, and I let out a quiet (but clearly noticeable) fart. It all happened so fast; I remember I tried to play it off for a few seconds, but the game was up. I blurted out that I was sorry and resigned myself to being single forever, but my boyfriend hardly reacted at all. He just said, “It’s okay,” put his arm around me, and kept talking. I silently thanked the universe that the fart didn’t smell. 

So I take this story, switch the perspectives, and make it 1000 times worse. Enter Jake, a laid-back dude who’s chilling with his girlfriend Lucy when her body decides to betray her. (Just a note: I like to name all my characters to “keep it real,” but people don’t usually include names in their posts, which is why they aren’t in mine, either. Still, this guy seems like a Jake.)

 

My (26M) gf (23F) ripped a fat one in bed, and now she won’t respond to my texts

I can’t believe I’m writing about this on reddit, but I know my gf would die of embarrassment if I told anyone in real life. So here I am.

Title basically says it all. We’ve been friends for a couple years but only started officially dating a couple weeks ago. She spent the night for the first time this weekend and everything was going well. We’d had sex and were just cuddling naked when she let it rip.

It was bad. Sounded like her butt cheeks were flapping like a hummingbird’s wings from the force of the fart. And it stank.

Obviously it was awkward, but I don’t care about that kind of stuff. I tried to tell her that, but she wouldn’t listen and ran into the bathroom with her clothes. I heard her sniffling behind the door. A few minutes later, she was dressed and told me she was leaving. It’s been four days now, and she hasn’t answered any of my texts. I just refuse to believe this is going to be the end. What can I do?

 

Altogether, I spent about 20 minutes writing the post as simply as I could. Still, I couldn’t resist giving it a spicy headline and slipping in the metaphor about the hummingbird’s wings. Writers always say to “kill your darlings,” but the rules of storytelling online clearly differ from tradition. Reddit is truly the people’s literary circle.

My new strategy pays off. I check the post before bed and see it’s at 121 upvotes and 61 comments—the most attention I’ve gotten from any of my stories. As I’m falling asleep, I think, I’ve made it. Boy, was I wrong. In the morning, I check again and see it’s got more than 2,500 upvotes and 300 comments. Sometime in the night, it migrated briefly to r/all, the front page of Reddit.

My fragile writer’s ego is restored—and more importantly, I’ve made a huge step in my mission. The comments are all positive and unexpectedly sweet (and gross). People shared story after story of farting in front of their partners and learning to laugh about it.

“I can’t even tell you how many times my fiancé and I have been cuddling naked and he has bare-ass farted on my leg.”

“If my wife needs to fart she will come looking for me before she does. I do the same except I ask her if she hears that noise right before I fart.”

“The first fart is a relationship rite of passage. It signals that a special level of intimacy has been attained.”

“Whenever I fart my husband just says, ‘Sexy!’”

People also gave Jake loads of advice: call Lucy, send flowers, pretend it never happened, ask her out for dinner. My favorite suggestion: out-fart her.  When I first wrote the post, I had no idea people would be so kind; hundreds had taken time out of their day to laugh together, share embarrassing memories, and help Jake understand his girlfriend’s point of view. Many women commented on the pressure they felt to be attractive and perfect at all times.

“I feel bad for her,” said one. “She’s plenty young enough to feel insecure about her looks, much less her bodily functions, and women are usually taught to suppress anything that isn’t attractive. She isn’t yet comfortable enough to be okay with the fact that sex is messy and makes our body parts noisy.”

I read this, think back to the real story that inspired the fake one, and feel relieved. All of these women on my post think they’re trying to educate a naïve dude, but really they’re reassuring me—and it works.

I take the best advice from the comments and incorporate them into my update, which I almost can’t wait to write. It’s my best chance to come up with a happy ending, have thousands of people see it, and hopefully convince them that everybody farts.

 

UPDATE: My (26M) gf (23F) ripped a fat one in bed, and now she won’t respond to my texts

Previous post

Hey guys, thanks so much for all your advice on my post. I made it right before going to bed and woke up to it being removed, so I didn’t get the chance to respond to any comments, but I ended up taking a lot of the advice. I didn’t realize that farting was a bigger deal for women and that a lot of people were shamed for it, so that definitely helped me understand where my gf may have been coming from. I didn’t mention it in my first post, but I did laugh when she farted because it was so unexpected, and now I see that probably made her embarrassed.

A lot of you pointed out that texting wasn’t really working, so I ended up calling her (she didn’t pick up) and sending her a voicemail. I basically told her that I missed her and wanted to see her again, and I was really sorry that I made her uncomfortable. I said that if she still wanted to see me, I had a reservation at this restaurant she likes on Friday night. A couple hours later, she texted back that she would meet me there. I was so relieved. 

We met up and she also apologized for ghosting me. Like a lot of people who commented, she had a bad experience with an ex calling her gross for farting, and when I laughed she thought the same thing was happening again. She knew she was making it a bigger deal than it was but needed that extra reassurance from me.

Needless to say, I ordered something with beans during dinner and let out a huge fart after we’d made it back to my place. It wasn’t quite up to her level, but she laughed, and that’s all that matters.

 

Unlike the initial post, I put a bit more thought into my writing. I wanted Jake to grow as a person: he goes from well-meaning but slightly clueless to more considerate, empathetic. Lucy also grows: at first, she’s incredibly ashamed and avoidant, but she comes to accept that vulnerability is necessary in a relationship. Both learn to communicate with each other (and rip the best farts), all thanks to Reddit.

The update settles at 2,578 upvotes and 115 comments. Well-wishes, heartfelt anecdotes, and more fart jokes abound. The act of writing it even leads to real-life honesty: I send the posts to my boyfriend and reveal that he was the inspiration. We’re long-distance, so he can’t see me blushing over video call, but the act of confession still almost feels like reliving the dreaded event. He doesn’t bat an eye. “I guarantee you’ve thought about this more than I have, which is zero times since it happened,” he says. I sigh in relief; that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.

But my mission isn’t over. Now that I’ve achieved virality twice, I’m determined to move beyond it. The poop sock story might have inspired my journey, but I’m not just churning out stories that are funny, embarrassing, or gross for the sake of fame (if fake points on the internet really amount to fame anyway). I might be an internet troll, but what separates me from the rest is my purpose. Even though I use lowly methods, I must rise above. Like a digital Robin Hood or a slightly less psychopathic Dexter.

I’m convinced the reason my last story did so well only had a little to do with the childish humor; the hundreds of comments revealed that people found it relatable, vulnerable. Somehow, they could tell I’d put my real self into my writing. That’s what I had to replicate.

~~~~

My next creation: the age-old tale of someone who falls in love with their friend with benefits. It’s not a narrative inspired by personal experience, but being in college, I’ve witnessed many a friend trust their crushes with their bodies but not their thoughts and feelings. 

Once again, I slip into the persona of a young and clueless guy, which apparently I’m very good at. Justin is a college senior on the lookout for a serious relationship, but most people he meets aren’t willing to commit. He thinks the only way he has a shot at intimacy is through hookups, even though that’s not what he really wants. So what happens when he hooks up with someone that he has a real connection with?

 

I (22M) want to date my FWB (20F) but don’t want to ruin things

We met on Tinder almost a year ago and have basically been hooking up ever since. Before her, I’d only messed around with a couple girls at parties and nothing really came out of it. Both girls ghosted me right after.

The sex with “Rachel” is amazing, but it goes way beyond that. We’re always making each other laugh before and after. Lately we’ve been meeting just to hang out and study, and sometimes we don’t even do anything sexual. Last night we were just watching a movie and planned to hook up after, but she just fell asleep on my shoulder. I was really happy.

I feel like she might be open to dating, but I’m afraid I’m going to fuck it up if I try to change things. Both of us agreed in the beginning to keep it casual, and I know from being around her that she’s had some bad relationship experiences. I don’t want her to freak out about my feelings if she doesn’t feel the same way and ghost me. This is the longest “relationship” I’ve been in…

I feel like I can’t talk to anyone irl because all my friends would make fun of me for complaining about a relationship that’s “just sex.” Should I just shut up and not say anything? Is there a way to talk to her that won’t freak her out?

TL;DR I want to date my FWB but we agreed to be casual

 

After a couple days, the post levels out at about 140 upvotes, which is a solid start. There’s a hint of interest and one promising comment. “I’ve been through literally this!” says one user. “We started with strict terms of being strictly casual, no feelings involved… Over time things just slowly grew. We’ve now been together for 2-and-a-half years.”

I smile and go forward with the update. As I’m writing, I realize I no longer have any scruples with making stories up. Gone are the days of confessing my guilty conscience to my roommate; instead, when I come up with a new post, I rush to recite it to her like she’s the sole audience member for my latest play. The sudden change isn’t because I’ve completely lost all sense of morality (I hope); it just doesn’t feel like I’m lying when the characters and stories are so urgent and real. So many people I know could’ve written this, I think.

 

UPDATE: I (22M) want to date my FWB (20F) but don’t want to ruin things

Previous post

I put it all out on the table and just told her how I felt. Was scared as shit when we met up and thought I was gonna ruin everything but she likes me back! She also wanted to say something but was afraid I didn’t want a relationship and would ghost her. LOL

We’re having our first “real” date this weekend and I’m excited to pull out all the stops. Want to show her I am boyfriend material 🙂

If anyone is hesitating to tell someone their feelings, just do it!!

 

The update gets 1,728 upvotes and 69 comments, almost all of which are congratulatory.

“Always worth shooting the shot! Engaged to my old FWB (now fiance) and expecting our daughter any day!”

“Happened to me 2 years ago 🙂 living together with a cat now :). Congratulations.”

“Similar happened to me, together 3.5 years now. Except I was tipped off when he said he loved me in his sleep.”

Somehow, I’ve cracked the formula. Who knew that if you generated kindness on the internet, people would respond with… kindness?

~~~~

I want to experiment with writing a non-romantic post. Based on my pseudo-scientific research, it’s more difficult to succeed without that romantic spark, and I’m looking for a challenge. Enter Val, a graduate student in a nascent friendship with her roommate, Chloe. Their relationship is off to a solid, but now, Val’s starting to worry.

 

My (23F) roommate (23F) keeps crying in the middle of the night

Both of us are in grad school and just moved in with each other this semester. We had some mutual friends, met up and really hit it off, so figured it would be a good idea to room together in our expensive ass city. Overall we vibe really well as roommates—we’re both clean, split shared groceries and bills evenly, and don’t bring weird people home in the middle of the night. I can see us becoming good friends over the next year.

I don’t think we’re there yet, though—but I feel like I should say something? The past week, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to pee/get water and heard her crying (we have our own rooms but the walls in our apartment are paper thin). During the day, she acts normal. She hasn’t told me that she’s going through anything, only that she’s been tired/stressed from school.

I’m a little worried about her but don’t want to overstep and make her uncomfortable if she doesn’t want to talk about it. Any way to bring it up casually?

 

When I wrote the first post, I had no actual idea why Chloe was crying. As I marinate on the update, I page through the possibilities. A breakup with a boyfriend? Family problems? Stress? All of the above? And what do I want Val to do about it? Something about the story doesn’t quite feel right.

The post gets a few hundred upvotes and a handful of comments, many of which prompt Val to simply be a good friend until Chloe feels comfortable opening up. I make her do just that: Val gets the idea to grab dinner together and get to know her roommate better. As I’m coloring the encounter, an idea creeps in. And then I fail at my experiment. Spectacularly.

 

UPDATE: I think we might be dating? My (23F) roommate (23F) keeps crying in the middle of the night

Previous post

Didn’t get a ton of traction on my last post, but I honestly had no idea what to do and the comments, uh, helped me out a lot (I think?). And I don’t know who to talk to about this irl, so here’s an update! 

After she got home from class the next day, I asked her if she wanted to get dinner. I thought it’d be good to just talk more and see if she would open up, or if not I could at least cheer her up a little bit by doing something fun. We usually small talk when we’re both in the apartment but haven’t actually hung out a lot one-on-one, so she seemed surprised that I asked but said yes.

When we were figuring out places to go, she offhandedly mentioned that she was dying to go to this fancy Italian restaurant that just opened up and always has a line wrapped around the block. I’d heard of the place and wanted to go too, so I said fuck it, let’s go! We got all dressed up and got there hella early for dinner, like 4 p.m., waited 30 min, and got a table. We ate until I felt like a balloon and had a blast. And I don’t know, during the dinner it just felt like something changed? Both of us usually walk around the house looking like trolls lol, so I was just seeing her in a totally different light. She seemed a lot more shy than usual, and I was kinda self conscious too. I wasn’t going into it thinking it was a date or anything, but I started getting that vibe.

On our walk home, we got to talking about stuff we haven’t really talked about before. Our families, what we want to do in the future, past relationships, etc. And then she got quiet and said that she’d been going through a really hard time recently because she had moved states for grad school, and it was basically the first time she’d had to live far away from her parents and make new friends. A ton of her childhood friends went to the same high school and college as her. She thanked me for asking her to hang out and said she really appreciated it. I was glad I probably figured out the reason she was crying and helped a little, but also the way she looked at me and smiled made me extremely nervous.

We watched a movie together at the apartment that was frankly boring as hell but then she fell asleep on my shoulder. I woke her up when it was over and we both went to bed (separately lol if I have to clarify) but now I think I might have a massive crush on her? We haven’t really had a conversation about it since, we’ve both just been flirty and I have no idea where this will go. But I’m really glad that I asked her out to dinner.

 

I just can’t resist playing Cupid with my characters. I’ve spent my whole life holding back the reins on my amorous impulses: friends, family, and even my dog have told me to cool it. (He tends to growl and bark at most men we encounter on the street, acting as a deterrent to any potential romantic interactions.) Everyone says that the world doesn’t work like romcoms or fairy tales, that it’s better to lower my expectations so I don’t get heartbroken. Most stories on Reddit echo that sentiment. People are shitty, love doesn’t last, and sometimes it’s better not to even try. But I can’t help but be hopeful, even if I end up disappointed. And if my Reddit posts are any indication, people everywhere crave a good love story, whether that’s in the form of a passionate confession or a partner who accepts you completely, farts and all.

From now on, I won’t dub myself a love “addict.” I won’t call myself a hopeless romantic only to brush it off with a shrug and a chuckle, like I’m acknowledging that the label is silly and shameful. If the world is already so cynical, what’s so wrong with wanting romance?  

~~~~

I video call with my boyfriend every night before bed, usually to study together. He’s been sick recently. I make tea; I hear sniffles coming from my laptop. I page through my class readings. Cough. Like most college students, we trade complaints about our workload and our lack of sleep. He blows his nose before we say goodnight and log off.

I’ve never been in a long-distance relationship before. In the weeks and months that we’re apart and compensate with calls and texts, his presence feels both close and frustratingly intangible. It’s unsettling to see him every night and be unable to hand him the tissue he needs, to squeeze his hand when he says he’s stressed, to come over with snacks when we’re both up late doing work. I wish I could reach through my screen.

I don’t have many people around me who are in the same situation—except I do, probably thousands, in a community that only knows me through my stories. This time, I log onto my real account and start typing. Now, it’s surprisingly difficult to tell the truth; I have to re-train myself to write without flair, with no consideration for drawing people’s attention. I’m so used to inhabiting somebody else’s story that there’s something eerie about reading my words and recognizing myself exactly as I am.

 

Cute/romantic ideas for a long-distance relationship? I (21F) want to make my boyfriend (21M) feel appreciated

We’ve been dating for about five months, and this is my first ever long-distance relationship. We’re both in school in different states and will be long distance for the foreseeable future.

Both of us have had a busy year so far academically, and lately he’s been pretty stressed with grad school apps and classes. I just want to make things easier for him and make him happy, but I’m struggling to come up with ideas since we can’t do things in person most of the time.

I’d love to hear from other people who’ve been in long distance relationships about little ways they’ve made their partners feel appreciated 🙂 thanks in advance!

 

Almost immediately after publishing, I get a notification for a private chat request.

“Do you send him nudes?” the message reads. I roll my eyes. Somehow, in all my Reddit adventures, this is the rudest comment I’ve received, which is tame as far as the internet goes. Still, I’m brought back down to earth.

Only two other people respond to my post, but both of them are genuine. One suggests I send him a handwritten letter with a spray of perfume and a picture of myself. It’s definitely old-school romantic, but I don’t wear perfume, and I feel like mailing a picture of myself unasked would take my narcissism just a bit too far. So I go with the second suggestion.

On Friday nights, we call early and eat dinner together. We’ve just started when he gets a text saying his order has arrived. The process isn’t as romantic as I hoped: it takes about 15 minutes, several missed calls from the delivery driver, and the UberEats app threatening to cancel my order before he comes back on screen with dessert: edible chocolate chip cookie dough. He grew up in a low-fat household with a sore lack of Hostess products; I was born with a genetic anomaly that made every single one of my teeth a sweet tooth (hence having six cavities at once in high school). It’s only natural that desserts are my love language. Since I met him, I’ve opened his eyes to the wonders of processed sugar.

He smiles and jokes that he’ll save some for me, but I don’t need it. My next thought is evidence that I’m as lovesick as ever: Your smile is just as sweet.